Saturday, 21 March 2015

Berlin to Łódź 2013: Day 5

world-map krakow

Greetings!

The weather’s getting better and it’s time to start thinking about going outdoors. This year I’ve got a few camping trips planned, most notably up into the Scottish Highlands in August. Isn’t it daft how we often go so far afield and yet miss the gems nearby? I’d never been to Paris until a few weeks ago and have never been up into the Highlands, into Northern Ireland or Cornwall. Nor too have I ever checked out Stonehenge even though I’ve seen the Armenian Stonehenge which, whilst spectacular, is not quite the same. So, my vow for 2015 is to rectify those omissions a bit, starting with that strange land north of Glasgow.

But for now, here’s the last bit of Poland.

Keep travelling!

Uncle Travelling Matt

Flickr album of this trip

Links to all parts of this travelogue

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

Lodz_PolandI found this amazing hand-drawn map of Łódź by one Madzia Bryll on her website, here. Please visit her site and check out her cool pictures!

germany-poland-map 2

DAY 5

And so it was our last day in Łódź, indeed the last of the entire trip. We had a whole day ahead of us to delve into the depths of Poland's industrial powerhouse before heading off to the airport for our flight home.

We consulted Łódź in your pocket and found a feature on Radogoszcz Prison. Originally built as a factory, at the start of World War II the complex was handed over to the Polish Army and then, of course, to the Germans who transformed it into a prison for Poles. Having checked out some Holocaust sites the year before, and working in a prison ourselves, this seemed like the natural place to head, so we strolled down to the park and hopped on a tram.

But we didn't get to the prison. Well, no immediately. En route we passed an enormous market. With Mike lathering at the mouth, there was no option but to check it out.

And well worth checking out it was too. This was more of the “real” Poland but unlike what we'd seen the night before, it wasn't crap. We bought sausages and cheese, and some excellent gherkins although the pennies that we handed over bought us a carrier bag full that we didn't really know what to do with. More than that though, we saw people going about their daily lives and the things that most Poles buy, (lots and lots of mushrooms for example). We also saw a strange man hawking a single packet of cigarettes with Russian health warnings on the front. However, when we asked if he had more, he merely replied “How many do you want?” The white van parked a way off was full of them.

Radogoszcz Prison was worth heading out to. About 25% of those who passed through it – it was a transit prison – died there, but the most tragic day was January 18th, 1945. with the Red Army approaching, the Germans decided to execute all their prisoners. Realising their fate, the inmates rose in rebellion causing all the guards to flee. In retaliation the prisoners were locked inside and the whole complex razed to the ground. 1,500 souls were incinerated with only thirty living to tell the tale. Whilst no Birkenau, these smaller sites where men and women were senselessly murdered are to be found scattered across Poland and beyond and each one is a tragedy, for even a single wasted life makes it so.

B2L26Radogoszcz Prison: sobering

After seeing the factory that became a prison, we then rode back into the centre to see another very different factory with a very different fate. Manufaktura is Łódź's premier tourist attraction and should not be missed. It began life as the textile mill of Izrael Poznanski, the Jewish oligarch who dominated Łódź during the second half of the 19th century. The first mill opened in 1852 and was expanded 1872-92 by which time more than 80,000 spindles spread over twelve separate factories were in operation. It was a city within a city which continued to churn out cloth until 1997 although by that time it was largely a run-down or derelict eyesore. However, in 2000 a developer bought the site and instead of knocking down the old mills, they were all renovated, new buildings erected alongside them and the whole site reopened as Manukfaktura, an enormous retail and cultural complex with shops, restaurants, an IMAX cinema, a museum, an art gallery and much more.

B2L27Manufaktura

Both Mike and I were impressed by it all. The restoration was sympathetic yet the whole place also had a vibrant, contemporary feel to it. We engaged in some harmless fun getting ourselves arrested by the cuddly mascot of the Łódź police force and taking photos next to some profound food-based quotes, (in both Polish and English), such as “No man can be wise on an empty stomach”, a maxim that I have always striven to live by.

B2L28Mike gets arrested...

B2L29...and I discover great wisdom!

And then, to finish off our Tour de Łódź, where else but old ulica Piotrkowska? We ventured much further down the record-breaking street than we had the previous night, actually reaching the section that had been beautified including the (locally) famous Hollyłódź Boulevard where the names of prominent Polish film stars and directors are inscribed in the pavement, (the city is the centre of the Polish film industry and the home of Roman Polanski), but Mike was more interested in an exhibition on street art a little further down.

Street art and graffiti had been a recurring feature of the entire trip. Berlin has an incredible mural on the side of one building near to Zoologischer Garten station which depicts members of the government being controlled like puppets on string by an elite group of businessmen and bankers, whilst in Poznań there were several impressive murals including a particularly good one next to the “lock bridge” on Ostrów Tumski. Łódź however, was in a street art league of its own and this exhibition showcased all the murals around the city painted by some of the most famous street artists in the world, several of whom were locals. My own personal favourite though, was a piece on the side of a building near to where we'd waited for the tram home after our drinks the night before. M-City depicted an intense and cluttered mechanical city of fantasy with machinery, steam engines and a whole lot more. It was brilliant and credit must go to the city fathers who, realising that they could never compete with Poland's prettier cities on architectural grounds, have decided to turn their metropolis into a centre of contemporary arts and cheer it up in the process in a similar way to what Eddie Rama did in Tirana at the turn of the century.[1] S would be proud.

B2L30Graffiti by the lock bridge in Poznań

B2L31M-City

And with that we were done. We took a tram back to our hotel where we ate all the sausage and cheese that we'd bought at the market. We also ate a hell of a lot of gherkins, but seemed to make little impact on the bagful that we'd bought, so we left the rest for the proprietor who was a decent chap. Then we took a taxi to the sparkling new airport, built no doubt to cater for all the emigrants returning home from Manchester, Birmingham and London. That day however, they were all staying well away, as too was everyone else. For the first and only time in our lives, we entered a completely deserted airport terminal and so had some rather juvenile fun playing Come Fly With Me behind the check-in desks before other, more mature passengers and staff began to trickle in and we finally had to draw a close to our trip.

B2L32Would you trust this airline official?

But what kind of trip had it been? Not particularly long nor ambitious, that is true, but a pleasant few days' diversion and education nonetheless. I'd revisited two old friends, (well, three if you count Dzhilbert), and thus linked up our 2012 trip with my other travels, and I'd made two new buddies: Poznań which I really liked and Łódź, less so, but still fascinating, and in doing so I deepened both my understanding of Poland – a country which impacts on my daily life in the form of all the Poles in the UK many of whom I have had the pleasure to work with – and has also been the crucible in which were forged some of the most traumatic and momentous events in the history of my continent.

