Thoughts of a geek

8 January 2011


Filed under: Photos, Travel — Tags: , , , , , , , , — qwandor @ 10:05 am

I went for a holiday in Germany for a week last month, from the 4th until the 11th of December. It was quite cold and there was lots of snow both on the ground and falling, though fortunately it was not snowing the whole time I was there.

I flew from London to Berlin, where I spent my first 3 nights. I met up with a friend, Thi, who had been living in Poland for a few months and took the train across to Berlin for the first couple of days I was there. I arrived in the evening, so was not able to see all that much on the first day, but we did walk down to the east city centre (Mitte) to see the Reichstag, Brandenburger Tor, Checkpoint Charlie and a few other landmarks in the dark.

Berlin — Saturday night: Brandenburger Tor

On Sunday morning we had a quick look around the west city centre, but almost everything seemed to be closed. We then joined a walking tour group, on which we were shown around the Mitte area some more. Our tour guide, named Ice, grew up in Auckland but moved to Berlin some years ago. We saw part of the Berlin Wall, a number of city squares (Gendarmenmarkt and Bebelplatz), and various nice churches and other buildings. After the tour we spent about 2.5 hours wandering around the German History Museum. They had an exhibit about Hitler and the rise of the Nazi party, a bunch of statues and paintings from around Germany, and a great big exhibit all about the history of Germany over the last millennium or so, with all sorts of paintings, armour, books, furniture, tapestries, and even a pinball machine.

Berlin — City tour: Berliner Dom, outside which the tour ended

After the museum we headed to the Christmas market at Alexanderplatz, which had been recommended to us, but not before stopping briefly at another Christmas market on the way. We spent quite a while wandering around the Christmas market, snacking on currywurst and chocolate covered banana and looking at the various ornaments, clothing and other trinkets for sale. There was a colourfully lit ice-skating rink in the middle, and a large ferris wheel at one end. We had a proper German meal at a pub nearby, which was predictably large.

Berlin — Christmas markets and miscellaneous wandering: The ferris wheel and ice-skating rink at Alexanderplatz

On Monday Thi had to catch her train home so we had a quick walk around the Tiergarten before she headed off, after failing to find some flea market. We even made a small snowman. I then headed out a bit further east than I had made it before, to Frankfurter Tor and from there wandered — with a few short U-Bahn journeys in the middle ­— around Boxhagenerplatz, the East Side Gallery (a 1.3 km section of the Berlin Wall still standing and covered in about 106 large paintings by various artists from around the world), Michaelkirchplatz, Orianienplatz, Böcklerpark, Mehringplatz, Mehringdamm and the corner of Viktoriapark, Leipzigerplatz and Potsdamerplatz (including another Christmas market, which had an artificial snow hill down which people could pay to slide on large tire tubes), and finally the area around Wittenbergplatz and Savignyplatz including yet another Christmas market.

Berlin — Christmas markets and miscellaneous wandering: One wall panel of the East Side Gallery

On Tuesday I spent a couple of hours at the Bode Museum, looking at their enormous collection of statues, paintings, crucifixes, carvings, coins, and so on. It was quite overwhelming, as museums sometimes are.

Berlin — Bode Museum: Statues over the staircases

I then caught my train to Gießen, or rather, two trains. Unfortunately the first train was slow and arrived about 30 minutes late, which meant that I missed the second train and had the slight drama of having to explain this to the lady at the ticket counter, who spoke about as much English as I speak German (or only slightly more), so as to get a replacement ticket for the next train in that direction. I got there in the end, though, and successfully found my friend Melanie who was to show me around the city. She had arranged for me to stay with some friends of hers, a flat of 11 German guys, 9 of whom were studying theology and the other 2 other subjects I cannot remember. It was an interesting flat — one floor of a small office building, converted into an enormous flat. There was certainly plenty of room for everyone, though I only ever saw perhaps half of the guys living there. We bought a few things from the supermarket and then cooked dinner for ourselves and one or two of the guys who were around, which was nice after having spent the last 3 in a hostel and eating out all the time. Cooking in someone else’s kitchen is always a slightly strange experience, especially when they are not even around at the time as was the case on the second night there. And of course the herbs and spices had German names which were not always recognisable. I taught some of the guys how to play Euchre, as 500 seemed a bit ambitious for the time we had available.

