Casa’s Blog

A Life Abroad

Board games have a double meaning in this caravan in Wales. You sink ships when we should be kissing. Monopoly has thrown us in jail!

So I survived a 3:45am wake up this morning to navigate the maze of Berlin’s trains to eventually get to the airport.  It is amazing how non-eventful the whole airports and flying thing can become.  I remember my first flights as a child being awe-inspiring experiences and after so many flights in such a short period of time it is all a little “meh”.

 

What was funny about my flight experience was that for some reason I must “look” English or at the very least “un-German” as at every desk, security checkpoint, etc I was greeted with people speaking English at me.  I didn’t even have the chance to use my perfected “I do not understand” look and shrug!  I know what some of you may be thinking – maybe it wasn’t me but they all just always speak English for flights to the UK or something, but I noticed many people being addressed in German.  I just look like I speak the language of quid and pints  I think 😛

 

I also had the experience of another easyjet flight.  It really is a somewhat different experience from other airlines, particularly as there was a rush to get on (as there is no assigned seating) that just led me to believe people are WAY to eager to have a specific seat on the flight.  What was stranger was the same rush was there on the way off the plane.  Maybe people were in a hurry.  I also noticed that I have been accidentally writing Ezyjet instead of Easyjet…I think this proves I have spent too much money through EzyDvd.com.au in Australia.

 

Once I landed at Gatwick I navigated the series of trains and the tube well enough to get to Cardiff with ease, but I must say that UK rail is FEARFULLY expensive. I always new this but it hurts a lot more when I have recent European examples to compare the prices to.  It cost me more to get from Gatwick to Paddington Station than it did to get from Prague to Vienna!  That is just not cricket.

 

Speaking of cricket, of course that is why I am here in Cardiff  (there is little other reason to be here :P) and you can tell an ashes test is about to start.  For instance my hostel is booked out (unusual in the UK) and booked out with Australians.  Even on the trains you heard the aussie accent in every corner and the minority of proper poms on the train were all discussing Brett Lee’s omission, whether to play 2 spinners and if KP is a big a wanker as he seems.  It definitely is time for the cricket to start.

I will catch up with Juz and the guys later as they arrive on different train and are staying in another location but in the meantime I have a couple of books I bought at Victoria Station from good ol’ W.H. Smith to entertain me as they did on the train.  The one I am reading at the moment is “With Friends Like These” by Danny Wallace which is actually laugh out loud funny at points…which can be embarrassing when on the train or at the station.  However, at least I have reading material that will last me through Paris and I wont have to search in vane for English language books in a foreign city once again.

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July 8, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Little girl, little girl. Why are you crying? Inside your restless soul, your heart is dying.

So Berlin is basically down.  There is so much I haven’t done (particularly I didnt hit the nightlife of Berlin ashard as I couldve as I had such full days of tourist stuff) so I guess I will have to come back some time.  Not that that will be much of a chore.  I have really enjoyed my time in Berlin.  I had differing reports from other people about how good of a place Berlin is but I suppose as I am such a 20th Century History/politics nut there isn’t many more interesting cities for me.

 

Today I had a little bit of a sleep in before heading off to two museums.  The sleep in wasn’t really intentional but for some reason a lot of things in Germany (including shops and museums) open at 10am.  It is weird coming from Australia where everything basically opens at 9am if it will be open for the daylight hours.  However, I am never one to complain about HAVING to sleep in a little more 😛

 

The first museum I went to was the Deutsches Historiches Museum which was a really interesting place.  Basically it covers the history of the German people and region from day one until now.  It covers everything in detail but also from a distinctly German viewpoint and it is always good to hear a different telling of history to get a more complete picture of the events that took place.  Included in the collection where Napoleon’s hat, Hitler’s desk (which was massive and an imposing structure especially when you imagine a short Austrian sitting behind it) and loads of authentic documents, posters and objects from throughout the 20thcentury.  For me the best parts were the story of World War 1 from a German perspective as well as how they dealt with explaining the Nazi period.  Also the East/West Germany period was covered well as the museumsplits down the middle witha metal wall for those times before ending with loads of original footage of the events leading up to the wall coming down.  Overall it was a cool place to explore and the kind of museum that you spend four hours in before you realise it.  It only cost a fiver as well!

 

Just over the road-ish is the DDR Museum.  Basically this is a private museum dedicated to the East German times and is designed to give an insight in to life behind the iron curtain.  I couldn’t help but compare it to the Communism Museum in Prague and the differences were bold.  Firstly the DDR Museum was better organised (although slightly smaller) and seemed a little bit more polished.  The biggest difference seemed to be the parts of positive nostalgia to be found in the DDR Museum that one would be struggling to find in the Prague Communism Museum.  It talks about all facets of life from transport, sport, nudism, education, work, etc, etc and a large part of it seems to be looked on fondly.  The old television shows are presented much like if I was to put together a museum exhibit for Johnson and Friends and SuperTed.  The “crappiness” of the Trabantcar was discussed almost witha smile as people were able to fix the car themselves without the need for fancy equipment.  Even the fact that public transport ticket machines were enforced by having the last persons coin displayed so social control, rather than ticket inspectors, would be used or the “collective potty training” of toddlers were somewhat happy times in the history.  It touches on the dark side of communism with the Stasi, doping in sport and the equal but unequal social hierarchy but only partially.  I think this difference is because this is a private museum set up by an East German.  The Communism Museum in Prague was set up by Americans. Obviously the owners and organisers are expressing their own ideologies in the collections.  Bothare interesting points of view although I am pretty sure the truth of the matter falls somewhere in the grey area between the two contrasts.

