Ich bin ein Berliner: the A-Z of my new favourite place

Yes, I know I study French. Yes, I know they don’t speak French in Germany. And yes, I know it’s perhaps unwise to fall in love with the capital of the wrong country, but unfortunately I appear to have done just that. Here’s twenty six reasons why:

A is for Arrival

While I managed not to miss any of my connections on the night trains there and back, I idiotically trusted in the “wake up call” we were supposed to get half an hour before rolling into Berlin Hauptbahnhof at 7am which, forseeably, did not occur. Thankfully my fellow passengers were kind enough to prod me just as the train stopped, so despite my early-morning disorientation I managed to race out of the train just on time.

I tried to take a photo of the compartment to show how small it was, but it was too small to take a decent photo. Suffice to say there are 6 bunks in here. On the way out one was occupied by a Snorer, and on the way back one was occupied by a Farter. Travel is only glamorous when you’re rich.

B is for Bike tour

Touristing to the max. This was actually a really great way of seeing the ridiculously huge city without getting sore feet, and also provided just enough information about the main sights to allow me to pretend to be unfeasibly knowledgeable about things like architecture and politics.

C is for Cycle paths

Which the Germans apparently don’t think are for walking on. What a novelty! C is also for crêpes, which I successfully cooked as my cultural donation to my visitee, Laura.

D is for Doner kebabs

Otherwise known as the food of the gods. They are so wrong, and yet so very right.
I appreciate that a photograph of a kebab is not a classy thing, but you just have to see this absolute beauty. I was told that the doner kebab was invented here and while I’m skeptical about that, Berlin has definitely won at kebabs.

E is for East Side Gallery

Basically some artists painted pretty (and occasionally slightly disturbing) pictures on a preserved chunk of wall, and it’s really cool. We went there right after kebab #3 (see above), which led to me wandering round dozily and probably missing a lot of the significance of the paintings.
The wall says “positive political engagement in the form of art”, the eyes say “please let me have a nap.”

F is for Films

We went to a thing called “Sneak” where, for the low price of a fiver, you see the European premiere (I think) of a film without knowing what it will be. We saw Non Stop, which I found funnier than it was probably meant to be. We also belatedly watched Frozen and Despicable Me 2, both of which were excellent.

G is for Brandenburg Gate

I saw this at least five times in six days, as I kept passing it on the way to other things.
Here it is looking suitably important
And here is one of very many fine Brandenburg selfies.

H is for History

Which I encountered rather a lot of, in bite-sized (and occasionally huge) chunks. Highlights were the very depressing but informative “Topography of Terror”, and the various memorials.
This is the memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe – it’s a huge area of different-sized concrete blocks, and although simple it’s really powerful.

I is for Ich spreche kein Deutsch

SO many blank stares were bestowed upon the population of Berlin last week. Fortunately everyone I encountered spoke at least “a little” English, which in reality always means a near-native level of fluency. While I felt deeply ashamed of my linguistic ineptitude, it did make me realise that French has finally infiltrated my system to the point that I now hear any foreign language and feel compelled to reply in French. In fact, when I finally held a brief, stilted conversation in German, the woman I was speaking to actually said “au revoir” in her best French. This led to quite a long multilingual explanation of my bizarre accent and the fact that no, I’m not French but yes, I do live there.
I found the constant presence of the DIE balloon more unnerving than I should have, given that ‘die’ apparently just means ‘the’.

J is for Jugglers

The very impressive audience that this guy managed to round up was frankly disproportionate to his talents; while it was an entertaining show, it contained just enough fire and incomptence to render it more nerve-wracking than anything else.
Unfortunately juggling is one of those things that you kinda need to do perfectly or not at all.

K is for Kreutzberg

This is a cool-and-edgy area with lots of nice shops and parks and things, where we wandered for a while and I accidentally bought bags.
First we went to a sombre café that clearly thought lights were too mainstream for their brooding clientèle, which also had palatial toilets that occupied the entire second floor…
Then we went to a bookshop which had decided that shelves – and indeed any form of organization – were too mainstream for its customers…
And then we sat in a park that was too cool for us where the sign-maker had clearly seen things nobody should see.

L is for the man who looked like Hugh Laurie

He was on my bike tour, and looked really, really uncannily like the man himself. I may have told him he should get a job as a lookalike, at which he politely hid his exasperation and said that he “gets that a lot.” I think he may have been some form of ambassador for South Africa, which perhaps explains why he didn’t make use of the ample revenue he could have earned from lookaliking.

