Tag - Berlin

Berlin’s White Elephant

    Berlin Airport

Berlin Airport

First scheduled to open in October 2011, Berlin’s new Berlin-Brandenburg International Airport (BER) experienced a major setback in May 2012—one month prior to its then newly-slated date of June 3, 2012. Upon failing a series of tests of the terminal’s fire control and safety installations, inspection authorities refused to give the green light to any flights until these issues became resolved.

After the announcement of this considerable upset, the airport association suggested a scattering of possible new dates over the subsequent months, all of which fell through. Debates and scrutiny have carried on, and the calling for Rainer Schwarz’s resignation as CEO of the airport association’s executive board, one member of which is Berlin’s mayor, has raged on. It is a neverending story, as Berliners will say, and many remain sceptical of the recently scheduled date for the opening of BER on 27 October 2013.

Major airlines and other businesses, which had been banking on the punctual inauguration of BER, have been weighing their options for legal actions against the airport association. However, Air Berlin, Germany’s second largest carrier, filed a claim for “compensation in damages” in November 2012. Already struggling in the red, the airline had its sights set on making BER its main hub in June, in hopes of attracting more passengers with an increase in travel connections. However, the airport’s CEO reportedly gives Air Berlin low
chances in court, stating that they “hadn’t arranged a contractual fixed date for the opening of BER,” but he hopes to reach “reasonable solutions” with the airline.

Albeit shocked by the delay of BER, ask Germans if they are surprised by the overall expense of the new airport, and the answer is overwhelmingly nein. Costs for the city’s new and modern airport facility have reached €4.2 billion, double the originally planned budget. As a result of these postponements and an exorbitant amount of added expenditures, the price tag, however, could easily exceed €4.5 billion in the end.

The German capital’s airport finds itself on a list of other pricey projects that have made controversial waves across the country. One other example of this is Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie. Due to security issues with the roof deisgn, the city’s prized waterfront attraction is two years behind schedule in making its grand debut. When all is said and done, the entire undertaking could surpass a half a billion euros

In the meantime, the major inter-continental and international airlines still serve Berlin’s Tegel Airport (TXL), which is already exceeding capacity. Europe’s low-budget heavyweights, easyJet and Ryanair, continue operating from Berlin’s Schönefeld Airport (SXF).

 Arriving at Schönefeld, just south of Berlin, one can see the vast complex that makes up BER— seemingly ready for business but void of the millions of passengers that the city expects to welcome each year.

 

An Underground Stage

When traveling in a city, experiencing a trip on the metro system can always lead to one big adventure. Whether trying to make heads or tails of the color-coded lines or comprehending where you actually are, public transportation is a show in its own right. It hosts a potpourri of people from all walks of life, and I readily have my bag of popcorn to watch it all unfold right before my eyes.

On a sunny morning, I decided to enjoy a day at the Berlin Zoo, I make my way to the nearest underground  station, or U-bahn as the locals call it. When walking the streets of a city, I somehow stand out among the rest. It’s not simply due to my 6’4” frame, but rather my aura that suggests that says I’m approachable.

As I get closer to the U-bahn station, a barrage of greetings rings in my ears. Cheerful, young something-year-olds are intent on signing me and anyone else up for their worthy cause, so that an endangered frog floating on a lily pad down a river in a far-flung forest can see another day. Bless their knitted cotton socks for their philanthropic enthusiasm to find someone who will listen to their pitch and glimpse at the pictures of the crayon-colored creatures, whose bulging eyes overtly plea for us to save them with just a few euros. If they only knew my current bank account balance. I politely say no to the young woman, despite her compliments on my youthful looks—thanks in part to my anti-aging cream—and I take the steps up to the platform where my carriage of transit awaits.

While the crowded city train weaves its way across this sprawling city, I look around at my fellow riders. Many are engrossed in their daily newspaper, a tawdry paperback novel or the latest, must-have gadget in technology. Others, who have succumbed to the heaviness of their weary eyes, try to snooze in spite of the gypsy band playing “Hit the Road, Jack!” (amplifier and a small bongo drum included).

