Archive for 2014

The blokes of Neuhardenberg

4 September 2014

Our host in the Hotel Zum Alten Fritz was a local character, Wolfgang, who is pretty keen on military history. He had many historical photos of the town of Letschin, in war and flood, as well as Frederick the Great memorabilia.

My bike had a problem as the bolt holding the pannier racks on had sheared off, so we set about looking for a bike shop. As we arrived in the town of Neuhardenberg, we found an open door, some bikes on the street  and some old blokes and so we stopped to see if they could help out. They were only too happy to do so, although not in the German tradition of fine engineering. Their approach consisted of power tools – drill and angle grinder (the latter fortunately was not used), nuts, washers and bolts, and enthusiastic application of these to solve the problem. It all worked out ok in the end. We had a similar situation 4 years ago in Hungary where blokes unexpectedly came to the rescue. I say we should have the International Day of Old Blokes – they need more recognition.

After this kartoffelpuffer and kuchen (kase mohle und pflaumstreusel) were needed and these were obtained in Buckow. This town also has a lake, a public chess set and moderately aggressive swans. We swam in another nearby lake – the water was pretty cold at first but the experience was definitely to be recommended.

Die Pyramid is a folly of the 18th century that has recently been restored from a ruin. We visited it as it was on our route but do not especially recommend it. This is because it is plain ugly and even when you climb to the top, which is verboten but we did it anyway, all you can see is trees, trees and more trees in all directions.

We do recommend Peetzsee and intend to test its suitability for swimming in the morning.

Today has been our warmest and sunniest day so far and tomorrow promises to be that same. We are heading for Berlin!

Today’s route

The blokes and the bike!

Berlin by bicycle

5 September 2014

Early morning swim was had and it was good. We were supposed to follow the bike path along the southern side of Muggelsee but ended up on the north side which had a strandbad (sandy swimming beach) with a sign that said ‘Grillen verboten’. Just nearby we encountered the first batch of nudists who looked as though they had been grillen for some time. We think that the Berlin woman would approve of nudity but probably not participate due to the importance of her paleness and the need to get at least some use out of her many outfits.

Riding into Berlin was a pretty intense experience that allowed us to sample many different aspects. We spotted the Fernsehturm (TV Tower) from some way out. Then grunge factor rose sharply as we went through Kreuzberg (graffiti, cafes, wagon camp, Not the Berlin Festival, bits of Berlin Wall). The next part was crammed with tourists – Potsdamer Platz, Holocaust Memorial, Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag, 17 June Street, Tiergarten with more nudists, the zoo, then on to Kurfurstendam near which we are staying.

Shortly afterwards we were reunited with Wieteke and Kees who have travelled from Groningen to meet us here. Several hours of talking ensued combined with eating and drinking, the night warm and streets full of people.

Today’s route

Berlin Wall

The group tour

6 September 2014

The first tour of the day was the pre-breakfast tour in which there were 2 participants. We went to the Brandenberg Gate where we witnessed a man in board shorts, flippers and goggles doing the ice bucket challenge while a friend filmed him. This location is impressive in the early morning – no buses or tourist groups, in fact almost no people at all. The frieze above the columns indicates significant troubles with rampant centaurs in the past, all of which had to be quelled by heroic acts of bravery. We have not seen a single centaur and assume that they have now been brought under control.

Our return route took us past a number of outdoor sleeping areas – the underneath of most bridges is occupied in more or less comfort depending on individual resources. We also found the Charlottenburg Tor flea market but resisted buying any crockery.

In the post-breakfast tour, two additional participants joined on sturdy hired bikes. Everything started out well with clear objectives and straightforward navigation to the Charlottenburg Palace, set in huge formal gardens and the sort of place Charlotte ought to have been pretty satisfied with.

Following this our general aim was to reach Kreuzberg but we lacked a suitably specific objective. The group management style took many forms including benign dictatorship, participatory democracy and just-in-time. At one stage unionisation occurred and the workers demanded better conditions (coffee and cake). This was agreed to by management but delivery in a timely manner proved more difficult than anticipated. Some distractions along the way were Trabi World, the Topographie des Terrors – the former site of Gestapo and Nazi headquarters – and Checkpoint Charlie.

