Berlin Work Trip: Ausgang

Well, that sure took a while. If I can come out from behind the scenes here at nicehat.org a minute, I broke a couple things on the backend including some libraries I reference in a script I use to make photo galleries. Why I don’t just break down and use some more bona-fide content management system (or even the one built into wordpress!) I don’t know.

Anyway, I took a bunch of pictures and you can see them here:
http://www.nicehat.org/galleries/berlin-2010/

Read on for more.

Some of the pictures mostly at the beginning are of me and my workmates setting up the study room and performing our user studies. The rest of the work days in Berlin were pretty similar, so I’ll spare you the details. The more interesting bits are the food and sightseeing! I finally had some time on Friday and Saturday to do some of that checking out.

First of all, the Berlin transportation system is very good. There’s a U-Bahn (subway) the S-Bahn (mostly elevated trains), light rail Metro, and Buses! All of these take the same passes which are 2.10 Euro one way with a two hour window to transfer. The multi day passes are definitely the way to go if you are there for more than five days. It’s pretty much the honor system but if you are caught hopping trains it’s a 40 Euro fine. Thea trains run on time and there was one (the s41/42 Ring line) which circles the main center of town and was what I used to get to and from the conference. The only thing I didn’t like about the system is it’s confusing to tell which way to go. The numbers for the lines are not clear and there are colors for the lines, but I must have color blindness issues that make it hard for me to differentiate the lines. Not to mention that all the placenames and line directions are in German!

I took some trains to get down to Alexanderplatz, or just “Alex” as the locals say. It’s a large public square with plenty of spaces for booths, food, political demonstrations, and music. I easily could have spent a lot of time there, but I headed over to the TV tower which one can see from all over Berlin. There’s a rotating restaurant that’s supposed to be ok, but it was too booked to get a meal in. Instead, I ate downstairs and had a salad with a mozzarella the size of a tennis ball, some currywurst and a beer.

Currywurst is all about the sauce. I had it a few places and it’s sausage, usually bratwurst but at one place it was just plain-ol’ hot dog as far as I can tell. The sauce is ketchup, worcestershire sauce, and curry powder. Every time I had it with french fries. Usually the fries had mayo on them. Mmm. Junky street food.

I walked away from Alexanderplatz towards a fountain with a large statue of Neptune then tried to hook up with a big street to walk towards the Brandenburg Gate. That worked out as I got on Under den Linden (Under the Linden [trees]) which seemed to be a pretty main street. There was lots to see along here including showrooms for Mercedes, Volkswagen, and I even saw a Bugatti Veyron! It’s a notch fancier in this part of town then where I was staying, so I saw a few swanky cars in the wild: Ferrari F430 Scuderia, Audi R8, and more Mercedes Benzs than I could keep track of. What was really funny were all the utility vehicles that were branded Mercedes: taxis, garbage trucks, and street sweepers!

Got to the Gate, and it’s pretty impressive. Even more so if you realize how much of it had to be restored and rebuilt after WWII. It’s a tourist trap during the day, but as I saw on a late night cab ride back it’s lit up very dramatically and there’s plenty of space for pictures with less cars rolling around. I should have done a night-tour of the fancy spots. The main plaza there has a bunch of embassies, and there is a lot of big black sedan traffic. Someone told me that there’s a fleet of VW Phaetons that does cab service there for club-goers as Felix, one of the more popular clubs is down there. The Reichstag is nearby, and I walked all the way around it starting at the receiving area for the fancy cars and around to the front with the dramatic staircase and facade. Very cool. I walked past a few other things that day but I pretty much walked my feet off and my camera ran out of battery, so I reattacked the next day.

I started out at the “Topography of Terror” which is a city block that held the headquarters of Hitler’s war, propaganda, and generally evil deeds. The building had been bombed to rubble, but it was resurrected recently for an anniversary of Berlin and turned into a museum. They also preserved a bit of the Berlin wall above that so at street level there’s the Wall then below street level in the foundations of the bunker are exhibits. Great for history buffs, but really not a family trip. Too many restless kids here not to mention adults.

Following the path of the wall is Checkpoint Charlie which was a border crossing for when Berlin (and Germany) was split into the Western (mostly American, but also France and UK) sector and the Eastern (Soviet) sector. The guardhouse is a small copy that barley fits on the busy street it’s now on with actors employed as guards who will pose for photos for tips. It’s pretty much a zoo, and the museum is one of the few that isn’t free (ah, capitalism) so I took a few pictures then had lunch at Checkpoint Curry which was maybe my favorite name for a food place as well as my favorite currywurst.

There were some beers drunk for sure. German lager tends to be lowish alcohol so I definitely had my fill. The small size is 0.3 L which is about 12 oz or a regular soda can or bottle. The normal size stuff is 0.5L and for tourists there is the full 1L, but I think unless it’s properly cold and you’re dining outside at a biergarten, that size is too big to keep cool all the way to the bottom. I had mostly lagers and hefeweizens which are great. I had a couple interesting ones, too: an altbier which “alt” is like “alternate” because it’s fermented with ale yeast. Nice contrast to the lagers. Also a schwarzbier (schwarz is black) which was like a porter or a stout, but fermented with lager yeast so it’s a bit smoother. Yum.

All in all, a good trip. Would I go back? Hmmm, maybe. I think there was a lot of historical stuff to see and a lot of decent beer to drink, but I found the language barrier very hard to work with. While many people did speak English, it seemed like I had the hardest time with cabbies and food servers. Nailing the important words and writing down things like the worksite and hotel addresses made it a lot easier. Despite the language barrier, I didn’t run into any unsavory characters at all. I would have liked to see more Western Berlin and maybe get out of the city center some more to see the local countryside and suburbs.

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