Sightseeing from Above
While my first thought this weekend was to go to a museum this weekend, I decided to take advantage of the blue skies and visit Berlin’s two tallest towers, the Fernsehturm (TV Tower) and Siegessäule.
The Fernsehturm was constructed by the German Democratic Republic in former East Berlin. It can be seen from many parts of the city and was meant to serve as an ominous reminder of the GDR’s power. We bought tickets in the early afternoon, then had to wait two hours before we could go up. So in the mean time, we visited the Siegessäule.
The Siegessäule was built to celebrate German military victories. It was relocated and enlarged in 1939. Its current location is in the middle of a great roundabout with underground pedestrian tunnels to access it. I climbed up this column once before during GAPP 2009. It really lends a spectacular view of the city. The golden angel at the top (Goldelse) is truly beautiful, a very detailed, bright gold statue. There is a ring of mosaics around a platform near the base that form military scenes–the Battle of France or something, I think.
When I was there in 2009, the entire staircase going up was COVERED in graffiti. Now it looks like it’s all been painted over, and there are stickers on the wall threatening fines for vandalism for anyone caught defacing the building.
After searching unsuccessfully the night before for some hip bars and clubs where it would actually be possible to meet Germans, we finally did our homework. First I met up with a group of American students at a rather classy restaurant bar in the city area of Kreuzburg, but I quickly got bored sitting around drinking beer and speaking English, so me and another student left in search of a club some other students from our group were going to. Burger Kaffee, in Mitte. It was really great. There was a dance floor, a “normal” bar, and a cocktail bar/smoking lounge. I felt like I finally got a chance to meet and talk to some German people.
In Germany, I’ve learned, it’s considered very strange to smile at strangers, on the street and in bus/train/subway/tram/etc. stations. In fact, one should avoid eye contact with strangers at all costs. They seem pretty nice once you actually strike up a conversation with them, but the fact that you’re starting a conversation with a stranger automatically makes you weird. Needless to say, this does not make it easy to make friends, especially as I spend so much time on the public transit system. I thought bars would be easier, but the only few I’ve been to so far everyone is there with their own group and the groups don’t really combine. So I was thrilled to finally be at a club with a dance floor and loud music where you could walk around and actually talk to people. The only thing that’s difficult is that most clubs don’t even open until 1am, so you really need to make an entire night of it and not have anything planned the next morning. Needless to say, I won’t be going out on any weeknights, since classes begin (starting tomorrow) at 8:30a.m.
One thing that’s extremely different about Germany as compared to the U.S. is that here it is both socially acceptable and legal to drink in public. After 11 p.m. or so, it is only to be expected that every third person or so (or most people, depending on what part of the city you are in) has some sort of bottle in their hand. And, hey, sometimes even earlier in the day, especially on weekends. There are some small parts of the city where they banned alcohol in public because it creates too many problems (whodathunk?) but for the most part it’s allowed everywhere. While the economically-minded of you may appreciate the convenience of being able to “pre-game” on convenience store liquor before heading to a bar to buy 6-euro cocktails, keep in mind that this means there is often broken glass on the streets, something which I’m sure the many bike riders here don’t appreciate. And, yes, it is quite unpleasant to be confronted by a belligerent drunk in the streets, but my impression so far is that if you travel in groups and don’t look scared, you’re safe. No different than any other big city.