Tag Archives: Gendarmenmarkt

I speed-dated a European

With most of Germany being on holiday, my work schedule is pretty light at the moment. As a result, I’m spending much more time than I should scrolling through my Facebook feed. Still, every now and then, a little gem pops up that makes a bored blogger’s heart skip a beat. In this case, it was a post by Pulse of Europe called Speed-date a European.

Having read that it wasn’t a romantic thing, and assuming that there would be no touching involved – I’m still scarred from the Cuddle Party – I decided to ask my Irish friend, Gay, along for the ride.

Gay: What is it? 

Me: I have no idea.

Gay: It sounds a bit mad. In. 

Everybody needs a friend like this.

With the event kicking off at 2 p.m., we decided to meet at 1 for a confidence-boosting glass of wine. Well, come on, we are Irish…

Despite being billed as a “meetup with a twist, a fun way for Europeans from various countries to meet, ask questions, fight bias and smash boundaries”, we still didn’t really know what to expect. But, brave souls that we are, we sat down on the steps of the Konzerthaus, making our Popos comfortable on “I speed-dated a European” cushions.

Happy Popo

If the first surprise was how many people were there, the second was the average age. In my cynical way, I had anticipated the place being overrun with irritating hipsters in their 20s, but no, it was pretty much a sea of grey hair. I actually felt young.

(Photo by Piotr Spierewka)

In light of recent events – Brexit (BOOO!), Trump (BOOOOOOOOOOO!) and Marine le Pen (phew!) – it seemed like the perfect time to get people from different cultures together. The atmosphere was jolly, people waved various flags around and the organisers took to the stage. The opening, by a German girl and a French man, in German and English, was a little Eurovision-y for my taste but that’s why bringing a friend to these things is always a bonus. Eye-rolling and chuckling done with, we settled in for an intro to what Pulse of Europe is about and how the event would work.

Ms Eurovision: By now, you’ll all have red or blue sheets of paper.

Gay and I exchanged confused glances and looked around to see that everyone else had, in fact, got red or blue sheets of paper. He hastily got up and went to remedy the situation. Red sheets were for non-Berliners and blue were for Berliners. The idea was that you had to talk to someone with the opposite colour for five minutes, with three switches taking place during the hour. The words to Ode to Joy were printed on the sheets (in German) but I didn’t give that much thought at the time.

Mr and Ms Eurovision called out various “get the conversation going” questions for each round, but I’ve never needed much help in talking the ear off someone so they were largely ignored. My first victim was a German lady in her sixties and we chatted away happily for the first five minutes. The gong rang and we were supposed to move but, well, sitting… so we chatted away for the next five minutes, too. I could now add “speed-dating a sexagenarian” to my ever-growing list of odd things I’ve done in Berlin.

For the third round, a German man in his sixties sat on the other side of me – next victim ensnared. After a little political stuff from the stage, I spend round four in a sexagenarian threesome. The “prompt question” this time round was “what are your cliches about my country?” I’ve always thought that Ireland was pretty easy to stereotype so I was a bit surprised when my new man date came out with “sheep”.

Me: Sheep?

Thoralf: Yep, sheep.

Me: Anything else? 

Thoralf: Umm… 

Me: Wow. OK. 

Frauke: Wait, it’s green. 

Me: Yes.

Frauke: Oh, oh, RED HAIR! 

Thoralf: (looking at me a bit suspiciously) You don’t look very Irish. 

Me: Nope, I guess I was just born lucky. 

Thoralf: So, what are your cliches about the Germans?

Me: Socks and sandals, putting beach towels on sun loungers on their way home from the pub, beer, sausage, Lederhosen…

Thoralf and Frauke: THAT’S NOT US! THAT’S THE BAVARIANS!

Me: Yes, yes, I know. (I glanced down at my sheet of paper) Um, do we have to sing at the end of this? 

Thoralf: Oh yes, it’s wonderful. 

Me: It might not be so wonderful for you with me singing in your ear but OK. 

And so we did. With Bernd playing Beethoven on a banjo, hundreds of voices filled Gendarmenmarkt square as Beethoven probably spun in his grave. It was great.

Bernd plays the banjo

All that was left to do was for everyone to hold hands and dance around the square but with my “no touch” policy still firmly in place, this was my cue to leave.