 

Anyway that is my German experience done with.  I will be having an early night tonight as I need to be up at 4am to get to Wales via metro, train, bus, plane, trains and more trains.  However, at least I know that all the punishment of travel will be worth it as although I will be in Wales…I am there to catch the Ashes test match with the guys.

July 7, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

I can’t see a thing in the video. I can’t hear a sound on the radio. In stereo, in the static age.

I got up this morning a little earlier than usual.  The Reichstag opens at 8am and supposedly the lines get fair long and the waits excessive later in the day.  My common struggle to wake up in the morning meant I wasn’t there at 8am as I had hoped but was getting there at 8:30.  I have to say though that the wait later in the day must be shocking as it still took about 20 mins to get through security and up to the dome and this was way too early on a Sunday morning.  The Reichstag, which historically was the home of the democratic parliament of german, famously burnt down in 1933 and since reunification has once again become the home of the German parliament, is an impressive building.  The original stone facade and towers on the corners have been preserved but a brand new (and shiny) glass and steel dome and interior were completed at the turn of the millennium.  The dome gives great views of the city (although it was a little cloudy) but there is a really fancy and interesting audio guide provided for free that explains not only the history of the building but the parts of Berlin you can see. It was cool to see and learn about a landmark building for the history of Berlin and Germany and get a free view of the city from above all for the cheap price of free.

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After the Reichstag I made my way over to something else that is free (there are an amazing amount of good, interesting and free things to do in Berlin).  I went to the Gedenkstätte Deutscher Widerstand or in English the German Resistance Memorial.  Set in the buildings where Claus von Stauffenberg and his fellow coup conspirators where executed in 1944 it tells the story of the limited resistance the Nazis encountered. (The story of von Stauffenbergand the coup was made into that rather poor Tom Cruise flick I saw earlier in the year Valkyrie)  This was an brilliant museum.  For starters on the 1st floor there was a moving temporary exhibit about life in Auschwitz on the first floor that was compiled by a group of young polish people and then there is a vast amount of rooms and exhibits on the second floor.  In each room there was a different topic, a raft of pictures and documents and mountains of text.  Unfortunately the text was solely in german but there was a well organised and intriguing audio guide available.  The audio guide didn’t explain everything in each room and skipped over some rooms but I think it would last for 10 hours if it did. In the end you can complete the place in 90 mins.  It does a great job of not only explaining and celebrating those who did act in resistance to the Nazis but it also explained the reasons (propaganda, ruthless suppression, etc) that the resistance movements in Germany itself were rather limited in spite of the horrors committed by the Nazis.  My favourite room was a small room where the walls were covered with real photos from the time.  On the top level were Nazi propaganda pictures and below were the realistic depiction of what life was like under the Nazi regime.

It was then time to buy one of my rare souvenirs (a little piece of the Berlin Wall) and then take my afternoon Third Reich tour which was again through the Sandemans NewBerlin group.  I will start off by saying I have done loads of tours since I left Australia.  I would hate to count exactly how many.  However, without a doubt this was the BEST.  It was absolutely brilliant. It was a paid tour and I still tipped Louis, the guide, well it  was that good.  (A short detour is that I think Louis is one of the best names a parent can give.  It is right up there with Joseph.  Why do I have this theory?  Well it is simple.  They are three names in one.  As a youngster they are “Louie” or “Joey”, then when they are middle aged they can become a “Joseph” or “Louis” and then finally when they are old and wrinkly “Old Man Joe” and “Old Man Lou”.  I am just saying…that’s a cool quality for a name to have!)

Anyway back to the brilliant Third Reich tour.  Easily the best aspect of the tour was our guide.  Louis was a ranting, energetic, interesting, knowledgeable and funny Englishman.  What more do you want from your guide on a tour?  He had studied German history (particularly world war 2) in Manchester and had moved to Berlin as a result of his interest and is currently completing a Masters about Nazi Germany.  This guy had a passion for the subject.  This guy knew his stuff.  This guy was even a good guide at organising the group, keeping people moving and balanced out the discussion throughout.  This guy was great.  I am sure the topic and walk itself would make it a 7 or 8 out of 10 tour anytime in my eyes but with Louis this was the only 10 out of 10 tour I have done.

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So what did the tour cover.  Well for starters we learnt (and although there were no footnotes and references I trust Louis when he knows as much as he did) that the Hitler had one testicle myth has actually been proven in the last few weeks as a world war one injury report has been discovered that confirms he had to have one removed.  Now that’s a good start to the tour.  As we walked around Louis went on to explain why the Nazis started fighting the Russians (something I never knew), the details of the Russian liberation of  Berlin (something I knew little about particularly the tactics used as well as the well supported allegations of rape and other offences committed by the russian soldiers),  Goebbels horrific last few days where he and his wife murdered their six children, how the soldiers at the end of the War had been under 12 years of efficient and extensive propaganda by the end of the war(which is quite a bit for a 21 year old soldier fighting on the front lines) and much more all before the break.

After the break at a local kebab place we were walked through the topography of terror but Louis made sure to not cover details explained on the displays for people who have been or wanted to go, walked us through the jewish district and also discussed the allied “crimes” of  world war two (The bombing of Dresden) ensuring that we had some perspective as well as explaining the Neo Nazi situation.  It was a full on tour where even I (as someone who has a greater than normal knowledge of and interest in the topic) learnt a LOT of stuff.  My brain may now be full haha. Just a side note for me,  Louis recommended the book “Inside the Third Reich” by Albert Speerand the German movie Downfall.

Now I am going to rest my tired legs.  I am really feeling the effect of 6 weeks of solid travel with tired legs and also somewhat exhausted.  As much as I can’t wait for tomorrow and the next almost two weeks of travel.  I really am looking forward to getting home, seeing friends and family and just being a bit more relaxed (ie Lazy) for a while.

