Berlin Notes

News and views from Germany's federal capital in easily-digestible blog format.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Super-Ferien-Pass 2006/07 Got kids? In Berlin for the summer (or for any length of time until Easter 2007)? Unless you keep your offspring holed up in a cellar, you and your wallet might be interested to know about the Super-Ferien-Pass 2006/07 (Super-Holiday-Pass 2006/07), a 144-page booklet containing coupons providing discounts or free entry for over 200 places popular with children, such as the Berlin zoos, museums, sights such as the television tower etc.

Particularly attractive: the pass allows free entry during school holidays to all indoor and outdoor swimming pools run by Berlin (Berliner Bäder-Betriebe, BBB), and in winter also to Berlin's municipal skating rinks.

The pass costs just €9 and is valid for anyone up to 18 years old. It is available from all branches of Kaisers Supermarket (just about everywhere in Berlin), Karstadt Sport, ticket offices of the BBB and various city and borough offices.

Further details (in German only): here.

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Sunday, July 23, 2006

Here's a mini quiz for Berliner car owners:

  1. Are you male?
  2. Is your first name Horst?
  3. Do you live in a palatial building in the middle of the Tiergarten?

If the answer to all three questions is yes, your name is Horst Köhler, you are the President of Germany and you have a good reason to have a German flag fluttering from your car.

For everyone else: it's been a whole two weeks since your country won the world cup came third, your flags are not going to make the slightest bit of difference to the result, and are starting to look tatty too.

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Saturday, July 22, 2006

Sunset in the Bernauer Strasse, Berlin

Sunset over the Bernauer Straße (Prenzlauer Berg) in April 2006.

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Friday, July 21, 2006

Well, it's Friday, and it's still hot (btw according to today's print edition of the Berliner Zeitung yesterday broke the 37°C barrier), so time for a mixed bag of useless information under the title Berlin-Splitter, "Splitter" meaning in German literally "splinter" or "fragment", but in this context means, well, "a mixed bag of useless information".

Straight off: a study by health insurers Kaufmännische Krankenkasse puts Berlin in 4th place among Germany's 16 Bundesländer for cases of acute alchoholism per head of the population. Only Bremen, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and Schleswig-Holstein have proprotionately more alkies.

Get some free cinema at the Balkonkino (balcony cinema) in Hellersdorf (way over on the eastern outskirts of the city) on the Cecilienplatz. It's one of those Plattenbau areas - vast estates of prefabricated apartment blocks put up towards the end of the GDR, and the companies that run them come up with all sorts of ideas to make them attractive. In this case by offering free open-air cinema: open to all-comers, though you have to bring your own chair if you want to sit down. July 22: "NVA" (Germany 2005); July 29: "Hitch, der Date Doctor" (USA 2005), August 5: "Alles auf Zucker" (Germany 2004) and August 12: "Die Legende des Zorro" (USA 2005) (all in German, start time: 10pm). Link.

Ever wanted to get lost in a maze of sunflowers? Check out the Sonnenblumenlabyrinth in Lichtenberg, open from July 21 - September 6. Entrance is free, and there are 100,000 sunflowers to get lost in.

Have a favourite place in Germany: the ZDF is running a competition to find Germany's 50 favourite places:

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Thursday, July 20, 2006

Ice cream from Kleine Eiszeit
Recommended: ice cream from Kleine Eiszeit in Prenzlauer Berg
According to the Berliner Zeitung it hit 36.1 celsius / centigrade today, which explains why I got absolutely nothing done.

For those of you watching in Fahrenheit, that's about 97 degrees. I can say that with confidence because I looked it up here.

Come to think of it, which countries still use fahrenheit to any great degree? (Haha). The only one I can think of is the United States, and to a certain extent Britain, but anyone born after about 1970 - such as myself - grew up with celsius in the weather reports, so I only have a vague grasp of fahrenheit. It was always an afterthought along the lines of "tomorrow will be a sweltering 24 degrees, about 144 fahrenheit, so don't forget to take your woolly jumper in case it rains". (This is British weather we're talking about, so weather forecasts are a bit strange anyway).

Berlin's weather is a bit more predictable, and even if I hadn't seen the forecast I could say with some confidence Friday will be hot and humid with a high chance of thundery showers in the evening which will bring some relief and possibly localised disasters such as flooded cellars and trees falling on cars. It often happens like that after a hot period: it starts growing humid, black clouds pile in from the west and suddenly all hell is let loose for an hour or so with squally rain showers which can be quite dangerous (seriously, as anyone who remembers the Great Summer Storm of 2002 will confirm).

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Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Even if you don't speak much German, if you use the U-Bahn or S-Bahn a lot in Berlin, there's one word you'll come to know and hate: Pendelverkehr.

Probably the best translation would be something like "shuttle transport", though I don't think there's an exact translation in English. Basically what happens is, that a stretch of line requires repairing (which happens more often than one would like, but is understandable in a network more than a century old, and which has suffered from decades of neglect).

Rather than completely close the affected section, the powers that be closed off one of the tracks for repairs, and run a "shuttle train" (Pendelzug) along the other track. So if you're going from A to Z, the train will run normally until S, where you have to get off, go over the platform and board the train continuing towards Z but running on the wrong track. This will run as far as say P, where - if you're lucky another train will be waiting to take you as normal to Z, or if you're unlucky it too will be a Pendelzug which will take you to G. If you are very, very unlucky there'll be a third Pendelzug, but this is very unusual and I can only recall suffering it once.

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Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The recent oil price rises are beginning to hit home, even in a city like Berlin where half of all households don't own a car. The BVG has calculated that its costs for diesel are likely to double in comparision with three or four years ago and has been looking round for alternatives.

They reckon hydrogen is the best bet - the other alternatives would have been fuel cells, bio-diesel and natural gas - and the first two hydrogen buses are due to be put into service in Spandau in the next few weeks. In the next couple of years they plan to convert 20% of their fleet to this new propulsion form.

Personally I wonder why they didn't try the sauce they put on currywurst, that certainly makes me go.

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Monday, July 17, 2006

So you'd like to come to Berlin but just don't have the time? Simple: send your teddy instead. Seriously. Not one but two companies are now offering Berlin tours for teddy bears. For between about €75 and €150 depending on the type of tour and distance from home, you can send your teddy on a trip to Germany's federal capital.

My Teddy on Tour: at the Brandenburg Gate The package tours include a trip around the sights with obligatory photos, and even some extras such as a picnic in the Tiergarten and a postcard to the owner.

Hard as it is to admit though, this service is not an idea born in Berlin: Teddy in Munich has been offering guided tours around the city of the Oktoberfest since 2005.

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Sunday, July 16, 2006

By tradition the middle of June marks the beginn of the Sommerloch (literally summer hole), that period when schools and politicians finish for the summer holidays and the only news is the kind of scurilous, vacuous and empty-headed stuff specialized in by the Bild newspaper.

Love Parade 2006, Berlin
The Love Parade has some really cool sponsors
such as the drug store chain Rossmann.
It's somehow appropriate that the Love Parade coincides with the start of the Sommerloch, being the kind of event which attracts vacuous and empty-headed - not to mention possibly scurrilous - people, primarily provincial youth who value the opportunity to use the Tiergarten as a giant toilet while having their DNA subtly rearranged by high-decible music at about 240bpm.

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Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Reichstag Cuppola (Dome), Berlin The Reichstag's cupola - that Norman Foster dome on the roof - will be closed from Monday to Sunday 23rd July for cleaning. The roof terrace (which also offers a nice view) and restaurant will be open as usual.

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