Hanging with the Ampelmännchen

After finishing the bike tour yesterday I wandered around the corner to the TV tower to go to observation deck. I could get a fast pass ticket for 5.45pm, which was three hours away, so I bough that (€19) and then headed over to the DDR museum to do that whilst I waited.

The DDR museum entry was by the river below street level, it took me a few minutes to find it. Google maps was telling me I was in it, yet I couldn’t find it. I eventually found the sign that said I needed to go downstairs to get to the museum. There was a small queue which took a few minutes. I guess queuing for the DDR museum is kind of culturally appropriate considering if you lived in the DDR you had to queue for everything.

The museum isn’t that large, but they have a lot of things crammed into it. Its a kind of split between what life was like in the DDR including the survelience with the stasi and a nostalgic look back at DDR products and that were available at the time for people who lived in East Germany. Something like 1 in 6 people were spies for the East German police and almost everyone in the DDR had a police file on them. Next time I’m here I will visit the Stasi museum. 

Prison cell and monitoring equipment

The Ampelmännchen (traffic light man) is mentioned a few times. From a design point of view its a unique icon, but functionally I think the red sign is a bit of a failure, from a distance it looks like a fat red cross, not a man. Initially I wasn’t sure if the light was intended for pedestrians or for traffic, as France has a skinny red cross on its traffic signals to indicate the lights for traffic going the opposite way are red. There is even a chain of stores in Berlin that sell Ampelmännchen merchandise. It is quite unique.

I think one of the most interesting antidotes about life in the DDR was that things were always in short supply and although no one starved, during the chernobyl crisis in 1986 the soviet union and other eastern states couldn’t sell their fresh produce onto western markets due to the contamination so they were dumped in East Germany and for a while there was a rare abundance of produce available. 


When I left the museum it was rather warm again so I stopped for a rest in a “starbucks like” cafe for a cold iced coffee mocha and caught up on some of my blogging whilst I was there and waited a while for my fast pass into the TV tower to become valid. 


The TV tower (Ferneshturm) is one of the tallest structures in Europe at over 350m, but the observation deck is at the 202 metre mark which makes it considerably lower than most of the “tall” buildings in Europe now such as the Shard in London. At the top they have a revolving resturant, bar and the observation deck. It was a clear afternoon so visibility was quite good. The TV tower was both a political symbol and technical necessity as the DDR was only allocated 2 TV frequencies so they had to have a large tower to broadcast from one place. They have kept some of the DDR design queues and its very retro inside. If you look up when in the lift you can see the central core of the building that the lift moves through.


It was around 7pm when I finished in the TV tower so started to think about dinner. I hadn’t tried an full Curry-wurst yet, so I googled for the best Currywurst in Berlin, and in the top 10, the 3rd best was less than a kilometre away, right next to the S-Bahn station and on the way back to my hotel. It was at Curry61. They say necessity is the mother of all invention and this is the case of Currywurst. With the short supply of food after the war, Herta Heuwer made a sauce from tomato ketchup and curry powder an poured it over boiled then fried pork sausage. Its delicious in its simplicity. I tired the most traditional version I could get.This was accompanied by a Berlin Pilsner. I couldn’t leave Germany without having at least one German beer.

In the morning I’m leaving for Prague so once I was back at the Berlin HBF (main station) I checked where my train would be leaving from in the morning (platform 1) and picked up some fruit and yoghurt to have in the morning. I was hoping the pretzel place would be open so I could get a breakfast pretzel again (they are very delicious) and a standard pretzel for the journey as I hadn’t had one of those yet either.


Four Hour Bike Tour in Berlin

Following on from last nights tour, I’m doing another one today. I didn’t have a heap of time to get coffee, and couldn’t get out to the few places I was recommend for best coffee in Berlin, so grabbed one from a small cafe under the rail station. Perfectly acceptable for a random coffee place on the go, a 6.5/10. At another place I grabbed what I could only describe a breakfast pretzel. Not salty and not as sweet as it looks. Rather delicious actually.

We all met at the same place as last night for the bike tour. I count 39 people waiting and I’m think OMG this is going to be terrible, the 25 in Copenhagen was ok but bordering on difficult. Double that is a busier city will be unmanageable. Thankfully we are split split into three groups. Daniel mentions on weekend they can have up to 200 booked in. These tours are popular.


At the start we are told the TV tower was designed by Swedish engineers due to brain drain on the state at the time. Interestingly enough the shape whilst looking space age casts a shadow that looks like the Christian cross. This was was quite embarrisng for the East Germans as an atheist communist state. It was promoted as the Popes revenge in the West. All the bikes have individual names so its easy to remember which one is yours. I had a red one yesterday, so I picked a blue one today.

We rode over to the Opera house which was bombed twice. The Allies bombed it, Hitler fixed it at great cost even with scarce resources during the war. Once it was complete we bombed it again. The communists fixed it again but had no appreciation for musical acoustics and replaced it with a flat ceiling.

