Winter Tales from Berlin

Once again we were off on another, if slightly more whirlwind, trip to Eastern Europe. This time the destination was Berlin, and the aim was a combination of site-seeing and the consumption of Glühwein, Schnitzel and Strudel.

We spent most of the first afternoon, and if I’m honest, evening, wandering around aimlessly. I’d like to claim that this was intentional, but it had more to do with a rubbish map and bad street signs. However we did manage to consume more Glühwein than a person probably should, and, albeit in the dark, got to see the Brandenburg Gate and Reichstag. In fact, I personally think this added significant ambience because at night the lighting makes both seem even more dramatic.

Brandenburg Gate

Brandenburg Gate

Monday was the only full day we had, so we had to make the most of it. The day started, as most do, with breakfast. We ended up in the fanciest tray service café I have ever been in; it had its own candelabra. It looked ideal! With the below freezing temperatures wewanted some sort of warm potato and sausage-based breakfast and this café had plenty of both. Except, upon ordering we were told that there weren’t any hot potatoes, despite a mound of them being on fairly prominent view. Having argued the point and lost due to linguistic inability, we conceded defeat and ordered sausage and cold potato salad, not ideal, but surprisingly nice.
The highlight of the day’s sights, and somewhere well worth a visit, despite the slight trek involved, was the STASI Prison, at Berlin-Hohenschönhausen.  After the wandering palaver of the day before, our trip to the prison was particularly daring, as it involved braving the suburbs, beyond the edge of the map in the guidebook.

The STASI prison brought the social control that permeated GDR society. We got off the tram in a quiet suburban district and walked down a perfectly normal looking residential street, complete with a rather large Lidl (in which we would later purchase rather cheap wine). The prison entrance was little more than a hole in the wall at the end of the street, yet behind the walls decades of abuse was carried out. Not even the local residents knew of the horrors, as the prisoners were delivered to the prison in lorries, always disguised as delivering food or other goods.

Stasi Van

Stasi Van

Knowing we were too late for the daily tour, we hoped for nothing more than a look around the exhibition. However when we got there we were informed that we could go on a tour and that it would be free, as the girl shrugged, searching for a reasonable reason as to why… ‘Because it was Monday.’ The tour and the price were in fact due to us having to go round with an English school party. So, after waiting for an hour for them to arrive (after all, when do school trips ever run to schedule?) we set off with 30 fourteen year olds and their two, somewhat distinctly odd, teachers. I had forgotten the horror that is school trips but I quickly mentally regressed to being 14. Suddenly, I was right back in the days of wandering round galleries and museums, with tens of other people, all of us trying to look at the tiny exhibit the guide was drawing our attention to. Not to mention the stupid questions someone always asks and the swotty kid at the front trying to sound more intelligent than the others. On this occasion the two stupidest questions being in the employment of the STASI. This was particularly unfortunate as many of the guides are ex-prisoners. The other shocking question came from one of the girls, who asked what Guantanamo Bay was, only for her friend, in a, ‘Duh! Don’t you know anything tone of voice’ to explain that it was in America. Near enough I suppose!

Having managed to avoid being bundled on to the coach with the school group, bearing in mind that terrifyingly most of them were taller than us, we headed back to central Berlin. Or rather, more significantly, dinner. This was to consist of Schnitzel that was in fact, bigger than the plate (a Schnitzel should not be larger than one’s head, a thought which the waiter was bemused by), more Glühwein, and subsequently, Strudel. All of over which we debated the reason why, according to the rather outlandish graffiti on the front of our hotel, the staff were apparently, “Working on Our [the Berlin youth’s] Future.” Undoubtedly, this seemed the perfect end to a pretty good, somewhat extraordinary, day.

Berlin Hotel

Berlin Hotel, Luetzowplatz 17 Berlin 10785 Germany

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