Friday, August 31, 2012

Bike of the Week: Number 14

Not sure if the "Bike of the Week" is...

Elvis' old bike?

...made of solid gold or just rusty.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Müggelsee: Berlin's largest lake

Berlin has many rivers, lakes and canals and we recently discovered the biggest lake of them all, Müggelsee, in the district of Treptow-Köpenick to the south-east of the city. Großer Müggelsee ("Large" Müggelsee), with an area of 7.4 square kilometers (2.9 square miles) and a length of 4.3 km (2.7 miles), reaches a depth of 8 meters whilst it's smaller brother, Kleiner Müggelsee ("Small" Müggelsee) feeds the River Spree into the larger lake from the east.   

We visited the lake recently and found out that on a weekday morning it is mainly deserted. We can imagine that it can get rather busy though especially during a hot summer weekend. It was actually very nice to escape the city and to enjoy the soothing sounds nature had to offer for a few hours. We approached the lake from the south side at Müggelseeperle but there are some other worthwhile places to visit all around the lake including the towns of Friedrichshagen and Rahnsdorf

The lake, being a quite popular day-trip destination for Berliners, has beaches as well as public paths and various resorts around the lake. There are a couple of official bathing beaches and plenty of places to hire paddle boats, motor boats and even canoes.    

There are many paths and cycle lanes as well as lake-side cafes, restaurants and beer gardens to relax in and enjoy the view. What we really liked about our quick visit was that there was a lot of wildlife there including ducks, swans and deer. We also spotted a fox on our walk. 

There are quite a few activities close by such as a Waterworks Museum ("Museum im Wasserwerk") in Friedrichshagen on the north side of the lake. There you can find out about the history of the water supply system and see a permanent collection of machinery, tools and documents related to Berlin's water supply and the history of the plant which still supplies water to Berlin today.

It takes around an hour to get there by public transport (S-Bahn and/or bus) from the city center depending on which part of the lake you wish to visit. Check the useful 'journey planner' on to find out the best way to get there. By car it takes about 30-40 minutes and there are lots of places to park around the lake.

A walk around the whole lake I suppose would take around 3-4 hours and I will definitely write a blog about it if I decided to go back and see how long it takes.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Kreuzberg in Pictures: Episode Four

In this section of Explorer Berlin we share photos we took from our travels around Kreuzberg. Our theme this edition is the street art that can be found in the area. 

There is just so much street art in Kreuzberg. Every corner you turn there is a new and inventive piece of grafitti waiting for you. After doing a little research into the murals I found out that two murals pictured in this blog are by an artist called Blu. AndBerlin did a blog about his work earlier in the year if you want to find out a little more about Blu.  

As for the other two pieces I don't know who created them. Do you?
Enjoy the photos and if you get chance, I recommend visiting in person.  

Check out some more street art photos on our facebook page. 

What do you think of graffiti in Kreuzberg?
Do you think it is an eyesore or art?

Begging businessman on Waldemarstrasse
This was hanging from underneath the Oberbaumbrüke a few months ago!

Mural by Blu on Cuvrystraße

Mural by Blu on Oberbaumstrasse

Friday, August 24, 2012

Bike of the Week: Number 13

Today's "Bike of the Week" is...


...simple and sophisticated.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Berlin Tourism for Dummies: The East Side Gallery

If you haven't already visited Berlin then you have probably at least heard of The East Side Gallery. It's kind of essential to visit, even on a short trip to the city. The Gallery itself is situated on a 1.3 km long  (3/4 of a mile) stretch of the original Berlin Wall. It is the largest open air gallery in the world and home to over 100 'freedom' paintings from a host of international artists.

It was originally created in 1990 just after the fall of the Berlin Wall as an expression of freedom and hope for a new future. In the new unified Germany artists descended upon the east side of the famous barrier to tell the story of a divided then reunified Berlin, to preserve the memory of those who suffered under oppression and inhumanity and to show hope of a better world for all.

The wall runs along the eastern bank of the river Spree and is the 12-foot high canvas onto which the artwork is directly painted. It is the longest preserved part of the Berlin Wall that is still standing today. Although the gallery's original significance was a celebrated success, it's story is not without controversy and neglect.