Written Smallthorne, UK, October 2014

Copyright © 2014, Matthew E. Pointon


[1]See my travelogue 'Albanian Excursions' (Part 3).

 

Friday, 13 March 2015

Berlin to Łódź 2013: Day 4

world-map krakow

Greetings!

This week’s post sees me visit one of the more unfashionable cities in Poland, Łódź. Not many people make it there and for good reason, as it doesn’t compare with the glories of Poznań or Kraków. However, I recommend going to such places, the Birmingham, Liege or Dusseldorf of Poland. The fact is, whilst not pretty, such cities as Łódź are the ones that helped build the modern world and in them some of our greatest successes – and tragedies – have taken place. For every York, Jerusalem or Kraków, there’s a Stoke-on-Trent, Beersheva and Łódź and what they lack in architectural joys, they also lack in tourists so you, like Mike and I, will have the place to yourself and will doubtless learn more in a few hours about the country you’re in than in several days at the beauty spot. Think about it. As someone from an English Łódź I kind of have to most days.

Keep travelling!

Uncle Travelling Matt

Flickr album of this trip

Links to all parts of this travelogue

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

Lodz_PolandI found this amazing hand-drawn map of Łódź by one Madzia Bryll on her website, here. Please visit her site and check out her cool pictures!

germany-poland-map 2

DAY 4

I like long train journeys which is a good thing since when I woke up early that morning, I knew that I was destined to spend a very large proportion of the coming day riding the rails. For starters, Mike and I had to reach Łódź, the final of our three cities and around a hundred miles from Poznań, a trip that involved changing trains and waiting around at a place called Kutno. But once there, whilst Mike would get off, I was to continue on for another two hours or more to Częstochowa, a place which I would later return from that same evening, back to Łódź, a total of almost ten hours in and around trains. Like I said, it's a good thing that I like them so much.

And the reason for that mammoth bout of rail riding was that I had a duty to fulfil. A month or so before our trip, one of my former students at the institution where Mike and I teach had committed suicide. He was just twenty-four. The reasons behind his decision to take his own life were tragically clear. S was a Polish national with mental health issues whose father he had never known and whose mother had cut all contact with him. He had moved to the UK presumably to escape the thoroughly miserable existence mapped out for him in Łódź. However, soon after his arrival he'd ended up serving a short prison term and then was arrested for a more major offence and handed an indefinite spell in gaol. When he'd arrived with us he was hyperactive, aggressive and badly behaved. But in the ESOL and Art classes – S had a passion for graffiti art – he'd been accepted, valued and included as part of the group and had begun to thrive. He was safe and well. So much did he progress in fact, that he was moved to a Category C prison to further work towards his parole, but there, alas, his support was gone. Sharing a cell with another inmate, they had an altercation and he attacked the other man with a razor. Now S was looking at another, more serious indefinite sentence and his chances of ever leaving gaol must have seemed remote. And even if he did, what did the world outside have to offer him? What chance did he have? So he chose death. At twenty-four.

Understandably I and the lads in the class were all rather upset by this and some suggested raising money in his memory and sending it with a card to his family. But for a man with no family, what can you do? Then, talking with one of the other Polish students, I had an idea: S had no blood mother that wanted him, but he was a Pole and the Mother of Poland is Our Lady of Częstochowa. I'd been to her shrine the year before on our Kraków trip and so why not go again and ask her to look after S? All agreed that it was an excellent idea so we got a rosary from the prison chapel where S had worshipped and the other Poles wrote a message in S's memory and I promised to deliver it as they could not. Whatever the travel time entailed, Częstochowa was the one stop that I could not omit on this trip.

One reason why I so like long train journeys is because they give you a chance to see a country outside of its city centres, to experience how it evolves from region to region. Alas, in those four and a half hours to Łódź and the subsequent two and a half to Częstochowa, I saw very little evolution at all. For the entire journey, Poland remained stubbornly flat, nondescript and scenically dull, as it had done the day before and also, a few minor rolling hills aside, on the previous trip. Historically fascinating the Land of the White Eagle may be, and gorgeous her ancient cities, but rural Poland ranks amongst the blandest places that I've ever travelled through.

We alighted at Kutno where we had to change trains. I decided to wander around a little in the hour or so between them and found myself walking through a rather dilapidated little town with old tramlines embedded in the cobbles before they were obliterated by a layer of tarmac. It could have been anywhere between the Oder and the Lena and its half-forgotten air reminded me of Konotop, Dobrich, Bolgrad and a score of other Post-Soviet provincial towns that I've visited.

An hour or so further down the line and I waved goodbye to Mike on the dreary platform of Łódź Kaliska and then continued on through the featureless countryside alone, using the opportunity to complete my travelogue 'Across the Sound' recounting my walking pilgrimage to Bardsey Island a month or so earlier. Then, after hours of passive inactivity, as we rolled into Częstochowa, I spurred into action, for my time in town was limited and I had a job to do. No leisurely walking up to the monastery today, instead I hailed at taxi which dropped me off at the gates and then made my way in.

The Monastery of Jasna Góra is a magical, powerful place that I was very much taken with the year before. This time though, I had no time to favour its aura but instead made my way straight to the shrine office where, after a degree of difficultly, I managed to explain my unusual pilgrimage to the assistant and I was shown to the shrine itself. And the timing was perfect, for just as we entered, the fanfare sounded and the sacred image was unveiled for daily adoration. I crossed myself but then moved onto the room behind where I donated the prison rosary and message, entrusted S to Our Lady's care and safe-keeping and then watched as the priest entered the proceedings into the shrine's logbook and handed me a card as evidence to show to the class. It was a small gesture perhaps, silly to some no doubt, but for me it made coming to Poland worthwhile and I I knelt before the sacred image of Our Lady afterwards, I was glad. True, this was a rushed pilgrimage, but it had meaning and it gave S that innate respect as a human being made in the image of God that he had rarely been afforded whilst living on this earth.

When I arrived in Łódź evening was beginning to set in and the streets were damp from recent rain. A quick glance at my map informed me that our lodgings for the night, Hotelik Na Zdrowiu (PLN90 p/n) was only just around the corner from the unbelievably dismal Kaliska station.