July 6, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 4 Comments

I’ve been lookin’ for freedom. I’ve been lookin’ so long. I’ve been lookin’ for freedom. Still the search goes on…

Sorry but after another day in Berlin, this time a full day, I think that footage really must be played again and again 😛

Okay so what did I do today.  Well after briefly being awoken by 2 roommates who arrived at 4am (the poor buggers tried to be quiet so I feel sorry for them having to check in at such a time) I was eventually up and about just before 9am.  Best of all as the weather is so good in Germany I got to crack out the shorts for only like the 3rd time since I packed them in January.

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I made my way down to Checkpoint Charlie to check out the area properly after I walked past it briefly on the free tour.  Although the checkpoint itself is rather lame as when you compare it to the original photos the area has changed significantly and now just stands as a reconstructed tourist sight, the surrounding area is very interesting.  Firstly there is a long stretch of information boards all around the intersection.  It covers all about the breaking up of Berlin, the building of the wall, attempted crossings and finally the walls demise all with a variety of photographs and English/German descriptions.  In the end it took me about 90 mins to just walk around and read these boards that I suppose a lot of people would walk past.  It was a little annoying that there were beggars (and what I am pretty sure would be beggars/pickpockets) in the area who kept attempting to bug you.  However, the boards are so informative that even with that distraction it was worth it.

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Just around the corner from Checkpoint Charlie is a museum I planned to come back to later in the day but I didn’t get the chance as my later walking tour was so intensive so I will try and go back to that at some point.  What I did do (in depth) was the Topography of Terror which is just a block away and behind a remaining part of the Wall.  Here we are moving back in time from the East/West Germany conflict and back dealing with the Nazis.  It is on an area that originally housed a lot of the SS and Nazi Government offices and although there has been disputes and trouble with permanent museum being built it is open as an outdoor exhibit at the moment.  For a detailed coverage of the SS and the atrocities of the Nazis you cant get much better.  There is a lot of information but also a lot of pictures and reproduction of original documents.  It explains the process of how the Nazi policies developed as well as highlighting plenty of individual accounts from people.

I then made my way up to the starting point for the Red Berlin walking tour I was going to take and stumbled across a memorial.  I suppose with the variety of memorials in Berlin this would be a common occurrence. Opposite the Holocaust Memorial for the Murdered Jews is the one remembering the Homosexuals who were victimised under the Nazi regime.  It is similarly moving as the jewish concrete forest across the road but is definitely different.  On the footpath stands a sign that explains the persecution and then behind, in a park, sits a large concrete cube like structure.  There is a darkened window that draws you in and as you peer inside there is a short black and white loop of two men kissing playing on a television screen.  Not the over the top passionate kind of kiss that ends a romantic movie (usually this occurs in the rain for some reason) or something lustful but something I think more expressive people than myself would call “tender.”I am no designer or arty person but to me I got a very strong message about it highlighting the kind of love that was hidden, suppressed and punished for so long.

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One point to make is that after hearing about the debate that surrounded whether there should be one memorial or multiple memorials for the different I feel the current stance of each group having a separate memorial may be the right one.  To me the reason for this is highlighted on the small plague outside this memorial.  The Nazi horrific laws persecuting homosexuality (Section 175) were effective in the Federal Republic (the “good western guys”) until 1969.  That is 24 years after “liberation” of the people of Germany. Also, in pure numbers the homosexuals persecuted or killed by Nazis is relatively low when compared to the jews or gypsies but the men with pink triangles also supposedly had one of the highest death rates in concentration camps due to severe punishment. The different persecuted groups have different stories to tell so I think different memorials are fitting.  On a side note, it is obvious that Germany and Berlin in particular has come a long way in their treatment of homosexuals from the time of the Nazis…and from the 24 years after the Nazis as well.

After getting some good photos of Brandenberg gate (without a fashion week marque out the front of it) I was off on the Red Berlin tour so I was back thinking East vs West instead of Allies vs Nazis.  Our guide was Paul (a fellow aussie) and generally it was  less organised and scripted tour than I have been on but it was incredibly informative and Paul knew his stuff. We walked and took a lot of public transport to cover a lot of the old East Berlin and get a real insight in to life behind the iron curtain.  Some of the highlights were the Stasi headquarters, the preserved section of the Berlin Wall and Death Strip, the Church of Reconciliation (which is rebuilt from the compacted earth on the site of an old church that for many years stood between the two sections of the Berlin wall and in the middle of the death strip) and ending at the East Side Gallery.

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Probably the best part of the tour was that Paul successfully managed to not give it from a “western/capitalist” perspective as possible.  It wasn’t a case of East Germany good and West Germany bad.  Yes the restriction of freedoms, spying, 53 massacre, etc in the East were horrible and there were a lot of problems but you leave the tour understanding how newspaper polls can still be split 50-50 among East Germans who think things are better or worse than before the wall fell.  Also Paul was able to put forward a perspective that it appears that East German history appears to disappearing from Berlin even more so than the horrors of World War 2.  History must be remembered to be learnt from and this appears to be a struggle at the moment for the German people.

The tour ended  at the East Side Gallery which is a mile of the wall (the longest remain stretch) and was painted in 1990 by artists from around the world.  As I explored it, it is clear that they are in the process of re-doing all the original art pieces (in a lot of cases with the original artists returning) after years of mistreatment and graffiti.  They are hoping to preserve it in to a more permanent memorial this time around.  A few of the sections appealed to me more than others…but I suppose that is always going to be the way with art.

