Tag Archive: Stasi Museum

Berlin & Szczecin

My annual pilgrimage to Berlin was 6-12 December this year.  Xmas markets, Currywurst and Köstritzer were just three of the things I was looking forward to.  And boy was it needed – I was working right down to the wire, there was no early check-out of work and certain other people in the office were turning into basket cases as it dawned that I wasn’t going to be around for a week.

I managed to secure a lunchtime flight this time so didn’t have to worry about getting up early.  It might cost a few more pounds but not rushing to the airport at 6am is totally worth it.  Anyway, checked in fine, passed through security without being dragged aside for looking like Walter Heisenberg and had brunch at Giraffe (Huveos Rancheros & an espresso martini for dessert!) before boarding.  There was a certain amount of whispering going on – eavesdropped harder and realised that Ricky Gervase was on the plane and everyone had noticed.  Probably more exciting celeb spot at Heathrow than Chris Eubank a few years ago.

Flight was ok, had the entire row of seats to myself on row 20, landed as the sun was setting and was able to make a quick getaway from the airport over to Kurfürstendamm as I was staying in Schönberg rather than Friedrichshain.  Naturally I got off the bus at the wrong stop (one too early) and had a longer schlep down the road to the hotel.  Still, I got to walk through my first market – ominously guarded by large black concrete barriers.

The hotel – the Axel – is sited about three minutes away from Wittenbergplatz U Bahn station, next to KaDaWe so for me, it was slap-bang in the centre.  Day 1, I was content just to unpack and head out to the markets looking for dinner and a beer rather than experience the comforts of the hotel – as there is an onsite gym, spa and rooftop Jacuzzi.

I didn’t venture very far, back to Ku’damm in fact.  Just wanted to poke around the stalls, see what was hot, what was not etc.  Crowds were half local, half tourists.  I dunno if it was my imagination but there were more food stands in evidence and fewer ornament/gift-type stalls.  Either way I enjoyed my food and then went out for a couple of drinks and then back to the hotel to pass out.

Slept badly – new bad makes for an uncomfortable Joe although the room temperature was just right.  Fortunately, that issue didn’t bother me for the rest of the stay.  Dragged myself out of bed as I had some planning to do. Y’see, one of the goals of the tip was to have a day trip to Poland, to Szczecin as it’s within easy reach of Berlin.  I had a look at ticket prices on Deutsche Bahn and they seemed to vary wildly.  Tried to book a fixed-train ticket but the site would not let me make a reservation and in the end, I took the U Bahn over to the Hauptbahnhof so that I could obtain a ticket from the Reiseburo there.

If you are planning to travel to Szczecin from Berlin, DO NOT TRY AND BOOK A TICKET ONLINE!  I was able to get an open day return from the ticket office at the station for 1/3 the cost of the online stated price at €22.  With that reward in my pocket, I decided to go east to attend to my second goal of my trip, a visit to the Stasi Museum in Lichtenberg (and coincidentally, where I’d need to get the train back from the next day).

The museum was very confusing to find that day because of all the filming going on – some TV or movie.  The Ministerial floor (i.e. head of the Stasi) was totally out of bounds that day so I only got to visit floors 1 & 3.  But what I did get to see (history, rooms etc) was very informative and I found I could read most of the German as well as the English translations (very happy).  It’s worth a visit, doesn’t cost much to enter and a good warning on the dangers of state surveillance.

Post-museum, it was to Galeria Kaufhof for clothes shopping, back to the hotel and then for something to eat at the nearby Mexican place before trying out the hotel spa for a late night sweat and steam.  All in all, a good first full day.

Friday: Poland.  Got up early, headed over to the station early and had a McDonald’s breakfast as the queues were shorter before hopping on the train.  It was a Regio train – double decker.  It was a nice smooth ride with a change at Angemünde which is the other side of the Schorfheide-Chorin Biosphere Reserve.  Arrived in Szczecin around 11.  Remembering the advice by novelist Sue Townsend (when in a new city, deliberately get lost so as to take your time and see things properly), I turned right at the station instead of left so that I could sweep the city via the south rather than enter right into the city centre.  I’m glad I did, as I got to see some interesting things.