I glance to my right and see a teenage girl ogling me with endearing eyes. She cocks her head slightly to one side and beams at me through her rose-colored glasses. Only the words ‘I love you’, written in eyeliner, are missing from her eyelids. I suddenly sense my cheeks flush, as if I’m an awkward, pubescent boy who is filled with a flurry of emotions too abstract to put into words.

I feel flattered yet utterly embarrassed in this unexpected scene plucked right out of a romantic Woody Allen film set in a European city. I direct my gaze elsewhere and wait until this uncomfortable moment, in which cupid randomly shot his arrow in an obvious state of drunkenness, comes to a screeching halt.

Berlin Underground

Berlin Underground

As the train pulls into a station, the young girl stands up, flips her hair to one side and then gives me a look that says: “you could have had this, you silly boy.” She steps off the train with the gypsy band in toe and disappears amid the throngs of other commuters. Luckily, it seems that no one else has taken notice of the teenage girl’s perceptible affection for me, and I breathe a sigh of relief that a director somewhere off stage has mercifully yelled “cut!”

New arrivals board the compartment and vie for an available seat in the ultimate game of musical chairs, jockeying for the best cushy position. There’s German punctuality to uphold, so the doors close after one minute, and the driver whisks us away and we slipping into a network of darkened tunnels under the city. A few people hold onto their coffee-to-go cups, as if they have just been given the elixir of life. One woman empties the contents of her purse onto the seat bench, selects a tube of make-up and enthusiastically begins to apply liquid foundation on her face. A few young people look as if they have just rolled out of bed and put on whatever clothes were lying on their bedroom floors. Regardless of colors and patterns not matching, their fashion statement simply reflects the laissez-faire atmosphere of Berlin.

I get off at the next station to change trains. I’m not in a hurry to get to my final destination, but I still get caught up in the hustle and bustle. Before I go upstairs, I notice a woman in a wheelchair out of the corner of my eye. Due to the fact that the elevator is out of service on this particular underground platform, she desperately tries to catch the attention of strong, muscular men passing by to help her get up to the station’s main hall. Albeit of slender build, I, too, am called upon to help this damsel in distress.

Four of us take our positions at each end of her heavy form of transport and one, two, three, we lift the woman in her wheelchair and carry her up the flight of stairs. It’s quite the spectacle, and we look like Egyptian slaves carrying Elizabeth Taylor on her portable throne when she enters Rome in the film Cleopatra.

It’s a bit strenuous and cumbersome, but we reach the top without a hitch. I think that my work is done, yet I’m sadly mistaken. She commands us to take her down another flight of stairs to the next platform. It’s one thing going upstairs with a hefty object is one thing, but going downstairs with such a bulky item is another, more awkward maneuver.

I stand with the other big, strong men in formation. We grab hold at each end of the wheelchair and, once more, we lift on three. However, as I take my first step down, I slip and twist my ankle. I instantly drop the part I was holding onto, and the wheelchair falters and teeters. I think for a second that the woman is going to fall out and roll down the steps, but the other three are able to pick up the slack. The woman seems totally unfazed, completely disregards my physical suffering and cries of pain and says: “So, who’s next?”

She singles out another dispensable slave passing by to help the other three schlepp her downstairs, so that she can make her train on time. I, on the other hand, hobble away to find a place to nurse my injury.

The only person who seems to care about my well-being is a homeless man. He comes over to me, carrying his faded grocery bags brimming with empty plastic bottles, and asks in his heavy Berlin accent: “Everything in order?” I put on a brave face while wincing from the pain and manage to mutter “Yeah, okay.” Although, I truly believe I have broken my ankle.

