Munich, Germany

Munich, Germany
June 20th, 21st 2010

If there is one thing you have to absolutely do when in Munich, it’s visiting a beer hall. My hostel was right across the Augustiner brewery, which had its own beer hall, and I was not disappointed by the experience. Roast chicken and pork roasting over open fires, staff dressed in traditional German clothes serving a packed hall, traditional German music being played by a band with trumpets and tubas…It was fast paced, lively, and a fantastic atmosphere for drinking and eating.



german band

I couldn’t get a table so I decided to just eat at the bar. The bartender is constantly filling up pint glasses with Augustiner beer straight from the barrel (it’s the only beer served here, being the brewery and all). First night, I go with a pint of beer and half a roast chicken. No one comes to serve me so I made my order through the bartender who passed on the word to the waitstaff. It’s an organized chaos here. And the food/beer as superb. I knew I was going to visit this place again the next night. Screw going to the world famous (but super touristy) Hofbrafhaus (Hitler gave Nazi speeches here apparently), I am happy with this place. And it’s right across the street from my hostel for goodness sake, what more could one ask for?!

I did the Sandeman’s Free Walking Tour of course. It’s never “free”, I always tip €5-10 each time, €5 only if the tour is really poor but most of the time, it’s €10. Apparently each guide has to give €3 to the Sandeman company for each person in the group, so whatever extra is what they actually earn. I wish more people on the tours knew that, I see lots of people tipping €5 or so. And there are people who leave mid-tour without tipping or anything so I don’t imagine the guides get very much if a group of 20 becomes a group of 12 at the end. They still owe the company for 20 people!

My guide was from Houston so that was neat. He came to Munich to live and improve his German. Munich itself is a nice looking city, rich in history. We got to see places where the Nazis headquartered themselves, also the place where Hitler almost got killed in the 1920s, but was only saved by his bodyguard who took 12 bullets for him. Imagine how history would’ve changed if Hitler died here. If you think about it, there have been so many times Hitler almost died but he didn’t…sometimes you wonder if it was fate that everything happened.

roast pork knee

I subsisted on doner kebabs during the day. I love the Turks. They bring cheap, delicious, easy food to the masses. At night, what else…Augustiner beer and schweinhaxe (roast pork knee, see picture). Roast pork knee is something everyone should have, what a fantastic dish. The band decided to play several national anthems for the crowds, including America, Canada, Australia, England. Get a little buzzed, walk right across the street to the hostel, watch the World Cup. That is the life…

I forgot to mention that I was supposed to be in a 12-person hostel room but got upgraded to a 6-person room. Here’s what happened : I went up to the room, tried to find an open bed, couldn’t. Went back downstairs to reception, someone came to help me find a bed. We found what we thought was an open bed…but when I came back later, my stuff was on the floor. Some Korean guy (who I saw check in before me) apparently had claimed the bed already. So back downstairs I went…reception decided to give me a 6-person room at no extra charge. Score! But it wasn’t all that great…

At night, around 3 am, the British trio in my room decided to come back drunk and loud. Banged the door so loud against someone’s bed, came in laughing and talking very loud, throwing water on each other, spilling water all over the floor, running around in their underwear, getting warned by the hostel a few times…not easy to get sleep when all this is happening. I was more amused than mad though. Drunk people are hilarious. Reminded me of the drunk Irish back in Krakow.

I did go to a museum, the Deutsches Museum. I had to, I’m an engineer, and that place is the world’s largest museum of technology and science. But when most explanations are in German, one can get very bored after a while. And long long long captions in English don’t help, I didn’t come to read a novel.

Anyway, that’s it for Munich. I wish I could say more about the architectures, museums, history etc but I came for the beer halls, beer, and food. Oktoberfest is held here annually and I bet it’s a blast.

Munich, Germany Pictures

Berlin, Germany

Berlin, Germany
May 3rd and 4th 2010

Berlin Wall

I am an idiot for missing the 9:00 am bus to Prague by 5 minutes. I am an idiot. Spent another €22.50 to get another ticket to Prague at 3:00 pm. I am an absolute idiot. Good job by me dilly dallying around the kitchen, chatting with random ppl in the morning. But above all, it was because of a girl.