I wanted something traditionally Polish for lunch but could I find anything?  Could I hell.  It wasn’t until I ventured into the Galaxy Shopping centre that I found a nice place in the food court and had something that cost me by weight rather than by item; escalop, boiled potatoes, curried beetroot and creamed spinach – very not bad.  And of all coincidences, I sat next to the only other British people in the food court.

Did a little shopping (Xmas t-shirt, Polish version of the board game Incan Gold), saw more sights, bought souvenirs, took the 1730 train home rather than the 1930 and then scrambled around looking for somewhere to eat which ended up being the Vietnamese place round the corner from Nollendorfplatz U Bahn.  Good stuff.

Saturday is when the snow started.  There was a light dusting on the ground when I woke up – but a good chunk of it had already melted.  I didn’t leave the hotel until just before noon as I didn’t get out of bed until really late.  All that walking around Szczecin had taken it out of me.  Kept the day pretty loose with a wander around Alexanderplatz (clothes), Friedrichshain – the Zozoville Gallery as that was another “must do” item on the list of activities.  Then back to the hotel for a couple of hours in the spa where I sat in the rooftop Jacuzzi in the middle of a snow flurry.  It was a surreal and very memorable experience.  Eventually dragged myself out to have a massage from the hotel masseur, a very late dinner in Vapiano and then a night at Woof.

The snow didn’t loiter the next day in Berlin although a number of the Brits in the hotel were annoyed as their Sunday flights home had been cancelled as the UK had its usual panic.  The week before when there was a brief snowfall in the morning, I made the joke of “look, there’s five snowflakes, better cancel public transport in its entirety”.  Clearly someone didn’t get the humorous nature of my comment.  I was half worried but also half praying that the snow would cancel my flight so I’d stay on in Berlin at BA’s expense.

I had to admit being somewhat lost on Sunday for want of something to do.  I’d accomplished everything I’d wanted to do with the sole exception of Monday’s activities.  Something I hadn’t done was to pop over to Potsdamerplatz so went over to see what they had going.  Totally forgot about their Bretzel market stand with all sorts of savory items for sale but in the end plumped for a Knusperwurst; basically Currywurst in a crispy batter as a bowl.  Totally fattening, unhealthy and delicious.  On a whim, I went to the Museum of Espionage just down the road, part of which rehashed the Stasi Museum but there was more from the BDR side of events.  I didn’t participate in the laser web room: the memory of my Crystal Maze experience was too raw still…

Thought I’d try the Schnitzel restaurant around the corner from the hotel for dinner.  An obvious tourist trap but I didn’t care.  Glad I did – had one of the best waiters ever who conversed with me in my broken, incorrect German and the food…the food was exquisite.  First of all, I didn’t expect a piece of Schnitzel the size of a hatbox and secondly, the local brew served was a great accompaniment.  I read my book, watching the snow cover the streets outside.  By the time I was done, I had to go straight to bed, bloated and barely able to stay conscious.

Monday was my last full day and the plan was the Boiler, the Xmas market for those last minute gifts and Zsa Zsa Burger.  As always, the Boiler was a treat and I managed four hours before I had enough.  Rather than going back to the hotel, I went east to Alex yet again because I was toying with the idea of buying a SNES-mini from Mediamarkt.  Although virtually impossible to get a hold of (now) in the UK, they had a stack of them – albeit pricier.  It took twenty minutes of prevaricating before I decided not to buy.  I just couldn’t justify it.

Zsa Zsa once again, was a real treat.  I had the Kentucky Burger (Bourbon marinated burger topped with roasted bellpeppers and Swiss Raclette cheese) and three rather loaded cocktails, rounded off by a piece of cheesecake.  On the off-chance I’d have fallen into the river Spree, I’d have sank like a boulder.  Managed a final drink in Woof before passing out.

Tuesday morning – checked feverishly BA’s flight schedule – only two cancelled flights that day and neither of which were mine.  I was at something of a loss for things to do and on a whim, spent an hour in the spa before I had to leave.  Somehow, I still had about €150 on me and I made myself a half-promise that if I came across an opportunity to buy that damn SNES-mini, I would.  The nearest Mediamarkt was a distance away and I _could_ have gone into Karstadt but saw the bus across the road to the airport so decided on that instead.  KaDaWe didn’t have anything.