I spot a line of park benches just outside the station entrance and decide to limp my way up the short flight of stairs and nurse my ankle. No sooner do I plop down next to an older man snoozing soundly on the stark white bench, does a woman on a bike stop right in front of me.

“Excuse me,” she says with a shrill voice. “Do you know the Berliner Tafel?”

Not only will people try their best to sign me up for a worthy cause, others will approach when their own senses of direction fail them. It’s as if people see an “i” for information imprinted on my forehead.

“Is it a café or restaurant near here?” I ask, trying to be helpful. The name kind of sounds familiar, but I don’t know where I’ve heard it before.

As she begins to explain to me what the Berliner Tafel actually is, it dawns on me that it is far from a quaint café. It’s more of a soup kitchen where people can also find work. Why is she telling me this? I don’t look homeless, or does she just assume I’m friends with this snoring man who is cuddling with his empty beer bottle?

“So, do you need work?” she asks me.

“No, I have work, thank you,” I reply, wishing that she’d would go away and leave me to my suffering.

“Oh, that’s good. So, are you married?”

“What? Um … no, I’m not married.”

Her gaze suddenly radiates from behind her over-sized eye glasses. “Great, you’re single, then. Well, I’m looking for a man.”

“Try looking on the Internet,” I suggest. Why I’m allowing myself to get so involved in this conversation is beyond me.

“Well, I really want to find a man for my cousin, you see.”

Who’s her cousin? Bridget Jones? “Sorry, I really can’t help you out. Good luck, anyhow,” and giver her two thumbs up.

She finally walks away, looking somewhat defeated, but she quickly finds another man standing alone on the corner and approaches him. She is no doubt repeating her rehearsed speech to him, despite the gold object that glistens in the sun on his ring finger.

In spite of the beautiful day, I finally admit to myself that it’s time to throw in the towel and just go home and tend to my foot there. I get up from the bench and slowly totter over to the concrete steps that lead into the main hall of the U-bahn station. I find my way to the right platform and arrive just as a train is pulling in. As the compartment doors open, I spot an empty seat and sit with a heavy sigh.

However, not all is lost. A trip on Berlin’s underground can be just as amusing as a day at the zoo. It streaks across the urban jungle and collects a colorful array of life that will certainly entertain me along the way home on this moving city stage.

How Germans Celebrate New Year’s Eve

Brandenburg Gate Credit: Berlin Partner

Brandenburg Gate Credit: Berlin Partner

Silvester is What the Last Day of the Year is called in Germany

Germans celebrate New Year’s Eve with fireworks displays, Swiss Raclette cheese and the old British TV sketch, Dinner for One. Same procedure as every year.

In Germany, New Year’s Eve is called Silvester. The association of the last day of the year with the name Silvester dates back to the year 1582 when the Gregorian Calendar Reformation postponed the last day of the year from December 24 to December 31, which is the anniversary of the death of Pope Silvester who died on 31 December 335. The Liturgical calendar has kept this day since 813 as his saint feast day.

In Germany the New Year is traditionally greeted with fireworks throughout the country. The fire feasts on the last day of the year have old Germanic roots and date back to the year 153 B.C. when the beginning of the new year was postponed from March 1 to January 1.

The New Year is Greeted with Fireworks and Firecrackers throughout Germany
Fireworks on New Year's Eve in Germany Credit: Zzyzn

Fireworks on New Year’s Eve in Germany Credit: Zzyzn

In German speaking countries, the New Year starts with fireworks and midnight church services. Loud booms and the smell of sulfur are in the air as soon as darkness descends. The fireworks displays reach their climax at midnight, when everywhere in the country people simultaneously shoot off fireworks and fire crackers for at least 30 minutes.

Fireworks are ignited in gardens, from balconies, in streets and on squares. In addition, there are several large public fireworks displays in city centers organized by municipalities. German cityscapes bloom with fireworks at midnight, with Germans spending large sums of money on them. The next morning, the streets resemble battlefields.