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As I was walking the mile I was hit with another tropical life German late afternoon/evening thunderstorm.  As I walked along getting increasingly soaked you realise the true length of the wall that circled West Berlin.  I was being rained on for just 500m of the wall and it took ages to get to the end and shelter in the train station.  Imagining 155 km of such a wall is unbelievable.  It is even more unbelievable that the original incarnation of the wall was put up in just 57 hours.    I made my way back to my hostel with Vanessa (an american who had been on the tour and was equally drenched while walking the East Side Gallery) and it was interesting chatting about all that we had seen in just one day.

July 5, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

With the love that can be made. Behind your barricade.Yes, and how long can I stay?

Ich bin ein Berliner!  Who better than JFK to quote when opening a post.  Although I have been told in the past that his quote actually means I am a Jam Donut…I will have to ask someone about that.

So I got in to Berlin about 1pm this arvo.  That meant taking a train just after half seven in the morning which was okay although my lovely new roommates last night decided to forgo the cardinal rule of hostel living and decide to come back at 1am and turn on the light! WTF?!  If it is dark outside and the light is off when you come in to a hostel dorm you check for the sleeping masses before you turn on the lights.  It is just common sense and common courtesy.  I did manage to get up in the morning regardless although it may have affected my brain somewhat as I got on the WRONG TRAIN.  I was waiting at platform 18 (where my 7:43 ICE train to Berlin was set to arrive) and at about 7:30am an ICE train came in and it was heading to Berlin.  All things looked good until I got on and just as the train was leaving realised that this was the 7:20am train that had been delayed.  Whoops!  I got up and chatted to the conductor lady and in the end she said it was all sweet as it was the same train just one that stops once or twice less so will get to Berlin in less time.  I sat down and enjoyed the rest of the 5 hour journey.  It was easy to enjoy the journey though as I was in 1st class.  It may have been a train but it was still my first 1st class experience.  It worked out that as I booked my trains not that early in advance all the cheap tickets were taken and it was cheaper for me to get the cheap 1st class ticket instead of the normal coach fare.  We had encounter such peculiarities before in the Uk and I made the most of it.  Basically 1st class on a german train means bigger, better, softer, more adjustable and leather seats as well as a better menu of food on offer (which i didn’t buy any of) and a complimentary white chocolate (which was yummy).  Probably not worth much fuss but I did sleep quite a bit on the way up…

Once I got to berlin I made my way to my hostel, which is again a Wombats one and it is very similar to the hostel I just left in Munich.  It has a similar vibe, similar decor and equally spacious rooms (you could easily fit another 4 beds in each room and that is before removing the table and chairs). What was even better was that there was a NewEurope Sandemans free tour leaving at 4pm so I could get a good first overview of Berlin within hours of my arrival.

The tour was very similar to the others I have done in Prague and Dublin.  It was efficient, interesting, good value although the group was rather large.  Our tour guide Max had a good broad knowledge of the city and the important sights although he struggled to deal with some members of the group who would interrupt him constantly(I suppose it is hard to be firm when you are working just for tips). Our tour was also slightly delayed as a result of a quick passing afternoon thunderstorm.  The day was so hot and muggy though that the drenching was welcomed…by me at least.

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On the tour we saw most of the main things one should see in Berlin.  It starts at the Brandenberg gate, you see the Hotel that Michael Jackson dangled the baby out of (interesting topic in the light of recent events), the car park where hitlers bunker once stood (or more accurately once stood beneath), the concrete Forest which is the somewhat controversal Jewish Holocaust Memorial (It is a very moving sight but most of the controversy relates to the fact that all the different victim groups of the holocaust are being remembered at separate memorials and also then there was much debate over the location and design.  It does the job though of drawing people in to the area where they are confronted with the horrors of the past.), a part of the remaining piece of the wall which has been hacked by souvenir collectors, the tacky tourist destination of Checkpoint Charlie and much much more.  ‘Twas really a  good overview.

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A few of the highlights of the tour were the stories of Ampleman (the cutest traffic crossing signal dude ever) who is a loved remnant of East Germany, the couple who were OVER THE TOP with their PDA for the first half of the tour and then had a mjor bust up out of no where over the break and then were hilariously not talking to each other and a rather good telling of what led to the Berlin Wall coming down and the reunification of Germany in 1989/90.

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Overall my first impressions of Berlin is that it appears to be a unique city.  It is a very dirty and grimey city…but in a good way.  Kind of like the destressed  $400 jeans of cities.  It is also very spread out, somewhat disjointed and lacking of a centre.  However this shouldn’t be surprising when it is considered that it is just 20 years since this place was actually two cities.  Also, it looks like there will be a LOT for me to do.  I made a quick plan of my 3.5 days here and I have a full schedule and will probably not be able to do everything I want to.  However, with 3 major wars and extreme left wing and right wing leadership in the last 100 years of course I will find this city interesting…

July 4, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

If I were a king even just for a day. I’d roll out of bed in the morning. And throw on what I wanted. And go drink beer with the guys…

This morning was horrific.  It was horrible.  It was the worst morning of my life or at least close to it.  What is the reason for such a lame morning?  Well it was the gift that kept on giving from a brilliant “quiet night in”.  Parents and other family this is the point that you skip down for the paragraph that starts “Well back to the tourist stuff” 😉
My quiet night in was changed so fundamentally when at about 8:30pm two Yanks came in to our hostel room.  Ryan and Micky were two “brother in laws to be” from New Jersey spending two weeks doing a quick Europe trip.  We got chatting and we got along pretty well.  Ryan was a fellow 21 year old who is in the middle of university while Micky was a high school legal studies teacher so there was a fair bit of common ground. They were heading out for 2 beers at a beer hall so I said “why not”.  Maria our Brazilian roommate was in on the action to and we quickly had our small group around a table, drinking Maß (the 1 liter steins :D) and just chatting away in the oldest beer hall/garden in Munich.  The beer was lovely although the wheat beer from later on in the night was the German beer winner and the beer garden was a great place to drink and just hang out.  It was a little out of the city so it wasnt touristy  (the evil look of of the waitress when we ordered in English and I butchered german tells you that much!) and also MASSIVE.  Seating for over 5000 people.

