handmade nutcrackers

The nutcracker (nussknacker) is one of the most popular German souvenirs to bring back…but where can you buy an original German made nutcracker with all the cheap China made products flooding the market? I did a bit of research about this and came out with two locations in Frankfurt am Main.

nutcracker germany

Germany has a long history of making quality wooden toys and the nutcracker was originally made in the rural areas of Germany. It’s usually shaped as a soldier and has a large mouth which can be opened with a wooden lever at the back of the doll. You can insert a nut inside the mouth and push down, cracking the nut – although the figurines are mostly used for decorative purposes now.

german made nutcrackers

Steinbach is the most premium manufacturer and all their nutcracker dolls are hand carved. These would run in the hundreds of Euros for just a small figurine. It’s not about the size (haha, no really) but the quality! There are huge 1 foot nutcrackers for 20 Euros but those are mass produced China made dolls.

seiffener volkskunst

I couldn’t afford a Steinbach but I still wanted a German made nutcracker so I went with Seiffener Volkskunst instead. These nutcrackers are not only handmade, but also hand painted in Germany! That’s why every nutcracker looks a little different – the paint on every single one isn’t the same. Their wooden toys are all individually made and painted!

handwerkskunst ulrike scheit

I got a 1 foot nutcracker for my dear as a souvenir for 48 Euros. The nutcracker dolls can run from 50 Euros – 200+ Euros, depending on the size and detail. There are two shops in Frankfurt which is reputable – the big Handwerkskunst am Romer and the smaller, more cottage industry-like Handwerkskunst Ulrike Scheit.

wooden nutcrackers

The prices are same in both – avoid the tourist traps that sells souvenirs, these are dedicated stores which sells wooden toys and only handmade wooden toys. I went *twice* (running up a 30 Euro taxi bill each way) so I could get another nutcracker doll for my dad. Old German folklore says the nutcracker dolls are keepsakes to bring good luck to your family and protect your home by guarding your family from evil spirits and danger.

german wooden toys

Don’t be afraid, my beard is long, my head is large, my look is grim but that matters not. I won’t bite you. In spite of my big mouth and grim appearance, I look with my heart for your happiness.

Posted: 6:13 pm Frankfurt time (GMT +2) on the 14th April – we’re still one day behind and it’s our last day in Germany!

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applewine murals

There’s one thing that Frankfurt is *really* famous for. No, it’s not the wurst (sausages) that derives from its name, it’s apple wine! Called Apfelwein (or Ebbelwoi) in German, the brewing of apple wine has been a source of pride for many Frankfurters.

schweizer strasse

It’s the (un?)official drink of the city!

sachsenhausen nord

There’s even an entire street in Sachsenhausen-Nord near the city of Frankfurt am Main that dedicates itself to apple wine! It’s informally called the Applewine Quarter and the street name is Schweizer Strasse. There are several establishments serving apple wine in Frankfurt (you can get it in most restaurants) but for the authentic experience, I highly recommend you go to a specialty shop!

zum gemalten haus

I was recommended two such apple wine houses by a knowledgeable local (our concierge haha) – both are located at Sachsenhausen-Nord. The first is called Zum Gemalten Haus and unfortunately, it’s closed on Mondays. The second is called Adolf Wagner (also known as Apfelwein Wagner) and I remember hearing about this place before – that’s how famous the apple wine bar is!

adolf wagner

Adolf Wagner has been around since 1931 – that means they’ve been brewing Frankfurt’s most famous drink for several centuries. There are actual long tables and chairs located both in front and inside the establishment. I recommend doing inside coz there’s a huge apple wine jug where they pour your drink from at the bar.

applewine quarter

The apple wine is brewed on the premises of Adolf Wagner itself! You can see it if you’re seated inside. There are also colorful murals depicting the good ol’ days of apple wine imbibing and scenes of general cheer.

apfelwein

You’ll expect a place like this to be expensive but it’s surprisingly affordable and all the locals come here. One glass of apple wine costs 1.90 Euro. That’s less than RM 10! It’s cheap even *when* you convert the currency. I had a 300 ml glass of their famous apple wine while my better half ordered the non-alcoholic apple wine.

