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.


Berlin or Bust

After the delayed train in the morning by 20 minutes we were on our way to Berlin. the delay was only 20 minutes, so I didn’t really think much of it until I check my ticket and the exact change over between trains in Hamburg was exactly 20 minutes. I’m thinking this could be a tight changeover. Website says they arrive on same platform, one on platform 5 and one directly opposite on platform 6. If this holds true it might just be do-able. We start making up a bit of time, but this goes to custard when we get to Rodby where the train is put on a ferry, and the ferry doesn’t wait. We have to wait at Rodby for the next ferry. It’s offical. I’ve missed the train I’m booked on and not quite sure what will happen now

Where I was sitting was too good to be true, in all the confusion back in Copenhagen with the delay and two trains coming in, I’d got on the wrong carriage. This train splits and the half I was sitting on didn’t go to Hamburg. Luckily the ticket inspector pointed out my error and I was soon where I should be, with more people around me.

The Danish ticket inspector doesn’t know what we need to do about the missed connections and says to talk to the German ticket inspector once over the border in Germany. When that happened, it was easily sorted. Just get any train she says and tell them this one was delayed. Bummer is I’ve lost my seat reservation. To fix that, there are two trains out of Hamburg that will get be to Berlin before 4pm, so I get online and reserve a seat on both of them just in case I miss the 12.51pm as it even looks like that would be a tight connection.

Putting the train on the Ferry was very interesting, cars, busses, trucks and this train. It’s basically a car carrying duty free shop with a few cafes. Food options were Schnitzel, fish and chips, hot dog or spaghetti. Most of the major European food groups covered… As soon as the cars and train were on, we had to exit the train (safety in case the boat sinks) and almost everyone bolted for the duty free to load up on cigarettes and booze.

Train going onto the ferry, trucks beside it, cars one level up and it was a tight squeeze getting off the train to the stairs / lift up to the main deck.

A few shots from around the ferry. Last one is the train actually going into the ferry. Not sure if it was pulled, pushed in or under its own power.

We get into Hamburg in plenty of time for 12.51 (6 minutes wait) it pulls in and it’s an old Czech Republic run train. Nothing wrong with them really, I took one from Auschwitz to Krakow in Poland and it was fine. A bit old and worn out, but I’ve paid to travel on the high speed ICE trains and damn it, I want that one. It leaves almost an hour later, but only arrives in Berlin 20 minutes behind the Czech one, so decision is made. Turns out it was an excellent decision, the ICE train is wonderful.

Old Czech train vs modern sleek high speed ICE train.

I need not have bothered booking a seat, 1st class was almost empty I had little booth all to my self. Sure enough when the ticket inspector came around I told her the Danish train was late and she said that’s all fine and scanned my ticket.


Train gets up to 230kph. It may have gone faster but this is what it was doing when I stuck my head around the corner to look at the display


Arrived in Berlin, HBF is ginormous. One of the biggest train stations I’ve ever seen. Found my hotel easily, its next door. Fantastic room, ultra modern, decent internet and it also includes free metro travel. Damn… I’m only here for two nights. A few coffee places around, headed over to Alexanderplatz to join my bike/food tour. Thought I might miss this tour with the train stuffups but made it easily with an hour to kill. Photos are of the Alexanderplatz TV tower (built during the East Germany times), the Berlin HBF station and a metro train.

I had an ice cold coffee whilst I waited for the tour.