Walking Daft

“Make the most of your last day” is a saying that gets thrown about a lot on holiday. I tried at least. The sole objective from today was to check out the Olympiastadion, a stadium that athletics fans get all hot and bothered about because it’s god-like in athletics history. We all know the story of sprinter and long jumper, Jesse Owens, and his incredible performance at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, with the athletics being held at the Olympiastadion. It was a must-see for me. Until I looked at the price.

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For a normal tourist, 13 euros is not a lot for a tour, but for me it’s a big bite out of my budget. However there was an entry without a tour of 5.50 and I decided to go for it. For some reason, they weren’t allowing tourists to choose that option so I left disappointed.

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Graffiti in support of local football team, Hertha Berlin.

But that wouldn’t put a dampener on my day. I walked around the area for a while, soaking up the sun, getting some decent exercise in, before heading back into the city centre. A walk from Friedrichstrasse to Alexanderplatz was relaxing, before jumping on the train to Kotbusser Tor, the heartland of Kreuzberg.

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The famous SO36

Kreuzberg is, as mentioned in my previous post, not the best place for tourists in a traditional sense, but it is a fantastic place to check out. There’s cheap food, beer and plenty of people to chat to. I ended up walking around the area for three hours, getting an ice cream for 1.20 (bargain) before sitting with a beer down by the Landwehr Canal. I got speaking to a Turkish-German about the area and he recommended a few places to eat, including Maky, a Vietnamese restaurant. It ended up being my most expensive meal of the trip at 6 euros. Good meal.

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On my last night I met back up with Chloe and Leah for a few drinks to celebrate Chloe’s birthday. I maybe had a few too many. I headed to my bed around half past two, knowing full well that I would be on a train at 11 o’clock the next day.

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Happy hangover. Berlin, you have been a blast. Until next time.

Expenses: BEER FROM SHOP (2 500ml bottles of Polish beer) 3 euros
DINNER 6 euros
ICE CREAM: 1.20 euros
GROCERIES (two bottles of water (1l), two yoghurts, bag of peach loops, two beers (Perlenbacher): 3.80 euros
DRINKS (two beers): 6 euros.

Total: 20 euros

Full total: 83.38 euros. All things considering, I’m pretty satisfied with how I stuck to a budget rather than going crazy with my money. I spent in total over my Berlin trip (including flights and accommodation) just over £200.

Berlin? Completed it mate.

June 2

Grafitti, Punk and Squatters

After a productive day 2 of Berlin, day 3 was offering up something different, something distinct, something…alternative.

Literally an alternative walking tour. My friend (shoutout to Megan O’Donnell) told me about this tour before I left and seeing as my itinerary wasn’t booked up, I thought I would give it a go. Believe me when I say this: if you like music, art, politics, culture or just a lot of cool things – this is the tour for you.

I met a whole bunch of strangers in Alexanderplatz at 11am for the start of the tour. Two tour guides were there, one smoking a cigarette dressed like he was about to go out on the strip on a lad’s holiday (Scottish guy, Dave) and an eccentric, bearded Englishman (Jake). I cannot speak for all of the tour guides as I only really met these two, but they are great. My tour guide was Jake, who really knows how to tell a story. He’s expressive, he keeps the audience on edge when speaking about pieces of art and what they mean, and injects humour into every corner of his tales.

To give you an idea of this, we stop at our first piece which really gives you an idea of how dark Berlin humour is, but also how creative and colourful it can be. Little Lucy was once a cartoon used in communist Czechoslovakia during the Iron Curtain. The artist, El Bocho, started to paste his own paintings of Little Lucy on the streets of Berlin, but with a twist. Little Lucy had a cat and in the original comic strip, she and the cat would work together (an ideal of communism) and nothing bad would happen in the end. El Bocho started to make these paintings of Little Lucy torturing her cat in different ways. Sickeningly hilarious.

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Little Lucy cooking up something good. Jake (shown above) tells the story of these paintings.

Further along the same street, there were metal sculptures. One showing a metal man cuffed to a rail reaching out…for some bolt cutters to set himself free. Right beside that was a sculpture of a Native American chief wearing a “I Love NY” t-shirt that was put there in protest of the Dakota Access Pipe Line at Native American Reservation, Standing Rock.

