berlin wall

Niemand hat die Absicht, eine Mauer zu errichten!“ (No one has the intention of erecting a wall!) – Walter Ulbricht

berlin escape plane

I went to Germany last year and our last stop before Frankfurt was Berlin. This is the birthplace of the (in)famous Berlin Wall. It was built in 1961 to separate the socialist East Germany from the democratic West Germany. Confusingly, the socialist East Germans called themselves the German Democratic Republic but in effect, the Berlin Wall split Berlin into two parts – East Berlin and West Berlin.

berlin hook escape text
Using a arrow with a fishing line to escape…

hook escape berlin
…with the original contraption here.

You can read more about the politics behind it in Wikipedia but for people on the ground, it just created two different versions of currywurst. smirk I’m kidding, it had a lot of watchtowers, death zones and creative people smuggling methods but nowadays, it’s just another tourist trap which you need to pay to have your photograph taken. It is however, a very interesting tourist trap.

checkpoint-charlie

I’ve also been to the Korean DMZ but the important difference between the two is that one of them has been brought down (no the DMZ is perfectly intact).

berlin wall art

The fall of the Berlin Wall has brought capitalism into full force – there’s a museum there that sells chunks of the Berlin Wall for up to 50 Euros (which comes complete with a certificate of authenticity). Picking up fragments of the Berlin Wall is illegal – it has to be done by the museum, no kidding, that’s democracy for you! ;)

berlin museum

I went to the Museum Haus am Checkpoint Charlie – also known as Mauermuseum (The Wall Museum) – and surreptitiously took a couple of photographs. You’re not supposed to but then again it’s not enforced so I just took a couple of non-flash pictures.

car boot berlin

You can see the full extent of what it’s like to live there when the Berlin Wall was intact. People were smuggled from East Berlin to West Berlin through the checkpoint in the Berlin Wall (occasionally with bullets flying from behind as the US-backed West Berlin brought the refugees to safety).

suitcase escape

There were people packed in suitcases! This is a life-sized example and I can imagine how desperate the people were to escape to subject themselves to this. Some of these suitcases were hand-carried through (!!!) while some hidden between real luggage in the boot of a car. Keep in mind that if you get caught, you do not pass Go and you certainly don’t collect $200 dollars.

fake cans berlin

Banned illegal literature were also smuggled the other way (West Berlin to East Berlin) via canned goods, which were actually empty. This is the actual canning machine and cans used at that time – it was donated to the museum like the other exhibits.

fake bottom trunk

The most interesting thing about this museum is that they had all the actual suitcases, cars, and even planes that people used to circumvent the Berlin Wall!

hot air balloon

There’s even a successful attempt by hot air balloon (a homemade one stitched out of nylon to boot) which brought 2 families (8 people) over to West Germany in a 28 minute flight.

kayak escape

One dude even attempted to kayak through the patrolled waters. The “kayak” was made of inflatable material, with aluminium foil to er, foil radar, and the sail was built of hockey sticks! He succeeded.

berlin mini sub

Another interesting water escape was done with a home-made mini submarine. It’s the first of it’s kind in the world, an internal combustion engine powered by gasoline. The guy who built it was a 28 year old chemical worker who took a year to build the sub. Bernd Bottger was hired after he escaped via heavy seas and apparently a lot of the mini subs now is based on his design! You know, the propelling subs you see in James Bond films – this guy invented those with several patents to his name! There are sports/rescue models doing 6 mph and military ones nowadays hitting 11 mph using this design.

mini sub berlin

However, the thing that I found most amazing is a family of four that escaped with a totally wacky home made plane. This “plane” is made up of all sorts of junk – the father made a seat, hooked up a car engine (!) to a propeller, put a piece of plywood for his wife and two children, donned a helmet and wished for the best.

homemade plane

The “plane” is still in the museum.

homemade plane berlin

I bought two pieces of original Berlin Wall fragments with documents of authenticity. One of them is in my home in Sibu. It’s just pieces of rock but it comes with a blue certificate and a booklet about the Berlin Wall – perfect piece for coffee table or mantle.

berlin wall memorial

The Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer (Berlin Wall Memorial) is a much more interesting place to go – you can see the horrors of what actually happened (which is no joke, a lot of people died trying to sneak over and you can see how hard it is to actually make the crossing).

bulletproof car

However, in the spirit of democracy (and it’s partner commercialism) I also went to Checkpoint Charlie to get my photo taken. This is the only border crossing in the Berlin Wall which allows foreigners (diplomats like Americans) to cross. It’s now staffed by Germans in Allied uniform and what the online trip reports tell you is true.

berlin wall portrait

They don’t allow people to take photos without paying up first. They’ll use the huge American flags to cover the checkpoint and themselves if you attempt to take a photo. No kidding! However, for a small token payment they’ll be happy to give you a cap and pose with you. I paid 2 Euros for a photo op.

checkpoint charlie photo

A fellow traveler took this one for me. A lot of other people tried to take opportunistic photos and the two guards even covered *me* with the American flag (including themselves and the checkpoint) all the while shouting “No photos without payment” or something to that effect.