No hand-holding, please. I’m Irish.

Taking our free cushions with us, Gay and I made good our escape. Still, I have to say, it was a lot of fun and a very well-organised afternoon. Pulse of Europe runs similar events in cities all over Europe on the first Sunday of every month so if you fancy some talking, singing and maybe even a little dance, I suggest you check them out.

Now, once more for Europe, all together please, with feeling:

Freude, schöner Götterfunken,

Tochter aus Elysium,

Wir betreten feuertrunken,

Himmlische, den Heiligtum…

 

 

 

 

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The Russian does Berlin

When Anna first visited me in Riga, I delighted in trying to poison her with the local Black Balzams. So, when she said she wanted to come to Berlin for more torture, I wondered what fun and games we’d get up to. Her wishlist was, thankfully, pretty straightforward. Do a boat tour, go to a couple of Christmas markets, see the Berlin Wall and, most importantly, go out and meet people or, more specifically, men.  I had absolutely no problems with that.

I briefly considered trying to hook her up with my new half-naked, opera-singing Asian neighbour. I hoped that it might shut him up for 4 to 7 minutes. Then the thought that he might get louder put that idea out of my head.

When Anna arrived, like most tourists, the first thing she wanted to do was visit the… post office. Yup, it seems that in Russia, you can’t post something and expect it to actually arrive, so good old Deutsche Post would have to step in.

Lovely, reliable German post office...
Lovely, reliable German post office…

She decided she would like to use DHL and was just about finished filling in the form when we got to the top of the queue. It was the wrong form and she had no envelope. So we left the counter, picked up some envelopes and rejoined the queue. We got to the counter again, but she should have taken the envelopes out of the packaging, filled in all of the information, and then brought it to the nice lady. So we left the counter again. Anna filled in the form, I lost patience at the thought of having to queue a third time and went outside, and Anna rejoined the queue.

I needed a drink
I needed a drink

After a massive glass of wine for me and a tiny cappuccino for Anna – the waiter actually brought her a free second cappuccino as he must have felt sorry for her with her puny drink – we set off for Gendarmenmarkt. Pretty lights, a beautiful backdrop, oodles of ridiculously cute tat, little wooden huts, sausage and Glühwein – Anna was in heaven. In fact, when the choir started singing, she even shed a few tears. Normally, this sort of behaviour might result in a slap but, even I have to admit, there is something pretty magical about Gendarmenmarkt at Christmas. (Don’t judge me.)

We hit the town where Anna was horrified to see that Germans keep their children out so late.

Me: It’s 7.30…

The next morning, we were up bright and early for breakfast. Not really. We made it in time for brunch though. I was manhandled away from my food so that Anna could take a photo of it first. As everyone knows, “if it isn’t on Instagram, it didn’t happen”. I wondered what I’d been doing for the last 37 years.

Massive German portions
Massive German portions

We’d lucked out with a truly beautiful day so it was definitely boat tour time. We arrived with seconds to spare before the 2pm tour and hopped on the boat. While I wondered what the hell was wrong with my headset, Anna hopped from side to side, photographing everything to within an inch of its life. Because, you know, if it’s not on Instagram, it didn’t happen…

Watching someone else run around like Usain Bolt on speed can be thirsty work, so it was off to try the Feuerzangenbowle at Charlottenburg Palace. As I’d really liked it, I thought Anna would feel the same. Judge for yourselves…

Brave little Russian lamb
Brave little Russian lamb
Uh oh...
Uh oh…
Is she going to puke?
Is she going to puke?
She can't puke in front of a palace, can she?
She can’t puke in front of a palace, can she?
Breathe, breathe, little one...
Breathe, breathe, little one…

I think we can safely say Anna will not be trying that again.

After a night spent drinking vodka with a bunch of Russian men, there’s nothing I like more than getting out of bed and going sightseeing. And so, off to the Berlin Wall we went.

Anna: Is that it? 

Me: Yes. 

Anna: Oh. 

Like my mirror image that day
Like my mirror image that day

Anna had also mentioned that she quite fancied seeing some street art (more of it), so I escorted her over to my old hood, which is quirky to say the least. I’m not sure what kind of pretty, fluffy street art she was expecting but, well, this is Berlin.