After some stops in nearby spots, we boarded the train to Kreuzberg. To give you an idea of what Kreuzberg is like, it isn’t too dissimilar to the east end of Glasgow in terms of its character and background. Like the east end, it has problems with crime, drugs and poverty, but it also has some parts that are utterly wonderful. This neighbourhood sat right at the wall on West Berlin. Because it was so close, no one really fancied living there. Basically, what’s the point in living in an area that is so close to East Berlin that you could risk your life if anything were to happen?

It’s an area that is both unpolished and beautiful. We are told about the punk movement in Kreuzberg that moved it into the east and made the area a must for all punk and later, techno lovers. Places like Kreuzberg put Berlin on the map for many artists of the time: David Bowie, Iggy Pop and the Stooges and The Damned were regulars in the city. The area is well-known for squatters who brought the artistic, anarchist ideologies to Berlin.

This part of the city (just over the River Spree from my hostel) is just great. There’s a lot to do and there’s a certain buzz around it. The art is just as fantastic.

Then came some of the coolest parts of the tour. The Treehouse on the Wall is one of them.IMG_4721.JPG

The story goes: this land belonged to East Germany during the division, but they built the wall behind this building here. West Germany were not allowed to build on the land, despite it being on their side. A man in West Germany decided to start building on the land after the small triangle space became a waste land. He used all the raw materials to make a treehouse on a wall. First East Germany opposed it as they thought he was building a tunnel to help people escape East Germany, but saw it as a socialist project which the East could use as propaganda against the West and left the building. The owner, Osman Kalin, is still alive today and still visits his house everyday where he grows fruit and vegetables. We were fortunate enough to see him in his garden at the right time.

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The legend himself: Osman Kalin.

Finally, on our last leg of the trip, we visited paradise. A completely different world – Yaam.

Yaam is a club, resort, beach…I don’t know how to describe it. It’s a euro to get in and drink prices are reasonable considering you’re on private land. There is imported sand, a football pitch, a bar, food shacks, art, a kid’s play park. It’s just amazing.

It has a real Afro-Caribbean influence behind the whole place. The music, the food and the large African community who run the place make everyone feel so welcome. It is like a completely different world and is both the anti-thesis of Berlin and everything that Berlin is about. Completely unique from the rest of the city, but then again, the whole city is so unique.

This is where our tour ended. But what a fitting place to finish with. Kindly, I was invited to have a few drinks with some of the people on the tour who I got talking to. I was joined by Frank, Angie and Sandee from Florida as well as Lily from Melbourne, Australia. We sat in Yaam for a while, with drinks on Frank on the promise that I repay the favour if he ever goes to Scotland. I happily obliged.

After Yaam, I headed back towards the hostel in the same direction as the Floridians who coaxed me for another drink, this time we went into a bar on a boat: not the best thing to sit on when you are tipsy and unsure if your head is spinning or if the boat is moving. The bartender liked us so much, he gave us all a free shot of German vodka, Held. UK and US vodka often has a nasty kick on the way down, but this was so smooth.

After taking in some of the East Side Gallery I headed home, saying my goodbyes to my new found friends. Old enough to be my parents, but still cool enough to chat with.

I ended my night with a bit of familiarity. Two girls who I was in school with, Chloe and Leah, were staying in Berlin just around the corner. Of course I met people from my hometown in another country. Had a nice wee chat and a beer to round off a pretty eye-opening day of seeing the cool side of Berlin. Exchange your Brandenburg for your Kreuzberg, trade in the Reichstag for SO36, go to the alternative Berlin – it is the most enjoyable thing about the city.

Thanks again to the alternative walking tour. It is free to do the tour, but a donation is recommended. Find their website here for more information: http://alternativeberlin.com/

Budgeting:

ALTERNATIVE WALKING TOUR DONATION: 5 euros
BEER (Can of Becks (500ml), Bottle of Erdinger (500ml): 4.20 euros (don’t make the joke Michael)
BEER FROM FRANK: 0 euros
YAAM ENTRY AND MONEY TO PISS: 1.50 euros
DINNER (Donner Kebab, I’m lazy): 3.50 euros

Total: 14.20 euros

Overall total: 63.38 euros. Only 3 euros over my budget is not bad considering Berlin isn’t the cheapest place on my list.