apfelwein wagner prices

Surprisingly, the non-alcoholic apple wine costs slightly more than the regular apple wine. I’m not sure if that’s coz like decaf coffee, it goes through an extra step, but I very much doubt it. The non-alcoholic apple wine that my dear ordered (2 Euro for 300 ml glass) is clear and tastes like apple juice, albeit slightly rotten apple juice.

nonalcoholic ebbelwoi
A 300 ml glass of non-alcoholic apple wine

My apple wine is slightly cloudy from the unfiltered sediments and tastes like nothing I’ve ever come across. Apple wine doesn’t taste like apple cider – it doesn’t have that acidic bite to it. It’s smooth and delicious – but be careful, the alcohol content of these things can hit the two digit mark.

ebbelwoi
A 300 ml glass of regular apple wine

I’ve seen it quoted as 10.4% alcohol although every batch differs. Adolf Wagner also sells 1 litre bottles of their apple wine to go for just 2 Euros while the 5 litre souvenir jugs are just 13 Euros. Or you can just get their matchbooks (free) if you’re a cheapskate. ;)

matchbook

Protip: If you want to get apple wine from Frankfurt to bring home, avoid buying them at the touristy Romel square where every other shop (including the official tourist information center) offers nicely bottled and packaged apple wine for sale at a price premium. It’s not as authentic as grabbing a bottle (or jug) from Adolf Wagner, where the locals drink, so get it from a reputable apple wine bar instead of a souvenir shop!

wagner applewine

I highly recommend walking to Apfelwein Wagner and sitting down for a glass of apple wine when you’re in Frankfurt. It’s one of the few things which is unique to the city itself and even if you don’t consume alcohol, there’s a non-alcoholic apple wine to conform to your dietary/religious beliefs. It’s way better than grabbing a Frankfurter (and you can do the latter after some nice local apple wine in your tummy).

applewine prices

Apple wine is called the official drink of Frankfurt for a reason! :D

apfelwein wagner

Posted: 9:39 am Frankfurt time (GMT +2) – we just took the overnight Paris-Frankfurt am Main bus! :D

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eiserner steg bridge

Yeah, the trend has spread to Germany too! :)

frankfurt love bridge

This is the Eiserner Steg Bridge – a pedestrian bridge in Frankfurt am Main. We wanted to go to Romer and the concierge from Kempinski Hotel Gravenbruch Frankfurt hailed a taxi for us and told the driver to set us down at the other side of the bridge so we can walk across (it’s nearer and we’ll get to see the padlocks).

new love locks

The “love lock” bridge is all about people putting padlocks (some very colorful ones are coming out) and writing their names in permanent marker (original, old school method) or using laser engraving as the trend exploded and the commercialization started.

love lock bridge

The padlocks are “locked” onto the bridge – any part of the bridge – and the key kept. It’s supposed to symbolize the union of two people and the strength of the relationship.

love lock

AFAIK, the love lock bridge trend started in the early 2000’s and Wikipedia states that it first took hold in Paris. However, I’ve seen old locks with dates like 1989 so I’m not so sure that’s true. The most well known bridge in France is the Pont de l’Archevêché – it’s just behind Notre Dame.

original love locks

I believe there’s even a TVB series made about it, called Triumph in the Skies II or something. I only know this coz my better half watches Cantonese drama series. Yes, that was filmed in France (or so my dear says).

love bridge us

Since the popularity of the Pont de l’Archevêché love lock bridge, it has appeared all over cities in the world.

love padlock

I heard Malaysia even jumped on the bandwagon and *specially* opened a bridge for this, while countries like France have tried removing the locks (or transferring it) due to structural integrity concerns (the combined weight of that much padlocks is nothing to sneeze on).

Short mention:

romer panorama

I love the Sweep Panorama feature in my Xperia Z1 smartphone. We were headed to the beautiful Romer square and there was a wedding going on at the Old Saint Nicholas church. I couldn’t take the Romer’s famous Eastern façade together with the wedding at the church with *any* kind of camera, dSLR included, and was about to give up when I thought of the Z1′s panoramic photo and I managed to get everything in just one easy sweep – the instructions were on the screen!

