Friday, 31 August 2012

Summer in Berlin, it's alright PART V

♫ Freedom Call – We Are One

I think this may be the final Berlin post – well, unless my babbling becomes so uncontrollable that I had better make another post for it. So be prepared to read something inconsistent, I suppose the only properly introduced tourist tip will be...

East Side Gallery
There is not much left of the Berlin Wall, but East Side Gallery is a spot with 1.3 kilometers of the original wall. The eastern side of the wall was decorated by artists from all over the world in 1990, and it is sort of a memorial for freedom. Most of the paintings are more or less political, many of them referring to the wall itself. And the other side of the wall, basically the no-man's-land part, is full of traditional graffiti. :>

The gallery is located near the River Spree, on Mühlenstraße, near Ostbahnhof train station. Besides the art and the original wall, there's not much else to see on the spot. However, the mere wall would have been enough for me, I'm somehow so fascinated by it.

The graffiti side of the wall, as well as the first photo.

A cute graffiti.

Graffiti side, but damn – if this was authentic, it would be very impressive.

The gallery side

Okay, that was it for the East Side Gallery. I shall... talk about how I liked Berlin. Hopefully I can keep it short. In brief: I really fell in love with Berlin. Many big cities may fascinate me, but Berlin was just as awesome as I had expected it to be. And well, I don't like just any big city. I don't like Helsinki at all, although it is the biggest city in Finland (apologies to you who live there; I cannot quite explain why I don't like it).

A piece of wall near Potsdamer Platz

Berlin felt like home instantly. It was so strange, but not alienating at all. It was so easy to move there, so easy to find whatever you were looking for (except for good and cheap record stores, oh well). While some people say Berlin isn't beautiful, I would say it's interesting. There are beautiful buildings and ugly buildings, but it's much more interesting than a city with merely neutral architecture.

At Tiergarten train station

And I don't really speak German, I've forgotten everything I studied in two years in elementary school. :( I wish I hadn't though, I have learnt to like the language later on. But you can manage with English. And I felt very secure in Berlin. Seriously, I would dare to go there all alone and move about and trust that nothing too bad would happen and I wouldn't get too badly lost either.


And now, in this situation, Berlin may seem more like a safe haven to me. I want to go back, I want to experience it again in a different way (probably in a more laid-back way this time; we were pretty much running from one place to another, though I liked it too, but didn't have much time to sit still and wonder, enjoy and feel...). I want to return to those moments when I felt that my dream had come true. Those moments when I felt so very happy. And then, like I already told you, on the day of my return I got to hear I would be temporarily laid off of work. And here I am still, looking for work, getting depressed without a single invitation to a job interview, feeling anything but confident about myself, feeling frustrated when days go by and I don't feel that I've accomplished anything. Then I just dream of Berlin, dream of the vacation I had, and occasionally even think of moving there – why, I don't know. I still don't speak German and I don't know what I could do in Berlin or how I could make a living over there when it doesn't seem to succeed in Finland either. It just gives me a feeling of so much better a place than, well, this.

Potsdamer Platz

However, at the end of the vacation I was happy to go home. My feet were so extremely sore that I couldn't have survived another day exploring the city, no matter how much I would have wanted. Each step hurt, but what was even worse was standing still. I had had two pairs of flats which I mostly wore there. While one pair was so soft that they couldn't possibly rub the feet uncomfortably, the other pair wasn't so nice on feet to begin with. The worst thing though was having such thin shoe soles. The shoes provided my feet with about just as much protection as walking the streets of Berlin barefoot would have. That left my foot bones sore after each long day spent mostly on our feet, and a short night spent resting didn't let them recover. Eventually I woke up to each morning with aching feet, and it took me several days to recover afterwards. Lesson learnt: good shoes do have thick soles for a reason.

A bridge across Spree near Schloss Bellevue

A detail in a work of art near Europa Center

I have yet to show what I actually purchased in Berlin, although I already showed a photo of the stuff I bought at Brandenburger Tor. Very well – we didn't really have much time to go shopping, but it's alright. I might have wanted to find some clothes or shoes, but maybe next time. I did end up trying some in one clothes store, being so much in awe by the fact they had size 32. In the end none of the fitting clothes pleased my eyes, and the only ones that did were a pair of, should I say, denim hotpants, which were just a bit too tight. Sucks.