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As the night wore on we explored our way back to the city centre and stopped off at a Wheat Beer pub that the Americans had been to the night before where that amazing beer crossed my lips.  At this point we were slightly intoxicated (we went running through the cool big fountain on the way back…so i don’t think I can claim sobriety) and headed back to the hostel bar for just one more night cap.

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However when the hostel bar was closed and we realised it was 2am so being responsible we dropped in to the bar in the next door hostel that stayed open until 4am (in reality it was even later than 4am when we were kicked out).  Here we met the brilliant bartender from Perth who made GORGEOUS light green, fruity shots (which he was practically giving away to us in the end once the bar was “closed” as well as our Somalian new drinking buddy Olol (who bought us more drinks :P).  I cant tell you how many shots of the green gold we had but I do know that Micky bought a discounted round, Olol bought a few rounds and I think I bought a few rounds as well….and that was before Perth started just continually mixing and pouring and never charging.  It was a great night.  We ended up leaving our mark on the place too with our gratified Wombats hostel drink voucher taking pride of place on the wall behind the bar.

So that gets me to this morning.  I woke up at 10:30 when the americans were leaving to go to Rome and was quickly on the 10:51am train to Neuwanschtein Castle.  I was under the weather though as I alluded to previously.  I was well hung.  To put in Czech terms I was definitely monkey.  To put it in castle terms…I was under the gallows.  However, I managed to get to neuwanschtein castle which is a fair achievement in any state as it was 3 trains, a bus and a 2 mile hike involved.  Whatever suffering I had though was worth it as last night with my american buddies (why do I attract Americans and ones who are republican for that matter?) was close to one of the best nights I have had since I left Australian Shores.  Up there with the foam party, Dwyane Bravo and Mezz nights in Leeds and the other awesome nights that I cant recall at the moment.

Well back to the tourist stuff (and welcome back parentals, grandparentals and associates :P).  Although the process of getting to the castle is time consuming and slightly complex it is a great trip.  The Bavarian countryside with tall forests and endless green is the perfect beautiful and interesting view to look out on for hours on end.  Also I had great weather so the day couldn’t be better (even if I couldve been).  To top it off for just 20 Euros you can get a Bavaria ticket that gives you unlimited public transport in Bavaria for the day. When you get to the town 2 miles from the castle you buy your ticket for the guided tour and am greeted by this picturesque valley with the fairy tale castle as its focus.  The castle, the inspiration for the Disneyland one, isnt actually that old.  It was built in the late 1800s by the egocentric King Ludwig who built amazing castles all over the place (and he wanted more and more before he was declared insane, unfit to rule and suspiciously died).  In the end it only held the King for 120 odd days supposedly (which is sad as it is an AMAZING place and was quickly turned in to a museum so it has hardly been lived in).  A lot of the castle was unfinished when he died, but what was built was beautiful and the setting is breathtaking.

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You can only get inside the castle on the guided toursbut the system is easy enough to follow and well organised (it is Germany after all haha).  Our guide was informative, interesting, funny and had a great grasp of English.  You see all the 16 finished rooms all beautifully and over the top in their decoration and based on the themes of Richard Wagners work.  My favourite room was the indoor cave which was a mock up using theatrical techniques of no joke…A CAVE…IN THE HOUSE…A CAVE!!!!  A close second was the throne room.  I could DEFINITELY have lived there. Although I dont think I would like Ludwigs fate of being kicked out of power and suspiciously dead at 40.

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An interesting point about the castle though is that it was designed by a painter, not an architecht and also there seemed to a bit of lament in the story for the actually really old castle that was demolished for the building of this Castle ripped from the pages of a childs fairy tale.  It is well worth the big trek to see though.  A crazily beautiful building in an even more pretty location.  Anyway as the train rattled through the early evening thundestorm on the way back to Munich I realised I am now done here, off to Berlin in the morning and even more surprisingly just a fortnight away from “home”.  It has all flown by…

July 3, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A blend of fear and passion. You know what it’s like to believe. It makes me wanna scream….

As Bethy pointed out my last post initially wasn’t proof read so it was an even greater abuse of the English language than usual.  That has now hopefully been corrected but the reason I was rushed and didnt proof it was that I was heading out to dinner and beers with some Americans I had met on the tour that day.  I had no real need to worry though. I shouldve realised that when 3 girls say they need an hour to get ready, they are lieing, and when the one other guy of the group was going to blowdry his hair…it was DEFINTELY going to be a little longer than the quoted hour haha.

I had met these yanks on the walking tours.  They, like me, had done both back to back but it was only on the way to Dachau that I really started chatting to Katie.  I even made that common and regrettable mistake of not actually exchanging names so after chatting to her for a while and introducing myself to her mates…there was that little bit of awkwardness 😛  Anyway they were a pretty cool group of Americans and we had a good night of German Beer, German Sausages and chatting.  After dinner we went to the Hobrauhaus for a drink but unfortunately these heavy drinking germans have last call at 11:30 so we ended up at another bar just down the road, after following the drunken suggestions of a german playing a didgeridoo (I love drunk logic hehe) and once again the beer was good and the company equally enjoyable.  Hell the bar even had a picture of Arnie on the wall which proved that the Governator himself had drunk there before so although it wasn’t the most famous beer hall in Germany…it was  cool place.