I didn’t think of using it when I was the German version of the famous/cheesy (depending on how romantic you think is) Parisian “Lover’s Bridge” (which is dubbed The Frankfurt Love Bridge – or Padlock Bridge) when I was walking through it though and now I really want to take a Sweep Panorama shot on my smartphone so I can show how nice it actually is! I’m going to do one here in France and another when we head back to Frankfurt so I can show the difference in detail! :)

Posted: 9:38 pm Paris time (GMT +2) on 11th April – but it’s 12th April, 3:38 am in KL now! :D

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weeping willow

We’re staying at the beautiful and luxurious five-star Kempinski Hotel Gravenbruch Frankfurt for 4D/3N before we head on to Paris. The 13 hour flight here (yeah, it’s a direct flight with Lufthansa) was perfect – we arrived at 6:40 am and the hotel kindly allowed us to check-in early.

nils

I’ve stayed with Kempinski before at the Hotel Taschenbergpalais Kempinski in Dresden and the service is always spot on. This is Nils, who helped smooth the check-in process after a long flight and got us adapters for the room (forgot to bring mine). The rooms are all connected with free WiFi and even has built in adapters and USB chargers on the main desk (for those who factor this into their decision making process).

kempinski gravenbruch

The view out of the room is amazing too! The hotel is in Neu-Isenburg so it’s conveniently just 15 minutes from both Fraport (Frankfurt Airport) *and* Frankfurt am Main (the city center itself). It’s surrounded by a beautiful forest – the road leading here was lined with trees and my better half thought it was a little like a horror movie while I thought it was tranquil haha – and the hotel even has their own lake!

breakfast

It’s a Sunday today and I’ve been to Germany before so don’t expect shops and such to be open. The Germans really do like their quiet Sundays so unless it’s a special Open Sunday (which occurs every 3 months or so), the shops remains closed, even convenience stores. However, attractions and restaurants remain open so you can still go sightseeing.

esstisch

We just had a lazy Sunday breakfast at EssTisch and I mentioned on Instagram that the OJ is the best I’ve ever had! It’s undiluted and has no added sugar, freshly squeezed and just a treat to drink.

juices

They also have small bottles of other juices, our favorite is the Italian blood orange juice (which also happens to be the hotel soap scent, hmm…)

milk

There’s 1.5%, 3.5% and lactose-free milk in these cute little milkmaid style dispensers too!

eggs

You can order your eggs here but our waitress actually came over to our table to get our order and sent it over too, can really get used to this five-star service.

bread

The selection of bread is staggering too, and I also found my favorite German bread! I first had this aboard a Lufthansa Business Class flight two years ago when I came here (it’s also served in their Economy Class) and loved it so much – the burnt flavor of the outside combined with the chewiness and dense-airy dough makes for very good eating.

loaf

I told my dear that and we both stacked out bread baskets full. #carboverload

soft boiled

You can also grab a 6-minute egg (we call it soft-boiled) or a hard-boiled egg from the buffet…

cheese ham

…as well as a variety of cured hams, cold cuts and cheese.

cereal

I’ve always thought this was how people ate back in the days when there’s no refrigeration – the grapes are to provide a burst of moisture when you eat bread with the cured ham, it works really well. Oh, and I took this mild looking fromage that looks innocuous and innocent and when I touched it, I thought someone who just got lost in the forest for 90 days staggered in and TOOK OFF HIS SHOES. (!!!)

cold platter

Seriously, it was *that* bad and this is coming from someone who loves cheese. Naturally, I made my dear smell it and tried to get her to eat it too (she didn’t). It was the worst smelling cheese I’ve ever come across and this ain’t my first rodeo. I wonder what it’s called. It’s also very delicious and I finished the quarter-wedge of cheese I took, much to the amazement of my better half.

forest

Anyway, we’re gearing for an early start tomorrow so it’s bedtime! I’ll update more next time, have a good week ahead everyone!

flowers

Promotional consideration:
Lufthansa sponsored my return tickets to Frankfurt. They have a direct non-stop flight five times a week from Kuala Lumpur-Frankfurt. The tickets are reasonably priced too, starting at RM 3,300. It’s cheaper if you book early though – I paid RM 2,421 for my girlfriend’s ticket via their booking number. I saw it for RM 2,221 as their special promotional online fare (don’t need to pay the Ticket Booking Fee for web) on Lufthansa’s website.