Had a really nice toasted advocado bagel for lunch which I lingered over before heading over to the check-in counter where I anticipated stupidly long queues of people packed onto the flight owing to cancellations.  I was right.  The queues were stupidly long.  This is when the worst part of the trip happened; y’see, it was chaos at the airport, or rather at the BA check in desk.  Obviously frazzled people weren’t thinking straight at all and were behaving like klutzes.  My flight and the next flight to London City were not that far apart and passengers for both were being admitted at more or less the same time so the waiting area was chaotic.  Then when it came time to call us for the plane, they called business class & oneworld members – but for those of us in cattle class were we called?  Were we hell!  And because the lounge was full of LCY passengers too, there was no mass exodus to serve as an example, just dribs of people disappearing but with a critical mass remaining.  Of course I’d checked in so there’d have been an announcement by passenger name but I just thought it was pretty shoddy of BA to have stiffed us over like this.  And there wasn’t any of the usual friendly greetings/farewells.  The only thing I could do was leave them snotty feedback on their inevitable post-flight questionnaire.

As usual, the trip back from the airport to home was the inevitable homicidal rage-inducing event.  I felt compelled to yell at several people behaving in a brain-dead fashion.  I rarely do this in normal circumstances but when I’ve a suitcase in tow, give me a wide berth.  Got home, dumped off bag, headed out for the finale of the Griffin quiz where we won the season prize of afternoon tea at Mr Foggs gin emporium for six.  Very nice.


More from Mitte


End of the working week today (assuming this is finished/published on Friday and not three weeks hence or whatever). Yesterday, I was feeling somewhat drained folks, a combination of post-holiday fatigue and Wednesday’s office lunch which began at 12.30, moved to the pub around 3pm and where we remained for eight hours. It wasn’t a pretty sight when I came home. The food was very good (hats off in particular to the sweet pumpkin dish), the company pleasant, the crackers appalling and the twenty or so games of Spyfall very welcome.

Picking up from the last blog entry, the rest of the Berlin trip was pretty quiet, pretty chilled. I was able to wander around the city mostly unaffected by ankle problems and as reported, my shoes and I have reached a state of détente. I think that all in all, I visited a dozen Xmas markets, most of which were the usual tat but the ones at Alexanderplatz and outside the Kaiser Wilhelm memorial church had more arts and crafts and handmade goods than the others. I bought a couple of odds and sods (pictures maybe in the next blog entry), drank some Glüwein, ate some bratwurst and dodged the pickpockets – there was one who wasn’t being discreet but after a fierce scowl, she skulked off.

General shopping: not much. Only bought a single pullover in a sale which is a massive change from the usual haul. Sweets & chocolate – naturally although that’ll mostly be given away. Except the Ritter Sport and the Riesen Pieces. I also bought myself a Lego kit of Berlin from the Architecture range. You build your own mini Reichstag, Fernsehenturn, Mauer, Victory Monument, DB Tower and Brandenberg Tor. Spent an hour last night putting it together, very enjoyable. Was tempted by a couple of the board games which had English rules included but ultimately wimped out. And at the Video Game Museum (I had three hours to kill between leaving the hotel and heading to the airport), I bought a Monkey Island towel and a Gameboy cookie cutter. Geek-chic at its finest.

What was old and what was new about this trip? I finally made it to the Communication Museum which was a nice way to spend the Sunday morning – well, it was either that or get drowned in the rain. Worth a trip, especially with a mere €4 entry fee. I also went to a new bunch of eateries – Café Em about ten minutes from the hotel, a Vietmanese café just up the road from the Hotel, few other places that don’t necessarily stick out in my head but were nonetheless all good fare. Of course a lot of time was spent gawping at Xmas markets. Probably spent more time around Kreuzberg and Mitte this time compared with other areas of Berlin. 

Think I need to head out to Spandau and/or Potsdam next time, definitely want to have a day trip to either Leipzig, Dresden or Warsaw. And I’m going to visit the Stasi Museum for sure as well as another museum on the Island.