berlin wall line

It seriously took me 5 minutes just to get my photo taken coz they cover everything up whenever someone tries to take a photo so my friend had to get it during the lull (and they had to verify with me that she was indeed the person that was designated to take my photo).

american sector

All this for just a couple of Euros. That’s what the Berlin Wall has come to but it is a highly entertaining place – both blue cheese kitschy and drop dead somber at the same time. I highly recommend a visit if you’re in Berlin! :)

fail

Fail

fail deux

Fail

pass

Pass

I only managed to get it right on the third shot and that’s coz I flipped the LCD screen 180 degrees so I could see myself and frame the shot. I was aiming for a dSLR look with a heavily defocused background. I’m really bad in self-portraits – I think the technical term for this is camwhoring. ;)

protestant church

That’s the most famous Protestant church in Dresden right there. I travel around quite a bit – I just came back from Germany and I went to Jakarta before that. I couldn’t make it to another one this month due to a conflicting date but I’ll be heading to Nepal and the Philippines next month.

bratwurst

I’m what the industry call a FIT (Free and Independent Traveler). Basically, what that means is that you’re the adventurous trailblazing type who tends to go backpacking alone. That perfectly describes my two previous trips to Europe. This is the third.

I’ve had no problems with people running away with my camera, not even in the slums of Sri Lanka (don’t ask) or going on a totally badass adventure in Georgia with strangers. You need someone to take your photos when you’re traveling alone and while I’m not a huge fan of camwhoring, I concede that it’s very useful sometimes.

sony

The picture above is of the Sony Center in Berlin – the only one that has a cinema which shows English movies without subtitles. I brought the Sony NEX-F3 to Germany. All the photos in this post was taken using that. I wanted to see if it would make me take better shots. I have a dSLR but I wanted a more compact camera that I can stuff into my windbreaker pocket. You can try that with a dSLR – but be prepared to get tackled by the London Metropolitan police. ;)

The Sony NEX-F3 uses a large, high performance Exmor APS CMOS sensor that allows it to capture dSLR quality photos even in low light. It has interchangeable lenses and it’s very easy to use.

Let me show you my awesome photos!

night

This is a view of Dresden late at night. I was surprised at the low noise and incredible detail. I used this as my Facebook cover photo. Heh.

retro

Old school cash register. Appropriately shot in Retro mode. I normally wouldn’t get a good photo in the lighting conditions of the restaurant but this turned out very well.

view hotel

Hotel Taschenbergpalais Kempinski in Dresden – a view from my room. President Barrack Obama also stayed here when he visited. I doubt it’s the same room though.

defocus

I like how you can set manually adjust the Background Defocus, Brightness, Color (compensate for Warm or Cold), Vividness or just let it go on auto in Superior Auto mode. It usually gets it right.

There’s also scenes presets and settings inside to let you easily shoot in a wide range of picture effects with the full time continuous auto focus:

flowers

Pop color. Flowers in summer. It was unusually cold for the first few days, which was why I had a windbreaker on and just a shirt for the last few days.

These are all shot on the Autobahn from a fast moving vehicle to demonstrate:

red

Partial Color: Red

green

Partial Color: Green

blue

Partial Color. Blue

yellow

Partial Color: Yellow

backlight

Back-light auto compensation of a faux stained glass window. There’s also a built in flash that pops up if the scene is too dark! :)

Videos are shot in HD and you can use the modes available – this is shot using Retro mode. :)

Schloss Charlottenburg

Schloss Charlottenburg (Schloss means Palace) in Panoramic Mode. You can also do this in 3D (it saves in an MPO file) and display it on a 3D TV.

Automatic scene detection and Auto HDR makes skin tones amazingly natural. I literally shot this from the hip so you can get a sense of how fast the auto-detect works:

kids

Imagine the stuff you can do with this! There’s lot of customization possible. You can make the sky bluer for example.

Please…tell them, I am God. ;)

Do you want your very own Sony NEX-F3? Join The Ultimate F3 Photographer Contest and get a chance to win one of 3 cameras! It’s very simple – all you need to do is drop by any of the 10 participating Sony Outlets on a Saturday or Sunday, take your own photo using the Sony NEX-F3 and upload it (the promoters will assist you). Click on the link above for the Sony Outlet closest to you.

I love it! The Sony NEX-F3 makes me look like a better photographer than I really am. ;)

currywurst germany

You’ve gotta try this when you’re in Berlin! The word “curry” in currywurst might make it sound like it’s not an authentic German dish but it’s 100% from Berlin. It was invented in 1949 according to Wikipedia by a lady called Herta Heuwer.