So I left Amsterdam at 8:45 pm on May 2nd, arrived in Berlin at 6:30 am the next day. I couldn’t check in to my hostel until 2 pm (I hate these rules but it’s the norm, they have to clean up the rooms after the last renters). I decided to do one of the Sandeman walking tours.

The metro is interesting in Germany. It’s an honor system and there aren’t any gates preventing you from hopping on/off trains without a ticket. But there are random checks by plain-clothes conductors. If you get caught, it is a €40 fine on the spot. The cheapest ticket (single way, valid for 2 hours) is €2.10. I actually got checked one time. I never saw it coming. Some random normal looking guy walks in, then after a minute, asks everyone to bust out their tickets. A guy ran into problems, he was escorted out at the next stop.

Anyway, I get to the walking tour meet up point, then from there, we all walked to the main meeting point (at the Branderburg Gate). I got a guide named George, who was a pretty cool hipping looking American. Most of the guides work on tips, so they make their tours are interesting and fun as possible. It was enjoyable, I got to learn so much I would’ve missed otherwise. I mean, there’s an absolutely plain old parking lot sitting there beside some apartment buildings, turns out, that is the site of Hitler’s bunker, the one he was in when he committed suicide and got partially cremated in. I bet most of the people parking in that spot don’t even know that. The German govt kept it secret until the 2006 World Cup in Germany when they put a sign that basically said “This is Hitler’s secret underground bunker”. Of course, the bunker wasn’t there anymore, it was just a parking lot and dog-pooping location. Pretty cool stuff.

Berlin looks so nice because it’s so new. The city was almost completely bombed out after WW2. Everything was flattened. The German govt rebuilt everything even as late as the 90s. Berlin has been around since the 1200s or something like that, so imagine how much history was wiped out by WW2. Paris was lucky to not have something like that happen to it.

Anyway, there’s so much I learned from the tour but I am too lazy to list them all down. I got to see the former Luftwaffe headquarters (one of the biggest buildings in Berlin that survived the bombings, it’s weird but there are reasons), the former SS/Gestapo headquarters, the remnamts of the Berlin wall, the hotel Michael Jackson waved a baby from the balcony (yeah! It’s the Hotel Adlon, it’s in Paris Square, all the VIPs, celebs, presidents stay there. Presidential suite is only €12k a night, I thought about staying there for a few days). A lot more stuff but those are some highlights.

A group of us went to eat some schnizel and have a beer later. My guide, George, is a WoW player. We start having a hilarious nerd moment where we’re laughing at the whole matter. But anyways, schnizel is just awesome. I actually ate it again for the meal before I left to Prague. Now I know what Maria was singing about in ‘The Sound of Music’.

Museums are free from 6-10 pm on Thursdays. So I head over to Museum Island. At this point of my trip, I needed a museum that wasn’t mind numbingly boring with antiquities (oh look, another vase, another sculpture, another old looking thing someone dug up!). I spent 5 minutes in the Altes Museum because it was just that. I found my way to Pergamon Museum that had the Babylon Istachar Gates. It blew me away. Now here’s something different. They actually brought back pieces of this giant magnificent gate and reconstructed it within the museum. They had other walls of ancient places set up so it was cool to touch them. I like reading about ancient gods too so it wasn’t too bad.

I head on back to the hostel in the evening. It was getting late so I parked myself in the room. The Aussie girl below my bunk is coughing her lungs out. I offer her some Dayquil. She’s annoying me becaues she’s not that friendly for a fat person. I eventually moved beds because the hostel owner decided to put me on a top bunk when there were several bottom bunks that were free. I much prefer bottom bunks. I use the net, eat a doner kebab at 10 pm, then head to bed.

Next day, I decided to head over to take a closer look at the SS headquarters, the Berlin wall, and the Reichstagg Dome. The SS headquarters is now an exhibit. Those guys were something out of Orwell’s ‘1984’. I’ve seen movies and have always thought the German SS always dressed very sharp. I liked their all black uniforms. I also walked along a surviving piece of the Berlin wall. There was a place at the wall where I got a picture of myself standing between East/West Berlin.

The wait at the Reichstagg was two hours in the heat. At least there was some eye candy to look at while I listened to my Ipod. Once we got past the security and got up the elevator, I was ready to have my mind blown. WRONG. I didn’t care for anything in that dome one bit. The annoying Aussie girl later told me “It was so spectacular, it was better than the Eiffel Tower”. In my opinion, it wasn’t. Then again, maybe I was being biased. I spent a total of 30 minutes in the Reichstagg and left feeling I wasted my time.

