A Travellerspoint blog

Berlin impressions

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The longer we spend in Berlin the more I am in awe of the ease with which people swap back and forth between German and English. There might be some French and Spanish too. Kids in school have to learn English for about 9 years and also a second language for 5 years. It puts Australians, and English speakers in general, to shame.

Berlin is still a very political centre with political slogans on walls and demonstrations and although The Wall was removed in 1989, it still apparently exists in many people’s minds. It is hard to pinpoint but there is a difference between East and West Berlin. In my opinion, the East still has more older style, uniform, buildings and old apartments. The East still has trams and traditional traffic lights with very cute little red and green men. The West is newer and more modern with bigger, ‘fresher’ buildings.

The German people have a healthy lifestyle with a lot of bicycles, walking, muesli and lovely grainy dark breads. It is easy to almost get run down by the stream of cyclists on the cycle paths that look deceptively like footpaths. (I think Australia might be the only country in the world that has compulsory helmets.)

We visited a weekend market where you could identify certain Germanic traits. Everything was very attractive, well-made and good quality, with a lot of variety, and an emphasis on nature and health. This was equally true for the food, breads, fruit, clothes or jewellery.

Germany has such a long tradition of music and composers (Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms) that we could not leave without going to a concert in Berlin. Also Berlin has several concert halls, three opera houses and lots of theatres all in constant use, so no shortage of things to see. The concert house, like many of the buildings, was rebuilt from the ruins after WWII in about the 1980s, and now although the same on the exterior is more modern inside. We had a great view of the orchestra as they played some Russian and French composers.
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Posted by dworgan 10:15 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

We are back in the EU

Berlin

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From Prague we caught the train to Dresden over the German border. We were not absolutely sure we would be allowed into Germany … it's a long story but the guards were very friendly, hardly looked at out passports and happily stamped them. Phew!

It was pouring rain in Dresden so we decided to just keep traveling and bought tickets to Berlin. Each trip was only just over 2 hours. – it is all very close here compared to Australia. Rob and Andrea met us at the station and it was great to see some familiar faces and have someone local to show us around. After some creative manipulating we all manages to fit into the car along with all the luggage.

It is still cold here but the sun comes out occasionally. We walked around central Berlin (the old East Berlin). Andrea grew up in East Berlin so she has first hand knowledge of what it was like before and after ‘The Wall’, and the views they held about the West – very interesting. We visited Berlin Dom Cathedral, State Opera House, other churches and concert houses. Yummy hot chocolates in a chocolate house with chocolate scultures in it, Checkpoint Charlie, Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag … bratwurst lunch in the Tier Garden under the linden trees. We went to a dance hall to watch and do tango at night.

Max is happy – he has a piano to play and doesn’t have to tag along with us here. Arno is a few years older and at school during the day, but seems happy to keep Max company in the evenings, show him around or play soccer with friends.

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Posted by dworgan 03:01 Archived in Germany Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

A Bit of Culture

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Prague really promotes and lives it reputation of being a classical and artistic city – there are classical concerts every night in the main churches, opera, ballet, theatre and lots of classical music shops. Dvorak came from here and Mozart worked here a lot.

We went to the opera (The Kiss by Smetana - a local Czech). It was great - the best part being in the National Opera House. It was so beautiful with painted ceilings, huge chandeliers, galleries, live orchestra and red velvet everywhere. The tickets seemed very good value and the opera even had subtitles so we could understand.

Another night we sought out the local Jazz scene in the Bar Agharta – Rhythm Desperados were playing and they were very good, tight, entertaining and very well appreciated – more litres of beer … After that a late night walk along river to take in the night views of the castle and bridges and tram back to our apartment.

We had to decide between ballet, another opera and a guitar concert the next night. The guitar concert by a solo Czeck performer in one of the main churches won.

Eating out has also been one of our main occupations. There are hundreds, probably thousands of restaurants. The prices are very reasonable for all food and drink away from tourist areas. We usually look for a meal for about $A6-9 and beer is cheap. Fortunatley most places offer an English menu, because it is really hard to know between ‘s kfenem’, ‘se sunkou’ and ‘jablkovy zavim’ (one is horseradish, one is ham and one is apple strudel, I think). The language still hasn’t made much sense but it doesn’t sound like they are talking backwards anymore.
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Posted by dworgan 02:07 Archived in Czech Republic Tagged events Comments (0)

Prague

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We have been in Prague for 3 days now and although it felt very foreign to start with it soon began to take on a feel of familiarity.