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The group of 4 Americans were all slightly different but Katie was at the end of 6 months study in Belfast so there was clear common ground there, but what is probably more surprising is that we got along so well despite the differences.  For instance, when I told MacKenzie I was from Australia she said she loved Australia (good start) and wanted to go there sometime (good middle)…because she LOVES the Hillsong church (interesting ending).  The “similarities” didnt end there.  Did I mention they were all from Texas and self declared Dubya “fans”?  They were good people though and I was good enough to hold my tounge on the obvious hot button issues that were around and it was a good night.  It just continues to show that you can get along with people well even when they are quite different.

Alright so today I woke up early because it was so hot and bright on this European Summer Morning.  I was a little worse for wear after a day of walking and a night of beer, but that wouldn’t stop me making the most of my time in Munich.  I had a few ideas about what i was going to do today.  The BMW tour looked cool but it would’ve meant it was all I could do as it is a bit of a hike to get there.  I also thought of doing one of those general free walking tours which would give me a broader insight in to Munich but I had walked and seen most of the city so I thought there must be better things to do.  In the end I filled my day with a mix and match time of awesomeness.

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Firstly I dropped in to the Cathedral of Our Lady which is a church with two domed tours that kind sits in the middle of Munich.  Of course it has been restored after being bombed during the war but for just 1.5 Euros I got to go up one of the towers for a good birds eye view of the city and check out an interesting church as I wouldn’t know what to do when tasked with rebuilding an ancient church that was bombed to glory.  Well for starters the view from the top of the tower was interesting.  You can really see how well the city has been rebuilt so it still has a feeling of European History.  The church itself was a cavernous room without much decoration.  It is probably different to most other churches I have been in because most churches of this scale have more intricate decoration but supposedly the statement of the bland scale of the church was intentional.  It is part of a statement that the scars of the war can not just be plastered over but life must move on…it is a message that worked in my opinion.

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It was approaching the 11am so I waited in the main square for the Glockenspiel Show.  I did find an English and Non-fiction book in the nearby bookstore while I waited which is good as I was out of fresh books to read for the last few days.  The show of the Munich Glockenspiel was actually a little impressive.  After being wholly underwhelmed by the Prague Astronomical Clock, the 12 minute performance was pretty entertaining even if it wasn’t the most action packed show.  I probably wouldn’t come to Munich to see the show, I wouldn’t even organise my day around seeing it but if in the area at 11am or midday it is well worth checking out.  Go in with low expectations like I did and you wont be disappointed I think…

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After the show I headed off to the Deutsches Museum.  It is the museum of technology and science and for this geek it was brilliant.  It is a massive building and I only did about half of what there was to do but I thought it was ace.  Some of the exhibits were better than others but it was clear that they are in a process of modernisation.  Some of the exhibits are still only in German but most now have English text as well.  The Chemistry section was one of the purely german parts but with my uni knowledge I was able to follow along pretty well.  The fact it had automated test tubes and pumps set up so that all the ideas being discussed could be shown to you at a push of a button was a brilliant idea, especially as I only studied chemistry to get to play with the chemicals and make things react 😛  My other favourite sections were the Timekeeping sections (Cuckoo clocks a plenty), the space sections and the photo and film exhibition.  It was also interesting to hear history from a german point of view.  Certain germans were more prominently discussed in areas where they wouldn’t be discussed in American or Australian museums and vice versa.  There was also a lot of hands on displays and it really was a great place for kids, young and old…

With that I went back to my hostel to rest up for a big day tomorrow –  off to Crazy King Ludwig’s Castle.  I have noticed though that they are selling “There are no kangaroos in Germany T shirts” in the stores in Munich.  Now in Austria…the shirts were funny.  Get it Austria and Australia confusion is the joke?  Yeah it works well.  What I don’t understand is how using Germany is funny unless it is meant to be so stupid that it becomes funny.  Maybe I just don’t get the German sense of humor….

July 2, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Let me tell you the story in the form of a dream. I don’t know why I have to tell it but I know what it means. Close your eyes, just picture the scene….

Guten Tag!  Wie Gehts?  Ich bin Simon und Ich bin neu here…DAS IST MINE HAMBURGER!

Alright well that is the limit of my schoolboy german (and I do not vouch for its accuracy).  However, you can know tell that I am in Germany finally and to be more specific I am in Munich.  I arrived last night after a pleasant train trip from Vienna, via Salzburg and with views of the rolling hills passing by.  If you want the image of the most pleasant train trip possible…that may be it.

I am staying at the Wombats City Hostel in Munich after Justin’s recommendation and it is a pretty cool place.  The decor is very much bright colours and ikea furniture and the people are all young and out going.  Probably not the best place to sit and relax, but a great place to meet people and it is well located- just next to the train station and 10 minutes walk from the centre of Munich. Within a few minutes of being in my room I met my bunkmate Mike who is a cali-born, ex-film student, ex-software company owner who now appears to do little more than travel and surf.  Think about Sean Penn from Fast Times at Ridgemont High and just add a few brain cells.  He was a good bloke and we ended up chatting for quite a while.  I had gotten in quite late though so after a quick exploration of the surrounds I was in bed, with my head resting on the biggest softest pillow ever, awaiting a day of Munich and Nazis.

Yep, as someone with such an interest in World War 2 it took me no time to delve in the most horrific part of Germany’s history.  Justin had recommended Munich Walk Tours and they had a pair of walking tours I wanted to do today.  Firstly it was the Third Reich 2 1/2 hour tour and then a guided walking tour of Dachau Concentration Camp.  Both left from out the front of the glockenspiel so I have seen it although I am yet to see its performance.