Kempinski Hotels is a luxury hotel chain that has specially outfitted hotels throughout Europe, Middle East & Africa, and Asia Pacific. They’ve been hoteliers since 1897 and they specialize in luxury holiday resorts, business and spa hotels around the world. Every Kempinski Hotel is unique, designed for guests who value five star holidays and luxury getaways. The 4D/3N Kempinski Hotel Gravenbruch stay is courtesy of the group.

Posted: 9:33 pm Frankfurt time (GMT +2) on 6th April – one day behind! :D

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frankfurt paris trip

No, this isn’t a photo from Frankfurt, our flight is tonight! :) The photo above was from my third Europe trip to Germany two years ago…and now I’m going on a 10 day vacation with my better half for our second annual overseas trip (our first trip was to Australia)! It’s going to be awesome!

We’ll be flying to Frankfurt on my birthday *and* I’ll gain significant extra hours flying west so I’ll have a uber long birthday on the 5th of April. Haha.

I’ve booked the ICE train to Paris, France so I’ll be taking my dear to the City of Love for our anniversary-cum-birthday celebrations! We’ve booked ourselves into a proper short stay apartment instead of a hotel so we can cook, but our plan is to visit some of the Michelin starred restaurants in Paris!

german food

The reservations might be tricky but I hear lunch is the best bet and some of the 1 or 2 Michelin starred restaurants aren’t too hard on the wallet, I hear anything from 3-course lunch for 36 Euros to a 175 Euro 12-course extravaganza dinner menu at the French superstar chef Robuchon!

I plan to buy my dear a meal at a Michelin starred restaurant as a birthday present so she can experience what all the fuss (or some might say, hype) is all about! <3

I'll still be connected to the net and blogging but you can also follow me on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for updates on our 10 day vacation through Germany and France!
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Cheers and have a great weekend everyone!

staycation

I’ll like to think that I’ve been pioneering the concept of a staycation before the term even came into existence. It was more out of necessity (a friend of mine described my apartment at that time as “having it’s own ecosystem with new and constantly evolving species of fungi” smirk) and an excess of funds from legally questionable endeavors that prompted me to live primarily in hotels and serviced apartments like Somerset Gateway in Kuching during the weekends back then.

staycation room

However, I’ve gotten all those wild days of drugs, sex and rock and roll out of my system and prefer a quiet weekend spent with my loved one nowadays. My dad happened to have excess points from a vacation rewards system that he couldn’t use so he asked me if I wanted it coz it’ll go to waste otherwise.

the atrium

I jumped at the idea and booked a nice room at Pyramid Tower Hotel at Sunway Lagoon.

staycation hotel

The room cost RM 340/night but it was deducted from 11,551 points in Club Asia International so it didn’t really cost us anything. It’s next to Sunway Pyramid so that was pretty convenient. We checked in at 2 pm and dumped our bags before heading to the mall to get some lunch.

1. Had a fun lunch

coffee milk

We went to the food court and ate local food together. We acted like we were in a foreign country (Dubai was the place we decided on – inside joke) so it was a lot of fun and very different from the stress of finding an empty bay in the carpark, braving the thongs of people, and getting stuck in traffic.

2. Chilled out in the room

chill hotel

This is one of the most appealing things about a staycation! Since you’re at your very own hometown (it was just 15 minutes away) there’s not much to see, so you can really relax and enjoy the hotel amenities – the tub, the pool, the cable TV and plush bed!

3. Snacked on takoyaki

making takoyaki

The hotel is right next to the mall with a connected walkway that takes all of 3 minutes to traverse. We decided to eat regular baby octopus takoyaki (delicious) and also sampled some salmon takoyaki (not very nice). The place also serves okonomiyaki.

takoyaki

We ordered so much that we had to take some of it back to the hotel room to eat!

