Stopover Berlin

Traveling from Reykjavik to Bishkek isn’t so common, but you can get there in a pretty straight line as long as you have enough time for stopovers. I spent less than 24 hours in Berling but managed to visit two Icelandic horse fanatics (both Germans who I met on tour in Iceland) and their extensions (boyfriend, father, child, mother, horse). I got to ride a pony and a big horse, and I have to admit I missed the tolt a little.

Riding with Jana

I drank some German beer and ate a bratwurst, as well as some amazing Indian food, and the highlight of my trip was an interview at Fritz Radio in Potsdam. Here’s a link to it (it’s in German and English), you’ll find my name under interviews.

https://www.fritz.de/sehen-und-hoeren/audios/fritzaktuell/fritzaktuell-feed.html

Next stopover is Istanbul, but only a few hours in the airport, and then a weekend in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

Bavarian Heaven

Bavaria is the kind of place Disneyland should dedicate a theme park to. It would be located somewhere between Frontierland and Toontown, since it has this rugged countryfeel mixed with a colourful fantasy world. People would drink beer out of mugs and the carnival rides would be the same as at Oktoberfest. It would look like a typical Bavarian village, full of big wooden cottages with baskets of flowers hanging from every window, and all the staff in the park would wear dirndls and ledehosen. And maybe they could even speak with cute German accents.

Sandra and her Icelandic horses, with a Bavarian cottage behind her

I arrived in Berlin before taking a train to Munich, and Berlin could never be a part of Bavaria. It has a big-city, modern feel to it, with skyscrapers overshadowing its cobblestoned streets. Its huge, sprawled out with 3 and a half million people and there are 2 or 3 city centers, main train stations and airports (although one is now a huge green space). Munich, the capital of Bavaria, is only 1.3 million, with a pedestrian friendly city centre, full of old, closely-built buildings and churches. In Berlin, my idea of cosy was taking a touristy boat through the canals, and to live like a local meant I ate kebabs and smoked shisha in the Neukölln district. In Munich, I picnicked in Englischer garten, a beautiful park in the centre of town, and stayed in two different Bavarian villages with friends who gave me horses to ride, home made dumpling soup to eat, and swam in lakes with a view of the Alps.

the journalist and the photographer at Tempelhof

But don’t get me wrong, I loved Berlin. Nowhere else in Western Europe is it as cheap to eat and live, and the slogan “poor but sexy” rings so true. I was there for 3 days for an atypical interview. A friend of mine there is a journalist and he was covering my story, but that only took an hour or two, plus a short photo shoot in the abandoned Tempelhof airport, and the rest of the time we watched the Berlin Philharmonic orchestra, patio-furniture shopped, and drank beer and wine on his balcony with the fruits of our shopping trip.

 

these rolling green hills in Olympia park are made of WWII rubble

I took a train to Munich, and the idea of German efficiency was proven time and time again by every long distance train or local U-bahn arriving on schedule down to the exact second. I would watch the minute hand click the same moment the train came to a hault, and I decided to synchronize all my clocks to theirs. I couchsurfed with Phil, a friend of the journalists, in Munich city, who took me on a tour of Olympia park – another huge green space in the city.

my Bavarian family at Oktoberfest

I went to Oktoberfest with Phil and his friends a couple nights and dressed as a boy in an extra pair of his lederhosen. The other nights I was at Oktoberfest with another couchsurfing friend named Kerstin and her entire family, and I stayed in her family’s Bavarian paradise home in Feldafing, close to Sternberger See. On our only day off from Oktoberfest, we went to Andechs, an ancient hill-top monastery that brews amazing beer.

Andechs monastery

I spent my last days in Bavaria with a friend I met in Iceland on one of the horse trips, Sandra, who took me riding on her Icelandic horses near Augsburg. Though it was Oktober, we rode in 25 degree sunshine, to a beer garden only reachable by horse or foot. We had even more beer there for lunch, and now that I’ve escaped to Austria, I’ve started my beer detox since I’ve never imagined that one could drink so much beer in one week.

 

The Real Berlin

I had never been to Germany but have had enough German friends, roommates or classmates to have a few expectations. I kind of chose a bad time of year to visit Berlin, with short days and temperatures dipping below zero almost all day and night. But in some ways it was refreshing to be there in the ‘off’ season, surrounded mostly by local Germans and Turks. In fact I probably met more people from Turkey in my week there, eating a kebab atleast once a day and couchsurfing in the Neukölln neighbourhood where the joke Berlin is the capital of Turkey really rings true.

to the right of this beautiful cathedral you can barely make out the bottom of the TV Tower, disappearing into the fog

Other stereotypes I enjoyed playing on was Germany’s great reputation for delicious sausages and amazing, abundant, cheap beer. I couchsurfed with three different hosts and two chinchillas, who lived with my last host affectionately nicknamed ‘the little nut’ since his last name is Nuesslein.With all three we made a point of sampling some of Weißbie (hefeweizen) and also great white wines from the region – namely Rieslings and Gewurtzraminer. With my host Bjorn in Potsdam we also grilled up some bratwurst sausage and potatoes, eating swiss chocolates for dessert. It was no Bocuse d’or meal but Im always happy with the rich foods and delicatessen culture in European dining that Iceland doesn’t as easily afford.

the central train station, big and grey

My Icelandic friend Bjorgvin met me in Berlin and we spent one day taking the metro and double decker buses around town seeing all the must-see sights and tourist attractions. Every once in a while we had to duck into a store or coffee house to defrost but we made it almost all day running around Potsdamer Plats, Brandenburger Tor, Museum Island, the Holocaust memorial and the great maze of Hauptbahnof (the main train station). We tried to see the TV Tower but the low cloud line meant you couldn’t even see it when you were standing right under it.

The Tacheles gallery, an open, free alternative art space in an otherwise abandoned, unlivable 5 storey building

One our last day we took up the offer from our host, the little nut, to give us the non-touristy tour of Berlin, what he called the Real Berlin. We started at the eerie Tempelhof airport, visited the Tacheles art gallery, went to East side Gallery to visit a part of the old Berlin Wall, and ended at the best veggie burger restaurant I’ve ever been to. We followed up with dessert from Mustafa’s kebab stand – the best veggie meal and rightfully most famous kebab stand in Berlin.