Captivated in Cologne and Bonn

Aaaaand finals are over, for the 6th time. It’s incredible how routine this university finals-prep period has become, and yet how torturous it still is each time. Ironically, the increasing ease with which I have been brandishing against finals has been giving me quite a bit of unease.

I really shouldn’t be so relaxed about this… Ah well, all that’s done has been done. Que sera sera – and now we move on to more exciting conquests in life.

R1009487 Whilst in the last couple of weeks of my time in Berlin, I hopped over to Cologne for a short 3-day stay.

There is something incredibly tranquil about Cologne and Bonn, like a kind of quiet peace that washes over you as you try – as much as you can anyway – to breathe slower, deeper.  To take things in little bits and pieces and not all at once.

That was the kind of effect these two cities had on me; a soothing, comforting lullaby of rivers and skies and golden sun.

R1009468 R1009533R1009536R1009537 The Kölner Dom is endlessly fascinating. My mind just cannot comprehend how such precise detail can be given to such an old, humongous structure. It’s absolutely insane. We also climbed up to the top to the viewing platform, which was all caged up so it wasn’t that spectacular really. I’d say the more interesting bit was actually climbing the claustrophobic, narrow spiral staircase (with hundreds of people in line behind and in front), wondering when you were going to miss a step and go crashing straight down to the bottom (assuming of course, that there weren’t hundreds of people behind and in front).

I’d still say the cathedral is more wonderous and mystical from afar (there were dead birds stuck on the viewing platform).

R1009491R1009526R1009540This German rode by on his bike, glanced at the Dom, got off, set up his easel – and stared painting there and then.

I in turn, stopped, stared, and snuck a shot. This is precisely why I love Cologne. It’s so wonderfully pleasant and laidback, as though there’s nothing else in the world these Germans could be doing except stopping by the riverside to paint.

R1009547R1009595 R1009605It was well into the afternoon by the time we were done with our lattes and mochas and hot chocolates. By then, we’d already spent 2 days in Cologne and decided to visit Bonn on a whim. Bonn is a small, quiet town just 20 minutes away from Cologne by train.

Better known for being Beethoven’s birthplace and the town of Haribo, Bonn was bathed in a delightful evening glow by the time we arrived.

R1009611R1009624R1009631 R1009650R1009653We spent a short while by the river, then trespassed into the University of Bonn, and proceeded to roll about on the campus greens with our fellow undergrads.

R1009663R1009687 R1009682R1009684R1009672We didn’t manage to visit the Haribo factory (it was closed for the day, boo), but it was a wonderful visit nonetheless. Just three broke students, a map, worn shoes and a couple of cameras 🙂

Satisfied, we left Bonn together with the setting sun.

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If Your Soul Has No Sunday, It Becomes An Orphan

The one thing which was a constant nagging worry while I was in Berlin was what am I going to do this Sunday?

Because Europeans, as we all know, value their rest days highly, and on Sundays when everything closes, it is – for a city girl like me – akin to Dooms Day.

What do you mean Kadewe is closed?? How do I subscribe to a consumerism lifestyle then??

But after much complaining and stalking out lonelyplanet.com, it appears there are many other things to do in Berlin on a Sunday, most of which mean mingling with the locals and gaining the ultimate (and cheap) immersive experience.

Did I mention it’s cheap?

And so, in no particular order, I present to you what to do with your Sundays in Berlin, because as coined by a very wise Albert Schweitzer,

Do not let Sunday be taken from you. If your soul has no Sunday, it becomes an orphan.

Of course, when you say Sunday the first that comes to mind is the wondrous, bustling and lovely little flea market that is Mauer Park. A sprawling complex which used to be divided by the Berlin Wall, it now transforms into a vibrant happy place every glorious Sunday.

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There were outdoor karaoke sessions, self-made musicians and buskers on every bend, people everywhere and a multitude of stores selling postcards, maps, vinyl records, sunglasses, old furniture, clothes, and a billion other things you can think of.

I remember being completely enraptured by the quartet of musicians at the entrance of Mauer Park one Sunday. Charity Children, they called themselves. Two of them were sharing a microphone, looking like they were either singing their hearts out or about to lock lips, and I just couldn’t pull myself away.