We then rode on into Kreuzberg but ended up doing the public transport infrastructure tour (overhead U-Bahn) rather than the gritty arty grungy graffiti bohemian cafe culture tour. Eventually we found a cafe that served coffee and cakes (German and Turkish, both excellent) so the workers were appeased. One member of the team went over the road to embark on a journey of personal transformation (haircut and shave in Turkish barber shop) while the rest of us had to fend off a shop keeper who did the equivalent of wheel clamping our bikes, as we had leaned them against her wall, denying her the opportunity of displaying her cheap poor quality goods on the footpath.

At this stage the group underwent restructuring and two independent divisions were created with an undertaking to revive the partnership later in the day.

Our division had in mind a swim in the Badeschiff, a pool that is floating in the Spree, but Not the Berlin Festival had overtaken the whole area, so instead we crossed the Oberbaum Bridge and found the East Side Gallery, a long section of the Berlin Wall that has been painted by many artists to create a striking and colourful memorial.

Our evening activity was a concert in the Berlin Philharmonie by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. They played Brahms, Rihm (who was present in the audience) and Richard Strauss. People sell large pretzels of different varieties outside the concert hall to the audience to help them get through the program and the trip home – good idea I say!

In the gardens of Schloss Charlottenburg

Memorials of not so long ago

7 September 2014

The early morning outing was to the Holocaust Memorial, near the Brandenburg Gate. At 7am on a Sunday morning we were the only visitors. This place has a real visual impact with light and shade on the concrete blocks creating geometric patterns, the contrast of green and slightly autumnal colours of the trees on the western side and the rather jarring row of tourist cafes on the east. On the way back we found, adjacent to the Philharmonie, the newly opened memorial to people who were killed according to Nazi policies because of mental illness or disability.

The group bicycle tour was to the Berlin Wall Memorial – Gedenkstatte Berliner Mauer – to the north of the city centre. It is sobering to see and read of the events that occurred here, including the demolition in 1985 of the church that was a symbol of hope for so many people. Even after being here it is difficult to appreciate that all this happened during our own lifetime and came to an end only 25 years ago. This location has excellent illustrations and explanations in both German and English. Across the road there is a tower that gives a view of the area from above, also with much interesting detail about political events and daily life in the GDR era.

Wieteke and Kees had to take an afternoon train to return to the Netherlands. We farewelled them the first time from our hotel, then chased them by bike and U-Bahn to the Hauptbahnhof to return the sponge bag that was left behind. Our time together has been full of hilarious events, not all of which can be published here!

Our evening was spent dining and walking around Savignyplatz where we observed on open air catwalk event with a long queue of highly fashionable young women and men waiting for their turn. We found many interior design shops (we are not doing enough with chandeliers in our house), the uber-cool back-to-the-fifties Smeg showroom, and took a brief look inside the arty Paris Bar.

Holocaust Memorial, Berlin

Getting an overview

8 September 2014

Early morning to Museum Island to see the Dom and Pergamon Museum, external viewing only. On the way back through the Tiergarten we found what appears to be the lion version of The Natural Family, cast in bronze. Mr Lion stands proudly above Mrs Lion who is lying, apparently contentedly, at his feet while two small cubs frolic. Closer inspection reveals that Mrs Lion has been deeply pierced by an arrow, an occurrence that would threaten the well-being of any NF. Anyway, we have been past this spot a few times since and there has been no visible deterioration, so we’d say her condition is serious but stable.

Our travels of the day took us beyond the Berlin Wall Memorial, past monolithic factories of former decades, to Volkspark Humboldthain, a park with a peak that used to be a flak tower. It is covered in graffiti and rather unkempt, but provides good views to the north and west sides of the city. Then back past the Neue Synagogue (Moorish with impressive dome) to the Fernsehturm (TV Tower) and a fast ride to the top – 6 metres per second as we told more than once. Berlin looks very fine from on high.

During evening aperitif hour we observed a Berlin woman of mature years and can now confidently state that it is ok to wear small polka dots with tartan and a slightly battered straw hat (fine straw tightly woven), and to ride on a seventies style hybrid bicycle.