After just two years the cheap paint was already showing signs of weathering and so the first restorative attempt took place. In 1996 the Künstlerinitiative was created by a group of artists in order to help raise donations and get sponsorship. The gallery had no public funding so they relied on donations to upkeep and maintain the art.
Covered in graffiti in 2005. "My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love", Dimitrij Vrubel, Soviet Union
As time went on, not only was the appearance of the artwork deteriorating, but the concrete itself was also showing signs of decay. Originally built in 1961, the steel reinforcements within the concrete had started to corrode and the wall started to crumble. Restoration was not going to be easy or cheap. Over the years the gallery has also suffered from an over abundance of graffiti as you can see in the photo of the famous work above.

"Test the Rest", Birgit Kinder, East Germany
2006 saw another blow to the project as a 45-meter section was ripped down to make way for river access to the new O2 World arena site which was being built next door. In 2008 however, the city of Berlin along with the national lottery provided one million euros in funding to help restore the gallery and, by December 2009, 99 of the remaining 106 paintings had been restored (many by the artists who originally painted them).    

"Es geschah im November", Kani Alavi, Persia

"Politik ist die Fortsetzung des Krieges mit anderen Mitteln", Carsten Jost, Ulrike Steglich, East Berlin
I've walked along the stretch of the gallery quite a few times, mainly to bring new visitors to see it. Some of the art is simple, some provocative. Some pieces are dark and symbolic whilst others are bright and celebratory. Although it might not be as powerful a symbol as it would have been in its heyday I think that you can still learn something from it and hear the common international voice towards peace and understanding.

Tolerance, Mary Mackey, USA

Five facts about the East Side Gallery: 

01 - The East Side Gallery was officially opened on the 28th Septemeber 1990. 

02 - 118 artists from 21 countries participated in the project in 1990.

03 - Restoration of parts of the concrete wall was undertaken in 2002.

04 - In the year 2000 about a third of the wall was restored and repainted.

05 - In 2009 74 of the original artists helped restore their own work.     

The East Side Gallery is located between the Ostbahnhof train station and the Oberbaumbrüke. There is no cost to see the gallery and you can visit it at any time day or night.

Some interesting links and articles about the East Side Gallery:
The Künstlerinitiative
Berlin Tourist Guide: East Side Gallery (with a photo gallery)
The Telegraph: Berlin Wall anniversary: East Side Gallery restored to state twenty years ago.
An East Side Gallery Timeline

Our new Berlin Tourism for Dummies section aims to give quick introductions to some of the main sights to see in Berlin. We hope it is helpful to those of you planning a trip to the city.     

Friday, August 17, 2012

Bike of the Week: Number 12

Flowers seem to be...

Girly bike.

...the "Bike of the Week" main theme.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A trip with Air Berlin

I think I have spent way too many years taking short haul flights with low cost airlines around Europe because my recent trip was a surprisingly happy and pleasant one. We flew from Berlin to Budapest with the Berlin-based airline, Air Berlin, and we were very impressed with the service. 

The first advantage this airline had in comparison to the typical 'RyanAirs' of the world is that on both legs of the journey we didn’t have to queue at all to check in our bags. In Budapest airport, on the way back, I was reminded of the usual hours of waiting around as I walked past hundreds of people queuing for EasyJet, Wizz and RyanAir flights. I couldn’t hide the smug grin as I strolled up to the lady at the check-in desk who was waiting to serve me with a friendly smile (smiling staff? hummm…another thumbs up for Air Berlin).

There was no hassle at the boarding gate either. No tetris luggage-measuring exercises, no suspicious glares at me or my hand luggage and nobody looked me up and down to make sure I wasn’t trying to smuggle in an extra bag under my coat. In fact, the same women who had checked us in was also at the boarding gate and was still happy to serve us with her wide smile.

My husband was a little scared when he saw the size of the plane as it was the smallest plane he had ever travelled in. In fact, it was a Q400, a twin-engine plane with visible propellors, the smallest of the Air Berlin fleet with a capacity of 76 passengers. To make it worse I had chosen wing seats for us so he had a perfect close up view of the spinning blades.  

It was all 'plane' sailing though and during take off and landing we had some spectacular views of both cities. The calm and quiet flight lasted about an hour and a half, just enough time to make it worth waiting for the plane and not too long to get a numb bum. The seats were comfortable and the decoration did not give you a headache as it was neither bright fluorescent yellow nor cringeworthy orange. 

The cabin crew seemed relaxed, calm and friendly and the service was quick but without the mad rush to get through the cabin with the refreshments tray so they can go on to sell you lots of useless crap after charging you a fortune for a tiny coke and a minuscule hot panini. To top it off we got a complimentary juice and apple flavour biscuits during the trip. On leaving the airplane you also get offered a very nice Air Berlin chocolate heart to remind you of the pleasant experience. 