Berlin – One of Europe’s Largest New Year’s Eve Celebrations

Every year Berlin hosts one of the largest New Year’s Eve celebrations in all of Europe that is attended by over one million people. The focal point of these festivities is the “Brandenburger Tor” (Brandenburg Gate), formerly on the border of East Berlin. Massive amounts of fireworks are set off at midnight in this area. Three stages, six disco tents, over 200 market stalls and five screens are planned for the big event. More than 600 policemen will guarantee safety.

German New Year’s Eve Traditions
German New Year' s Eve Credit: obs/Chantre & Cie. GmbH

German New Year’
s Eve Credit: obs/Chantre & Cie. GmbH

Since 1972, each Silvester (New Year’s Eve), German television stations broadcast a short British theatrical performance titled Dinner for One, also known as “The 90th Birthday”, a comedy sketch written by British author Lauri Wylie for the theater in the 1920s. The 18-minute black and white 1963 TV recording featuring British comedians Freddie Frinton and May Warden has become an integral part and a cult television classic of the New Year’s Eve schedule of several German TV stations.

A punch line from the comedy sketch, “same procedure as every year”, has become a catch phrase in Germany. If Germans are asked what they have planned for Christmas or New Year’s Eve, they will respond with that phrase in English.

German Food Traditions on New Year’s Eve

The traditional “Silvesteressen” New Year’s dinner is Raclette, a Swiss cheese dish melted over potatoes. An electric raclette oven is placed in the middle of the table and pieces of raclette cheese are melted in miniature skillets on the raclette oven. When the cheese melts it is scraped over potatoes on each diner’s plate. Another traditional dish for Silvester is smoked fish with potato salad. Many Germans, like the author, traditionally eat Raclette on Christmas Eve.

Top Ten Christmas Getaways

Paris in Xmas time, Cr-1vacation.com

Paris in Xmas time, Cr-1vacation.com

The Best European Destinations to Visit this Winter

From skiing to Santa, here are some of the most festive places to see and things to do across Europe during December.

Avoriaz

This magical ski resort with its award-winning architecture forms part of the Portes du Soleil and provides access to over 650 km of ski runs across Switzerland and France. Other snow activities include glacier-walking, husky-sledding and heli-skiing. A horse drawn carriage offers transport around this pedestrianised village where Christmas markets, with over 100 stalls, are open on 12th – 13th December. From the 19th December, torch lit processions, shows and events culminate in a spectacular firework display on Christmas Eve.

There are over 20 restaurants in Avoriaz but visitors should head to La Table du Marché at the Hôtel des Dromonts for gourmet cuisine by an award-winning chef.

Berlin

Over 50 Christmas markets run throughout the capital until 28th December; Gedächtniskirche, Unter den Linden and Alexanderplatz are the biggest. Other highlights this year include a toboggan run in the middle of the city, Chinese ice sculptures and a Christmas circus. For relaxation, visit the Badeschiff sauna and heated pool which overlooks on the River Spree.

Dublin

The Twelve Days of Christmas Market runs from 10th-23rd December on George’s Dock. For fashionistas, the Cow’s Lane Market in Temple Bar is the largest designer market in the city.

A traditional nativity scene with live animals can be found outside Mansion House on Dawson Street and the Christmas decorations at Brown Thomas are also worth a look.

Edinburgh

There is no respite in Edinburgh prior to New Year revellers descending on the city for Hogmanay on 29th December. There is also something for everyone over the Christmas break. The Edinburgh Wheel on East Prince Street provides the best views, overlooking the traditional German market, Highland Market, the new Sparkles Snow Globe in Santa’s Gardens and one of Europe’s largest outdoor ice rinks. There is also the Ethical Market and Farmer’s Markets. Adrenaline junkies should head to the Bungy Snowdome while kids can head to the Children’s Christmas Corner and Christmas Fair, complete with a carousel and helter-skelter.