The lions

Indoor and outdoor culture

9 September 2014

Lietzensee is a small lake in a park about 3km west of our digs, ideal for an early morning excursion. We saw school children doing lollipop man duties – ie stopping traffic to allow children safe crossing to get to school. Fraulein Lietzen is a small cafe, the equivalent of an Adelaide deli only way nicer – 6 varieties of excellent cake, fresh loaves of German bread, backgammon, poetry book, no Coke machine. We had milch kaffee and pretzels with butter and read a poem in German.

Our main plan of the day was to visit the Jewish Museum and we were successful in doing this. There is what seems to be a permanent police presence near the entrance – we have also seen this at a Jewish cultural centre near our hotel. We then found exactly the funky cafe area of Kreuzberg that we failed to find with Wieteke and Kees and had a delicious lunch there (Bergmannstr). The berg (hill) after which Kreuzberg is named was nearby so an ascent to the summit was made – it is not very high but still gives a good view.

The Museum der Dinge (Museum of Things) was next, except that we went right past the Sommerbad Kreuzberg, and decided to have a swim. This is a huge outdoor facility with 2 Olympic size pools, one warm and one cool in temperature, and an enormous recreation pool. Surrounding the pools is a vast park with trees and grass. This is the kind of public asset you can have when there is a big population nearby, none of whom can have their own pool. We had already discovered that nudity in public parks around Berlin is completely fine. Then we found that this extends to getting changed into your togs at the pool – no need to go into the dressing room, just get naked and put them on. The dressing rooms are fairly open anyway and don’t provide complete privacy. The swim was a delightful experience

Without meaning to, we keep going back to places we have been to before. Finally found the Museum d D which was right across the road from the Turkish barber shop of the recent haircut – and it is geschlossen on Tuesdays!  Waaaahh! We should have gone in on Saturday, except that we were then geographically more confused and didn’t know it was there. Ok – plan B – go to the Berlinische Gallery, near Jewish Museum. It is geschlossen until spring while they replace the sprinkler system. The tourism program was then officially abandoned.

Our evening meal was in an Italian restaurant in Charlottenburg, presided over by a maitre d who, in an enthusiastic but insistent way, explained in detail everything about the authentic Sicilian dishes, even to two uninterested Japanese businessmen who only wanted more antipasto and spaghetti, any kind would do.

Colours in Kreuzberg

Colours in Kreuzberg


das Ende

11 September 2014

Our last ride through the Tiergarten was to the Hauptbahnhof. The Tiergarten is an immense park with huge forested and open grassy areas. It has many paths that are heavily used by cyclists. It has been a great pleasure to ride here each day.

German train stations are wonderful places – they are full of bakeries and cafes, there are lifts to take you and your bicycle to the correct platform, there is clear information everywhere about arrivals and departures. We positioned ourselves on the part of the platform that should have meant easy embarkation into the bicycle carriage. However, even German systems have their glitches and, due to a last minute change, we had to dash to the other end of the train. Our bikes had specific reservations and had to be placed in the correct rack in the carriage.

Our train sped at over 200 km/hour towards Hannover. Our companion was Stijn, a young mechanical engineer from the Netherlands who had just completed his first bicycle tour on a bright yellow Cannondale, and is planning to do more. We changed trains in Hannover with about an hour to look around – and we teamed up with Lutz who had also travelled with his bike from Berlin. He is a retired English teacher who grew up in Hannover and still lives nearby. Lutz offered to be our guide for 1 hour and took us to see the old city, a church that remains without it roof as a reminder of the damage of WW2, and to the city hall where there are 4 scale models of Hannover, showing its development from medieval times, to the city prior to and post war damage and then the present. There was extensive bombing in the war that wrecked just about everything.

We have had many experiences of spontaneous help and kindness throughout our time in Germany. People take notice of temporary bewilderment, map reading and other signs that indicate you may be lost and do not wait to be asked for help.

Now we are back in Frankfurt, ready to pack up and return home. Our holiday has been wonderful. Tschuss to Germany, the people we have met and to friends old and new!

Our guide, Lutz, in Hannover