Tag Archives: trains

Germany, Berlin – (final post from Berlin) – Street Art and cruising around the city – my personal potpourri

For my last Berlin post I am offering up a collection of visuals including street art, parks, statuary and stuff that took my eye. I am definitely coming back soon…..this is a super cool place. Grungy and elegant all at once.

Street art is to be found all around the city so I took a specific tour to see the things I would not have stumbled on myself in some of the grungier parts of the city.

The building below is in the City Centre and you have to admire the colorful effect on three sides of this wall – including the TV Tower and Einstein of course – how Berlin can you get?

Ackerstrasse, Berlin

The works below are in the Hackesche Hofe – now a very gentrified part of town but this alleyway which reminded me of Hosier Lane in Melbourne is the bit that is kept for the artists. The man on the left is not Barack but Otto Weidt who lived here and employed mostly blind and deaf Jews. After the war started he helped to falsify their documents and hid a whole family behind a cupboard in his shop. I didn’t have time to go inside to check out the museum – next time. The Anne Frank is by Jimmy C (English born but Australian) who was commissioned to do it.

Hackesche Hofe and other spots displaying street art

The street art pieces below were my favourites in Hackesche Hofe

Another spot for commissioned street art (if that expression isn’t an oxymoron) is the East Side Gallery – a portion of the Berlin Wall that was deliberately left up so that invited artists could do their thing. I think it has become a bit too touristy and permanent – on the whole, my preference is for transient street art.

Examples from the East Side Gallery including the well known kiss between Brezhnev and Honecker

On the right, more from the East Side Gallery and on the left a very effective piece of art at Oberbaumbrucke

Finally we went to the very grungy parts of Kreuzberg and also the Gurleiter Park – usually in the news for drug busts and suchlike but in the afternoon it was indeed grungy and one nutter did come up to us and tell us what he’d like to do to our mothers but other than it was fine – so glad I grew up in Central London sometimes! here the art tends to be more political and very anti gentrification – in Kreuzberg they are very proud that over 200,000 people signed a petition not to allow another MacDonalds in the area (and sadly they are everywhere else in Berlin). It has a large Turkish population and as a result it is a great place to eat excellent Turkish food.

Some clear messages in Kreuzberg

Talking of food – as I usually am. My contributions for this blog will be “cake and chocolate as art” as seen in the food department of the biggest department store – KadeWe – jaw dropping.

My idea of ‘cake art’

How does anyone ever choose out of these?

The nice thing about a long stay is you can really get to understand the public transport and use it effortlessly (well after a few days!). I loved gadding about on the Ubahn and Sbahn – especially as they never seem to get ridiculously crowded even in the rush hour.

Trains at Ostbahnhof

As my hotel was very close to the Tiergarten – which is really like a forest in the middle of the city, I took the opportunity on many occasions to just stroll around listening to an Audible book on my ipods. Exercise, beautiful visuals and reading – great multi-tasking.

Walking in the Tiergarten

More scenes in the Tiergarten

The memorial to the persecuted LGBTI community with lots of flowers as I was there during Christopher St Parade. Also rock sculpture in the Tier Garden – a global art project but entertaining to me is that one of them was a joint US, German and Venezuelan project – probably wouldn’t happen today!

And I didn’t only go to museums – I also appreciated learning about the city, it’s history, the damage during the War, the Wall and the eventual rebuilding of the City of 1990 onwards – and to be honest it is still a work in progress with a lot of construction (or rather re-construction) to be seen at every corner.

I hadn’t really understood the way in which both Germany and Berlin were divided up after the WW2. First Germany was divided into four occupied parts – Soviet, French, US and British and the same was done to Berlin but this put the city into the strange position of being totally surrounded by Soviet occupied Germany even though three portions of if were Western controlled. When the Cold War took off a few years later and Stalin reneged on the deals with the Allies he really wanted all of Berlin and because he was in charge of all of Germany surrounding it he sieged the city and wouldn’t allow food into it in an attempt to cause those in the Western parts to surrender to his power. But luckily the Brits, US and French weren’t having any of that and for the 11 months of the siege those countries used the area around the now defunct Templehof airport and dropped food and supplies out of the sky (apparently every 90 seconds and known as the Berlin Airlift) to the people of West Berlin so they did not starve and in the end Stalin realised it was not going to be so easy to get his hands on all of Berlin after all.

Another good outcome of getting up early is to see the Brandenburg Gate before the crowds arrive – although the cleaners were hard at it as it was the morning after the Christopher Parade so a lot of beer bottles around – all gone by 10am. It has been recently cleaned up so looks great and it is worth remembering that this famous monument was located in the Death Strip (or No Man’s land) when the Wall was put up so no-one on either side saw it at all for 30 years!

Brandenburg Tor

Always something different to see – the Red Rathaus O(old) and the new (ish) TV Tower, the Gendarmenmarkt and the famous border crossing Checkpoint Charlie.