I got a German flag, because I kinda like to own such to remind me of where I've been (not that I'd ever buy another one if I visited Germany again). Funnily enough, I don't own the flags of most countries I've visited... I wanted to buy two postcards with DDR related messages. At the TV tower I bought a tote bag which is quite a perfect carrier for my training gear. Yellow was quite an exceptional color choice for me, but the other option was green. I would have bought a T-shirt with that print if they had had my size! Then I got a small Hard Rock Cafe Berlin goblet, to remind me I've visited that place too, hahah. I had wished I could find a record store selling good and cheap German metal records, but that was too much to ask. I'd thought they'd have a lot of discounts for (a few years) old domestic CDs, but nah. :/ The only CD I bought was Powerwolf's Lupus Dei, not a bad find though. Finally, I found a pair of fancy fishnet tights for 4.99€ (and as a Finn I got dumbfounded when the clerk gave me one cent in exchange for my five euro bill).

Oh but I'm a Finn and I visited Germany? Must bring home some booze... This may make me seem like an alcoholic or something, which I certainly am not, but oh... Captain Morgan. I just had to get bottles which aren't available in Finland! The most important thing for me to find was a bottle of Captain Morgan Original Spiced Gold, which wasn't available in Finland until... I don't know? During the trip I still thought there was none available here, but a few days ago I found out 0.5 liter bottles are sold here as well – but as far as I know, they haven't been available for long. I'm not sure if it is good or bad news for me – I happened to fell in love with Original Spiced Gold and if it's too easy for me to get my hands on it, then... Seriously! It smells like candy and tastes like candy! And yes, on its own. The Black Label bottle was my tax free purchase, probably for the sake of getting a one-liter bottle to my piratey collection of, err, Captain Morgan containers. And the can with a mix of Captain&Cola was an awesome find – why don't they have such mixes in cans in Finland, especially not in grocery stores? Oh yeah, our alcohol policies are so strict. :( When some people cannot use it in a wise way, those who do (like me, believe it or not, see what I said here) get to suffer as well.

Okay, the end of my Berlin series is drawing near. I hope you enjoyed reading the stories – and thank you all who did! If you want to ask something about the city, I'd happily try to answer. So long!

Monday, 20 August 2012

Summer in Berlin, it's alright PART IV

♫ Silentrain – Until You Break

Back to Berlin, my dear readers! This post will be dedicated to, hmm, Berlin heights, at least to those spots that we visited. Let's start with the very famous and important landmark...

Berliner Fernsehturm
The TV tower! It's the tallest building in Germany and sort of a symbol for Berlin, and you can really see it from so many locations in the city. The antenna reaches the height of 368.03 m (1,207.45 ft) while the visitor platform is just a bit over 200 meters. Hmm, there are at least two visitor floors though, because there is a revolving restaurant up the stairs from the floor where the elevators stop. (I'm not sure if the restaurant tables have to be reserved beforehand, we only visited the bar on the "elevator" floor.)

Getting to the tower is not simple and fast, though. Depending on the time of the day, the queues to the elevators may be very long! When you go buy a ticket, you will get a number, and then there are screens which tell when certain numbers may head for the security check and elevators. Basically, you can leave the tower and come back when your turn is closer – however, when your time really comes, you'll have to get yourself to the entrance in ten minutes or otherwise you've just lost your turn. But yeah, it can take long – I think we waited for over an hour. And as I said, there's a security check. All kind of bottles are among the forbidden items, so you might want to remember that if you're carrying a water bottle or something.

There was a funny elevator boy operating the machine, and on our way up, he quickly summarized the most important facts about the tower and the lift (such as the speed, shamefully, I cannot remember it) first in German and then in English. He ended the English explanation (which he had probably had to repeat more than once or twice while working there!) by adding in a smooth flow "...and nobody's listening", which greatly amused us, and we got to point out that we did. Not sure if he really had expected no one to be listening and thus paying attention to his remark.

And now, some scenes from up there:

In the top right corner you can see Brandenburger Tor. The "forest" is Tiergarten.

That's just so... eastern.

The tower entrance fee is 11.50€ (and –25% with Berlin Welcome Card!) and it's worth it – the views are simply awesome! You can see pretty much "everything", and there are photos and texts of the most important places which you can see in a certain direction and such. And are you afraid of heights? Don't worry, despite the remarkable height the TV tower isn't a frightening place! When you are up there, it really doesn't feel like you were as high as you are. Besides, you cannot look so directly down from there that you'd get very dizzy. So if you only have a mild fear of heights, do not skip a visit to the TV tower.