On Wednesday we went to see Wilhelm Konrad Röntgen’s grave, then I went to the Mathematikum for just under an hour. It was quite cool, but I wish that I had had more than an hour to spend there and that it had not been overrun by schoolkids. I recommend it should you ever find yourself in Gießen. We then walked up a hill called Schiffenberg, and had a look at a small art gallery in what used to be a monastery at the top.

Gießen: At the Mathematikum

On Thursday after breakfast I headed to the train station and caught my train on to Munich. My first night in Munich I wandered around the Tollwood festival Christmas Market and got a few things to eat, then wandered around a little of the city before heading to bed. On Friday I went on a walking tour, which was alright but not as interesting as the one in Berlin. We did not actually go all that far from Marienplatz where we started. I had lunch with some people from the tour, then spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around by myself. I walked through the corner of the Englischer Garten, which was nice. At the south end of the Englischer Garten a river which flows through the garden comes out from under a road, and the channel happens to be arranged in such a way as to create a standing wave. I had heard that surfers like to surf on this standing wave, and indeed even then in the middle of winter there were about 6 surfers wearing heavy wetsuits and taking turns to surf on the wave. It is quite a sight, and you can get a good view from the footpath alongside the road.

Munich — Wandering: Surfers in the Englischer Garten

There were a bunch of kids with toboggans playing on a small hill a bit further in. There was also another Christmas market in the gardens, of course. I walked back through the city in the dark. Part way back, I passed some people walking along in the opposite direction to me and carrying flaming torches. As I continued walking I passed more in more, all walking in the same direction but clumped together a bit. Occasionally someone might leave a torch behind standing in the snow, as pictured below. It was not at all clear where they were going or why. I followed them back a bit to find the end of the line, and they seemed to have come out of one of several buildings near the road. If you do have any idea what they might have been doing, do post a comment.

Munich — Wandering: A torch left behind

After getting back to the hostel and grabbing some dinner nearby I did not do much else that evening. On Saturday morning I checked out of my hostel and went to the Deutsches Museum, which was really good, the highlight of my time in Munich. It is a huge museum all about science, technology and industries, with great exhibits about everything from oil mining to lasers, nanotechnology to aeronautics, atomic physics, optics, musical instruments, photography, robotics, and many many more things. I only got to see less than half of the exhibits, and some of them in a rush at that. I spent about 6 hours there, but could easily have spent at least twice that long just looking around at everything. They also have various demonstrations throughout the day, but I did not get to any. Should you ever find yourself in Munich, I highly recommend that you go.

Munich — Deutsches Museum: Software guessing my mood and demographics from video in real time. It was fairly impressive.

I went straight from the museum to the airport and flew back to London. I was glad to be back in my own bed, but it was an interesting week and I am glad I went. For more about my trip, have a look through the various albums of photos I have uploaded. The descriptions on the albums and photos tell a few more stories, not to mention the photos themselves.


3 December 2010

An update

Filed under: Me, Photos, Travel — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — qwandor @ 9:16 am

Wow, I have not written anything here for rather a while. I have still been uploading photos of some of the things I have been up to, but perhaps a summary of the last couple of months is in order. Hmm, let us see, since the beginning of October…

On the 3rd of October, there was a fairly substantial flood on the street my flat is on and the surrounding streets, meaning I had to wade through water about 30 cm deep (deeper in parts) to get to my flat when I got home at around midnight. I went back out and took some photos, of course. Fortunately it was all fine by the morning.

Silverthorne Road flood: there was quite a lot of water

On the 11th October, I went to Zürich for a day and a half for a conference for work. I had to get up at something like 4:00 am to get out to the airport for my flight out there, then it was straight from the airport to the hotel and into the conference, so there was not a whole lot of time for sightseeing. I did get out a bit on the Monday night, when there were a number of organised activities to chose from. I walked up Üetliberg with a few other Googlers, and we cooked Pörkölt for dinner over a bonfire in the dark. I had a bit of difficulty finding my hotel room but it worked out in the end. The Tuesday was another full day of talks and workshops and such, then we headed from that back to the airport and back to London. Unfortunately our flight was delayed due to the strikes in France, but we got back in the end.