4. Posed for funny photos

funny pose

This is one of the things you do when you have too much time on your hands and have put the daily worries and work out of your mind for the entire staycation. :)

5. Went out for bubble tea

georgpeck

We were both craving for bubble tea and I noticed this new place called GeorgPeck. We shared a bubble milk tea with aloe vera jelly, which was really good.

bubble tea

It seems that everything tastes better when your mind think it’s on vacation!

6. Walked around the mall

ice skating

…and watched people falling down at the ice skating ring. Haha!

7. Took a long afternoon nap

sunway tower hotel

That’s the beauty of a staycation! You don’t feel the urge to get up early in the morning less you miss out on precious time which you can use to visit all the attractions in a foreign country. There’s a lot more time for real R&R during a staycation.

8. Nice dinner for two

poison dinner

We dressed up and went out for dinner at night again! It was at O’Viet by Du Viet and I had a funny incident that entails a close call with a near poisoning. Heh.

9. Ate Red Velvet Cake in bed

coffee bean

My dear bought this from the Coffee Bean outlet before we went back to the hotel room for the night. She opted for Red Velvet Cake and since we were still full from dinner, we had it to go so we can eat it later at night, since we had planned to stay up late and sleep in the next day.

red velvet cake

We ate this while watching movies in bed! Simple pleasures in life are the best…

10. Pigged out at the hotel buffet breakfast

buffet breakfast

I set the alarm just before the hotel buffet breakfast ended and totally pigged out with a full plate of food, and cereal, and yoghurt, and some croissants with maple syrup…

breakfast pigout

…before heading back to the room to hibernate.

cereal

We had asked for late check-out and left at 1:30 pm.

hotel

It was a fun staycation and it’s also an early celebration for our 1st anniversary together as a couple. We had our first vacation together in Melbourne, where I stayed for over 4 years and we’re looking to go abroad again soon!

staycation us

However, a staycation when you don’t have a lot of time and holiday leave to burn is an awesome option. :D

musang king tambun biscuit

This is probably one of the most interesting coffee I’ve ever had. It’s durian coffee and my dear got it for me on our trip to Penang last weekend. I’ve had kopi luwak (civet cat coffee) twice in Indonesia before but this 4-in-1 (the other being powdered durian) instant coffee appeals to me coz I love durians.

durian white coffee

It comes in gold foil packaging and has a wonderful nose. It’s like nothing I’ve ever had. The durian taste and flavor is so intense you can practically taste it. I guess that’s the point, eh? Haha! I can easily drink two cups of this, a wonderful find by my better half.

tau sar pneah

We also got lots of Tambun biscuits (heong pneah) and tau sar pneah for relatives and friends and one of the more interesting finds was one filled with Musang King durians.

musang king biscuits

It comes in a pack of 12 and retails for RM 7.20. This is supposed to be the first ever in Malaysia – Tambun biscuits double filled with Musang King durian pulp. It tastes really good, if you like durians.

white coffee biscuits

There’s also different flavored tau sar pneah (which I guess doesn’t make it tau sar pneah anymore, since “tau sar” translates to red bean). Coffee is one of my favorites. There’s a lot of manufacturers in Penang nowadays, the old school ones made with lard and the newer ones that’s halal to appeal to a broader market.

durian tambun biscuits

We made several trips to buy these and I pronounce them good! It’s been a while since we’ve had these! :)

1. Lorong Selamat Char Kueh Tiaw

lorong selamat

I had wanted my better half to try this, since she’s never had it before. It’s legendary for its 1 hour wait and when we were there the crowds were out in force!

crowd

There were no empty spots on tables and people had to stand in clumps beside diners to wait their turn.

plates queue

I was told that it’ll take longer than 1 hour based on the plates and there’s a rule about having to sit down before you can order. The price now has sky-rocketed to RM 10 per plate too! My dear didn’t want to wait and we went opposite the road to eat…

2. Curry Mee

curry mee

It’s RM 7 per plate and the guy told us he has run out of prawns so I think we paid RM 5. It’s still not too bad, loaded with pig’s coagulated blood and the broth is delicious! I wanted to go to the Lorong Seratus Tahun one but I couldn’t find it.