Only just around the corner on the map that is, but I never looked at the scale. After a trek of almost a mile through one of the dreariest-looking cities in Eastern Europe, (no small achievement that one), I eventually arrived and found Mike who was already happily ensconced therein.

Mike had had a pleasant afternoon wandering the streets of Łódź, (which he had to admit, wasn't really up to the high standards set by Poznań and Kraków), and what was more, he'd worked out the local tram system and picked up a couple of copies of the free and informative Łódź in your pocket guide.[1] So, we strolled across to the tram stop, pleasantly situated in the middle of the park – it was rather strange seeing the trams sneaking through the trees towards us – and then took a ride into the centre of town, alighting at plac Wolności, the square at the head of ulica Piotrkowska.

B2L23Trams in the park

Łódź is a strange place since despite it being home to almost three quarters of a million souls, it is very much a one street town. That street however, is ulica Piotrkowska, a ram-rod straight artery that is almost 5km long and holds the honour of being the longest pedestrianised street in Europe. So, when exploring Łódź, there was only one place to go and so we started at its head and began to walk downhill.

Unlike Poznań or Kraków, Łódź is not an old city. Back in 1793 there were only 190 people listed as living there, (Poznań by contrast had 12,500). Back then, only two hundred years ago, Łódź was hardly even a village. But like Manchester and Birmingham, it mushroomed as a result of the Industrial Revolution, textiles being the industry that caused it to grow with workers flocking in from all over Europe. The first cotton mill was opened in 1825 and in 1839 the first steam-powered factory in all Russia and Poland.[2] By 1850, the population was 15,800 (Poznań 47,000), and less than a century later it had exploded to 338,600 (Poznań now far behind with 220,023). It reached its height in 1990 with a population of 850,000, but since then due to a combination of low birthrates and high emigration – Mike's next-door neighbours hail from Łódź and were the main reason why we chose to check the city out – it has dropped to around 730,000.

Ulica Piotrkowska is evidence written large of Łódź's 19th century development. The city is not historic and so it has no historic core but instead grew up as a linear development along the sides of the main thoroughfare through the area. And all the great millowners competed to build grand residences along that street including one belonging to the greatest entrepreneur of them all, Izrael Poznanski (more on him later).

B2L24Ulica Piotrkowska

Our enjoyment of it all however, was somewhat marred by the fact that the street was being dug up as part of a beautification effort and so we found ourselves trudging through mud and negotiating potholes. Well, that and the fact that we were both by now rather hungry, but this latter problem was solved by turning off ulica Piotrkovska after about half a kilometre and heading into Anatewka.

I am often puzzled and exasperated by the amount of people, (not just Brits, but New Worlders as well as other West Europeans), whose concept of Europe still finishes where the Berlin Wall once stood and who rarely, if ever, consider passing over into that Slavic terra incognita beyond it. “Well, the food's good in France and Italy” they'll say or perhaps, “There's nothing there which you can't find in the West.” Both statements have a degree of truth and falsehood in them, but even if we took both to be gospel, then there is still one crucial factor unconsidered: cost and it astonishes me that folk who, when back at home, watch pennies so carefully, as soon as they cross the national border, seem to leave their financial sense back home with the cat and will pay extravagant amounts for, well, nothing particularly special. Now I am not exactly on the breadline, but conversely, I am not so far from it as I'd like and certainly not a rich man and so Western European levels of expenditure do significantly impact on my enjoyment of a holiday. Take for example my trip to France in 2007 when they were asking €5 for a beer and a main course started at €12, or perhaps Ireland in 2009 when a beer in a cheap pub was a frightening €4 per pint, or, scariest of all, my 2008 weekend in Stockholm when the budget restaurant that the TIC directed me to wanted the equivalent of £13 for a plate of meatballs and mashed potatoes! With prices like those, I have to consider first whether I have the funds or not before going out for a meal or a night's drinking. And it's not just about decisions like those either. In Western Europe one cannot just alter one's plans at the last moment and roll up unexpected in a town because there may well be only one hotel in town and it could quite easily be demanding you fork over €100 for the privilege of a bed, shower and complimentary bar of soap. So you see, one of the reasons why people like Mike and I like Eastern Europe so much is that whilst it has what the West has, and like the West it also has great food and is safe – don't even get me on the common myth that Eastern Europe is some mob-dominated badlands, it was never that bad even in the nineties and it certainly isn't now – it comes at a significantly reduced cost. Ok, so it ain't the absurdly good bargain that it was when the wall fell and you could dine in a five-star hotel for the price of a bag of chips back home, but it is cheap to the extent that you can go there without worrying or feel like you're being robbed every time you buy something. Which brings me back to Anatewka which was the name of the restaurant that Mike and I stepped into that evening. Anatewka is Łódź's Jewish restaurant and arguably the finest eatery in the entire city. Its equivalent in Manchester or Birmingham I could never dream of eating in, instead I'd be stood outside in the rain like the little match girl, but the thing is, the beautiful, glorious thing about that brave new world across the Spree is that there, plebs like Mike and I can just walk right in and order whatever the hell we wanted off the menu without any fear of bankruptcy or re-mortgaging the house.

And it was worth it. Mike and I enjoyed the goose speciality and were amused by the paper bibs with bow-ties on them that we were given as well as the little model Hassidic men that come free with every meal. But I was also a tad confused: Hitler murdered virtually all the Jews of Łódź so did the restaurant represent a rebirth of the community that had in 1913 formed a whopping 34% of the city's population?[3] I asked the waitress but, alas, it seemed, no. all the staff were Poles except the chef who had to be Jewish for the food to be kosher, and of course, the owner was a Jew as well.

B2L25Dining in Anatewka

And then from desirable dining to dive. Mike and I decided that a beer or two was in order on our last night in Poland, so off we went to find a suitable drinking establishment, but unlike Poznań, they were thin on the ground in Łódź. We tried on ulica Piotrkowska but the one place there was terribly noisy and smoky and so we headed away from the main drag and came across a little place on ulica Legionów. It was everything that Anatewka was not: cheap, the décor very early nineties proletarian with mock brick, mirrors aplenty and neon lights, and the clientele were... dubious. Street workers downed a beer between jobs and the local dealer popped outside every ten minutes or so whenever his phone rang. If we wanted the “real” Poland, then, by God, we had found it. Problem was, like “gritty reality” everywhere, it was shit.

We did not stay out for long.

