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Tommy’s travel tip #3: Berlin

March 11th, 2009 3 comments

Pariserplatz, Berlin - before the Brandenburg GateTip #3: Take your earphones everywhere. They are not only useful on long train journeys, but can be plugged into audioguides at most museums and attractions, leaving your hands free unlike the suckers who have to hold the machine to their ears.

Berlin is a fascinating city. It is at once a mixture of Baroque elegance and Soviet austerity. An ornate, cast iron lampost stands on the street corner across from my window, here in East Berlin. It casts its light over a “building” made out of three stacked shipping containers. Across a snow-covered square are banks of Soviet-style housing estates. Tonight, the ground is glistening with snow and sleet. In the distance, the East German TV tower dominates the skyline.

View from the window, towards AlexanderplatzHere in East Berlin, one can hardly turn a corner without running into a reminder of the DDR (German Democratic Republic) – literally. For 50 years, East Berliners marched (well, crossed the street) to a different beat to their Western cousins. Instead of the boring stickfigure, East Berlin pedestrian traffic lights used a cute little bowler-hatted man (called an “Ampelmännchen” in German). This became such an icon that, after the fall of the Berlin wall, the little green men were not only retained, they even found their way across the border onto some West Berlin street corners.

Little red manLittle green man In Berlin, I got my first taste of German efficiency, and I am impressed. While the London tube had seemd like the epitome of efficient public transport compared to Sydney, in Berlin, a complex system of different modes of transport work seamlessly, efficiently, and more or less cheaply. One thing that struck me was that stations don’t have ticket barriers, and ticket inspections are few and far between (I didn’t encounter a single one) – a huge contrast compared to CityRail in Sydney, which seems to dedicate all its efforts into policing for revenue rather than improving service. And to be honest, I am much more willing to pay for a train ride that gets me to where I want to go, even if there are no ticket barriers or inspectors.

Alexanderplatz stationRail stations in Berlin are a revelation. While London takes pride in its Victorian-era arched train sheds, but seems to no longer be able to afford such grandpublic works, Berlin has in recent decades covered many of its major stations with imposing structures. Stations on the intra-city network are often covered by arched, steel-and-glass train sheds. In the historical centre, the external facades of the stations are designed to blend them into the environment. Some look more like cathedrals than stations from the outside. The most impressive is the new Berlin Hauptbahnhof (central station; I love the sound of that word. Dynamic. Germanic. Grand). It has three levels of platforms, with the upper two levels aligned perpendicularly, and each covered by an arched train sheds which together form a cross pattern.

I think beautiful train stations are good for the soul. Commuters are, generally, not in the happiest of moods when they catch public transport. An airy and uplifting station helps to break between the depressing, crowded train ride and the monotony of work. That’s why death is too good a fate for the fools who demolished Euston station.

Inside the dome of the Reichstag - the German parliament building The Reichstag. 'Dem Deutschen Volke' - I translate it as 'Them German Folks' The tower carrying the DB - German railways - logo, viewed from inside the central station

We took a “Free Walking Tour” – they’re organised on the principle of no cost, no fee, and that each participant ‘tips’ the tour guide something like 5 euros at the end of the tour. Our tour guide was not inspirational. She spoke English with a mixed Swedish and Japanese accent. Her guide speeches were dumbed down history lessons with lots of German words: “and so Adolf Hitler was elected Recichskanzler. Adolf was a bad, bad man who wanted to kill Jews.” She was boring. And they made us wait for two hours on the frozen Pariserplatz, the square in front of the Brandenburg Gate, at the start of the tour. I caught a cold.

A Tommy digging into a pork knuckle is a happy TommyDinner, however, made up for the suffering. We walked into a tiny restaurant on Alexanderplatz (a big square near the town hall, with a major station and lots of big, Soviet-style commercial buildings), and asked the proprietor – there was only one guy there – to see the menu. “No menu.” He said, in English. We didn’t really know how to respond. “Well, what do you have to eat, then…” He opened the oven door, and pointed out the racks upon racks of roast pork knuckles. I was sold, on the spot. The pork knuckles came served with gravy, mustard, mashed potatoes, saurkraut and purple cabbages. It was probably the best pork knuckle I’ve ever had, and – even better – was only €6.50! Awesome.

Until next time, from the land of pork and beer.

Humboldt University Law School - now brought to you by Mercedes-Benz

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March 5th, 2009 No comments

Clerkships – Training contracts – Vacation schemes – Jobs

The Hong Kong Law Fair will be coming to the University of Sydney this year, and it’s being coordinated by the Chinese Law Students Society. Register now to attend!

(Free plug =D i’m serving on the Old Men Committee for the fair.)

March 2nd, 2009 No comments

Q: What’s the difference between an i-banker and a sloth?
A: The i-banker sleeps as much as the sloth is awake.

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