Berlin Part 3: Checkpoint Charlie, Climbing the Dome, and Getting Harassed

6 October 2015. Checkpoint Charlie was one of those places I had to see. It really wasn’t far from my hotel at all – on the side of Friedrichstraße that I hadn’t been to. So of course I took a walk there straight after breakfast. I walked for about 15 minutes and by 10:30, I saw the actual checkpoint about 20m in front of me. There was quite a queue and I couldn’t quite see what it was for. I wasn’t about to go join it just yet, so had a look around the vicinity and noticed that there was a photo gallery on what appeared to be part of the actual Berlin Wall.

There were captioned pictures of what the area looked like during the war, with tanks and a lot of the area totally destroyed and covered in rubble. One of the pictures also showed an aerial view of the exact point where I was standing, and how there was a road there. It was a little difficult to visualize all the buildings around me not being there.

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While I was reading one of the captions, this girl came asking for a donation. She looked Middle Eastern, and the thought of her being a refugee crossed my mind, but something wasn’t right about it. I wasn’t sure what to make of it, and when I looked around, it was if my radar switched on because I could suddenly see a whole lot of other similarly dressed girls all over the place bothering both locals and tourists alike. I felt bad for her because she was constantly nagging me, and I tried my best to politely refuse. For me, it was a matter of giving away Euros, not South African Rands. Because the exchange rate was about R16 to the Euro, anything I’d be giving away would actually cost me more than I was willing to give away.

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No matter what I said, she just wouldn’t leave me alone. Suddenly I heard a man’s voice behind me telling her in German to go away. When I turned around, it was an Indian man. She listened to him, and he said to me to not give her anything because “they like to target foreigners”. I thanked him and turned back to the caption I was reading, but I could tell that he wasn’t done talking. He then asked for my name and where I was from, and said that his name was Joy. I immediately thought he was probably a Punjabi Indian because they often have names like Joy. Anyway, I still tried to continue reading the captions, but he would not stop talking. It was like he wasn’t taking the hint that I was really not interested in talking to him, mostly because there was something very creepy about his eyes. They did not look honest at all and I could tell that he was not someone who could be trusted.

He continued talking, and I said as little as possible. It wasn’t long before he asked if I wanted to go get a cup of coffee. My adrenaline started pumping because it was a situation I really wanted to get out of, so my first reaction was to say that I was on a very tight schedule and had no time to do anything right now. It took a few tries of “No really, I can’t” to get him to give up. But then he asked if we can have dinner later at Amrit near Potsdamer Platz, since I said that that where I was staying (not the actual hotel of course). The area in which I was staying was literally the only information I gave him about myself. At least, until he persisted so much that the only way I could think of to get him off my ass (other than swearing him, which is what I actually wanted to do) was to get him to send me a private message on Facebook. Thankfully my privacy settings don’t allow strangers to add me as a friend.

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I had to let him send the message because there was no WiFi in the area for me to search for him, and I also figured that it would buy me some time to not only investigate who he actually was (because I didn’t believe that his name was really Joy), but also to come up with some sort of excuse for not being able to make it for dinner. I figured I could then block him immediately afterwards so that he’d never be able to contact me again. There was no way I was going to give him my number or any other information, and I really just wanted to get rid of him in the most polite way possible, since I was in public and didn’t want to go all ape-shit while telling him to f*** off. Besides, he had the look of a kidnapper or something, so I thought swearing at him might be a bad idea, because the last thing I wanted was to anger him since I had no way of knowing what his reaction might be. He looked like someone who would follow me if I rejected him too, so I had to be careful how I handled the situation.

Fast forward 7 hours later when I was back at my hotel – his message came through and it turned out that his name was something Sheik. I say “something” because it wasn’t Joy, and now when I viewed my Blocked List, it says that his name is Fatima Sheik. I don’t recall it being Fatima when I received that message almost 1 year ago, and it is certainly an easy enough name for me to remember since I have a close friend with that first name. At the time, when I investigated his profile before blocking him, it was evident that he was also married and had children. Had he been honest, his name would have not only remained the same on Facebook, but he would have also told me his real name. He also wouldn’t be trying to ask out a girl who was not his wife. Moral of the story: trust your gut instincts.