Next part: Day 5


[1]In Your Pocket guides were started in 1991 when some German and Belgian ex-pats produced a guide to Vilnius. They now cover 75 cities across Europe and are distributed locally in shops, hotels and restaurants as well as electronically as webpages and phone apps. The guides often cover off-the-beaten-track destinations (like Łódź) so, for example, in Ireland (London)Derry has a guide but Dublin and Belfast do not. I have used the guides to Shkodra, Pristina, Riga, Poznań and Kraków as well as Łódź and have always found them to be excellent. In Your Pocket represent East European destinations far more comprehensively than those in the west of the continent.

[2]Back then, Łódź was situated in the Russian Empire, (we'd crossed the border from Prussia/Germany in our trip from Poznań), and one of the main reasons cited for the city's industrial success was that it was the first city that one hit in Russia and so benefited from easy access to European technologies and expertise as well as the huge captive market that the Russian Empire could provide.

[3]For the record, the Poles constituted 49.7%, the Germans 14.8% and the other couple of percent a variety of other groups such as Russians and Roma.

Friday, 6 March 2015

Berlin to Łódź 2013: Day 3

world-map berlin

Greetings!

Visas.

You can’t be into globe trotting for two long before you have to buy one. Over the years I’ve had many, some easy to get hold of, others less so.

But the thing is, logically, what with globalisation and all, surely they should be going out of fashion. After all, what is the purpose of them? Originally to check on who exactly was entering your domain and what exactly they intended to do there. I get that, but these days, what with CCTV, the internet, biometric technology and the rest, there are surely far more effective ways of doing that. But still we have them. Not in Europe of course. Thanks to Schengen, in most of the EU we don’t even need a passport and there are no borders anyway. That’s been the case for decades now and, despite the pronouncements of certain distasteful demagogues on the right, it works. So, you’d have thought the rest of the world would be catching on, right? Not a bit of it!

Two years ago I had to buy a visa to enter India. It cost me £40 and I put down the name of the first hotel on the internet that I could find. I never stayed in it. It was a pure money-making exercise. And remember, the main reason why I chose India was because my first choice, Pakistan, wanted £100 for the same piece of unnecessary bureaucracy.

This year, (and now we get to the reason behind this little rant), I’m needing to buy two. The first was for North Korea. Now, to me or indeed to anyone with a brain, having to get a visa for North Korea should come as no surprise. After all, it’s probably the most tightly-controlled police state on the planet. The £40 or so that I’ve handed over to Kim Jong Un’s enlightened regime will probably prove to be a bargain considering the amount of police resources they’ll spend on watching us and shielding us from the realities of North Korean life. Or at least, that’s what the Western Imperialist propaganda says they’ll do.

The other visa though is for China. I expected that too. Back in 2002 I paid about £30 for a Chinese visa. Now it’s about £40. So what’s the problem? Back in 2002, I paid the fee and that was that, I got the visa and into China I leapt. Fast forward 13 years though and they now need:

  • Entry date and flight number.
  • Full itinerary
  • Hotel bookings for every night in China
  • Proof of all previous visits to China
  • Exit flight and number

None of this was required before, and if it had been I could not have completed the amazing trip that I did back then. So, come on China, (and to a lesser extent India who have put their visas up to a staggering £100 now), what’s this all about? We’re meant to be breaking down the barriers, not putting them up! Globalisation is the glorious name of the game and I want to give you my business! So why are you trying to stop me? You’d almost think China was some old school communist regime that distrusts foreigners.

Wait a minute…

Keep travelling!

Uncle Travelling Matt

Flickr album of this trip

Links to all parts of this travelogue

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

Untitled-1

germany-poland-map 1

DAY 3

This was the day that we had set aside to explore the second city of our tour of three so we started early as there was a lot to fit in. that said, our first port-of-call hardly counted as a cultural must-see but neither of us could resist walking through the doors of the McDonalds by the railway station, firstly because we both fancied a greasy breakfast but more importantly, because we wished to pay tribute to Healthy Dave.

Healthy Dave is a guy who we work with. He teaches the Healthy Living course and is a highly-qualified gym professional, hence the nickname. However, I also car share with the guy and despite what he preaches, he really struggles to practise it. Everyday he insists on heading towards the Golden Arches and as a result he's perhaps not the hench, six-pack body builder that his nickname and profession might suggest. Indeed, one might describe him as the worst possible influence on me, although to be fair, that probably goes both ways. Anyway, you must understand that it was purely out of respect for a friend who was not with us that we both sampled a Polish Big Mac that morning and then took photos with said source of nutrition and a card declaring 'Dave Wright, we thought of you!' to post on Facebook.

B2L15Respect to the Healthy One!

Thus filled, we went on our way, choosing a different route into town than the night before, this time heading down Święty Marcin which took is to plac Mickiewcza where there was both a rather brutal concrete monument and a museum dedicated to the uprising of 1956.

Now before this trip, if you'd said to me the words “uprising” and “1956” then I'd have assumed that you were talking about Hungary where the whole country rose up against Soviet dominance and Moscow decided to send in the tanks to crush it. However, in June of that year, before the events in Budapest, there was the first mass protest to occur within the Soviet Bloc and it erupted in Poznań and then spread with a crowd of a hundred thousand gathering in plac Stalina (now plac Mickiewcza) demanding “Bread and Freedom!” The city authorities ignored this so the crowd stormed the police headquarters, the communist party building and then the prison, releasing 257 inmates. They then turned their attentions to the secret police headquarters and that's when the guns started to be fired. The army was brought in with tanks rolling down the streets but fighting continued through the night and for most of the following day. By the end 76 lay dead, 900 were wounded and more than 300 protesters were arrested. Although undoubtedly a failure and largely ignored by historians for years, this spontaneous working class uprising only three years after the death of Stalin was a precursor for the ultimately successful strikes and rebellions of the Solidarity movement. However, whilst historians may have ignored the rebellion, the city of Poznań most definitely has not and the little museum in the basement of the Poznań Imperial Castle told its story excellently, with the exhibits well thought-out and all aspects of the story covered from secret radios to propaganda, the role of children to an old Soviet T-34 tank bursting out of one wall.

B2L16

B2L17The 1956 Uprising Museum

And once done in there, the building that housed it was well worth a look took. A grand Gothic edifice built between 1904 and 1910 as a palace for the man behind Europe's first great conflict of the 20th century, Kaiser Wilhelm II – remember, Poznań was in Germany back then – it was stern and impressive, but interesting too since it was later remodelled by Albert Speer as a palace for the man behind Europe's second great conflict of the 20th century, Adolf Hitler in which he even had his own throne room where he could receive minions and a bunker underneath, (where the museum is now housed), to scuttle into in case the Allies decided to drop a bomb or two.