I found a comfortable spot on the rather uncomfortable stone steps and sat with about fifty over people, just listening to them sing. I ended up buying their CD home.

No photos of the park itself, the vendors were particularly possessive about their wares and waved their hands in front of my camera each time I tried. Not that I could try a lot anyway, it was pretty crowded. Still though, it made for an excellent Sunday morning.

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While there’s already a bunch of foodstalls in Mauer Park, I decided to venture out and find the breakfast market.

The Wochenmarkt at Markthalle Neun was a little quiet when I finally found it – probably because it was around 3PM when I arrived. Some stores were closed, but I still took a few walks around the market hall before settling on freshly-squeezed lemonade and a mushroom quiche for a late lunch. I was so very, very tempted to buy some handmade strawberry and apricot jam back, but at that point I was running low on budget (damned musicians and their amazing CDs) so I had to settle for looking longing at them and trying to read the labels with my shamefully non-existent German literary skills.

Next stop, I went back to Potsdamer Platz to look for the Panoramapunkt. I read that it was one of the best places to get an aerial view of Berlin (excluding the Fernsehturm but I didn’t have a chance to visit it).

I ended up spending close to half an hour walking aimlessly around the area, trying to look for the Panoramapunkt. Naively I thought it should look spanking new with glass windows and all, turns out it was actually within the Kollhoff Tower, a boring-looking brick building with a little banner bearing the words “PANORAMAPUNKT” at the entrance.

Oh well. At least I found it 😀

It was €6.50 for an adult ticket, and I was quickly brought to what they proudly claimed was the “fastest elevator in Europe” and whisked to the 24th floor in mere few seconds.

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Berlin is a little flat, so there wasn’t much to see besides the iconic Fernsehturm (second picture above), the Sony Centre (third picture) and a view of blocky little Berlin.

There was a cafe there but (a) I was out of money and (b) I was so full from stuffing myself with little snacks. Quite a pity though, I suppose it must be pretty magical to be able to chill in a cafe with a cuppa, overlooking Berlin, feeling important and all 😀

Next time, perhaps. I will come back to Berlin, no longer a broke university student, visit the Panoramacafe and fulfil that dream.

As the sun set, I was running out of things to do. Even though we’ve already had more than our fair share of bier, it was becoming pretty apparent that bier might just be what we had left to entertain us. Beer’s cheaper than water over in Berlin, and if Singapore had a “cafe culture”, then Germany most definitely lives, breathes and eats beer. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em I say. So with a bunch of friends in tow, we visited Cafe am Neuen See, a wonderful little biergärten nestled near the heart of the city.

Perhaps afternoons might be a better time to visit, because it was hidden in the perfect shade of trees, with twinkling fairy lights strung all around. There was even a small lake with boats for hire – you could go for a row if you fancied, and the Berlin Zoo was a few streets down too. We visited pretty late, and each ordered a pint.

Obviously, I had to go for the radler; I’m not so much a beer fanatic and radler is quite close to 7-up lemon, so why not, amirite? The cashier was missing when we went to pay though (probably poured himself a mug and went off somewhere to chill), so the bartender just waved his hand.

On the house, he said.

Oh but we couldn’t, we protested. There were four of us, each holding a pint. The rule-abiding Singaporean in us was reeling in shock. But the bartender just laughed.

Have a good night!

And he skipped away.

Ah I love Germany so much.

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It really made for a wonderful Sunday. I guess it’s the chill moments like these that leave the deepest, sweetest memories. I was never checking my watch for the time, never consulting a map, never worrying about missing a train/bus/tram on a Sunday – except maybe the last train home though, cause missing that would definitely suck.

Berlin, Berlin! Wir fahren nach Berlin!

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It’s Week 2; school’s in full swing, tutorials are starting and I…. am trying to enjoy the last leg of my IHG 14/15 season. With all the regrets I’ve been feeling, I have overlooked many happy memories. At the end of the day… it’s the moments that matter. So I’m going to do my best to give my team many, many moments that they can look back and smile upon 🙂

Anyway, as part of my de-stressing regime (I really need to stop being so terrible to myself), I realized that I need to do and see things that invoke happiness, so today, here are the 5 things you absolutely have to see in Berlin… for free 😀

Continue reading “Berlin, Berlin! Wir fahren nach Berlin!”