Breakfast: Yoghurt, 2 bananas, water.
Lunch: 5 sweet bread rolls (nutritious)
Dinner: Donner kebab (even more nutritious).

Here are pictures of my currywurst from day 2 and kebab from day 3 since I forgot to post it earlier:

What was the best, what was the wurst? I’ll let you decide. They were both brilliant and cheap. Now to go and enjoy my last day of Berlin.

June 1

Ich Bin Ein Berliner

In the title I mean “I’m a doughnut”, to quote the urban myth over JFK’s famous speech. The reason why I am being so critical of myself is down to how I got here.

The last time I spoke on this, I was sitting in Glasgow Airport, in the comfort of English-speaking holidaymakers. Hours later I would be thrown into the depths of Germany without much help. Coming out of the airport, I searched for the Welcome Card that my brother recommended, for four days at a cost of 35 euros. Pricey, but it meant I didn’t have to walk ridiculous lengths or waste my day getting lost. A Scottish couple coincidentally were the first people in Germany that I conversed with. I didn’t have much success with their assistance, but finally managed to find the appropriate ticket in time. My trip from Schonefeld Airport to East Berlin had started. I dropped off at Obstanhof station, unaware that I could jump on another train to get closer to the hostel.

Of course I walked.

With a heavy bag I managed to arrive in blistering heat. Industriepalast Hostel. It’s a nice place, a little bugged that I don’t have a toilet or shower in my own room, but you can’t win them all. My roommates have been cool. So far I have met people from Belarus, Vietnam and three girls from Canada two from Quebec. Mon the independence. Tuesday night I arrived and needed food. Kebab. Downstairs right beside the hostel is a kebab shop. In the UK you would bypass this place as it looks nothing special. BUT THE DONNER KEBABS ARE AMAZING. UK food is mince in comparison, pardon the pun.

But onto more important matters: Berlin. After grabbing some snacks from a nearby Lidl, I went into full tourist mode.

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The first train. Fun fact: the woman on the left of the photo had an Adidas logo shaved into the back of her head.

I headed into the city centre, which is far more of a tourist spot than the rest of East Berlin. East Berlin is much like the East End of Glasgow: less pretty, but more character. The centre has a similar feel to New York or London in the way that there is always something happening. My first point of call was Checkpoint Charlie, one of the spots between East and West Germany, with this being the most important one. I also visited the outdoor museum just across the road telling you of the survivors and victims of the wall.

Coming from a place where there was ultimately joy after years of heartbreak, I experienced the Topography of Terrors. Disclaimer: some of the things I’m about to say are pretty shocking. This museum shows how well the Germans criticise their past, unlike my own country. A timeline (which takes nearly two hours to read properly) of the Nazis’ rise to power, the Nazi control and the aftermath, is heavily detailed with all the gruesome and sadistic moments in Nazi Germany. To give you an idea of how well Berlin portrays their past, there are over 300 memorials to the war in the city, most of guilt. IMG_4636.JPG

I will say this now. Everyone has a rough idea of how brutal the Nazis were. Unless you are incredibly well-booked up on the subject, you have no idea. There were many gruesome tales that you aren’t told about in history class and rightfully so.

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This was the most harrowing. Leni Riefenstahl was well-known for her propaganda films, but her exploitation of Gypsies (which ended in their murders) was one of the most sickening things I had read from Nazi history.

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I’ll finish this small part in saying, it’s easy to see how the Nazis were so influential. They were absolute geniuses at propaganda. The above was a particular favourite (if you can have a favourite piece of propaganda from a fascist regime). The poster is artistic brilliance. This seems to be one of the only great things the Nazis created, even if it still had abhorrent intentions.

From there, I strolled around the mall, thinking of things that I could buy if I wasn’t limiting myself to 20 euros a day, before visiting the Tiergarten, Holocaust Memorial and the Brandenburg Gate. Sentiment aside, the Holocaust Memorial is some fantastic architecture/art with a great point to make. The Tiergarten seems like the best place to chill out and have a beer/smoke. The Brandenburg Gate was shut off to the public for unknown reasons (I couldn’t sleep at night thinking about it). Shame really, because it’s such a grand attraction, reminiscent of St Peter’s Square in Rome.