Lapland

If visiting Santa on home turf or meeting his elves isn’t enough to fuel the festive mood, there are plenty of other snow-centered activities such as reindeer or husky sleigh rides, snowmobiling, skiing and skidoo rides.

London

Decorations at the department stores alone are spectacular during December. The Harrods Christmas Grotto is already booked up but Christmas World on the second floor is celebrating the anniversary of the Wizard of Oz this year. For vintage and more unique gifts and decorations, Christmas markets can be found across the city. Festive food markets are open at Borough Market, Covent Garden or the Cologne Christmas Market, which runs from the Southbank Centre to the London Eye. Most markets are open until 23rd December.

Stunning outdoor ice-rinks include Somerset House, Hampton Court, Tower of London and the Natural History Museum. For a real treat, take afternoon tea at one of London’s plushest hotels such as Claridges, The Ritz and or Brown’s. Prices start from £37 per person. For a cheaper alternative, head to the Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square and enjoy one of the free carol concerts which take place between 5pm-9pm until 20th December.

Madrid

Plaza Mayor hosts the main Christmas market every year although Christmas lights can also be enjoyed on the Gran Via, c/Goya and c/Ortega y Gasset. Outdoor ice rinks are located outside the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium or in Retiro Park. The latter transforms into a Children’s Christmas World from 23rd December to 3rd January. Every year, over half a million visitors take to the streets for The Procession of the Three Kings which features thirty carriages, brimming with sweets, making their way from the Park to the Plaza Mayor.

Paris

A walk along the tree-lined Champs-Elysees and a visit to Musee du Louvre is a must. The Christmas tree is outside Notre Dame and an outdoor ice skating rink is open at the City Hall. A number of Christmas markets are scattered across the city. Other than the Eiffel Tower, the department stores Printemps and Galleries Lafayette have some of the best Christmas lights. The Russian Christmas Circus is also in town.

Prague

The main markets in the Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square are open until 23rd December. Smaller ones at Havelske Trziste and Namesti Republiky are within a ten minute walk. The Christmas tree is erected in the Old Town Square where choirs and international music provide the entertainment.

Venice

With less tourists and drier weather than autumn, winter is the perfect time to visit Venice. Christmas markets are held in the Campo Santi Apostoli, Campo San Luca, Campo San Salvador and Campo San Polo while Christmas on the Lagoon, which sees the Piazza San Marco transformed into a festive village, is filled with typical Venetian products.

Restaurants may be hard to find on Christmas Day but most hotels are open to the public. Alternatively, the original Harry’s Bar and Locanda Cipriani on the Island of Torcello are expensive but memorable alternatives.

Journey Through Historical East Berlin

Lured by the ghosts of yesteryear, visitors come to delve into Berlin’s turbulent yet intriguing saga. Since formal German reunification in 1990, the significant imprints left by the Cold War and the former GDR, or DDR, have accelerated to overwhelming proportions. From the impact of the Berlin Wall to communist-style architecture, the city’s past remains ever present. An amazing European capital with a flair all unto its own, explore this world-class metropolis that speaks volumes of history.

East Side Gallery, Berlin

East Side Gallery, Berlin

The Wall

By 1961, 2.6 million people had left the East for the West before the GDR government decided that it had had enough with its citizens “voting with their feet.“ The end result was the Berlin Wall.

Although the city’s notorious emblem of division crumbled in the autumn of 1989, the longest stretch of the eastern, inner wall remains along the shore of the Spree River. In 1990, over one hundred artists from 21 countries traveled to Berlin to create what is now the East Side Gallery. Since then, millions of visitors have strolled by to admire the artistic creations upon this 1300-meter concrete canvas. Works include the Mortal Kiss, which features former East German president Erich Honecker lip-locked with former Soviet premier Leonid Brezhnev, and Test the Rest–a Trabant barreling through the Berlin Wall on the day it fell.