The Third Reich tour was really interesting.  Even someone with the faintest interest in history, Germany or Politics would’ve got something of this tour.  Jeff (my guide) was a UK guy who has lived in Germany for 30 years so he had a unique perspective.  Jeff told the full story of Adolf Hitler (including aspects I had not heard about or forgotten) as we strolled around the streets and saw some of the landmarks.  Of course Munich was 80% bombed during the war so few of the buildings were originals but some were.  Also the Nazis took detailed pictures and plans of the main buildings when they feared that they would be bombed so quite a few have been rebuilt as replicas so the city architecture looks a lot older than it truly is.  It is also funny seeing an Old Town Hall that looks older than the New Town Hall 😛

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The two main points I took from the tour though were that firstly it is only recently that Germans have started thinking and talking about the War and its atrocities.  A lot of the memorials to resistance fighters or liberators were put up in the 90s at the earliest.  Of course this isn’t surprising as most people would not want to live such an horrific period of their history, but the counterpoint to this part of the story was that we had two germans on the tour to hear the Allies view of the war.  They said their elder relatives had only recently talked about the events of World War 2 but finally they had started talking and it was interesting for them to compare the different points of view.  After all what is history but a compilation of different points of view.  Also, all school children in Bavaria are made to at least make 2 trips to a concentration camp so that history is not forgotten as the survivors pass on.

Probably the most interesting buildings you see on the tour still standing though are the Nazi headquarters and the old Museum which are great examples of Nazi architecture.  Large columns to link them to the past and a hell of a lot of concrete to support their claims that it was a Reich to last 1000 years.  It was a super interesting experience walking around the streets where history happened (a history I have read so much about).

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The second tour changed guides as we swapped Jeff for Carlotta but about 10 people did as I did and continued on to Dachau.  Now it is at this point that my day got probably 10 fold more interesting, 100000 fold more emotional and 1000000000 fold more real.  After taking the train and bus to the camp we were no longer hearing the stories of the war but seeing something much much more real.  Dachau was the first concentration camp.  It was started in 1933 (6 years before the “war” started) and was one of the last ones to be liberated and to call it an emotional experience is an understatement.  Actually to learn that the horrors pre-date 1939 by a significant period was a surprise to me.  I am glad I now know the truth. To compare it with Auschwitz (probably the most famous camp) this camp had gas chambers but there is no evidence they were ever used.  Also the prisoners were mainly political and although there were jews in the camp there were other camps, like Auschwitz, where this was more a focus.

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A fair percentage of the camp still remains and a few other bits have been rebuilt accurately.  There is a museum that shocks you the more you read and odds are you could spend a full day in there, although it would be a painful day.  Also there is a 20 minute video which includes footage taken by Americans of the camp when it was liberated that are horrific.  This camp shows the absolute worst side of humanity and it is confronted to say the least.  To hear about how economic and other factors were considered when deciding if people lived or died or that the barracks were overcrowded by 10 fold by the end of the war….the mind just cant comprehend such things.

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The two thoughts I had during this stressful, emotion, yet meaningful and rewarding visit is that firstly the place is so big. It may sound so strange but the camp just went on and on and I dont know what I expected but I didn’t expect such a size.  The stronger feeling though was that it so easily could have been me as one of the shaved, beaten, abused and suffering prisoners in the concentration camp.  The tour is set up so you see it from a prisoners point of view.  You walked through the gates so many entered but so few walked out of.  You don’t go up in to the guard towers as that would be experiencing the wrong side of the camp.  You see the horrors from the eyes of a prisoner the best you can…and I am in no way claiming that this was anything more than a glimpse in to their suffering.

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However, it could have been me.  Just a change of circumstance and it could have been me.  If I was born in 1917, not 1987, and in Munich, not Melbourne.   Odds are I would’ve, or at the very least could have, seen the inside of the walls of Dachau or some other concentration camp if those little things were just a little different.  I don’t have to change at all.  Just those little parameters of time and space.  That is a crushing realisation to have.and at least I can now claim that the last time tears welled up in my eyes it was as a result of something meaningful and not as a result of watching Marley and Me.

Today was one of the most interesting days I have had.  It is also one of the harshest days I will go through where I personally suffer no consequences.  Definitely I recommend going to Dachau or another concentration camp.  It isn’t fun…but it is a must do.

July 1, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Oh I’ve got you to thank for this. You can’t say you’ve never had a doubt…

So here I am filling in an hour or so before my train to Munich leaves.  For some reason I booked at 4pm train.  I don´t know why.  It was over 6 weeks ago since I booked all this stuff  (and I can’t remember what I had or didn’t have for breakfast :P) but I assume it was cheaper.  Whatever  the reason I was able to fit in a little extra of Vienna before I left which is definitely a good thing.

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I had a choice of a variety of art museums or to go to the United Nations base in Vienna for a tour.  Knowing me, guess which one I did?  Yep I was off to the UN. After seeing but not being able to fit in a tour of the United Nations in New York it is a good example of things just working on my tour.  Getting in to the United Nations is harder than breaking in to Fort Knox though. Once you step off the Metro you go through an xray machine just like in the airports.  Then you buy your ticket (just4 euros which I thought was a bargain) and then you go through another 2 security checks.  One takes down your passport details as technically you are in an international zone and no longer in Austria and another is just more xrays (in case a crafty terrorist someone managed to skip through the last one undetected).

As I sat around and had an ice cream and waited for the tour to start I had never wanted to be an older person more in my entire life.  Why this wish for sudden ageing?  Well as I looked around the group of about 30 people, they either classified as older people (50 plus) or massive geeks.   Like I am talking “Big Bang Theory” level of geeks.  I was confronted once again with my geekhood, but at least I can take solace in the fact that I was definitely the coolest of those said geeks 😉 haha

Eventually our German and English tour started.  Once again I was impressed with the ability of a tour guide to flawlessly swap between two languages.  Also, it appears it takes 50% longer to say a sentence in German than it does to say the same phrase in English.  The tour took your around most parts of the building – the memorial park, the conference rooms, the artwork donated by various member states as well as other areas.  It was a buzzing building full of people and probably the most truly multicultural workplace one could ever see.  Our guide also gave us a great overview of both the UN as a whole and also the specific role of the Vienna branch (basically Nuclear Energy, International Security and Crime & Drugs).  She also had a few anecdotes to pass on that were quite funny.