B2L18Hitler's lair: Poznań Imperial Castle

We continued our walk into the centre and wondered at a very strange and angular metal and glass sculpture in plac Wolności and then ogled Poznań Royal Castle – a fairytale fortress said to date from 1249 but looking very new indeed, in fact some parts still very obviously under construction[1] – before ending up by the scanty remains of the old city walls.

B2L19Crap art in plac Wolności

Having done some of what I wanted to do, it was now Mike's turn and so we headed to plac Wielkopolski where Poznań's main market is held. Mike loves markets you see. He doesn't necessarily buy anything at them, but he likes to sniff out bargains and see what the locals are eating. So we browsed the stalls stacked with cheap perfume and toys, checked out the cheapest prices for cigarettes, (perhaps Mike's main reason for coming and a nice little side-earner for me too), and then moved on to enjoy a coffee on the nearby Stary Rynek where we'd drank the night before.

Poznań's Stary Rynek is beautiful, an almost perfect ensemble of buildings flanked around and inside a large square, with the Rennaissance town hall being the pick of them with its elaborate frieze and clock. The only thing that mars the beauty is the horrendous 1960s addition in the centre – Prince Charle's phrase “a monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much loved and elegant friend” comes to mind – but that, I read, is scheduled for demolition, and even now it cannot destroy the ambience of the square which I much prefer to Kraków's Rynek Główny, being more intimate. And so we wiled away an hour or so reading and watching the girls go by – always a pleasant activity in Poland – and regaining our energy before embarking on the next stage of the Tour de Poznań, which involved a lengthy walk eastwards to Ostrów Tumski, an island in the Warta River which is a must-see on any Poznań itinerary.

B2L20Stary Rynek

Ostrów Tumski is today a kilometre from Stary Rynek, the heart of modern Poznań, out in the suburbs and away from the crowds. But in fact, it is far older as a human settlement and much more important in the city's story than anywhere else for it was there that Poznań was originally founded back in the 9th century, (the spot was easily defensible), and the city only moved to its current location in 1252 when a new town was laid out. Although reached by a long concrete bridge these days which would not have looked out of place in Telford or Milton Keynes or indeed any other bland new town, once on the island, the sense of history was palpable.

The island is dominated by the city's cathedral, an enormous brick edifice built in stages since the 9th century when it was founded by Duke Mieszko I, the first-ever ruler of a Polish state, as his capital. As such, Ostrów Tumski can be seen as not only the place where Poznań began but indeed, also the place where Poland itself was born. And more than that, if, as some historians believe, the church on the island was also the place where the duke was baptised in 966, then Poznań Cathedral may also be called the spot where the Poles became Christian.[2]

B2L21Poznań Cathedral

And the cathedral is a building which does justice to its historical significance. The year before in Kraków I'd been none too enamoured with Polish churches, most seemingly suffering from an excess of Counter Reformation Baroque which seemed to me to be out-of-place, an alien intrusion so far north and eat, but Poznań Cathedral is grand yet restrained and its most exuberant section, the Golden Chapel where old Duke Mieszko and his successor Bolesław Chobry are interred, although sumptuous is also tasteful in a Gothic fashion, more Hogwarts than Versailles.

What I found most interesting of all though, was the crypt in which there's an excellent exhibition charting the development of the island and its cathedral and some excavated remains of the foundations of the earliest structure and the decayed relics of some ancient ecclesiastics.

Round the back of the cathedral though, on the bridge over the Cybina River, (the other branch of the Warta), came another astonishing sight: thousands of locks attached to the bridge railings with the names of lovers and a date inscribed on them. Quite why they were there and what they signified neither of us could say, but visually it was a striking sight.[3]

B2L22The lock bridge on Ostrów Tumski

And that done, our grand tour of Poznań was complete and so we dragged our tired feet back into the centre where we dined in Chłopskie Jadło, our favourite Polish restaurant chain, (it specialise in traditional peasant food), before returning to the Stary Rynek that evening for more beers and people-watching, both of us thoroughly impressed with Poland's fifth-largest city and eager to move on and see what Łódź has to offer.

Next part: Day 4


[1]Some research on the internet has revealed what the story is. Yes, there was a mediaeval castle on the site but this, like so much else, was largely destroyed during World War II and it was only partially rebuilt in the 1950s. The “under construction” look was due to the fact that it is now being fully and meticulously rebuilt and it was just a shame that we'd arrived too early to see it finished.

[2]There is another school of thought however which states that Duke Mieszko was baptised at Gniezno, some twenty miles or so to the east.

[3]Later research revealed the following: The bridge is one of a number of “lock bridges” to be found all over the world and the legend behind them is relatively modern. It comes from a 1992 love story by the Italian author Federico Moccia,'Tre metri sopra il cielo' ('You and I are three metres above the sky) which was later made into a film. In it the two young lovers attach a padlock to Rome's Ponte Milvio and then throw the key into the Tiber River, thus binding the couple together for all eternity. Ahh...

Friday, 27 February 2015

Berlin to Łódź 2013: Day 2

world-map berlin

Greetings!

Whilst the real world has seen me exploring the French capital lately, in cyberspace this week’s posting is all about the German one. In our offering today, Mike and I explore the delights of Berlin, perhaps not the prettiest city on earth but definitely one of the most interesting. This visit however, was not my first: aside from a brief pass through in 2003, I spent an amazing three days there in 2007, the account of which can be found here and which is, incidentally, the most visited post on Uncle Travelling Matt. So check that out as well as my two V-logs of this trip.

V-log 9: East to West Berlin

V-log 10: Berlin

Keep travelling!

Uncle Travelling Matt

Flickr album of this trip

Links to all parts of this travelogue

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

And also check out my 2007 Berlin travelogue!

berlin tourist map

germany-poland-map 1

DAY 2

The next morning we breakfasted German-style on pastry and coffee and then took the train back into the centre of the city. This visit to the German capital was to be a bit of a whistle-stop tour as our train to Poland was scheduled to leave late in the afternoon but that didn't bother me particularly as I had pretty much blitzed – pun intended – the city back in 2007. There was however, one sight that I still wanted to see and so we headed for Alexanderplatz, once the heart of East Berlin.

Alexanderplatz had changed in the intervening six and a half years since my previous visit. Back then it had been a vast, grey, dismal, windswept and rain-drenched plaza of astonishing dreariness, topped off by a feature clock that would struggle to look good in Milton Keynes. Now, whilst perhaps not one of the continent's more memorable urban spaces, it was cheerier, brighter, busier and the sun was shining. Only the clock remained to remind me of past awfulness. It was still crap.

