Holiday Travels, Part IV: Berlin, Germany

For our final city, the theme song had to be “Kreuzberg” by Bloc Party, since I loved exploring that part of Berlin last time I was there and Bloc Party is awesome:

December 30th

Dad and Dave got up really early to rescue Dave’s camera from Gilbert’s house and then meet us at Heathrow Airport. Mom, Laur and I packed up our stuff once more and made our way by tube to the airport, where we ended up rendezvousing with the rest of the Fox clan surprisingly easily. We had a quick flight over to Frankfurt, where plane de-icing and other delays almost made us miss our connection to Berlin, but everything worked out somehow and we were in a city that was dark and cold once more. London had spoiled us a little with its +8 degree weather, so Berlin was frigid in comparison.

We found our apartment, which was in a rather sketchy neighbourhood, but the apartment itself was a penthouse compared to that tiny hostel room in London! For dinner we found a cute Italian restaurant, the only open/non-fast food place within walking distance, and it was a diamond in the rough. Worn out from our travels and anticipating an epic New Year’s Eve, we hit the hay.

December 31st

We ate breakfast at the apartment – which included coffee! Finally, a never-ending supply of freshly-brewed coffee that that was hot and awesome – I’d been missing this. Coffee in Europe is a) usually in tiny cups b) usually lukewarm and c) usually has no free refills. This may be why I am slowly but surely (and much to my chagrin) becoming addicted to Starbucks.

We went to the Ku’damm to go shopping but we only got there around 2:00 pm and, unfortunately, that’s when the stores were closing for NYE so the Germans could get their drink on nice and early. A little awkward that we couldn’t have predicted that one, but we managed to see the bombed-out Kaiser-Wilhem Memorial Kirche and the new church beside it. This city is (predictably) saturated with memories of the war, and it’s weird that the tourism industry is so enmeshed in this terrible history lesson. It’s beautiful precisely because of this haunting desire to keep history present and real to the people who live in the city and those who visit it, and the fear of ever becoming distanced enough to forget:

Next we went to Checkpoint Charlie, and read the outside museum info about the Wall. We skipped the indoor museum because it was packed.

The Christmas tree really spruces things up.

My favourite part of CC is this sign:

Dad noted the irony of having a Starbucks and a McDonald’s on two of the corners by Checkpoint Charlie, which only emphasizes the differences between East and West Berlin and what the destruction of the wall meant in unifying the city.

We went back to the apartment, and Laur and Dad successfully procured Chinese food from nearby, a New Year’s Ever tradition for us. We drank some wine and beer and got ready to go out on the town.

Around 10:00 pm we went to Brandenburger Tor, where one million people gather to celebrate every NYE. Amazingly enough, the main part around the gate had been closed since 6 pm because there were already too many people there, and they were scared of people getting trampled in all of the excitement. So, we were technically outside of the party gates for the countdown and the fireworks display, although vastly more terrifying were the fireworks set off by the Germans (who ranged from mildly tipsy to completely wasted on the drunkness scale) right beside us.

One thing about Germans (or Europeans in general? Apparently it’s crazy like this in Vienna too): they love their fireworks, and they love them even more when intoxicated. We’d started hearing fireworks during the day before NYE, which means that nothing could even be seen –- a tad excessive, I would say. But nothing prepared us for the actual night, during which the all types of fireworks were set off, and sometimes straight into the crowd. I think I lost some hearing and some years of my life due to sheer terror of anticipating getting my face blown off by some cheerful German man.

Least spectacular photo of fireworks ever.

Mom and Dad headed home after the New Year was rung in successfully without anyone losing an eye or a limb, although the impromptu fireworks display lasted fully an hour before and after actual midnight. We bought some champagne to celebrate. (Note: champagne is surprisingly hard to open when wearing mittens, but a supportive crowd gathered around me and cheered wildly when I actually popped the cork and it rebounded off of a cop car. Never in my experience has opening a bottle of alcohol had such an enthusiastic reception, and that’s saying a lot for someone who went to school in a town with 5,000 people living in it.)

We loitered outside of the gates, hoping the police would let new people in as others who had been there since 6 pm gave in to their exhaustion and went home. There were nowhere near a million people by the time we got to the Gate, but there remained many stalwart dancers by the DJ tables on stage. We danced to crappy house music (and I say “crappy” with the utmost fondness) until 3:30 in the morning, and then followed the jovial crowd to the U-Bahn to make the journey home. Seeing as many of our past family vacations have involved part or all of the family traveling home on New Year’s Day (and sometimes at 6 in the morning, o cruel fates), we haven’t always had the most exciting NYE stories. Berlin definitely topped every NYE experience I’ve had thus far, and it’s why Berlin continues to hold a very special place in my heart.

January 1, 2011

Predictably, we slept well into the afternoon. Venturing outside for the first time all day, we found some dinner at an Argentinian place called Maredo. We meandered around the quiet fireworks-and-glass-littered streets afterward, in order to see the Brandenburger Tor and the Reichstag.

The Brandenburger Tor at night
The Reichstag, where the German parliament (Bundestag) meets.

January 2nd

For our last full day in Berlin, we first went to the East Side Gallery, a truly amazing piece of material history:

East Side Gallery

Then we walked through Kreuzberg, which is awesome. It became my favourite part of Berlin when Laur and I were told to go there on May 1, 2008, and we stumbled upon a peaceful riot/protest march that culminated in a street party that was literally 10 blocks squared — but that’s a story for another day. When we went there the day after New Year’s, it had that lingering hangover look typical of early January and was pretty quiet.

Bridge to Kreuzberg

The graffiti in Berlin is much more prevalent than in Vienna:

Street art in Kreuzberg.

Next we walked through Potsdamer Platz and ate lunch at the Sony Center. We saw Alexander Platz and found the Berlin Cathedral around sunset, which I’ve come to realize is a prime time to see all of these touristy sites due to the epic lighting:

The cathedral was ornate, to say the least:

Bling for Jesus.

January 3rd

We packed everything up for the last time, and said goodbye to our sweet apartment with the miraculous coffeemaker. At the train station we bid adieu to Laur, who was off on her own for a few days to Warsaw, Krakow and Budapest before dropping in to see me in Vienna. The rest of us took a train to Frankfurt and checked in to our hotel in Offenbach, right outside of the main part of the city. We ate dinner at an Italian restaurant in the cute downtown area of Offenbach and had fancy ice cream afterwards to celebrate my impending birthday (eugh).

January 4th

We woke up early to catch our flights back to Montréal and Vienna, respectively. My flight was only delayed by an hour, which was nice compared to 5 hours, and I took the S-Bahn back into the city with minimal stress. It was nice to be back in Vienna again and no longer have to live out of a suitcase. The Minkus was at home with our friend Brett, who was visiting for the week and ensured that the adventures would continue now that I was back home.

Thus ended the epic Fox family vacation, with all of us exhausted but well-fed and happy. Who knows, next year we might even reunite in Sackville!

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