M is for Money

Although the trip as a whole was ridiculously extravagent given that I’m meant to be a poor student, my liberal consumption of meals out and snack foods wasn’t actually that painful for my bank balance. This is because everything was a reasonable – nay, ridiculously low – price, such as delicious ice cream for 80 cents a scoop. It’s also possible to buy beer for normal prices, something which three years in Oxford and Montpellier has conditioned me to think of as “practically free”.

N is for Nightlife

Which I avoided at all costs. There are clubs that you can only get into if you look like you don’t really want in, so I’d probably have got straight through. (LIES, I apparently look “too innocent” for the horrors that go on inside). I fear that even if the Berlin clubbing scene would have me, it would clash with the hours I generally consecrate to Sleep, so I guess I’ll never find out what I’m missing.

O is for Om nom nom

See D, P and V

P is for Pretzels

These are delicious and also make a wonderful, if disturbing, selfie-prop.
 Also they spell it Bretzel, but sadly B had a prior engagement.

Q is for Questioning all of my life choices

I admit that one fairly idyllic week is probably not a great basis for this, but I have a suspicion that Germany might actually be Nirvana, and that the Germans have been keeping quiet about it so that the rest of us don’t all descend on their little paradise of common sense and beer. I loved the atmosphere of Berlin, and especially the fact that (despite locals saying that it’s the most disorganised place in Germany) most things work, to the point that I became very jealous of everyone living there. Mind you, sunshine and gorgeous architecture are fairly compelling arguments in favour of the South of France.

R is for Rooftops

Which we spent a remarkable amount of time on, given that all of them had to be attained by climbing more stairs than there are futile administrative procedures in France.
This is the obligatory “apprehensive-pre-embarking-on-climbing-the-victory-tower” selfie, followed by the view from the top.
Before the intrepid ascent of Berlin Cathedral

Us trying not to look utterly knackered at the top. Most of my body weight is actually being held by that wall due to excess use of my legs.

S is for Selfies

Which are quite obviously the best type of photos.
See how much fun they are?

T is for Tempelhofer feld

This is the old airport that (I think) was used to supply West Berlin during the Cold War. It got closed and instead of roping it off or building on it, they basically made it into a massive playground complete with awesome climbing frames made of old palettes a hand-built community garden. I tried Laura’s rollerblades and miracuously – though inelegantly – survived.

U is for Unadviseable hats

 So multicultural. I decided that it would be appropriate to buy a beret as it was very cheap. For some reason I find the fact I bought it in Germany extremely pleasing.

V is for Vietnamese food

I had possibly the most delicious meal of my life in the restaurant below, for about a tenner. I’d somehow never tried Vietnamese food until that point, but it’s now solidly on my radar of delicious things.
There was a fishtank containing a very large black catfish with lots of whiskers, which I became so fascinated by that it actually managed to distract me from my food.

W is for Weinerei Forum

See S for the outcome of this event, which involved helping yourself to various wines. As the organisers were very keen to point out, it works on a “pay what it’s worth” not “pay what you want” system. As I don’t really drink at the moment, a tenner’s-worth was enough to make me fairly effusive, and led to some very fine selfies. It culminated in me and Laura going for a kebab in a very friendly kebaberie, and me deciding to (successfully) pretend I was French, helped of course by my beret.

X is for Xenophilia

I’ve rarely had such a universally awesome holiday, although this may be in part due to contrast with the various disasters of the preceding weeks in France. Fortunately (touch wood) nothing has gone drastically wrong since my return to the land of sunshine and crêpes, so clearly my attempt at a blank, “positive-mental-attitude” slate is rubbing off on life. Long may it continue!
This is how sad I was to leave. The rhubarby hue of my face is due to lighting conditions, in case you were worried.

Y is for Yes, this is getting tenuous

All that remains to add is that I followed my trip to Berlin with three days home alone, during which I went temporarily mad and did nothing of any use, and tried to forget that I’m supposed to be packing for our imminent deménagement. I also went to Paris to see some friends this weekend, which will probably make its way into a future post.

Z is for I’ve run out of ways to make random things fit a particular letter of the alphabet

And so it concludes. Who knows when you’ll next hear from me, given that I have exams and am moving house… A la prochaine fois, whenever it may be!

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