When I was finally free, I went into the what appeared to be the entrance of the Checkpoint Charlie Museum. I wasn’t that interested in actually going inside, but I think it was mostly because I was still trying to calm myself down after just having a very weird encounter with a man whose piercing, creepy eyes I couldn’t get out of my head. It was not a good thing. Anyway, I had read that Checkpoint Charlie was one of those places where you could get your passport stamped, and saw that there were 2 kiosks where it was possible. One of them charged about €6 for it (madness I tell you), while the other would stamp it in exchange for any donation you were willing to give. 3 years prior, I had paid about €2 to get my passport stamped in Liechtenstein, so that is what I decided to pay for this one, and the guy was happy to oblige for that amount. So basically, when abroad, don’t just jump at the first thing you see when you could find the same thing for much less right next door, under your very nose.

Once I was done there, I figured it was time to go take some pictures with the “soldiers” –  the reason behind the queue of people I had seen minutes before. One of them was extremely good looking…so much so that it was difficult not to stare at him. He was clearly a little nutty, too, and loved the attention. I think it was only because of his perfectly chiseled face that people didn’t mind what he said or did. When I joined the quickly moving queue, I noticed that there was another “soldier” collecting €2 from each person. I had no idea what it was for, but it was a small price to pay for a teeny bit of fun. In 60 seconds, that very “soldier” took 60 photos. This was the result, and I think you can tell which of the “soldiers” I was referring to before.

After I got my photos, I had no particular destination in mind. The more I think of it now, the more I want to kick myself. That one place that I really wanted to go to that I could have easily went to was Legoland Berlin. I still can’t believe that I didn’t go.

Berlin street art

Anyway, I had quite a few hours to go before my Third Reich tour at 2pm, so I thought I’d take a walk back to my favourite place: the Dom. I felt as though I hadn’t taken enough photos of it, so I wanted more. Also, I just really liked the area it was in and I wanted to see it again. It was kind of like how I felt about seeing St Peters Church as many times as I possibly could while I was in Rome.

It took about 1.5 hours to walk to the Dom, mostly because I took my time and made a lot of stops to take photos of random things that I found pretty.

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Once I got to the Dom, I realised I’d regret it if I didn’t go inside. For once in my life I remembered to use the Welcome Card, and I got a bit of a discount to enter. It also gave me the opportunity to climb to the top. At first, I wasn’t sure if I should do it, but when I looked at the time and saw that I had at least 1.5 hours to get to Brandenburg Gate for the start of my Third Reich tour, I decided to just do it.20151006_135552

There were signs every so often warning that the climb was physically demanding, since there were around 270 steps (I thought it was about 400, but Google reminded me of the actual number). I must say, the climb wasn’t that bad at all. As I’ve mentioned many times before, my fitness levels go into the negative, but I was able to climb to the top without feeling as though I was going to die. There were plenty of landing spaces and flat areas to walk to break the climb, so it’s not like it’s one long spiral staircase to the top. I expected it to be a little like Neuschwanstein, but that wasn’t the case at all.

Once I got to the top, I was disappointed by only one thing: the fact that it had started to drizzle. I made ‘friends’ with a Chinese girl for a whole 5 minutes as we offered to take photos of each other with the famous Berlin TV Tower in the background.

Berlin TV Tower

After I got photos of the view, I made my way back down. Also, the Chinese girl had totally disappeared. I didn’t really bother looking for her because I needed to get to my Third Reich tour. The drizzle had dampened my spirits a bit, but I was just glad it remained a drizzle and that I was warmly dressed.

Getting to the Third Reich tour was such a rush because I actually spent longer at the Dome than I expected to, and it was quite a walk to the nearest metro station, namely Alexanderplatz. It was so bad, that by the time I got to the station, it was already 2pm. I figured I’d make it just in time because the actual tour was supposed to start at 2:30pm, so the 30 minute grace period before that would be used to check in for it.