The Volkwagen Autostadt in Wolfsburg produces it’s own currywurst but but we unfortunately did not manage to try it coz it was raining heavily and we had a train to catch.

organic currywurst

Thus, we had the one in Berlin – it’s a takeaway food and currywurst is made of pork sausages drowned in ketchup and a healthy sprinkling of curry powder before being cut into slices. The proprietor told me that the steamed currywurst originates from the former East Berlin while the currywurst that’s steamed, dipped in batter and fried are from the former West Berlin.

currywurst

I tried both and I preferred the ones without the skin. It’s delicious, I was really full from lunch but ate both types anyway and despite being a tad salty (which is really something coming from me), it was absolutely fabulous!

currywurst berlin

It’s one of those local snacks that you just have to try. It’s sweet, tangy and salty – the Germans make good sausages. The currywurst stand in Berlin that we went to serves organic pork sausages for 3.30 Euros. :)

lufthansa sign

This is quite a funny story. Not LOLOL funny but an interesting experience coz I like to take things in stride and things like this happen. I had a flight cancelled due to fog in Melbourne when I was in uni. Hey, it’s an adventure to me. :)

Our flight from Berlin to Frankfurt was delayed due to bad weather in Frankfurt. No flights were allowed to take off from Berlin. We all waited in the plane for ages. No flights were allowed to depart from Frankfurt too – all the planes there were grounded so we thought we could still make the connecting flight.

frankfurt delay

Everyone boarded an hour ago but we could not take off – at least we got updates from the Euro 2012 Germany-Italy semi-finals match from the pilot, sorry for your loss Deutschland, I supported your team…coz we were in your country and it’s a fine one. Heh.

Anyway, when we finally managed to get airborne, we ended up taxiing above Frankfurt coz there was a sudden influx of inbound and outbound air traffic. That’s when we knew we couldn’t make the connecting flight to Bangkok…and sure enough, we only landed way after that flight has departed.

sheraton frankfurt

Lufthansa issued us a free night’s stay at Sheraton Frankfurt Airport Hotel and 30 Euros in “credit” which turned out to be dinner. This is dinner:

lufthansa dinner

There were heaps of people trying to get on a flight – any flight – so one of the staff advised us to get some rest and come back the next day. There were over 200 people on the waiting list after midnight! Thanks for queuing up and checking Nigel!

german cigarettes

I had packed my cigarettes into my check-in baggage so I had to get another at the airport – it’s 5 Euros, which is almost double our price, but with a long flight ahead and no bookings yet, you gotta have that nicotine hit.

checkin line

We went to the hotel and found out that the queue there was quite impressive too. This is where all the cabin attendants stay – it’s connected to the airport so that was good. The queue was still there after we finished dinner. Mind, this is only the Business and First class people so imagine how many people in total which was affected.

sheraton frankfurt internet

I had my notebook and bought 24 hours of WiFi from Sheraton for 19 Euros (about RM 76) using my credit card. I didn’t know how long I would need to wait, and I ended up wasting it coz I crashed at 2 am and woke up at 4 am to go line up at the airport. Oh well.

frankfurt shower

It’s a good thing I had a souvenir t-shirt of the Berlin Wall so I could change my shirt at least before heading to the airport. I didn’t even unpack coz I fell asleep after the long flight delays.

lufthansa delay queue

This was the line this morning. I started queuing at 4 am and this is what it looks like at 7:37 am. (!)

I waited in line for hours before one of the Lufthansa staff saw my ticket and brought me down. I managed to get a confirmed ticket – a husband and wife team with us went through India at 12 pm and Nigel also managed to get the 3 pm flight that I was on.

(all times are GMT +2)

lufthansa breakfast

The reason for splitting up is due to the sheer amount of stranded passengers so we couldn’t stay together. There just wasn’t enough seats. The grounding of the Frankfurt airport really affected a lot of people – several thousand people stayed at the airport (Economy) or the Sheraton in Frankfurt (Business and First).

sheraton frankfurt airport

You know what the worst thing was? No one could retrieve their check-in baggage! There’s a rule that it has to stay at the airport or something to that effect. I’m pretty sure I’ve broken the record for wearing the same underwear, jeans, socks and shoes. I could only change my shirt. I can smell myself from 200 meters away. Heh.

I’m also staying awake on willpower and coffee alone. I’ve drank more than 15 cups in the past 24 hours. :x

I’ll have to wait for a while before I’ll know if my flight back to KL later is 100% confirmed. I’m the only one left here coz there were just too many people needing to fly to various parts of the world.

It’s a good thing the Thai Airways Royal Lounge in Bangkok has a shower room so I could use their fresh, fluffy, wrapped towels and brush my teeth and freshen up.

thai air lounge shower

Thanks for booking us on Business Class, Volkswagen Malaysia – that really helps when stuff like this happens. :D

I’m still wearing the same clothes from several days ago (except for the t-shirt) but that shower really freshened me up. I can semi-write coherently while being extremely sleep deprived. Heh.

Now, I shall go back and check if my outbound flight is confirmed. I need to go back today. I don’t even know what “50% confirmed” means. *shrugs*

bangkok shower

Oh well, it’s all good! Sawadee krap from Bangkok! :)

Posted: 11:33 am Bangkok time (GMT +7)

hotgirls dresden

Dodgy.

hot maid

Dodgier.

hb statue

Dodgiest.

smirk

Posted: 11:53 pm Tuesday (26th June) Berlin time (GMT +2)

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