To learn more about the Berlin Wall, visit the Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer (Berlin Wall Memorial) in the western district of Wedding, where the free exhibition showcases an in-depth account of the initial days of the Wall’s construction. Along with the documentation center, original film footage shows tearful separations of families, daring escapes across rolls of barbed wire and jumps out of apartment buildings, which in many places, such as in this district, defined the line between East and West. Between 1961 and 1989, at least 136 people lost their lives in defying attempts to cross the heavily secured border into West Berlin.

Haus am Checkpoint Charlie has a fascinating array of Cold War history. It focuses not only on the ingenious efforts of East German citizens who defected to the West, but also on the Berlin Wall and the Berlin Airlift. An outdoor exhibition nearby also chronicles this once tense transit point between American and Soviet sectors.

I Spy…

Stasi Prison, Berlin-Hohenschönhausen

Stasi Prison, Berlin-Hohenschönhausen

 True to the communist regime, the Ministry for State Security, known as the Stasi—the GDR’s secret service—had employed at one point up to 91,000 workers with 180,000 informants, who observed, photographed and reported on its own citizens. In its history, the Stasi had arrested and convicted up to 250,000 people for various political reasons, many of whom ended up in a nightmarish prison.

At the Stasi Prison, former inmates lead the tours and tell first-hand accounts about life behind bars, including interrogation and torturing methods. First used by the Soviets after WWII, the Stasi took over the facilities in the 1950s and used them until 1989. The chilling story begins by entering the dreaded ‘U-Boat,’ where it is unfathomable to imagine oneself locked up with eight to 12 people in a windowless, subterranean cell for days and weeks on end. Yet, once outgrowing this section, labror camp inmates built other prison cells and interrogation rooms, where  everyone, in one way or another, signed a confession statement.

Housed in the former ministry headquarters, the Stasi Museum exhibits surveillance devices and other security memorabilia. The highlight, of course, is Erich Mielke’s authentic offices, also known as the ‘lion’s den.’ As head of the Stasi, Mielke knew everything and anything about East German citizens, including top-leading government officials. It was no wonder he was in power for just over three decades.

Back in the Day

DDR Museum, Berlin

DDR Museum, Berlin

Open doors, comb through drawers and discover all sorts of mementos at the DDR Museum. The hands-on concept enhances the museum’s educational exhibition of daily East German life. Visitors can groove to music, critique the fashion, check out government-censored media and step into a fully-furnished model apartment.

A Trabant, East Germany’s answer to the VW Bug, is also on display as if it were in a dealership’s showroom. While waiting to sit in the driver’s seat and experience a simulated test-drive, a video explains how this car came to life with the help of some Duroplast, cotton fleece and granulated resin. Surprisingly enough, the Trabant was more expensive for citizens to buy used than new, since it took 10 years to receive after putting in an order for one.

Safari in the City

Soak up the sites of the urban jungle and go on a safari–a Trabi Safari that is. Whether admiring the monumental Stalinist architecture on Karl-Marx-Allee or the Sputnik-esque design of the television tower in Alexanderplatz, take a ride in a Trabant, and experience a one-of-a-kind expedition through Berlin.

Prior to setting out on the 90-minute journey down memory lane, drivers receive a crash course on how to handle this automobile from days gone by. As the caravan of multi-colored and animal-print Trabis drive by Berlin’s past on the streets of its present, passengers can listen to the tour leader via the car’s radio.

Sleep Tight

After a day of sightseeing, weary tourists can rest well at the Ostel. Entering the lobby of this “DDR design hotel,“ guests will be in store for a splash from the past with the blending of modernity and history. The Ostel offers tastefully decorated rooms with furniture and accessories that once filled many GDR homes. Either for the budget-conscious travelers, who are in touch with their inner youth-hostel spirit, or an en-suite double room for the romantic couple; there is something for everyone.

Always evolving and reinventing itself, Berlin’s wealth of history presents a multitude of opportunities to look into the mirror that reflects its past.