Um...
Um…

Anna: Oh my god, oh my god, what IS that?! Why is it all so scary and creepy? What does that baby have no head? Why is that little girl trying to kill her cat? Why did you bring me here? I’m going to have nightmares after this…

Me: Heh heh heh.

I brought her to a local restaurant before she passed out. I guess Moscow is fluffier than Berlin. Who knew? After finishing the buffet  her meal, Anna decided to treat herself to a cocktail. Why she ordered a Swimming Pool I’ll never know, but it prompted the barman to point out where the bathroom was, just in case. Then again, he also said that Russian men looked like East German lesbians, so he may have had a couple himself. I would never insult East German lesbians like that.

Soon, it was time for the pièce de resistance of the weekend – the ice slide at Potsdamer Platz. We met my favourite German-Venezuelan couple – Engelbert and Enrique – filled up our Glühweins with rum from Engelbert’s illicit hip flask, and it was time. The slide was a lot bigger than I remembered but (Scheiße) in for a penny, in for a pound.

You can hear the German cackling in the background. Thanks for the support, Engelbert…

So, Anna’s now back in the land of smiles and fluffiness. Thanks for visiting and I hope you had fun apart from the TERRIFYING street art…

Happy Christmas and New Year to everyone!

 

A blast from the past

Last week, a little bit of Latvia came to Berlin in the form of Yummy Jānis, my Latvian ex-boyfriend.

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Aww, those were the days…

He told me that he’d be flying into Schönefeld Airport at 13.55 on Friday and I told him he was on his own as I wouldn’t have time to get there after my German lesson. I helpfully sent him a map of the Berlin transport system and left him with dire warnings on which ticket to buy and to make sure to VALIDATE it.

After my lesson and much merriment, I dashed home to drop off my bag and straight back out again to meet Yummy at his hostel. He was staying in the ghetto area of Neukölln, so he should have felt right at home, albeit with a few more Turkish people than he’s probably used to in Latvia. His hostel was right beside the train station so I had no problems finding it.

Me: Are you nearly here?

Yummy: I’m still in the queue at the ticket machine.

30 minutes later…

Me: Any progress?

Yummy: I’ve got a ticket.

Me: Sigh.

This is why nobody flies into bloody Schönefeld if they can help it.

I wandered off to pick up a few bits and pieces and kill some time. Heading back towards the hostel, I noticed Yummy standing directly underneath a massive sign pointing to his hostel.

Me: Oh good, so you’re all checked in.

Yummy: No, I couldn’t find the hostel.

Me: …

I led him to the hostel and waited in the lobby as he took 30 minutes to drop his bag off and put a sheet on the bed. It was around two and a half hours since he’d landed and almost dark by then. I dragged him on to a train and off we went.

Me: Did you validate your ticket? 

Yummy: I think so. 

Me: Let me see it… No, you didn’t. 

So we got off the train again, validated the ticket and back on another train.

Me: (waving my hands around a bit) The world-famous Brandenburger Tor, the Reichstag… Right, do you want to go to a Christmas market and drink Glühwein?

Luckily, he gave the correct answer.

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Can you smell the Glühwein and sausage?
Gendarmenmarkt is probably one of the most popular Christmas markets in Berlin, with certainly one of the most beautiful backdrops. We got some Glühwein, Yummy had a sausage and we wandered around savouring the sights and smells.

Me: Huh, it’s not even that crowded. Lucky. 

Yummy: (pale and sweating) My god, it’s so crowded. I’m kind of freaking out. 

Me: Yeah, I guess when you’re used to being one of like five people in your country, this probably is crowded. 

Hordes of Latvians. ARGH.

So we left again.

Yummy: OK, I’m kind of calm again now. Can we go eat? 

Me: But you just had a sausage. That would keep me going all night. 

Yummy: I’m a grown man. 

Me: Sure. 

I took him to a semi-deserted restaurant on Oranienburger Straße, where I had hoped I could show him the hookers doing their thing, but it must have been too cold for them. Yummy presented me with a couple of Latvian “treats” to make up for it.

