Our final day in Berlin had arrived. We rolled out of bed after 11, our Spanish friends having departed early. After 2 nights on the beer, we decided we had to have at least one “culture” experience to round off the trip. Luckily, near our hostel was a museum I’d never been to before.
A computer game museum! Only the Germans (or Japanese) could have a museum to this. We just had to check this one out. The outside looked a bit unassuming, but fortunately, the inside didn’t disappoint. It had everything I would have wanted from such a museum. Life-sized models, which, of course, we posed for photos with…
and just about every games console you could ever think of, including some which were even before my time
and some which evoke pleasant childhood memories of staying up until 4am watching my dad play
his my Christmas present: a Colecovision.
We wandered round drinking in happy memories and everything was well laid out with informative text in English and German. Of course, the whole thing wouldn’t be complete without the chance to play the actual games themselves and they had an arcade bit which allowed you to do just that. I spent some happy minutes reacquainting myself with Pong, Space Invaders and Pacman.
I was so absorbed in the games that I hadn’t played in probably 3 decades (ouch!) that I hadn’t noticed my brother’s disappearance. I found him near the entrance, looking water-eyed as he’d just been sick again around the corner. We decided to leave a really terrific museum, get some breakfast at Ostbahnhof and see how we felt after that. I’d planned to take him to the nuclear bunker, located at the Story of Berlin exhibition on Ku’damm. But after breakfast/brunch, he still felt crap, so we decided to separate until meeting for dinner in the evening, with my bro heading back to sleep off his hangover.
I took the s-bahn to Alexanderplatz and walked from there down to Tourist south central: Checkpoint Charlie, where they now have a lengthy (and free) exhibition detailing the story of the Berlin Wall, complete with a detailed plan of how it worked as part of the intricate multi-layered border system.
After at least three hours walking round, I decided I needed a sit down and a coffee, so headed to near where my brother was going to meet me for our dinner date.
I got there only to find that he’d been travelling on the same metro as me. We’d booked a table at Massai restaurant, one of about 3 African restaurants in the city. While Massai is a bit out of the way, located in the increasingly yuppified Prenzlauer Berg, it’s worth a visit as it serves one of the more unusual menus in the city. While I drank Mango beer and my brother had banana beer, waitresses in traditional African clothing mulled around. For the main course we had separate meat platters. My brother had the zebra, crocodile and antelope, while I had the ostrich, crocodile and sprinkbok option. The crocodile in particular was a bit unusual, with a texture more like squid but a poultry or turkey taste.
Afterwards we had a long walk through Prenzlauer Berg, ending near Pankow. There are entire streets now which just seem to be full of restaurants, a real change from 2001 when I first visited. There’s virtually every type of cuisine represented there, though some of them are less than authentic, for example, I spotted this abomination:
There is no seafood or fish in a Valencian paella, it’s made of chicken and rabbit. Grrrr!
We were getting tired at this point, but as it was the last night, felt we had to make it last. We considered the options of visiting some random suburb or just heading to the super touristy area around Oranienburger Strasse. After rolling a dice, the dice told us to do the latter option. We headed to a long time favourite of ours, the Silberfisch bar, which is generally packed with tourists, but does play decent alternative and indie rock. However, even 2 ginger ales didn’t revive our spirits, so after a half-hearted attempt at walking it all the way back, we caught the S-Bahn halfway.
In the end, this was the 16th trip to Berlin in as many years and, with return flights now at 67 euros, I’m sure we’ll be back at some point soon. There are many things I love about Berlin. It’s laidback, liberal and lefty. There’s always lots to do and, even after you’ve exhausted the tourist stuff, there are still new hidey holes to discover. I’m also amused that I can now read and understand German menus and a lot of other stuff. Partly due to making so many visits, but also because a lot of the Latvian food words come from German. For a major capital, it’s not so expensive, especially if you go a bit off the beaten track and essentials like beer and football are reasonable.
All that said, there are, like anywhere else, things I could happily do without. In no particular order:
- GENTRIFICATION. A fancy way of saying “rich people are takin’ over my ‘hood.” Since I first visited in 2000, a lot of areas of Berlin have become noticeably richer. Prenzlauer Berg is the prime example and this even led to one of my regular hangouts, the Knaack Klub, closing in 2010 after 58 years of existence. Parts of Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg have also gone the same way. Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely parts of Berlin which could do with improvements (Hello Marzahn, Hello Wedding) but it has resulted in parts of Berlin becoming just like any other capital city and losing their distinctive character in the process. As CS Lewis once said: “Progress, development…. I’ve seen it in an egg. It’s called going bad.”
- GERMAN TOILETS. Germany is known for its innovation and creativity. But seriously, whose bright idea was this?
A helpful shelf to catch the crap? It makes going to the toilet a bit of a (s)hit and run job.
3) SMOKING IN BARS. I’m pretty liberal and think that there should be places for people who smoke and places for people who don’t smoke. In Berlin, there are no/few bars in the latter category. At first, there’s a pleasant nostalgia about going into a smoky bar, it’s like “Back to the 90s, man!” But it quickly wears off and it’s not nice to wake up next day with clothes and hair stinking like an old ashtray.
4) OPENING HOURS. When I first visited, a lot of places closed around 1pm on Saturdays and reopened Monday. The Saturday hours have been extended, but it’s a bit of a pain to find everywhere shut on a Sunday, where are we … in the Bible Belt?
5) GERMANS’ COMMAND OF ENGLISH. Seriously, guys. Can’t you like…. unlearn English so that I can move there? Germans have great English, probably the reason there’s no job market there for teachers. There are the odd German-influenced mistakes I hear (“If I would” , “I have been there last year”) but communication breakdowns are almost non-existent. I’d love to know the secret.
Overall, fun trip. See you soon, Berlin!