Wednesday, January 12, 2005

James' German xmas and Berlin New Year

Hildesheim - Hasede - Berlin - Potsdam - Longwell Green (BRISTOL, ENGLAND)

Hey peoples,

Sorry, this is going to be a long one, haven't written for a long while,

So deep intake of breath, and -

stage left to


Left Bremen after having dinner with locals in their student residence, then taken to a club called "The Tower" which was pretty cool... which left me with not much sleep which was bad because I had to meet Charlotte and her family the next day..


For those who don't know, Charlotte is a 22yo German girl I met at CEBIT Trade show when I was working there for a week in Hanover, then we ended up dating when I met up with her in Germersheim, and now just friends (I’ll spare you the details), being invited over to spend xmas with her family...

Anyway, so there I was, emerging at Hildesheim station, tiny flakes of snow drifting down, covering me and the long stemmed rose I had bought with snow like fine icing sugar. I walk, hoping to catch the eyes of my friend waiting for me, and then... I walked right past her*! Whoops!

(*I did the same thing to her in Germersheim. Don't know how or why, I mean, how hard is it to spot a blond haired blue eyed girl in a crowd in Germany anyway? )

Charlotte actually lives in Hasede, a tiny old village in the outskirts of Hildesheim, a small town in the outskirts of Hanover. Nearby is a small forest where, in Autumn, one can go pick and eat wild mushrooms (though some are poisonous).

Charlotte's father is a salesman who LOOKS and ACTS EXACTLY like an older version of Robin Williams (the actor, not Robbie Williams the singer). I kid you not. Funny and kind. The mother is a retired pharmacist, loves to laugh, unfortunately does not speak English so it was difficult to communicate with her without Charlotte around (Charlotte is studying to be a translator).


Christmas in Germany is a lot different to what I expected. In fact, most of the Christmas traditions we know come from the US or England. For example, there is no Christmas turkey, the closest approximation may be a goose. Christmas dinner instead consists usually of various types of sausages, hams, boiled potatoes, and some sort of strange green spinach.

The tree is usually decorated a few days before Christmas, with ornaments made, baked or bought. Real candles are placed on the tree, but only lit on Christmas eve onwards, and only in the presence of other people (for sensible reasons).

Christmas eve is the main day of celebration, with Christmas dinner, followed by the lighting of the candles on the tree. Carols may be sung (I played the piano while they all sung in German), then the opening of presents commences, usually handed in person from the giver to the receiver. All these events are celebrated with much wine and champagne...

Afterwards, should you feel so inclined, you would go to the Christmas Midnight Mass, which was quite nice despite it all being in German. The choir and orchestra would sing/play many hymns, which I tried to sing along with as best I could.

Anyway, when Christmas was over, I farewelled Charlotte and her family and took off to spend New Years in Berlin...


So, there I was again in Berlin, the first place I had visited on my own. Having already done most of the touristy things, I thought I’d instead investigate what Berlin is famous for - the nightlife.

Much money was spent, drinks consumed, beautiful girls met, friends made, and of course lots of fun had! Most nights I didn't get home till 7am.

Some of the places I ended up visiting were:

-A-Trane (an expensive Jazz bar in West Berlin),

-Goldmans Bar (Me and mates cheated on Bingo night by crossing most numbers and yelling out "Bingo!" when a number was called that existed on our card. People were too drunk to notice!)

-Delicious Doughnuts (small groovy place, plays acid jazz etc)

-Mudd (dingy basement off main street, plays alternative music)

-Red Saloon (big nice place, played Britpop when I was there)

-Watergate (Great views on the edge of the River Spree, played good D&B and okish trance when there)

-Tacheles (large squat house in east Berlin, filled with squatter run bars, clubs, even a cinema and art gallery. Awesome trance/techno, chill out room)

-Kulturbrewerei (large place, 13 floors, in the backstreets of East Berlin)

-Dunukler (one of the oldest clubs in East Berlin, played gothic music when I was there)

-Matrix (Huge place, went to student rock night, lots of fun)


So, what can I say about Berlin Nightlife? It ROCKS! Berlin has something for everyone, from Goth Rock to Acid Jazz to Drum and Bass to Rock/Pop to Techno/Trance... On New Years it even had an American Country/Western music event - for 50euros!