With a morning to fill in Vienna it was well worth the trip for anyone who is politically minded.  Especially as I finally got around to reading Obama’s take on the world beyond America’s borders in Audacity of Hope last night where he focuses a fair bit on the UN and Americas need to be an active player in it.

Anyway, Munich awaits!  I think I might just fit in an Austrian beer at the pub before I have to head to the train station…

June 29, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

She was swinging from her handbag on the King’s Road. Fresh from boarding school and double barreled shame. Now there are worms in her skin….

Firstly a word of advice.  The Vienna card costs about 18 Euros and gives you 72 hours of unlimited public transport use and discounts at various sights and shops.  The discounts are okay BUT something I have discovered is that the Student prices are always cheaper if not the same price and you can get a 72 hour public transport card for 5 euros less.  In short, if a student you dont need the Vienna Card.  If not a student…get it!

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So today it was time for my second palace in Vienna and probably the most visited and well known – The Hofburg Palace.  The palace complex now includes a variety of museums and exhibits while still being used by the President and civil service of the now republic of Austria. For me the things I wanted to see were the Imperial Treasurer (They have ads in the subways that say We may not have emperors but we still have their Jewels which is funny enough for me to go plus there was bound to be an abundance of shiny things) as well as the Sissi Museum, the Imperial Apartments and the Silver Collection.  The Hofburg is right in the centre of town but as a result it is quite a maze (a non-fun maze unlike yesterday) so finding the entrance was a little difficult. Although maybe this was just me.

Eventually I found my way to the entrance to the Silver Collection, Imperial Apartments and Sissi Museum which are one complex accesssed with a singular ticket.  The Silver Collection includes only as mall percentage of all the utensils, crockery, cooking implements and table decorations that the Hapsburgs used and collected during their reign.  It does leave you amazed at the extent of the original catalogue before items were sold after the end of the monarchy because the displays are extensive and probably in the end just a Little too large and repetitive.  It also isn’t something that you should see on an empty or half empty stomach. All the talk of banquets and meals with up to 30 courses starts the stomach craving for some food of its own (or at least mine did).  Particularly as the court confectionery kitchen is discussed in detail. The most interesting point of this section to me was that there is a special imperial way of folding napkins that that has been used for hundreds of years and is still used for state banquets. However, it is so special that it is only passed by word of mouth and currently only two people know the technique.  It is a little like the Colonels 7 secret herbs and spices and part of me wonders if the two people who know the secret are not allowed to travel in the same car, plane or vehicle for fear that one accident could wipe them both out.

The Imperial Apartments are quite similar to the ones seen yesterday in the Schonbrunn Palace.  The layout is similar even if the decoration is a little more modern as they were completely redesigned by Emperor Franz Joseph and Empresses Elisabeth (Sissi) in the mid to late 19th Century.  Red was a dominant theme of the design. Maybe it was because it was a little repetitive from yesterday but I didn’t find this seciton of the tour as enjoyable as yesterday. I think it also was because that without the amazing and beautiful grounds surrounding the rooms and with extra large crowds of people the experience was always going to be slightly less enjoyable.  If I become King of Austria I think Schonbrunn would be enough and the Hofburg can be left as a museum hehe

The Sissi museum was really interesting though. Although the audio guide was hard to use as all the numbers were hidden so you would accidentally skip points and have to backtrack, you were given an insight in to an interesting figure of the Austrian Monarchy.  Basically it seems that Sissi was loved by the Emperor beyond words (as they were monarchs they were cousins so…yeah…a little awkward IMO haha) but is someone who despite strength and beauty struggled with the position of living in the public view and the pressures associated with it. She was totally overwhelmed by the position of Empresses it seems and has become the subject of much mythology after her death.  Part of me wonders about the similarities and differences between her story and that of the most famous Princess of the last 40 years – Princess Di.

Anyway, after stopping to rest my legs in the Heroes Square where Hitler announced the annexation of Austria, I worked my way through the maze that is the Hofburg until I found the Treasury.  You have to pay extra for the audio guide but it is well worth it as non of the descriptions are in English and the amount of detail given to a raft of different objects is impressive.  Overall, this place is ace!  There are shiny amazing objects and stories to be told around every corner (and there are a lot of corners in this vast exhibition).  You see a lot crowns and royal objects from throughout time as well as important objects for the Holy Roman Empire that has dominated my history lessons of the last 2 weeks.  Also there are a lot of relics on show.  Although if you believe that every part of the true cross is from Christs cross or every thorn is from the crown of thorns as is claimed…it appears Jesus Christ was about 1000000000 kilos, 900 metres tall and was crucified on a cross resembling Rockerfella Centre set across the empire state building.  Regardless though the work of the metal smiths and jewellers is exquisite. Christ…COME HERE FOR SHINY HEAVEN LOL

So that was my day.  It was a full on day, much more full on than usual but before I go I have a request.  I keep getting the feeling of a sharp sudden pain on the top of my torso between my neck and the top of my shoulder.  Like I’m being karate chopped.  It first happened when I went for a sip of my cocktail while watching the comedy show in NYC and I looked around for who/what hit me. It happened once more in Prague while leaning over to pick up a book and today while I lent over to pay for my lunch.  I think this is pain associated to my dodgy back and the even dodgier beds I am sleeping on at the moment.  However, if this is a common symptom of a Stroke, Heart Attack or Swine Flu could someone please inform me ASAP. Thanks 😛

June 29, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 3 Comments