Having some beer up there was necessary as well. :D Finns like us can say that the top bar wasn't as expensive as you could expect it to be. It was more pricey than the bars on the ground level of Berlin, but still reasonable for sure. Cheap from a Finn's point of view.

The next height spot is the Victory Column. It's roughly at the half way of Straße des 17. Juni, at Großer Stern, a big junction of several (big) streets. Since it is in the middle of the intersection, you don't cross the streets in order to get there but use a tunnel under the streets instead.

The entrance fee was small, a few euros or something. There's a small museum on the bottom level presenting different signs of victory from all over the world. And then, the stairs up to the tower...

From the mouth of the tunnel

Up on the panorama platform – see the TV tower roughly in the middle of the photo.

So, yeah... I mentioned stairs. No elevator. I'm not saying the climb was physically too challenging – the whole tower is only 66.89 meters tall. However, the spiral staircase was very narrow – passing those who were going in the different direction was a bit of a challenge. Besides, I was wearing high heels – wouldn't have if I had known we were going there, but it was our spontaneous idea on the day of departure, and since I was about to travel in the heaviest shoes I had with me, well... Now I can tell you: don't climb up there in high heels. Just a friendly suggestion.

And the platform up there? It was just as cramped as the staircase. And as you can see, an open-air platform, so you could feel the wind up there and... See much more directly down from where you were standing than in the TV tower. I'm not the type to panic easily, and well, I didn't, but I did feel quite anxious. So yeah, feeling a bit rickety myself, and realizing that no wait, there's absolutely no way to evacuate this tower quickly if necessary... Not a comfortable feeling. To me it also felt like the platform had been slanting. Sure, we were in a cage, but still. I tried to take photos of the golden statue on the platform, but I just couldn't stand there like that, looking up and holding the camera high too, with the rail behind my back.

The conclusion: if you are afraid of heights or cramped places, you are likely to feel very uncomfortable up in Siegessäule! Seriously, I don't even recommend it to anyone who think they might feel anxious up there. I'm happy that I went there once – I am adventurous like that and want to experience such things, but I might not want to go again. Even though the height of Siegessäule is just a fraction of that of Fernsehturm's, it feels much, much worse. You'll certainly feel more secure in 200 metres.

Siegessäule photographed from the back side of Brandenburger Tor.

Until next time, so long!

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Summer in Berlin, no, it's Potsdam PART III

♫ Orden Ogan – And if you do right

Okay, now I'm back to posting about my trip, yet this post will be entirely about Potsdam, not Berlin. It's a neighboring city to Berlin though, the capital of the federal state of Brandenburg. It's very easy to get there from Berlin – at least one of the S Bahn lines which go through the city in east-west direction goes straight to Potsdam too, but you need a ticket to the C fare zone in order to get as far as to Potsdam. This city is located (south)west of Berlin and the train ride is probably half an hour long, depending on where you hop in! As we were staying in West Berlin, it was probably twenty minutes from the nearest train station.

I could say that we "only" visited Park Sanssouci, though... Since the park is quite big, it did take us half a day. (In the afternoon we returned to Berlin and went on to other tourist attractions like madmen, almost until midnight. Had a long day. My feet were begging for mercy.) We were merely strolling around in the park, photographing the area and its fine buildings, but we didn't visit any. If you are into history, you might want to see some of the palaces from the inside as well, at least most of them were museums of some kind. We thought we wanted to save our precious time for other things, so we skipped those tours.

This yellow building is Sanssouci Palace, a summer palace of Frederick the Great. The fountain photo was taken from the direction of the palace. It was a beautiful day in a beautiful park, yet the weather was not the best for photographing! And I got to taste the cruelty of the sun as I burnt my shoulders and thus, got tan lines. DX Eventually it got cloudy and began to rain too.

Some details near the palace: some flowers (which I can barely recognize) and The Grey Heron. I love to take photos of birds!