We landed in Prague from England to discover that Jeff’s guitar didn’t arrive … oh no! They assured him it would be traced and they would get it to us as soon as possible – 3 days, and numerous phone calls later, they have said it is Prague now and should have been delivered this morning – but it wasn't …

Prague is a beautiful old, ornate city that was saved from the bombings of WWII. It is like being in a fairy tale – castles, towers, wide staircases, fancy plaster decoration on everything, fine ironwork, detailed stained glass and cobble stones everywhere forming different patterns on each pavement. There are big central squares and boulevards, it feels very ‘European’. There are trams which are a bit of a novelty, plus lots of liquor shops (even selling absinthe), wine bars and pubs.

Our first hostel in the centre was in a good location but a bit on the edge … we moved to an apartment – even cheaper surprisingly – incase the hostel got noisy over the weekend. Our first meal was at a local Beer Hall. It was a sudden introduction to Czech traditions, food and drink. The place was like an old classroom complete with carved graffiti on the long tables and coat hooks on the walls, the food was hearty pork, with various sauces and potato, bread or bacon dumplings and the beer was in litre glasses followed by generous shot glasses of some potent herbal liquor. We are back in the lands where people smoke everywhere though and at precisely 11pm they closed up and asked us all to leave. For diner the next night we found a very cute restaurant with great food for very low prices and more litres of beer. Prague is famous for its beer – it is very nice and only about $1.50 / litre. Breakfast at the hostel consisted of the mysterious arrival of bread, jam and apples arriving in our common kitchen (which we had never seen anyone else use).

The Czech language is very strange though – it sounds like they are speaking backwards with odd groups of consonants like ‘vzechny’ ‘nski’ ‘tovna’ but there is usually someone who can help in English. In a book shop we visited they had done funny things to English words and names – Margaret Thatcherova and Jane Austinova to name a few. The sections in the shop were labeled Paperbacky, Thrillery and Detektivy!

The next day with marginally better weather so we went to explore the castle – it was very interesting with a high tower to the top of St Vitus Cathedral offering fantastic views over the city, big halls, lots of suits of amour (you could even buy one for only $360A), lessons in crossbow shooting, shields painted on the walls, an alleyway of tiny workmens’ cottages now selling souveniers blacksmith demonstrations and lots horrible implements of torture.

It was about at this moment that I somehow erased all my photos of the last 3 days … oh no.

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Posted by dworgan 02:56 Archived in Czech Republic Tagged tourist_sites Comments (1)

Queue here please

Especially at the Proms …

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There is an art to queueing and a lot of unwritten rules we found out when we went the Prom Concerts at Royal Albert Hall. The tickets to gain access to the standing areas are only 5 pound and because of that you need to get there early and wait … and wait … and wait. But it is not so bad – everyone comes prepared – there were a group of high school students playing cards, several couples and larger groups with wine and nibbles, people sleeping or listening to music and we found it a good opportunity to meet people and chat with music or Proms officionados. It was a very relaxed and friendly atmosphere with a lot of people being long term queueing buddies.
Depending on which queue, you can gain access to either the Gallery right up high with a perfect view but a long way back or to the Arena – right at the stage but with potentially tall people standing in front of you. Still everyone is very polite and respectful of the spot you claim for yourself.
The concert we saw was only 1 1/2 hours so not a long concert to stand for and it was very good to be so close – I felt like I was in the orchestra too.
We are trying another of these standing cheap tickets tonight for Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice at the Globe Theatre. People have said it is great to be a ‘groundling’ right at the feet of the actors and in the thick of it. (Mind you its is 3 hours standing this time!)
But it is certainly a good way to get to see some of London’s top quality performances for almost nothing and feel like we have done something that is very much part of the tradition and custom of the place.

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Posted by dworgan 02:44 Archived in England Tagged events Comments (0)

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