Berlin has a vast number of clubs, bars and cafes that allow this diversity, due to the fact that Berlin has no real centre. You have the East centre, the West centre, the centre between the two, the Turkish quarter, the Jewish quarter, the student quarter... which means there are always things happening everywhere, anywhere you happen to be.

Combine this with the 24hr kebab stands, brilliant 24hr public transport, and that Berlin is quite a cheap city (especially on the east side), and what you have is a great place to go party!

Berliners are very much into their techno music, and also has a raging gay scene. Indeed, the odds that you would have accidentally walked into a gay club is very high! (I've done it twice!)


So, New Years Eve in Berlin...

Started by having many drinks at the hostel with a bunch of cool hostel folk, then we all went to the Tiergarten in West Berlin and the front of the Brandenburg Gate. It was teeming with people, it was very hard to move through the packed crowd in front of the huge stage they set up where terrible music was played.

We then decided to move to the other side of the Gate to East Berlin to see what it was like there. They had blocked off entrance to the Brandenburg gate unfortunately so we had to walk around it. However, imagine our shock when we crossed to East Berlin and discovered that we couldn't go back to the West side because it was too full!! They had guards and fences allowing the west to come to the east but not the other way around. I don't know if they see how offensive that action was when you look back and see that was the same purpose of the Berlin Wall!

Anyway, so we were stuck in East Berlin, still we had fun, as we waited for the countdown (which was in German of course), I had a good view from a ledge over the crowd, and when it was new year, fireworks were lit (mainly by the crowd than New Year Organisers), sparklers were lit, and I had a bottle of champagne which I shook, opened, and sprayed over peoples heads! It was a great festive atmosphere, yet also a little scary walking down the main street to Alexanderplatz avoiding being hit or injured by the fireworks and crackers people had lit everywhere.

We decided to crash this house party in East Berlin that someone had told us about. We didn't know the actual apartment number though, just the building and street. So what we did was press all the apartment buzzers and ask each one if this was the house party. We woke up three people before the 4th said "Ja" and buzzed us in without asking who we were. It was quite strange being there because we knew no one, and the person who told us about it never showed up. But we all had fun talking to all of them anyway.

Later on, we went down to Watergate club, where we stayed for the rest of the night.

And, if I wasn't tired enough from New Years Eve, the next day (New Years Day), we all went to Tacheles and I didn't go home till 2PM!


I did do some touristy things though, mainly things I had missed. The Checkpoint Charlie museum for one, which depicted how people tried to get over the wall, via rope and pulley, tunnels, swimming, rafting to Denmark, construction of home made gliders, planes and even a hot air balloon, modified cars with hidden spaces, stolen person even escaped between two hollowed surfboards tied to the roof of a car!

The Jewish museum is a must see for those into modern architecture. It was designed as a smashed star of David, with angular walls, floors etc to create the feeling of despair, desolation and disorientation experienced by the Jews.

Did a day trip to Potsdam, just outside Berlin, where a number of beautiful neoclassical/baroque palaces, residences, gardens and parks were built.


And now I am back in Longwell Green, Bristol, England, for another few months working to make some money to finance the next part of my travels. Just recently got back from a week in London working at the British Education Technology Trade show. More on that next time I write.


My plans are to leave in mid March to go to Egypt, (possibly Jordan, Israel, Cyprus) to Turkey, then Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Slovakia/Czech, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Moscow, St Petersburg, Finland, Norway, England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, then back home at the end of November.

Phew! Done. It wasn't that bad now was it?

Till next time,