The varying sites in the centre of Berlin

The construction below is of the massive Humboldt Palace and an example of how much is going on in the city of this kind of thing. It should be completed later this year and I am sure will be another fantastic place to visit. It’s always nice to catch a glimpse of the Victory statue on the main road that separates on the two parts of the Tiergarten

The places you see wandering around Berlin

Old and new mingle well in Berlin

Just as I was leaving the Adlon Hotel my eye was caught by a Bank (yes really!). It is a big building sandwiched between the Adlon and the Brandenburg Tor and I am so glad I wandered to the entrance to take a look. It is the HQ of the DZ Bank and the interior was designed by Frank Gerry (never saw any mention of that in my guide books). I’ve seen a lot of atriums in my time (usually just four sides and a square hole in the middle) but this has Gehry’s usual flare and creativity. What a great place to work. Apparently the area at the bottom can be used as a large auditorium. Nice surprise.

The DZ Bank Corporate Centre

Goodbye to Berlin – it’s been a blast – and I forgot to mention how much I enjoyed a live performance of Cabaret in German in a tented theatre with seats in cabaret style in one of the many central parks. A musical I love and great to see it where it was set. Life is a Cabaret old Chum…..

Cabaret Live in Berlin

Canada, BC and Alberta – Great railway journeys of the world – I ride the Rocky Mountaineer

I am definitely getting a thing for train travel. When I lived in Vancouver I was always waving people off as they took this journey but I never found the time to do it then so this time I finally got to ride the Rocky Mountaineer from Vancouver to Banff. 

This is a full two day journey with an overnight stay in Kamloops BC. The train is a double decker if you travel gold leaf with an oval glass roof so visibility is excellent but it is cleverly tinted to ensure easy viewing but no roasting under the sun. Seats are large and comfortable and even have heating should you need it. The train does not stop along the way but does slow down around the most scenic areas and each carriage has an open air vestibule you can stand on to get an outdoors perspective. Food is excellent and plentiful with a separate dining car on the lower level of the carriage you are in and drinks are in plentiful supply. Each carriage has two hosts who point out what to look at and historical info. 

These photos will give a flavour of what you see from your window – the train itself and then bridges, scenery, trees, rivers and lakes. A good experience although slightly marred by the impact of smoke haze from the bush fires in BC.

The world famous Rocky Mountaineer


Below include Doris whose dog always barks when the RM engine goes by (But not when the freight trains go by – and there are loads of them. This brings Doris out to wave and we all waved back. Actually a lot of people wave at the train – Canadians are very friendly:)


Rivers and Lakes are on the “doorstep” of your train carriage.

Rivers and lakes along the the Rocky Mountaineer route

Kyoto – Bamboo Grove complemented by the less famous kimono grove and an Observation of the Day about train travel in Japan

My friend Margot recommended a visit to the bamboo groves on the west side of Kyoto – it was well worth finding my way there on the train. The first set of pictures shows an artistic interpretation of the grove using kimono patterns in cones all over the station. Apparently they are lit up at night so very pretty. As you can see, even the train matches in nicely. And would you believe on the train platform there is also a sulphur foot bath you can use for a small payment to soothe your feet after a hard day’s walking and everyone waiting for a train can watch you. Didn’t seem to put people off. I thought this was really neat.

Kimono columns at Arashiyama Station


And then I walked on to the real thing. 15 minutes through this amazing environment – quite extraordinary and not like anything I’ve seen before.


OBSERVATION OF THE DAY – Train Travel – Gotta love it. Here’s how it goes. Get a JR rail pass before you leave home as unless you only plan one train journey it will likely be cheaper than paying as you go. Japan, as my friends in the UK will appreciate, has a train system that is owned by multiple suppliers so JR rail is only valid for the train lines they own (quite a few of the expensive ones eg. Kyoto to Tokyo) but you have to pay for other trips. But that is where any similarity to the UK train systems ends. 

Trains are spotless and cleaned by staff in white gloves in many station stops and always immediately at the end of the line before turning round for the return journey. They are always on time. They always have a cart that comes through to sell you coffee and food – and it’s not half bad. They have a conductor who walks through the carriages to review tickets and greets and bows to the customers in each carriage (how come I never managed to get my work colleagues to do that to me I wonder?!?)  and they are wearing smarter suits than I’ve seen in many office environments. At the end of the line when they are due to go in the opposite direction the seats make a balletic twirl and turn around meaning that everyone can face forward on every train but equally should they want to sit in a square they can do that too if they prefer.Everyone queues in an orderly fashion on the platform and remain orderly when the train arrives – no-one ever pushes in or shoves you. And most amazing is that every employee at the stations even the large and busy ones can speak “train English” – give them a destination and departure time and they immediately know which platform to direct you too – they seemed to have learned the whole timetable off by heart. Big tick as an excellent way to travel in Japan

Trains in Kyoto Station. Coffee and food is provided with a little bag to put your rubbish in once you are done