Yay. Black Balsams. My favourite...
Yay. Black Balsams. My favourite…

 

With Yummy fed, watered and feeling more like himself again, it was off to my favourite watering hole in Friedrichshain. There, we joined my neighbours (not the naked ones) from when I lived with Hildeberta and Hildegard. And, would you believe it, the Latvian chick Yummy had sat beside on the plane was in the very same bar. She was over visiting her boyfriend who now lives in Germany. They both seemed normal enough (for Latvians, anyway), so they sat with us and a raucous evening of Irish-German-Latvian hilarity ensued.

With Yummy off to visit his cousin in Hamburg the next day, I was left to my own devices. As luck would have it, the Lankwitz one-day-only, 5-hour extravaganza of a Christmas market was taking place on the church grounds.

Possibly the smallest, shortest Christmas market in Berlin.
Possibly the smallest, shortest Christmas market in Berlin.

 

As everyone knows, the best way to get over an excess of Glühwein is to have more Glühwein so I headed straight for the longest queue which, I felt, had to be where the Glühwein was at. I strolled around for a bit and when I started losing the feeling in my feet, adjourned to the one bar in Lankwitz I hadn’t tried yet.

Unluckily for me, it’s a Hertha BSC bar and a football match against Bayern Munich was in full swing. It was standing room only so I did my best to look interested and supportive, despite wearing the rather eye-catching red of the Bayern team. Not to worry. With Bayern comfortably hammering Hertha, the place cleared out a bit and I was able to perch on a stool at the bar.

The man next to me immediately started talking to me and, in no time at all, I was being introduced to everyone and having my wine bought for me. Maybe Hertha fans weren’t so bad after all. Nobody really spoke any English and, as well as practising my German, I also had at least three old blokes offering to cook me dinner.

Gunther: You should pay attention. All of the men will be after you because you are the only relatively young, semi-attractive woman in the bar. 

Looking around, I realised I was now the only woman in the bar. Couldn’t he just have left it at “young and attractive”? But no, that just wouldn’t be German, would it?

 

Huge thanks to Yummy for coming to visit – I hope you had a fun night!

 

 

Bedding it in Berlin

I’m always meaning to do more touristy stuff in Berlin but, you know how it is – it’s getting colder, I’m a bit lazy…

Luckily, Berlin has the answer to all of my first-world problems. Introducing (drum roll, please)… Berlin Horizontal.

Genius
Genius

I’d only come across this company last weekend while waiting for a friend at Alexanderplatz – it’s hard to miss a bed on wheels, parked in the middle of one of the busiest squares in Berlin. When I got home, I went straight to the Berlin Horizontal website and emailed the owner to try to arrange a tour for this weekend. We arranged to meet at 3pm this afternoon, he took my telephone number in case the weather took a turn for the worse, and even emailed me last night to remind me about the clock going back – all very well-organised and, well, German.

I managed to rope my friend, Heike, into accompanying me, which saved me putting out a message on Facebook along the lines of:

Does anyone want to go to bed with me – in public – next Sunday afternoon?

I probably would have had a few takers though. At least I like to think so…

We showed up a little early and stood around, waiting for our bed to appear. And, oh! The silly giddiness when it did! We shook hands with Richard, the charming, friendly owner of the company, and after introductions and a little small talk, were presented with little blue surgical slippers to put over our shoes. Seemingly, nobody wants to ride in a dirty bed.

Nice and clean and orderly - the way things should be.
Nice and clean and orderly – the way things should be.

We jumped in, fluffed up the pillows and pulled the duvet over us. Richard took a few pictures and then we were off. I think people could probably hear me laughing in Hamburg…

Getting comfortable
Getting comfortable

We took a nicely winding route from Alexanderplatz to Brandenburger Tor, stopping off at Museum Island, the “Lust Garden”, Bebelplatz, Gendarmenmarkt, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, and Tiergarten along the way, with Richard providing an entertaining commentary as we went. I asked him how he had come up with the idea to start Berlin Horizontal, and he told us that this very special rickshaw had been built for some sort of promotion but, after it had fulfilled its purpose, was left forgotten in a garage somewhere. Richard had rescued it from obscurity and started doing his thing.

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A very happy Berlinda

Aside from being in a bed in the middle of a capital city, what makes this tour so unique, and so much fun, are the reactions from passers-by. Everywhere we went, people were pointing, belly-laughing, taking photos and waving at us. Cries of “Good night!”, “Sleep well!” and “Oh, das ist so geil!” accompanied us around the city. A couple of people even wanted to hop into bed with us, and a bus driver stopped to take a photo of the show. I was grinning like a maniac and, at times, was giggling so uncontrollably, tears were running down my cheeks.