Zurich for GEEK: Zürich at night from Üetliberg

Back to London, I joined a hiking Meetup group that started at the beginning of October, and have been on 3 hikes with them so far, each on a Saturday and separated by 3 weeks: to Box Hill, part of the Ridgeway track near Tring past the Ivinghoe Beacon and Bridgewater Monument, and most recently in Guildford and along the River Wey. None of them were especially long walks (each about 14 km and fairly flat, this being England), but by the time we take the train out to wherever we are walking, wait for everyone to turn up, walk, stop for lunch, stop to look at the view along the way and have dinner at a pub at the end before taking the train back to London, it ends up being a fairly full Saturday. It has been a fairly international group, with often quite a few Americans, some Irish, a Turkish guy, some French people, Greeks, South Africans, various other Europeans, and on the most recent hike an Australian and another Kiwi. It seems that the English tend to be less interested in getting out to do and see things and meet new people. Perhaps they are more likely already to have an established group of friends and weekly routine.

Ridgeway hike: The English countryside

On the most recent hike, in Guildford, we stopped for lunch at a church which was built in 1087 AD, and still open. Admittedly some parts of it had been rebuilt since then, but some remained. And even before the 1087 church there had been an earlier Saxon church on the same site, apparently. History here is on quite a different order of magnitude than in New Zealand.

I saw two fireworks displays for Guy Fawkes: one on Guy Fawkes day itself (though people here call it Bonfire Night instead), and one on the day after. On the Friday I went down to Wimbledon to see the show at Wimbledon Park, and took lots of photos. The fireworks were not all that impressive — similar to the show in Wellington, but not as good — but the bonfires were cool to see, as that is not something I have seen for Guy Fawkes before. They also had all sorts of fairground rides for kids and others.

From Guy Fawkes at Wimbledon Park: Some fireworks

On the Saturday, one of the women in my church homegroup had a bunch of people over for a bit of the party and to watch the Battersea Park fireworks. She has a fifth floor apartment with an excellent view out over London, so we stood out on the balcony to watch the display, then headed back into the warm for lots of good food.

On Saturday 13th November I went to see the Lord Mayor’s Show with a few people. We waited across the road from the Royal Courts of Justice, where the first half of the parade ended. There were many different groups of people, floats, military vehicles and so on, as you can see in my photos, and it went past us for a little bit more than an hour. Afterwards we went to St. Paul’s Cathedral, and went up to the Whispering Gallery and the Stone Gallery around the outside. I had not been up there before, but it turns out that the Stone Gallery is a pretty good spot for taking some nice panoramas of the view out across London, so I did.

Lord Mayor's Show and more: A view from the Stone Gallery. Click a few times and look at it full size, there is plenty to see.

After St. Paul’s we had Dim Sum for lunch, then headed south to see the fireworks over the Thames as part of the Lord Mayor’s Show. Unfortunately the viewing spot we picked turned out not to have much of a view at all, so we spent most of the show running along the bank trying to get far enough along to see the fireworks without trees and buildings in the way. About a minute after we finally found a good view, the fireworks finished. They were good fireworks, much more interesting than either of the Guy Fawkes shows I saw, but only lasted about 10 minutes. After that we listened to a couple of free jazz concerts at the Southbank Centre as part of the London Jazz Festival, both of which were good.

Other than that, I have been going to some swing dancing classes on Wednesday nights, mostly in Camberwell, which have been interesting. The first time I went to the Camberwell class was the second week it ran, and I have been for the 4 classes there since. One week in the middle it was cancelled so I went to a different class in Dalston instead, run by the same organisation but with different people. The Camberwell class usually has around 12 people; the Dalston one had 44 on only its second week running. It made for a rather crowded room.

This most recent weekend, on Saturday 27th November, I made it out to the Horniman Museum, which was nice. Among quite a range of other exhibits they have a good aquarium, and the jellyfish were amazing — and rather mesmerising — to watch.

This Saturday, 4th December, I head to Germany for a week’s holiday. I am spending 3 nights in Berlin, 2 in Gießen and 2 in Munich. I hear the Christmas markets are well worth a visit, and other than that I guess there will be plenty of museums and historical sights to see. Recommendations are most welcome, if you know what is worth seeing and doing.

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