All in all I felt satisfied with my short but nice Air Berlin trip and I would recommend flying with them if you get chance. The only disadvantage I can see is that their routes are more limited than other airlines but if they fly to the place you want to go, check 'em out. By the way, Budapest is a wonderful city to visit and perfect for a weekend get away from Berlin :D   

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Parks in Berlin: Treptower Park

Continuing our look at parks in Berlin (a few weeks ago we visited Körnerpark in Neukölln) we recently took a stroll around Treptower Park in Alt-Treptow. We took the opportunity to visit after passing it a few times on the S-bahn train. This time we got off the train and wandered down into the park to take a quick look. 
It was very pleasant, well kept and clean like all Berlin parks I have seen so far. What makes it a little different from most other parks is the fact it is right on the waters edge and you can sit in the park with a view of the Spree.
If you enter the park from the Treptower Park S-Bahn station then you will soon come to a promenade which has a number of cafes, bars and shops to buy food and refreshments. The premenade runs alongside the small harbour that is home to a number of tourist barges and some vessels that look like people actually live there. Our favourite was a barge equipt with solar panels, a rooftop garden and a little sailing boat. 
The green areas are fairly big and spacious but I personally ate quite a few swarms of midges. There are probably so many because the park is so close to the water (I've never seen (or eaten) so many in daylight before though!). 
After a quick look around we stopped for a currywurst and a beer on the promenade. Apart from being attacked by a few very eager wasps who seemed obsessed about taking a dive into our beer, it was a nice relaxing couple of hours.
I'll leave you with a few more piccies.

You can find out some more information about Treptower Park on the VisitBerlin website.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Bike of the Week: Number 11

This "Bike of the Week" probably needs...

Seen better days mate!

...a bit of TLC.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The (Second) Best Kebap in Berlin

When searching for that perfect kebab in Berlin most people will tell you to head to Mehringdamm to Mustafas Gemüsekebap. If you want to get a similar döner experience but without having to wait in the queues that are typical at Mustafas then we know just the place for you.

The Nur Gemüse-Kebap stand on Hermanstrasse in Neukölln is, what has been described to us as, "the second best kebap shop in Berlin". That description was good enough to get me drooling so we took a little trip to Hermanstrasse to get our fingers greasy. The stand itself is right on the entrance to the Hermanstrasse S-bahn at the center of all the Hermanstrasse transport links so it's very easy to find. The staff are friendly and speak at least enough kebap-related English to make ordering easy for dummies.

A Dürüm kebap before it is wrapped.
We decided to try out a typical döner kebap and, my favourite, a dürüm kebap. The dürüm has the same ingredients as the döner but is rolled up inside a toasted flatbread called lavaş rather than being served in the normal bread roll. It is a little more expensive (normally about 1 euro more) than a typical döner but it's worth it in my opinion.

A döner kebap with a Turkish yogurt drink, Ayran.
I am no stranger to kebaps. In fact, I have spent many a drunken walk home biting into a spicy döner and countless Saturday afternoons curing a hangover with a tasty dürüm. I have eaten good ones and the truely terrible ones. I've experienced döners that have been cold, soggy and undercooked, with too little sauce or meat but I must say that the Nur Gemüse Döner has to be one of the best, if not THE best, kebaps I have ever eaten. I have not yet been to Mustafas and I do know that the Nur Gemüse style is a copy so I will have to wait till my next visit to Mehringdamm to compare the two.

I think what made this kebap different is that I could tell the meat was good quality. It was not as processed as other döner meat I have tried. Maybe the fact it is chicken rather than lamb makes it taste different too as most kebaps I have eaten have been lamb or a mixture of lamb and chicken. The addition of red peppers layered with the meat on the spit keeps the meat juicy and flavoursome. Also, it's the first kebap I have tried where they add roasted vegetables to the mix and a dash of lime juice at the end.

Not only are the ingredients good quality and fresh but the combination of ingredients is balanced with just the right amount of meat to salad ratio. The sauces are also good with a choice of spicy, garlic and normal sauce and their flavours are not too strong or light. I recommend trying it with a Turkish yogurt drink called Ayran. For me it was a little too salty but the cool drink is a refreshing compliament to the heavy flavours of the kebap.

If you want to try their kebaps for yourself I believe that it is open every day and closes at around 10pm.

Here is the address and contact details: 
S-Bahn - Hermanstrasse
U-Bahn - Line 8 Hermanstrasse
Hermannstraße 113 , 12051 Neukölln Berlin
Tel: 0163 7877 439