However, we did manage to find…

3. Sin Kim San banana pancake

banana pancake

I thought this was char kueh kak at first and ordered a plate (RM 6). It turned out that the stall sells banana pancakes.

chinese banana pancake

This was nothing special – just a Chinese interpretation of a pancake with lots of eggs and a sprinkling of sesame seeds. My dear makes *better* banana pancakes.

We did manage to eat CKT at the same place though.

4. Duck Egg Char Kueh Tiaw

I like the one near Pulau Tikus police station but since we’re here, we might as well satisfy the craving for Penang CKT. The duck egg version costs RM 4.50 – half the price of the overrated Lorong Selamat stalls.

duck egg

It was good, but slightly greasy. The prawns were fresh and succulent and there’s a huge helping of lap cheong (Chinese sausage) with it.

We were pretty much full at this point but managed to share a bowl of…

5. Ah Soon Kor Cham Lor

ah soon kor har mee

This is a distinctively Penang dish where you mix Lor Mee with Har Mee. The combination gravy is awesome! Ah Soon Kor is famous for their Har Mee (Prawn Mee) but my dear doesn’t really like it so we ordered the mixture instead.

cham lor

You can see the two different and distinct bases mixing together in the color of the gravy which makes it look like the yin yang symbol (if you squint hard enough ;)). It has lots of interesting goodies like deep fried shrimp and roasted pork belly and I thought it was good. We couldn’t finish it though coz we had so much food.

However, since we didn’t manage to eat the Lorong Selamat CKT I put as #1, here’s a bonus to fulfil the 5 dishes we ate in Penang.

Bonus: New World Ice Kacang Special

new world

I’ve eaten this a lot of times before. I like the tropical fruit mixture compared to the Penang Road cendol. It’s a very popular stall that serves drinks for the New World food court and their flagship costs RM 5.

ice kacang special

There’s atap chee, kidney beans, corn, papaya, bananas and lots of other fruits inside this shaved ice dessert, topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

ling hb

It was a good weekend escape to Penang to relax and eat some food. We stayed at Traders Hotel, which cost us RM 800+ (more about that soon – there’s an interesting story behind it) and came back on Sunday rejuvenated.

Scratch that, we actually both caught the flu and fell sick but it’s a good vacation nonetheless! :)

out of gas

It happened just slightly after the toll. I felt the car slowly lose power…I had a sinking feeling that something has gone horribly wrong. I managed to cruise from the fast lane (on the right) across 3 lanes to the emergency lane. It felt like driving a car that was just running on momentum alone!

I realized that I had run completely out of gas. The car would not start at all. It just coughs. We had just passed the toll, maybe 500 meters or so and we’re stuck on the Penang Bridge!

stuck penang bridge

We had driven down from KL early in the morning and didn’t take any breaks except for toilet stops. I had stupidly thought that a tank of gas would be enough to get to Penang and I didn’t really look at the gauge so the massive traffic jam before the bridge was the final nail in the coffin.

I called the PLUS Highway emergency number and managed to get them to send a guy to meet us.

refill petrol

It took less than 5 minutes before a fellow on a motorcycle came up to me. He had a bottle of gasoline so he poured the minute amount (less than 500 ml is my guess) into my petrol tank and asked me to start.

I tried the ignition but the car won’t go – it seemed that there’s too little fuel for it to start.

low fuel

My better half intelligently told me to shut off the radio and air conditioning. I managed to start the car – just barely – after that. I know it wouldn’t last long and I’ll need to get to a gas station soon.

The PLUS representative charged me RM 40 for the petrol and after I willingly handed it over, asked for RM 10kang chi” (Hokkien for labor costs) making the total RM 50. What an opportunist!

8684

I didn’t really mind though coz it would have been worse to be stuck for hours on the Penang Bridge. We managed to use the GPS to find a nearby gas station and fill her up.

ron95

The PLUS dude said he’ll trail us. He never did. We were lucky to make it to the station on that little amount of gas. It was a bit of an adventure though, running out of gas. It’s something that we’ll be talking about down the years – “Hey remember the time we drove to Penang and we ran out of gas on the Penang Bridge?”.

It wasn’t the best start to our Penang trip but it sure was funny in hindsight and it’s a memorable start to our weekend holiday! :)

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! :)

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