B2L04Alexanderplatz: Crap Clock

But we hadn't alighted at Alexanderplatz to admire the concrete, but instead I wanted to check out the one place that I hadn't managed to fit in on my 2007 city tour. The Fernsehturm (TV tower) is, at 365m high, the second tallest structure in Europe and a well-known symbol of the city. It was East Germany's proud boast of its modernity to the West, (from where it was clearly visible), but the gesture backfired since the sunlight reflected on the panels at the top to form a cross. The locals dubbed it “The Pope's Revenge”. Proud proletarian statement it may have been, but I was dismayed to see the entry price of €13, something that this old prole could not afford. So, after mooching round the shop in its base, Mike and I left that Berlin box unticked and continued on our way.

B2L05Fernsehturm

I decided to take Mike on a walking tour of some of the highlights of the capital which was all new to him, so we headed down past the Marienkirche and impressive Rotes Rathaus to the wonderfully East German Marx-Engels Forum where sits one of my favourite statues in the whole world. I say that because not only does it feature the two granddaddies of the Left, but they are arranged in such a way – Engels standing on the right, then Marx sitting – that it seems designed for a third to join them – you! - and if you do stand by Marx then because they are so much larger than life – in more ways than one – then the downward pattern is maintained. However, here too, changes had taken place and for no apparent reason they'd been moved 180 degrees from their former position with the Palast der Republik as a backdrop so that they now face the building site that that great eyesore once occupied. And I don't know why, but that bothered me somehow, as if some great act of disrespect had been committed.

B2L06Three Great Socialists

The Palast der Republik was the home of the East German parliament; an immense concrete monstrosity nicknamed Erichs Lampladen (Erich's Lamp Shop), due to the hundreds of lamps hanging from the ceiling of the main foyer and Erich Honecker being the resident dictator. Back in 2007 it had been an empty shell, condemned due to asbestos, but now it had been completely razed to the ground and work was underway on constructing an exact replica of the building that was demolished to make way for it: the Stadtschloss, the old imperial palace of Prussia. I need hardly say that, despite my left-leaning sympathies, I approve heartily although the least said the better about the Humboldt Box, an abstract angular piece of post-modern dross that temporarily occupies part of the site. Still, at least it is temporary and what was better, connected to the institution was a series of information boards detailing the lives of famous dead Berliners, most of the Jewish or socialist.

Over the Spree and we were now on the Unter den Linden, Berlin's most famous thoroughfare along which most of its finest building are located. Last time I visited I attended Holy Communion in the magnificent Berliner Dom to our right and then I'd visited the Pergamon Museum which is behind it and which I consider to be up there with the best two or three museums in the world. But Berlin has an amazing selection of museums and so this time I decided to hit another of them. Whilst the Pergamon is an exposition of all things Ancient and Classical from Greek temples to the Blue Gates of Babylon, the Deutsches Historisches Museum (German Historical Museum) charts, as its name suggests, the history of the German nation. Mike and I thus spent the next few hours exploring all things Deutsch, from the Pagan forest-dwelling tribes who fought the Romans to the Thirty Years' War, the Battle of Austerlitz, industrialisation and then, of course, the chaos of World War II and the divided country that emerged from its ashes. It was fascinating and it would have been the ideal introduction to an extended tour of the country. Alas though, our train out was that afternoon. Oh well, next time...

B2L08Deutsches Historisches Museum

We continued our walk along Unter den Linden, stopping for some traditional Berliner sustenance at a currywurst stall before ending up in Pariser Platz in front of the Brandenburger Tor, the symbol of the city that once stood right beside the Wall which so cruelly divided it. Taking photos there we fell into conversation with an American couple who were touring Europe – and were most surprised and impressed when we told them how little we pay for flights in Europe – and then watched a rowdy demonstration by a large group of people waving Kurdish flags and complaining about some specific injustice which seemed to relate to political prisoners in Iraq.

B2L09By the Brandenburg Gate

B2L10The protesters by the gate

Walking on, we then checked out my favourite Berlin landmark, the eerie Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Now, generally speaking, abstract public art does little for me, this one really is the exception to the rule. Built to (superficially) resemble the Jewish cemetery in Prague, you enter it feeling that it is much like a normal cemetery, except that the “graves” are blank and, on the extreme periphery of the work, set into the pavement. But as you progress walking between them, before you know it, you are engulfed by the monument and those “graves”, formerly only waist height, now tower above you, closing in, suffocating you. You are now in the midst of a hellish maze and to me it conveys as well as any art can how most Jews did not fully realise what was coming with the advent of Nazism – the rumours can't be true, they wouldn't really kill us, those stories of camps are exaggerated, we can always emigrate, this will pass, we are too useful to them – until it was too late and they were cast into the nightmare of the Holocaust with little or no hope of ever getting out.

B2L11Mike at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews

We finished our quick walking tour of the German capital at the redeveloped Potsdamer Platz where a section of the Berlin Wall still remains for tourists like us to stand next to and have their photos taken. We however, were far more taken by the impressive Sony Centre, a large circular courtyard with a tent-like roof and glass-covered buildings which reflect the multitude of angles spectacularly. I lay on my back on a bench and photographed and videoed it for it was well worth savouring.

B2L12Reflections in the glass, Sony Centre, Potsdamer Platz

Our time now limited and our feet sore, we jumped on the U-bahn to make one more stop. Mike had now seen a lot of the old East Berlin but nothing of the West, so we headed over to Kurfürstendamm, once the heart of the old capitalist enclave. To be fair though, the Osters had the best of it for there's not a lot to see save for an impressive array of sex emporia which are always worth a look around if only to broaden the mind – if you can think of it, there's a fetish devoted to it somewhere – before then heading to Kurfürstendamm's main railway station, Zoologischer Garten, in order to purchase our onward tickets to Poznań.

Except that there we hit a problem. On the internet I'd sourced the train times and found there to be one, very conveniently, at 16:29. upon investigation however, it transpired that this train did not in fact, exist: DB had not updated their website since 2009 (how very un-German!). However, there was a train leaving the Hauptbahnhof at 15:37, just half an hour or so away, so we got our tickets and jumped onto the next train up-track to Berlin's new central station.