Imagining drivers’ phone calls to their waiting loved ones was enough to set me off in peals of laughter again.

“Hey honey, I’m going to be a bit late. I’m stuck behind a bed on wheels on Unter den Linden…”

Followers
Followers

We quickly perfected our royal waves, but it was a bit difficult to look regal whilst crying laughing under a duvet.

Sleeping beauty
Sleeping beauty

After an hour or so, we arrived at our final destination – Brandenburger Tor. It’s not often you get to upstage one of the most famous sights in the world, but we did just that. People even abandoned taking selfies for long enough to take pictures of us instead. Richard also had one last surprise, producing night caps out of his little bag of tricks. (He also has a reading lamp he can rig up for night-time tours.)

Looking insane at Brandenburger Tor.
Looking insane (but very happy) at Brandenburger Tor.

Alas, our tour had come to an end. To say that I recommend doing a tour with Berlin Horizontal is an understatement. I can honestly say, with no offence intended to the men who have been in my life, that this is the most fun I have ever had in bed. However, I do feel it is important to warn you of the side effect of this tour: the temptation to keep waving and grinning at people long after the tour has ended is very strong.

And probably not appropriate on Berlin’s public transport system.

The first Irish-German Eskimo in Berlin

After a gloriously long autumn, it seems that winter has finally hit Berlin. Despite spending five years in Central/Eastern/Northern Europe, I was still woefully unprepared so an emergency winter coat-buying mission was in order.

20141128_160945[1]I was very pleased with my purchase, until a homeless man started pointing and laughing, saying, “Ha ha ha, es ist ein kleine Eskimo!” Then he asked me for money. I gave it to him as I thought insulting someone was rather a unique way to beg.

Later that week, I was taking some rubbish out to the bins – I know, I’m so German. One of my neighbours was there trying to turn a cardboard box the size of a bed into the size of a matchbox. So engrossed in his task was he that he didn’t hear me approach and jumped about a foot in the air when I let the lid of the bin fall.

Deciding that almost giving the poor man a heart attack wasn’t enough, I proceeded to hop from foot to foot, waving my hands around going “Woooo, ich bin der kleine Eskimooooo…” He didn’t look impressed but he might have been laughing on the inside. It was dark and my hood was over my eyes from all the hopping about so I couldn’t really tell.

Anyway, it seems that despite not being a fan of winter, or Christmas for that matter, I’m coping with it slightly better in Germany. I put this down to the fact that the Germans – as with most things – do Christmas well.

While parents are busy beating the crap out of each other over “Frozen” dolls in my home town in Ireland, the Germans are cheerily setting up wonderful Christmas markets and getting merrily sloshed on Glühwein. I know where I’d rather be.

I went to my first Christmas market, at Potsdamer Platz, a couple of weeks ago with an Australian girl I work with. To say that we were stupidly excited would be a massive understatement. We were worse than kids – kids on Glühwein.

But I actually recommend going to your first German Christmas market with another foreigner. That was you can be ridiculously over-enthusiastic about everything and freak the Germans out no end.

Sheila: Germany is AWESOME! 

Manfred: Really? Germany??

Me: YES! 

Sheila: And Germans are AWESOME!

Me: YES! They’re so friendly and helpful and amazing! 

Ulf: Germans? Really??

Sheila: YES!

Me: And Glühwein is fantastic! 

Continue this line of conversation until you’ve cleared the wine hut – we did.

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The great thing about Germans is that hot wine alone isn’t alcoholic enough for them. No, they have to add more alcohol to it. So far, I’ve had Glühwein with rum, amaretto, brandy, and a cheeky little cherry Glühwein with vanilla vodka. Not all in the same glass, you understand.

One was my friend's - I swear.
One was my friend’s – I swear.

It seems there are 60 Christmas markets in Berlin. So far, I’ve been to three – at Potsdamer Platz, Gendarmenmarkt, and Holy Heimat (hipster heaven Christmas market) in Friedrichshain. I’m not sure I’ll manage another 57 of them before I go back to Ireland for Christmas, but I’m going to have a bloody good time trying.