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I'm a bit daunted writing about Berlin.  

Somehow I'm happy to put down a couple of paragraphs about many other cities and towns I've visited but there are some that seem too complicated for a quick 'off the cuff' summary.  Sydney of course, my present home town, and past home towns like New York and London.  I know just too much about them for a glib first impression.

Although I've never lived there I've visited Berlin on several occasions for periods of up to a couple of weeks.  I also have family there and have been introduced to their circle of friends.

So I decided that I can't really sum Berlin up, any more that I can sum up London or New York, so instead I should pick some aspects of uniqueness to highlight. 

The most obvious difference when one gets of the plane is that people in Berlin speak, read and write in German.

Despite being told that tourists can easily make themselves understood in Germany because almost everyone speaks some English, the reverse is not true. 

Try sitting in a café over brunch with a group of German friends who are not about to attempt to communicate amongst themselves in poor English just so you can follow.  You will find yourself sitting there smiling like an idiot as they laugh and chatter, until you know enough German to catch the drift of the conversation or someone takes pity and fills you in.

For English speakers, normal domestic life, like shopping in the supermarket, can also be tricky. Some groceries are obvious, like different varieties of cheese, but can you distinguish full cream, light or skim milk from sour milk or yoghurt; or hair conditioner from shampoo?  Even using the S-Bahn or U-Bahn can be tricky.  It's simple until a train is cancelled or a line closed and there are alternate route instructions in German only.

 

Catching a train can be tricky
Catching an alternative train - I've decided that these are properly named: Ironic Columns
It's the same pun in German so I'm not at all sure the ionic caps aren't a deliberate joke

 

What would you expect?  Of course you need to learn some German it you want to go there for any length of time and would like to move outside the standardised tourist bubble.  I've talked about organised package tours elsewhere.  They're appropriately named as each tourist becomes a package to be labelled and dispatched here and there; contained by bus and hotel or moving as a self-protective organic group.

Then there are 'The Things to See'.  Every city in the world has a unique list of places and things to see that the tour companies have identified, prioritised and put on their itineraries:  "You went to Sydney and didn't climb the Bridge?  Oh, you missed the best bit!"

In Berlin it's the Brandenburg Gate; Checkpoint Charlie; remnants of The Wall; the memorial to murdered Jews; the Fernsehturm (television tower); the Reichstag (parliament building) Dome; the Berliner Dom (the cathedral); and the nearby museums. 

 

Brandenburg Gate; Checkpoint Charlie; Reichstag and its dome; Berliner Dom; Fernsehturm

 

But like the iconic places in other cities, Berliners go about their business hardly giving these tourist 'must sees' a second look, disturbed only by annoying tour groups blocking pedestrian traffic.

 

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Travel

Denmark

 

 

  

 

 

In the seventies I spent some time travelling around Denmark visiting geographically diverse relatives but in a couple of days there was no time to repeat that, so this was to be a quick trip to two places that I remembered as standing out in 1970's: Copenhagen and Roskilde.

An increasing number of Danes are my progressively distant cousins by virtue of my great aunt marrying a Dane, thus contributing my mother's grandparent's DNA to the extended family in Denmark.  As a result, these Danes are my children's cousins too.

Denmark is a relatively small but wealthy country in which people share a common language and thus similar values, like an enthusiasm for subsidising wind power and shunning nuclear energy, except as an import from Germany, Sweden and France. 

They also like all things cultural and historical and to judge by the museums and cultural activities many take pride in the Danish Vikings who were amongst those who contributed to my aforementioned DNA, way back.  My Danish great uncle liked to listen to Geordies on the buses in Newcastle speaking Tyneside, as he discovered many words in common with Danish thanks to those Danes who had settled in the Tyne valley.

Nevertheless, compared to Australia or the US or even many other European countries, Denmark is remarkably monocultural. A social scientist I listened to last year made the point that the sense of community, that a single language and culture confers, creates a sense of extended family.  This allows the Scandinavian countries to maintain very generous social welfare, supported by some of the highest tax rates in the world, yet to be sufficiently productive and hence consumptive per capita, to maintain among the highest material standards of living in the world. 

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I had my doubts about this steed. Our two big bags wouldn't fit in the boot. One had to be strapped in on the back seat - a bit disappointing.

At above 130, the speed limit, there's something odd about the steering – so much so that I stopped quite soon to check the tyre pressures. I was regretting my choice.

Reassured about the tyres we set off again.

On the plus side the fuel consumption seemed OK and the zoned climate control worked well.

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Bertrand Russell

 

 

Bertrand Russell (Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3rd Earl Russell, OM, FRS (18 May 1872 – 2 February 1970)) has been a major influence on my life.  I asked for and was given a copy of his collected Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell for my 21st birthday and although I never agreed entirely with every one of his opinions I have always respected them.

 

In 1950 Russell won the Nobel Prize in literature but remained a controversial figure.  He was responsible for the Russell–Einstein Manifesto in 1955. The signatories included Albert Einstein, just before his death, and ten other eminent intellectuals and scientists. They warned of the dangers of nuclear weapons and called on governments to find alternative ways of resolving conflict.   Russell went on to become the first president of the campaign for nuclear disarmament (CND) and subsequently organised opposition to the Vietnam War. He could be seen in 50's news-reels at the head of CND demonstrations with his long divorced second wife Dora, for which he was jailed again at the age of 89.   The logo originally designed for the CND, the phallic Mercedes, became widely used as a universal peace symbol in the 60s and 70s, particularly in hippie communes and crudely painted on VW camper-vans.

 

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