I'd visited – and been bowled over by – Berlin's new Hauptbahnhof back in 2007. Then it had not just been new, but very new indeed, officially opened only the year before. I'd reached it then by walking across a wasteland of undeveloped real estate lots, the legacy of the area being the no-man's land in-between East and West Berlin during the Cold War. Now most of those lots are filled with towering office blocks and its title of 'Central' seems a little more justified. It is, unlike so many railway stations built since the Second World War, a station worth departing from with its enormous glass overall roof and layers of railways all running on top of one another. Back on my last visit I'd caught a local stopper service for Charlottenburg from there, a journey of only a couple of miles, but today we were doing the grand terminal justice by boarding the international express bound for Gdańsk and our destination – Poznań Główny – was a respectable three hours distant. So, climbing onto the white PNR coach, a currywurst each in hand, we said goodbye to Berlin and looked forwards to pastures new.

The journey to Poznań however, was not quite what I had anticipated. You'd expect Berlin, capital of the most populous and powerful nation in Europe,[1] to be like London and Paris, to be swamped by mile after mile of bland middle-class suburbs. But no, almost as soon as we were out of the centre, we plunged into a vast forest that lasted not only up until the Polish border, but a good way into Poland itself. It was dense and primeval and it made one rethink one's perceptions of Germany as this über-developed people-heavy land. But then again, we often forget that Germany is not like Britain and France just as Berlin is neither Paris nor London. Up until as recent as 1870 the country existed as a concept only and even today – in a process exacerbated by the traumatic post-war split into two states – the country is far less centralised than the other two great European powers. Berlin may be its capital, but the dominant West's government was situated in Bonn until 1990, the industrial powerhouse has always been the distant Rhine-Rühr conurbation, Munich is undoubtedly the boss in the south whilst Frankfurt-am-Main is the financial centre.

We soon passed through Frankfurt, but not the money-drenched one. Frankfurt-an-der-Oder is now the last city in Germany and as we rattled over the Oder River which gives it its name, we passed into Polish territory. However, things have not always been so and traditionally Germany has been more easterly situated than it is today. Prior to 1945, large swathes of what is now Poland was German territory and indeed the Prussian capital Berlin was chosen as the administrative heart of the new German Empire in 1870 primarily because it was geographically at the heart of the new entity. Even a cursory glance at the map today shows us that this is no longer the case. For centuries much of Western Poland has had a large German population and many of its urban centres were Germanised and had German names: Poznań – Posen; Gdańsk – Danzig; Szczecin – Stettin and Wrocław – Breslau. In moves not often talked about but still felt keenly by many Germans, the border was shifted to the Oder giving Poland East Prussia and most of Pomerania and Silesia in compensation for territory that the USSR annexed off it in the east. And with the shift in borders also came a shift in people. By 1950 between twelve and fourteen million ethnic Germans were forcibly uprooted from their homes in Central and Eastern Europe, often places where their families had lived for centuries, and resettled within Germany. The number from Poland alone was seven million. How many were killed in the process is up for debate. There are 473,000 confirmed deaths and some estimates talk of two million although the most accepted seems to be that of the Deutsches Historisches Museum which gives a figure of around 600,000. whatever the truth, one thing is for sure: wandering around the region between Berlin, Kaliningrad, Lvov and Budapest can often be a very sobering experience for much of the literature, art, culture, industry and architecture of those places was the product of two peoples conspicuous by their absence: the Germans and the Jews.[2]

B2L13Crossing the Oder, the (present day) border between Germany and Poland

If the journey to Poznań was a little contrary to expectations, the arrival was even more so. We drew into the dingy confines of Główny (Central) Station – as good an example of what modern architecture shouldn't be as Berlin Hauptbahnhof is of what it should – and then made the short walk to our pre-booked accommodation, Pension Xantier (PLN99 p/n). Except that when we rang the bell, there was no answer. So we knocked on the door. Still no answer. So Mike called the number on the booking confirmation. And we heard the phone ringing in the office, but, unsurprisingly, no one picked it up. Stumped, we waited, then we waited some more, then we went to the shop and then we came back to wait some more. And then, just as we were about to leave and seek alternative accommodation, a girl arrived. She didn't speak any English, but was dashed pretty which at least made up for our inconvenience a little. However, she wasn't the owner of the hotel, nor even did she work there. She was, I discovered through the fog of several Slavic tongues, sort-of living in the hotel and sort-of a friend of the guy who sort-of owned it. Nonetheless, all these “sort ofs” equalled one definite which was his mobile number which she duly rang for us and he promised to get down to us prompto and asked if his sort-of live in friend could sort-of open the room up for us. The question was, why hadn't he been there himself?

Hmm... it seems like he'd sort-of closed the hotel for the winter and most definitely forgot that he'd received an internet booking.

And so, after dropping off our bags, we were finally able to start exploring the second of our three cities. We walked into the heart of Poznań as the sun went down and ended up where every tourist does, the breath-taking Stary Rynek (literally “Old market, i.e. the central square), where, ensconced in one of the cobbleside bars, we toasted our return to the Land of the White Eagle, the country which we had enjoyed so much the year before, and then sat back to ogle the stunning mediaeval architecture and the even more captivating Polish women who passed by on their evening strolls.

Next part: Day 3


[1]I exclude Russia and Turkey since they're mostly in Asia.

[2]I explore the subject of Eastern Europe’s missing Germans and their legacy in far more depth in my travelogue 'The Missing Link' where I meet one of the few survivors, Anton Bremer, an ethnic German in Northern Romania.

Friday, 20 February 2015

Berlin to Łódź 2013: Day 1

world-map berlin

Greetings!

Just returned from a great few days in Paris, doing all the standard things that a sightseer must do in that city on their first visit. Eiffel Tower climbed, Notre Dame checked out, the only thing left undone was a visit to the Louvre (time ran out) although I did get my photo snapped by the glass pyramid. Anyway, more on that trip later when I get round to writing it up.

DSC00373

In the meantime, we’ll be leaving Japan for a while and starting a new travelogue, one which records the short break that I took in the autumn of 2013 when we travelled from Berlin to Łódź in Poland checking out some of the interesting sights on the way. Hope you like it.

Keep travelling!

Uncle Travelling Matt

Flickr album of this trip

Links to all parts of this travelogue

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

And also check out my 2007 Berlin travelogue!