I got back to my hostel. The Turkish doner kebab I had earlier that day was digested. I was famished so I ate at the crowded Turkish joint right next to my hostel. I get some fish/potatoes/salad combination that some other guy got. It was delicious. I am loving Turkish food.

I meet some other roommates who just moved in that day, chatted with them about the similarities and differences between the Swedish and Danish language. I had some hot Aussie girls as roommates in Amsterdam, these girls were the complete opposite so fuggedaboutit. It’s their annoying selves mostly. All they spoke off was getting drunk and called me boring for not wanting to pub crawl. Anyway, I was focused on netbook, trying to organize pictures from the day. When I look up, an Asian girl was sitting in the bunk next to mine. Oh hello.

So I strike up a conversation with her. She’s in her second year of college studying linguistics (her passion) at Cornell, and was studying for the summer in Leiden, Netherlands. I like languages too and wish I knew more than I do (would be awesome to belt out fluent French, German, Russian etc.) so she sounded pretty cool. She’s shy and soft-spoken, moved to Massachussettes when she was 12 from China. We had something in common there. Immigrant kids. Anyway, she’s so shy and quiet and if you know me, I’m not exactly a boisterous talkative person but I take the initiative in conversations.

She was travelling for a month around Europe and the fact I probably won’t see her again after tomorrow, we went out for a walk at night. It doesn’t get dark until 11 pm here so we had a good hour of walking around our neighborhood which I haven’t checked out yet. It was a Turkish part of town, there were Turkish restaurants, grocery stores, hookah bars (not hooker, HOOKAH). So we get back, I skyped my family and when I got back, she was asleep. I was a little disappointed I wouldn’t have more time to hang with her.

Next morning, I woke up early, I shower, head down for breakfast. She comes down later. I hang around, chatting with the Aussie and American dudes at the table. I didn’t really speak to her because she was quiet and I was in the middle of a conversation with the guys when she came. I realize it was getting late and I had to catch a train, then bus to Prague. I had stayed a bit longer hoping to chat with her but these dudes were at the table so it wasn’t too easy to talk freely. I said goodbye to everyone there, walked off. I figured, hell, that’s life, that’s backpacking. I’m just not that lucky. I connect with people and the next day, it’s all gone, we all go our separate ways, never to see each other again.

I look at my watch. It is 8:35 am. I have to take a long train ride and get to the bus before it leaves at 9 am. I am panicking a little bit. I cannot control the train schedule. We make so many stops it started to irritate me. It was 8:55 am when I got to the next train. Only 2 more stops, and I could make a dash for the bus and just catch it. At least I hoped for that. The next train to take me gets here in 5 minutes. My heart sank. There was no time. I was going to miss the bus. Sure enough, I ran all the way with 30 pounds on my back, to the bus stop. It was gone. I missed it by 5 minutes.

My face said it all. I wasted €34 for nothing. All because I tried to hang around to talk to a girl a little more. I could’ve been here early. The Eurolines ticket seller felt bad for me, she offered to apply some loopholes and get my 3:00 pm ticket for €22.50. I paid up, then thought to myself, I guess I now have to wait for another 5.5 hours. I didn’t want to waste my time at that bus station. I put my bag in a locker (€4) and since I had recommended she check out the Sandman’s walking tour, I thought I’d join her for it. Sure enough, I show up and she’s there. I told her my story and she must’ve thought “What an idiot” but it was for laughs. I go through about half the walking tour again (I’m a super expert now on portions of Berlin). We take a picture at Checkpoint Charlie. After 2 hours, I said goodbye again to her. At least it felt like a proper goodbye. I walk down the steps of the Stadmitte U-bahn station. It was 1 pm, I wasn’t going to be late for this bus. A €25 lesson on not being late but also another 2 hours with a pretty cool person. I don’t feel too bad about it. I didn’t plan on it but that’s just how it went.

I stopped by a restaurant near the bus station. Schnizel sounded good right about now, I was starving. €5.50 later, I was full, glad my last moments in Berlin was enjoyable.

The bus is driving by a beautiful Czech river with houses built all around the banks and hill tops. The view is stunning. I am on the bus to Prague.

edit : woops, forgot to add the link to the pictures