Sunday, October 17, 2010

Full Day in Berlin

After breakfast in the hotel, we went for a comprehensive guided tour of Berlin. BTW, the Abba Berlin has the best croissant for breakfast among all the hotels that I stayed in Germany, it was soft and tasty just on its own, lovely.

Our local guide was very knowledgeable and we toured all the major sites in Berlin by our coach. The first stop was at the Berlin Wall Monument where the remains of the Wall stood. Actually it was not as formidable as one might have thought and heavily vandalised by souvenir hunters so it is fenced off.

In parts where the wall has been removed, in its place they have put in a metal strip on the ground marking the exact position so you can trace the wall all the way following the strip. A very simple and practical idea to keep the history of the Berlin Wall alive.

Next stop was at the Gendarmenmarkt square in the middle of which stands the Konzerthaus or the concert hall. On both sides, you'll find a church, one the French Cathedral and the other the German Cathedral like identical twins.

The last stop was at the Brandenburg Gate where you can take photos with actors dressed as American or Soviet soldiers and also a Red Indian, supposedly a real one!

Just next to the Brandenburg Gate is the American Embassy, surprisingly so close to the hot tourist spot.

Nearby is the Hotel Adlon; that's the hotel where Michael Jackson infamously dangled his son outside the window a couple of years back.

We learned from the guide that Berliners like to give nicknames to the many monument and buildings in the city. Some of them are

"Berlin", split links of a chain - constipation

House of World Culture - the pregnant oyster

The fountain in front - Jimmy Carter's smile

A kindergarten(?) near the museum island - Pamela Anderson's house, no prize for guessing why.

We were dropped off outside Marche Berlin in Ku'damm and free to roam Berlin for those who have not booked the optional tour to Potsdam. Since I'll be coming back to Berlin later, I chose to walk around Berlin on my own with my wife.

Among the some of the sites visited were the Kaiser-Wilhelm church

The fountain outside the Europa Centre

We walked mainly along the Kurfurstendamm and being a Sunday, almost all the shops were closed and it saved me some euros since the wife could not do any shopping. (Alas, this is only a delay since we came back to Berlin later on weekdays.) The famous departmental store, the Ka De We was also closed.

Today was also a "Bicycle Day" and there were thousands of bicycles going round the city. They were of all shapes, size and types just like all the different riders.

There was also a fund raising event with many vintage cars on show.

Lunch was a simple affair - the famous currywurst at Ku'damm 195. This is German pork sausage drown in tomato sauce and curry powder and served with big portion of French fries. The small shop is tucked in a corner of the building so you may easily miss it; just follow the smell.

We walked passed the Savignyplatz square before heading back to our hotel for a rest before the evening's activity.

This evening we attended a variety show at Friedrichstadt Palace, the largest variety theatre in Eurpoe. Luckily for us, we were able to catch the show as this was the final week's performance before the summer break.

The show (Qi - Berlin's Biggest Show) was very enjoyable being a mixture of song, dance, acrobats, flying trapeze, comedy, ballet, etc. The huge stage setting and colourful costumes were impressive with music provided by a live orchestra. Not to be missed!

Ronald Kwok

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Berlin - first visit and Checkpoint Charlie

We arrived in Berlin in the late afternoon. One unusual sight I noticed was the colourful pipes found in some part of the city and later I learned that these are the water pipes brought above ground since there are a lot of construction work around the city and this will avoid unnecessary disruption to the water supply in case of pipe damage during the work. Talk of German efficiency.

This time we were lucky as the hotel is in town and is pretty new and modern. This is the Abba Berlin at Lietzenburgerst street, a short walk to the main shopping street of Kurfurstendamm, or Ku'damm for short. Also there is a supermarket nearby to stock up your mineral water and snacks and an underground U-station (Uhlandstr) not too far away.

We were ready for out excursion after a rest at the hotel, this was the optional dinner at Ziko's Grill in town. The atmosphere at the restaurant is fun with music and singing and most of us opted for the pork knuckles as the main course. The portion is big but I did not find it that tasty since we are probably spoilt by out roast pork back home. Anyway, it was an enjoyable evening out.

Since it was still bright after dinner, we had an informal bonus tour of Berlin. (The official guided tour will be in the next morning.) The fist stop was at the Reichstag, the home of the German parliament and then a short walk to the Brandenburg Gate. Along the way, there are simple memorials for those who died while trying to cross the Berlin Wall as this street was once divided by the Berlin Wall.

The last stop was at Checkpoint Charlie before we drove back to the hotel for a good night's rest. These photos of two young soldiers (one US and the other Soviet) must be some of the most recognisable faces in the world, surely some of the most photographed. I wonder where they are now.

Ronald Kwok

Monday, July 12, 2010

Lubeck, marzipan

After breakfast, we drove to Lubeck. Today was a bit chilly but otherwise the weather was fine. The city has a very distinctive brick architecture and this is found in many buildings in the city. First stop was at the Holstentor gate, once the only entrance to the city.

From the gate,, it was a short walk to the Rathaus and the city square. There was some kind of fair going on in the square so there were stalls selling snacks and drinks. After walking past the main shopping street, we arrived at the Marienkirche or St.Mary's Church. Outside the church there is a cute little devil sitting near the wall which is a favourite photo spot.

We then walked back to the main shopping street to probably the most famous shop in Lubeck.

The most famous product of Lubeck is marzipan and the most famous shop selling this sweets is Niederegger. Inside the shop you can find all kinds of marzipan in various shapes and flavours and the display is so colourful as shown in the clip below. Personally, I do not find marzipan that great, maybe it is because I am not too fond of almond, the main ingredient of marzipan.

From Lubeck, we headed for Berlin. On the way we had our lunch at one of the rest stops. Lunch was a buffet but not the all you can eat buffet at one price that we find at home. Here only the salad or side dishes is the one that you can take as much as you want in one helping and there are usually three prices that go according the size of the plate (big, medium and small) you use to pile up your food. So if you are good at it, you can choose the smallest plate and take more food than using the biggest plate.

Another peculiar point to note is that all the glasses used in cafe and restaurants have markings at the side to indicate the volume of the drink served. So you can make a complaint if you drink is not up the mark, literally. So much for consumer protection.

BTW, the food at this rest stop is one of the best that I have tasted in Germany. The goulash is just right as other places serve it too thick and too salty. After a very satisfying lunch, we continued our journey to Berlin.

Ronald Kwok