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Holocaust Memorial Pillars

Finally, the two main political buildings in Berlin: The Reichstag and the Bundestag. Reichstag I could only view from the outside. Man, that’s a grand building. The Bundestag is a parliament building that puts the amazing Scottish Parliament to shame. Four buildings linked together, including two over the River Spree.

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Beautiful sight: the background is not too bad as well.

It was a pretty long day of sight seeing, but a productive day. Would also like to say, apologies for the delay on this, I had so much fun yesterday, that I forgot to do this. The next one should be ready for tomorrow morning. But just before here’s a low down of my budgeting and food from the first and second night…

WELCOME CARD: 35.50 Euros
FIRST NIGHT DINNER (donner kebab, bottle of water (1.25l): 5.50 euros
GROCERIES (4 bananas, 12 sweet bread rolls, three bottles of water (1.25l), two yoghurts): 3.68 euros
MAY HAVE BEEN CONNED BY A POOR PERSON IN TIERGARTEN WHO SAYS SHE WAS RAISING MONEY FOR DEAF CHILDREN: 1 euro
SECOND NIGHT DINNER (currywurst, chips): 4.50 euros

Total: 49.18 euros.

Considering I have only spent 14 euros on things that aren’t my train card (which is needed if you want to get around things relatively quickly. Including a train from the airport which is usually pricey, I took more than 10 trains in my first two days).

My second day’s meals consisted of: Breakfast – one yoghurt, one banana, water. Lunch – six sweet bread rolls. Dinner: Currywurst and chips. What I’m learning from this trip is if I’m busy, I eat less. Which is both good and bad. It at least means I won’t be rolling back home the size of a yoga ball.

30/31 May

Adios, Au Revoir, Auf Wiedersehen, Ciao

This is the post excerpt.

This is gonna be brief as my first blog entry on my travel blog “Highway to the Eurozone”. Hilariously punny and at the same time, awful.

Some of you who know me personally will know of my love for the idea of travelling. I say the idea, because I haven’t had the opportunity to travel over a long period of time so this is all new to me.

My interest came from hearing friends on Facebook updating us all on their travels a few years ago. My envy was strong, my budget was non-existent, so I left it. After second of year of university I was desperate to travel and found myself with enough of my student loan left that I could’ve went, but I had no one to go with. Then last year, my plans to travel with friends was scuppered by my friend having a child with his girlfriend, with their son due in July 2016. If it wasn’t for that incident and another friend applying for Camp America, I may have already went and had a different experience to the one I will soon experience. In many ways, my two friends’ decisions which I was gutted about at the time, have made things better for me.

To quote the greatest lyricist of our time, Jason Derulo, “Solo, I’m riding solo, I’m riding solo, I’m riding solo solo”.

After years of co-dependency on my friends, I bit the bullet. I was inspired to make this decision from when I worked with Sahara Force India Formula 1 team in Monza last year. With prices for hotels sky-high during the Grand Prix weekend, I opted for a hostel in nearby Milan. It was the first flight that I had taken by myself without meeting someone on the other side. It was originally an absolute nightmare: I had a delayed flight after getting all the way to Edinburgh from my hometown of Greenock (that is a train and a walk and a bus away or approximately two hours drive). Then, due to my late flight and a mix-up with what train I was supposed to get, I didn’t get into Milan city centre until 10.30pm. Then the fun really started as I dragged about a suitcase in 28 degrees heat with humidity through the roof, trying to find my hostel. It should have taken me 20 minutes, but it ended up taking 45 minutes.

But once I was there, my roommates at the hostel were really cool and I still keep in touch with a few of them today. I was leaving at the same time as one of my friends, Serge, who drove from his home in Harlem, Netherlands. He spoke about where he was planning to visit on his trip home. I was really tempted to join him and cancel my flight, but due to other commitments I didn’t ask. The envy came back in that moment and I knew I had to do something then.

That leads us to here. I’m using this as an opportunity to meet new people, to allow myself to do what I want to do without compromise. I will update daily on my experience and maybe add a few extra bits if necessary. I’m furiously typing out this post just before my flight gets called, so I’m a little rushed.

If you’re wondering where I am going first, it’s Berlin.