We also looked into Bebelplatz (the book burning square of the Nazis). There is an underground empty library to symbolise all the missing books

Onto Checkpoint Charlie. It’s very kitschy now. The traffic here was crazy, no lights or priority signs on a major intersection in a tourist heavy area. This is the only spot in Europe ive felt nervous riding a bike. Exasperating the traffic were hordes of Trabants being driven in convoys by tourists. Funny to look at but a pollution disaster when in numbers. When in Poland on the Communist tour I was In a single one and not driving. They are hard to drive even for people used to them, being a tourist driving one, navigating traffic in Berlin and trying to take selfies with phones is a disaster waiting to happen. Looking out for cyclists would be the last thing on their mind, hence my nervousness cycling anywhere near them. 

Here is an example of a convoy I’ve uploaded to YouTube.

From here we moved over to the Fuherbunker (Hitler’s underground lair). It is marked with a sign, but its just an insignificant car park. As I read elsewhere once its an historically significant site but not a culturally significant one so it only gets minimal attention.


Brandenburg Gate was next, then the Jewish Memorial then into the Tiergarten.

The Jewish memorial is massive, I was shocked at how tall some of the concrete blocks are. there are apparently 2711 of them.

The Tiergarten is beautiful and massive. We had lunch here, I had a Bavarian Meatloaf slice on a bun. This is basically a square frankfurt sausage. Tastes way nicer than it looks. In the video below there are some shots of the Tiergarten. There were some very tame birds who would take the food off your plate if you left it for a few moments.

After lunch it was a trip over to the Reichstag and Museum island.


And here is the video from the trip. What other music could I possibly have used other than 99 Luftballons ?


Berlin Bike and Food Tour

When I got to Berlin and headed off for the food & bike tour, I found the Fat Tire meeting place for the tour really easily. The TV tower in Alexanderplatz is super hard to miss. It’s very Sputnik like, it was built by the old East Germans, using help from some Swedish engineers apparently. Met our tour guide Alex, easy name to remember considering where I was in Alexanderplatz. This was a small tour only one other lady (Eva). Both Alex and Eva are from Canada. 


We are fitted with Bikes, and I really like the Fat Tire ones, very easy to ride and they don’t have back pedal brakes, so I can reverse the pedals normally to get them in the right position. All bikes in Copenhagen had them. For some reason Eva’s bike does have them as well as the normal brakes so she had plenty of stopping power.

We set off and stop at a bride not far from Alexanderplatz and we are served Champagne (well German sparking wine technically as it’s not from Champagne in France). This was an old East German brand, sweeter than I expected and not heavy on the bubbles. This could be downed quite easily on a hot day. I’m instantly reminded that I’m not in Australia as I could not imagine this would pass muster with our RSA (responsible service of Alcohol) laws, especially considering we are on the road with traffic. I’m sticking to one only as I quite certain Germany will have similar drink driving/cycling laws to Australia if it came to the crunch. Even though I’ve been in Europe for a few weeks riding on the right is still strange and the brakes on the bike are back to front for me.



As this is a food tour we head over to a place that servers middle eastern style food and we have falafel, fried haloumi, some pita bread, tabouli and hummus etc. all incredibly delicious and equally as good as good as what I’ve had at home in Sydney. Over this we just discuss life the universe and everything about Berlin and how Alex as a Canadian ended up running bike tours in Berlin. 


After this we head off and tour some sections of Berlin where the wall used to be and there is a recreation of the wall in a section and a park that has some memorials. You can always tell if you were on the west side if you can read the text in the ground. If it’s upside down you are on the old East side. Germany never considers the DDR a seperate Germany, it was just Soviet occupied Germany on which they had no control. Anyone escaping could reclaim their German citizenship instantly.


The traffic light walk and stop symbol here in Berlin use the old East German symbol. This is quite famous and probably most loved bit left over from the old East Germany. It’s called Ampelmannchen. Of course plenty of shops sell all sorts of Ampelman stuff.


After this we head into Prenzlauerberg, one of the trendiest and nicest sections of Berlin and go to the “Schule” restaurant and have a type of German Tapas sampling menu. We have currry wurst, schnitzel, Spatzle (German macaroni & cheese) and a type of pizza they used to test the ovens for the correct temperature too cook bread. flammkuchen (flamecake) .I wash this down with a glass of Weißburgunder. Yum, yum, yum.

We were under a red umbrella in the sun, hence the weird colour of some of these pictures.


After this we head over to the water tower to try and get some sunset shots.


Time for thhe cake and coffee in another part of Prenzlauerberg. The cake was fantastic. I had a flat white, it was ok but I thought it was a little watery to pass for what I’d term a flat white back home. It seemed more like a slightly milky Americano with milk froth on top. After this it was a slight downhill run for a couple of km back to the tv tower. On a warm night cruising down at a nice speed in the breeze with not traffic or pedestrians was awesome.


If you are in Berlin I’d highly recommend this tour.


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