INTRODUCTION

Back in 2003 I took a trip. Along with my brother we journeyed by rail from Varna in Bulgaria to Zierikzee in the Netherlands. The trip was significant for me since it physically linked the Balkans where I had been living and which I knew well with the Netherlands which I also knew intimately and which I had already travelled to by land (and a little bit of sea) from my home country. Eastern Europe to Western Europe, the evolution of one familiar part of the world into another, through half a dozen countries virtually or completely unknown to me. And it was a good trip, a fun trip, but as we raced from capital to capital, I felt that I was missing something, I was only getting a taster, a superficial experience of this unknown region once referred to as Mitteleuropa. So when I returned to the UK back in 2005, I decided to get underneath the surface a bit more and go back to explore more of those places that I'd merely passed through on our great railway journey. In 2007 I went to Berlin, the city where we'd literally got off one train in Zoologischer Garten station and jumped onto another so fed up were we by then of capitals, and then in 2008 I took a trip around Slovakia before finally, in 2012, I linked up that 2003 trip with my other great train adventure, closing the Missing Link between Konotop in Ukraine and Bucharest and in the process exploring a lot of Romania and Moldova.

In 2012 though, I also went on another, much shorter, European expedition, a few days in and around Kraków. This time I travelled with Mike, a colleague from work. It was my first trip to Poland and I discovered another country very much to my taste buds. So, when Mike suggested jetting off east again, who was I to disagree, albeit under one proviso: that I could link it to my other journeyings, to see exactly how Poland fits into the glorious European jigsaw.

DAY 1

Berlin Schönefeld was familiar territory and it hadn't changed much since my last visit six years earlier. We left the terminal with our light bags and took the S-bahn into the centre. I must admit, I like that introduction to Berlin as the S-bahn traverses where the wall once stood and you get a panorama of East to West. This time I took out my camera and filmed from Alexanderplatz through to Zoologischer Garten, a journey which now takes just over ten minutes but, when my dad did it in the 1970s, lasted several hours and involved several customs and passport checks. Well, at least mankind has moved forward in some areas.

We got off at Charlottenburg where the map on the internet had told me our hotel was, but then we hit a problem as it clearly wasn't there at all and even my back-up option of going to the hotel where I'd stayed in 2007 – which was right by the station – was a no-go as that place had gone upmarket in the intervening years and was well beyond our price range. Ever resourceful, we headed into a corner shop and asked for a map, but even that didn't help as Gürtelstraße, the street in the hotel's address, was nowhere to be found, even in the index. The lady behind the counter wanted to help but she spoke no English and my German consists entirely of phrases garnered from war films watched with my granddad as a kid. I suspected that 'Achtung!', 'Mein Gott!' and 'Heil Hitler!' might not be much use here, but then a chance encounter saved us: a customer entered to buy some cigarettes and spoke to our host in Russian which she was, apparently, fluent in. Realising that we now had something approaching a common tongue after all, we had a discussion in some sort of vague Slavic about our predicament and discovered that Friedrichshain – the district where the hotel was located – was in fact off the map, and so, things sorted, we headed off deep into the suburbs of what was once East Berlin and there, just off a crossroads that could have been in Kiev, Krakow or Krasnoyarsk, opposite an election poster of Angela Merkel[1] that had been imaginatively defaced to give her devil eyes, we found the Hostel Georghof, our cheap[2] sleep for the night which was surreally housed in a former office block, our twin room perhaps being the HR department for some middling Berlin sales company only a few years before.

D2L03Angela Merkel: Would you vote for this woman…?

That evening we had an appointment to keep. Not with a local, but with a bona fide resident of the German capital. Like London, Paris and a dozen other world cities, Berlin is an international place and Dzhilbert was a product of this. I got to know him fifteen years earlier when he was living in a sleepy little town in Northern Bulgaria and studying in the local university. Since then he's studied further in more illustrious establishments and then lived in various cities across Europe and Asia whilst following a successful career in finance. I hadn't seen him since 2008 when we'd caught up in Budapest at the end of my Slovakia trip, but in the meantime I'd visited his mum and dad in Bulgaria and he'd met my mother-in-law in far flung Vietnam. It was time to meet up.

We made our rendezvous outside Hackescher Markt railway station – one of the prettier in Berlin – and after introductions made our way to our dining venue. The area around Hackescher Markt had been notable during my last visit for the large number of girls walking around wearing very tight corsets. I'd later learnt that they were all prostitutes and that it was the main red light district, but regardless of this, as a man who has always admired the corseted female form, they were a pleasant visual distraction. Sadly, this time they were only notable by their absence. Have street-walking fashions changed or had the area been cleaned up?

I'd deliberately kept our dinner venue as a surprise from Mike, (Dzhilbert had heard about it before), and whilst he knew that something was up, he hadn't enough Deutsch to translate its name: Unsicht Bar. This was a place that I'd read about back in 2004, tried to visit in 2007 – it had been fully booked up – and made sure not to miss this time around. Unsicht Bar – the name translates roughly as “No Sight Bar” - is operated and staffed completely by blind Berliners and it gives diners a chance to explore their world. After ordering from the ambiguous menu in the reception area, you are then led to your table by your own personal waiter/waitress and you dine in the dark. Mike certainly hadn't expected that, (I think he'd been anticipating something a little kinkier – if only the corsets had been out on display!), but he, along with Dzhilbert, was up for a new experience. The question is though, how was it? Well, they say that the lack of sight enhances the other senses and so the taste buds should be amongst them and I must say, the food that we were served was damned tasty, although whether that would have been the case if it were served “normally” I cannot say. What struck me more however, was how our personal interactions changed. With no sight to rely on, our conversation became more muted as we were more aware of the volume of our speech and also there was no talking over one another, instead we naturally fell into a pattern of taking turns. Also noticeable was how difficult it was to actually find your food on the plate and to know when you're finished. Finally, there was a worrying feeling of dependency which I have not felt since childhood. Whenever you wanted anything you had to call for your waitress by name and then just hope that she heard and would come soon. Without her you were as helpless as a baby.

B2L01The weird and wonderful menu at Unsicht Bar

After Unsicht Bar we had a couple of beers in a bar by Hackescher Markt station where I caught up further with Dzhilbert, and then we made our separate ways, Mike and I heading back to Hostel Georghof where we bought a load more beers from the proprietor and then drank away the first night of our mini-break in our strange office with beds in it.

D2L02Beers with Dzhilbert

Next part: Day 2


[1]Elections were only a few week's hence and Merkel was comfortably in the lead. On a personal level though, I struggle to see why anyone would be tempted to vote for her but then again, I'm neither German nor right-wing which could explain it. Nonetheless, from the graffiti viewed on display in Berlin, I suspect that many of the locals would agree with me.

[2]€32 p/n