Bratwurst, Beer, Graffiti, Tattoos, Nazis, Communism, High Speed trains, kinderspielplatzes, and a whole lot of awesome.
17.05.2014 - 31.05.2014
From Pula, we flew to Frankfurt. Frankfurt… Hahn. This little modifier after the place was an important piece of information we mistakenly overlooked. What it means is that you’re not flying to Frankfurt main airport, which has regular, fast train service into the city. Quite the contrary, this small airport, used only by Ryan Air and at 125 km west of the city center is closer to France than any major German city, and has only once hourly bus service into Frankfurt Main. We learned this mid-flight from the lady in front of us. We were at least somewhat relieved when she told us that the buses are scheduled to depart after the arrival of each flight.
We left Pula at 6 pm, arrived Frankfurt Hahn just after 8. With the baby, having to wait for the stroller, pack her into wrap, we ended up at the end of the customs line. By the time we got our baggage, through customs and to the bus stop… our bus had left. Next one leaves in an hour, I was told, at 9:45 pm. I also learned that the drive is just over two hours long. (Agh!). I saw two ladies standing outside a different coach, and with my hopes up approached the driver and asked when he leaves. In 20 minutes? Great! I asked if he goes directly into the city… he looked at me inquisitively, then one of the ladies said “This bus goes to Luxembourg”. Oh.
With a bottle of wine and a box of cookies from the only open kiosk for dinner, and Zadie wrapped in a sling asleep on me, the wait wasn’t too bad. Dan also got himself a couple tall cans of beer for the ride. The ride… the two and a half hour bus ride into Frankfurt. It started off well, Zadie fell asleep on me and stayed that way for a while. But by about an hour into it, we were getting antsy. Well past her 7 pm bedtime she woke up, disoriented and fussy. And there was no WC on board, so Dan quickly went from loving to hating the liter of beer he’d drank, and squirmed, legs crossed in twisted agony until we arrived at Frankfurt Main Station just after midnight. Luckily a pay toilet and our hotel were only a short walk away. Clink, whizz, zonk.
The next day was hot and sunny. Being a Sunday, the city of big business and banks was closed and quiet. A good time to visit it, we reckoned. We went for a morning walk along the river, had lunch in a beautiful square made all the more quaint by live accordion.
I'd noticed people everywhere eating plates of something pale green with boiled eggs, so decided to give it a try. Dan kept things traditional... we managed to capture our order on video:
Frankfurt is the financial capital of Europe, as well as the HQ of the Eurozone. It only really developed after WWII, so it is a mostly young and modern city. There are some amazing commercial buildings here. Check it out:
DBP almost hit the roof when he saw this... people just driving their quads through downtown Frankfurt. "Holy shit, and right next to a cop!'
The afternoon was warm, and glowing. So were the people, and they were hanging out by the hundreds, maybe even thousands on the river bank, or on one of the river boats with terraces that lined the Main. We joined in...
Frankfurt boomed after WWII, and became the banking and financial capital of Europe. As such, it doesn’t have much history nor a historic center, and it’s pretty light on culture. So, we were happy to board the train to Berlin on Monday morning.
It was a 5 hour ride, but went very well. Zadie made friends with the other people in our cabin, played with another baby on board, and we rolled into Berlin late afternoon. It was sunny, and hot. Busy. We had the best Doner Kebab of our lives right outside the Ostbahnhof, then walked the 2 kms to our flat. Luggage train in tow.
We’ve been in Berlin for 3 weeks now.
One word: awesome.
Our flat for the first two weeks was on Frankfurter Allee, the continuation of Karl Marx Allee, an expansive socialist boulevard built by the GDR in the late 1950’s. We were in one of what are called the GDR palaces, some 2000-odd spacious apartments built as part of East Germany’s post WWII reconstruction programme. They aren’t exactly palaces like those we saw in Vienna, but compared to the small and basic flats characteristic to socialist construction, these were luxurious. Weathered and worn looking now, (though many being refurbished), the facades of these massive buildings, decorated with shiny ceramic tile in “wedding cake style”, would have been just beautiful back in the day.
The boulevard was at first called Stalin Allee, but was renamed to Karl Marx and Frankfurter Allée during de-stalination in the early 1960’s.
We were in the neighbourhood of Friedrichshain, and it was fabulous. Lots of parks, endless cafes and ethnic restaurants, a great burger joint, and multiple kinder cafes right outside our door or within a few short blocks.
Here we are enjoying lunch on Simon Dach Strasse, just around the corner form our flat. Zadie is trying on a helmet for the first time. She's ready for some action!
Berlin is a huge city, and most Berliners bike. I think it might be the cyclist capital of Europe. Bike lanes everywhere. More people on bike than on the metro or in cars! So many parents’ bikes with baby seats in the back, or a front bucket for cargo or children.
When doing my research on renting a bike and baby trailer (which would have cost something around 300 Euros, or 450 CAD), I was super pleased to stumble upon Bike Surf Berlin. A small volunteer-run organization of bike enthusiasts that started here and exists in five cities now, whereby locals lend bikes to people visiting, based on donation. Graham hooked me up with a fantastic ride, what I called the “Green Machine”.
After considering all our options for how to get Zadie around by bike (she’s not big enough yet for a child seat, the trailer is expensive and I don’t like the idea of her being so far behind me, out of my view), we decided to try her in the baby bjorn on DBP. As long as he doesn’t pedal, and uses his e-bike more like a scooter. I got her a helmet, and we were rolling! SO Great to be out on a family bike ride. We all do well on two wheels!
And some rainy 'roo ridin'
We caught some footage, made a montage... you get a bit of a guided tour down our boulevard as well (JK and Zipster this is for you):
We biked to the Tier Garten, which was about 16 km return. We rode along Uner den Linden, through the Brandenburg Gate, and circled by the Reichstag. It’ll be neat to tell Zadie that she’s been to these places when she learns about them in Social Studies in about 15 years. Our destination was actually the Zoo, but our little lady let us know when we were still 1 km away that was about as far as she wants to ride crouching squirrel on her daddy.
We visited the museum of the GDR’S secret police, the STASI.
It is in the austere, cold building complex that used to be their headquarters. It is simple. It is raw. It is where some of the most powerful spies in the world used to work from or take their orders. The network of spies spread through out what was then East Germany, collecting information about anyone and everyone who said or did anything considered to be against the state. The interesting thing about this museum is that is was not created as a museum rather, it was the actual offices of the STASI, preserved as they were when the Berlin wall fell in 1989. Inside these offices, they had memoirs of spies and ‘spied upons’ to give an idea of how things worked back then. DBP was most interested in ‘High Tech’ equipment used to accomplish their missions. The classic spy camera, the hidden micro recorder, and the typical ‘computer’ of the day.
Super fun to see it all but scary to realize that the primary mission of the STASI was to control or eliminate any people who had thoughts or dealings that opposed the ‘Socialist’ Regime. Scary to understand their reach to every corner of the country, and scary to learn how many lives were taken in the name of the DDR. Interestingly enough DDR stands for Deutsch Democratic Republic. There was nothing democratic about it.
Dan happened upon a great sunglasses store that specializes in some creative taxidermy. Love the antler coat rack with tray. Seriously!
We've taken Zadie to a baby music, and a baby art class...
Video footage will be uploaded soon.
The recent history of Germany is fascinating and it is interesting to see how it has created the incredible culture of Berlin today. There is tolerance, there is personality, there is happiness.
That was part one... more to come. soon. (It's written, but we want to present it in digestible pieces