I was wrong.

Once I got to the Brandenburg Gate stop, it was already 2:20pm, because I had to change trains at Friedrichstraße. The signs in the Friedrichstraße station are so bad, that finding where I needed to go was absolutely horrendous. I was just glad that I didn’t have a big bag with me. When I eventually figured out where my train was (I actually think I just winged it and hoped for the best), I got on it and reached Brandenburg Gate just after 2:30pm. I knew all that time that I was going to be late for the tour. Once I got out of the train, I literally ran to the meeting point that was Starbucks. I was too late. The tour had already left at about 2:15pm, so I was really annoyed because they clearly didn’t check that everyone was there. Anyway, there were still people with red jackets and umbrellas waiting to do other tours, so when I asked one of them, they said that it would be okay for me to come the following day since the ticket wouldn’t expire any time soon.

Annoyed that I had wasted my energy for a tour I was definitely going to miss, I got myself a grande cafe mocha from Starbucks. It was the perfect fix for my mood, and went perfectly well with the weather. Starbucks may not know how to do all their coffees right, but they certainly know how to do a cafe mocha. At least, the one in Berlin at Brandenburg Gate.

Amrit

Since I hadn’t eaten at all since breakfast, yet again, I wasn’t sure what to do for lunch/supper. I didn’t want to get more currywurst because that would certainly not fill me for 2 meals. The creepazoid from earlier in the day mentioned Amrit, and it so happened that Amrit was a place that I had found while planning my trip as I was looking for popular places around my hotel. I figured that I could still go there and not encounter that weirdo, since it was still early in the day (before 4pm).

When I got there, I was seated in a bright corner next to some locals. It’s funny how people are attracted to food from a different culture. Besides the staff, I was literally the only Indian person in the restaurant. It was rather fancy looking, and had prices to match. I just wanted something like a tandoori chicken, and managed to find it on the menu at a decent price (I can’t remember what exactly).

I didn’t get what I ordered.IMG_2770

I got a chicken dish of some sort, but it was with gravy. I had ordered the tandoori without the gravy. I don’t recall what it was called, but when the waiter brought it to me and told me what it was, it was something else. Anyway, it was still quite tasty. I obviously paid more than I planned to since it was a different meal. Normally I would have said something, but I didn’t feel really comfortable with the staff…they weren’t particularly friendly. Amrit, I’d give you a 3/5.

Since it was my last night in Berlin, I wanted to go out and see the city at night. One thing Berlin is certainly good at is how it dresses itself up at night. Potsdamer Platz is also a buzzing place to be, so I didn’t want to miss seeing it at night.

After relaxing in my hotel room for a little while, I headed out. It was already dark at about 8pm, and the weather was good. It had stopped raining and there was a fresh, gentle breeze. I was keen on using my F1.4 lens to take some photos, because I thought I had finally figured out how to use it effectively. At least, for an amateur.

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I hadn’t walked about much, but it had become cold, so I didn’t want to venture far out. I had to get that view of the back of Brandenburg Gate that I had come to see, and this was the only time to do it. I took a slightly different route to normal, which let me approach it from the back rather than from the metro station in front of it, and it was well worth it.

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Before leaving my hotel, I told my friends that I was going for a walk. They all told me to be careful, but when I was walking, I felt completely safe. My mind was completely empty of worries and all I could think of was that it was my last night in Germany and I didn’t want to leave. I was the happiest I had been in almost a year and it was finally coming to an end. There was no better place to spend my last night in Berlin than at Brandenburg Gate. And, of course, the road had been completely cleared of all barricades from the weekend, just as I hoped they would be. God bless the Germans.

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I spent a little over an hour out before heading back to my hotel. By the time I got to the point where I was satisfied with my view of the gate, it had begun to drizzle again. When I got back to Motel One around 9:30pm, I decided to have a local beer in the breakfast area/bar. It was the final cherry on top on my last night.

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