The Chinese House

The New Palace


Park Sanssouci is not the only place to visit in Potsdam, but we skipped the others nevertheless. Potsdam also has a Brandenburger Gate of its own, and there are also other parks and palaces. It's a very beautiful city! I've often read how Berlin is quite ugly in a way (I disagree though) but Potsdam is at least more consistent. There is also a film museum in the city, and it's located quite near the railway station (unlike Park Sanssouci). Supposedly, shopping opportunities in the city are nice as well, but we were there on Sunday, when most stores are closed.

Here we had Potsdam in brief, in the next travel post we'll get back to Berlin again! So long!

Friday, 3 August 2012

Heavy beat Saturday

♫ Inmoria – Hear My Prayers

Oops, I'm not getting back to Berlin posts yet either. Instead, I'm trying to write a short post about last Saturday's heavy metal festival in the neighboring town. It was a two-day festival, but we only went there on Saturday. And here we have a quick summary of each artist and their show. The quality of the photos is "smartphone" because honestly, I forgot to take a compact camera with me.

The first band was Anthriel, metal from my hometown. I have been listening to their album The Pathway, and thus, really looked forward to seeing them live. Their show was good but it felt short, I don't think they even played all the songs from their only album. Their style is like melodic and progressive metal, hear for yourself:

Anthriel – Devil's Lullaby

Lunar Path
The second band was, although still Finnish, not from any of the neighboring towns. I hadn't listened to them at all in advance, so I didn't know what to expect. However, an unexpected quarter figured out I'm a fan too, so yeah... That's not quite true. Their show was alright, but it's difficult to set me on fire with a live show if I just don't know the band already. I'm not a big fan of female vocals in metal bands either.

Lunar Path – Paper Dove

Battle Beast
Did I just say something about not liking female vocals in metal bands? Well, I'm not taking that back exactly. Battle Beast was the band I was looking forward to the most, I have been listening to them quite a lot lately. And yeah, the frontwoman... Bloody hell, that voice. Let's put it this way: Most female metal vocalists make the music sound somehow too delicate and too dramatic to my taste. If they have soft voices (and even worse, if they're trying to imitate Tarja Turunen), they just rarely please me, at least not enough (to set me on fire). However, this lady, Nitte Valo, is so damn kick-ass. If I could sing like her, sure I would be a vocalist in a metal band! So yeah: at the moment I cannot name a female metal vocalist I would like more. Enough said. The music is awesome too, and the guys are quite young. The show was amazing. Perhaps that's the reason why these photos were the worst. I concentrated on rocking instead.

Battle Beast – Show me how to die

Battle Beast – The band of the hawk

This one was a heavy metal cover band. Nice stuff, although their version of Scorpions' Big City Night was a bit tame, it's not easy to convey the same, hum, expression as Klaus Meine. Got to hear some Skid Row, Judas Priest, Wasp and humm... Iron Maiden, even two of their songs. Fear of the dark made us jump-jump-jump. :> Apologies, I don't think I jumped on anyone's toes. It wasn't that crowded yet at that point.

Sonata Arctica
Does this band have to be introduced? Funnily, even though I like them a lot, I had never seen them live before. On the other hand I had a feeling their live show wouldn't be as good as their old songs are on an album. I had never even seen a very convincing live video, quite the contrary, but on the other hand I'm not into watching live videos to begin with. Thus, I was also looking forward to them, even though I was slightly afraid they would mostly play their new material. I have only heard their new single, not the whole new album, and I really like their very old material the most.

It was obvious that most people had only come there because of Sonata. :> Even though the event had an age limit of 18 years, the most avid Sonata fans were occupying the front row from the very beginning. (This resulted in these absurd moments when the other bands were playing and the front row seemed bored while the fun started from the second row to the back of the audience.) Thus, we didn't even try to get much closer to the stage anymore. The gig was okay in the end, even though they did play some songs I didn't know. I would have loved to hear more older songs, but at least there was FullMoon, and Don't say a word. Ah, had fun, great fun.

Sonata Arctica – FullMoon (cannot decide which songs to link here, so yeah, at least this is awesome)

It was difficult to get back to this city though! :D And I wouldn't have expected it to cost almost ten euros – the night time doubled the normal fee. Sadly, we and one couple heading in the same direction figured it out a bit too late – we should have shared a taxi, yet on the other hand it was impossible to find a free one. But it was fun still. Good times, good times. So long!

P.S: The festival outfit photo provided by a local newspaper this time. :0 So there, Sherlocks. Best regards, "the princess among the metal goblins".
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