Robert Hampton

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22nd September 2014

Berlin Day 2: OK Computer

My second full day in Berlin was Saturday. I spent the morning riding the Berlin U-Bahn. I ended up back in the city centre at around 1.30pm. My sole nourishment so far that morning had been a Snickers bar from a platform vending machine, so some proper sustenance was needed. I got back on the U-Bahn and took a short ride to Alexanderplatz. Here I found Galeria Kaufhof, the massive department store. The restaurant on the top floor had been recommended to me by my friend Dave.

The restaurant is a self-service affair. I picked up a tray and explored the buffet selections on offer. Again, I was thankful that I had made the effort to learn a bit of German before coming here, as I was able to decipher the differently labelled foods on offer: Gemüse, Obst, Salate, Fisch, Pasta (OK, the last two are fairly obvious).

The choice was slightly bewildering, and there were lots of people waiting impatiently for their turn at each counter, so I didn’t have time to stop and consider my options carefully. Eventually, I scooped some pasta, some meat and some hash-browny type thing onto my plate and made my escape.

I took my plate to the checkout, where the cashier invited me to place it on a set of scales. Food here is priced according to weight – €1.85 per 100g. Annoyingly, I went just over 500g, so the price was rounded up to 600 grams.

I found an empty table and sat down, glad of the chance to rest my weary feet for a few minutes. Where did my stamina go? I’m sure that, a few years ago, I would have been able to roam the streets for hours without so much as a single blister. Now, it was barely 2pm and my body was complaining. I must be getting old. From now on, I am only going to take part in activities that can be done sitting or lying down.

It wasn’t just me that needed a recharge – excessive use of Instagram during the morning had run my phone battery down to zero. Continuing the rest of the day without a phone wasn’t an option – I needed access to maps to help me find my way around, and also it was the only camera I had with me. I would have to go back to the hotel to charge it up, even though this would probably eat an hour or more out of my day.

I was about to just get up and go, when I spotted that other customers were taking their used trays away with them. I followed one of them and discovered that there was a conveyor belt to take away used plates. I put my used tray on it, and it was swiftly whisked away through a small door. Technology – you’ve got to love it.

I went back to the hotel. While my phone recharged, I watched some excellent German television – Top Gear on RTL Nitro. Jeremy Clarkson dubbed into German? Hmm, maybe not.

Next stop was the Computerspielemuseum. I took an S-Bahn train to Ostbahnhof and walked the short distance to Karl-Marx-Allee, a street which I’m guessing is in the former Communist half of Berlin. In the distance, another symbol of the former East German regime, the Fernsehturm (TV Tower) loomed over everything else. If you’re interested, read about my visit there back in 2012.

Berlin Karl-Marx-Allee Berlin TV Tower

I soon saw the sign for the Computerspielemuseum and followed PacMan to the main entrance. This is yet another museum that gives discounted entry to Berlin Welcome Card holders – it really is well worth getting the card if you’re planning on spending a day or two in Berlin.

Computerspielemuseum, if you haven’t worked it out already, translates to “Computer games museum”. This building traces the history of video gaming from humble beginnings to the complex, hyper-realistic games of today.

Computerspielemuseum Berlin Computerspielemuseum

I was looking forward to a good burst of nostalgia. Me and gaming went our separate ways in the mid-1990s as the 16-bit era petered out. I will always maintain that the only good games are ones where you can see the pixels. The newer consoles, all 3D with polygons and textures and a million buttons on the controller, never did anything for me. I made a minor return by buying a Wii a few years ago, but it never quite matched the simple joy of blowing into a NES cartridge to get it to work.

Two Lara Crofts greeted me as I walked through the entrance.

Lara Croft

One section deals with major milestones in gaming. Élite is there, as is the original Microsoft Flight Simulator from 1982. Also on show are Sonic, Super Mario Bros. 3, Pitfall! and – representing more recent times – Pokémon and The Sims. And you can also laugh really hard at E.T., widely regarded as the worst computer game of all time.

E.T. and Microsoft Flight Simulator Pokemon and The Sims


Elsewhere, a big display shows off the games systems of the past. This was the part of the museum that got seriously evocative for me. I stared at each exhibit in turn, and found myself falling back in time.

There was the Commodore 64, on which I took my first tentative steps into computer programming. The Game Boy which took up too many hours trying to get the rockets to take off in Tetris. The SNES that frustrated me trying to get through the Special Zone on Super Mario World. Every computer, every games console I ever owned, now carefully preserved behind glass as a museum exhibit.

Kids were pointing and laughing at the various computers on display, and the blocky graphics and beeping sounds. THAT’S MY CHILDHOOD YOU’RE DISRESPECTING YOU UNGRATEFUL BRATS.

Then I remembered the time I tried to explain 8-bit computers to a work colleague who was born in 1990. He didn’t believe me when I told him about loading games off cassette tape; not even when I pointed him to a YouTube video showing a ZX Spectrum loading screen. People moan about Xbox games taking a few seconds to load of disc – try sitting there for 20 minutes watching an epilepsy-inducing flashing screen border. Bah, kids today.

In the midst of all this nostalgia, I definitely felt a premature mid-life crisis coming on. Time to shake that off and play some games!

Computerspielemuseum Arcade

The arcade contains a load of classic coin-op games – Asteroids, Donkey Kong, Space Invaders, Pac-Man, Gauntlet, Centipede, Hang-On and more – all ready and free to play.

Space Invaders Pac-Man

It’s fair to say I was in nerd heaven. Sadly someone else was HOGGING the Donkey Kong machine (grrr), but I was happy to sit at the Pac-Man cocktail cabinet and gobble some ghosts. Then I managed to get a high score on Centipede because, let’s face it, I’m brilliant. I resisted the urge to put a swear word in.


I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that I loved – LOVED – the Computerspielemuseum. I walked round all the exhibits two or three times, to make sure I didn’t miss anything. A great trip down memory lane for people like me, and a great education for the kids of today on how gaming has evolved.

I tore myself away from the museum. By now it was past 7pm and getting dark. I was hurrying back to the station when I remembered something that my guide book had mentioned: the East Side Gallery, a section of Berlin Wall that has been preserved. A quick check of Google Maps confirmed that it was nearby, just on the other side of the station, Ostbahnhof – not too far out of my way at all. I made the detour to go and see it.

Berliner Mauer East Side Gallery

After the Wall fell in 1989, most of it was quickly demolished. The East Side Gallery preserved a long section and invited artists from all over the world to paint murals on it. Unfortunately, in the intervening 25 years, the murals have suffered from the effects of the weather and a general lack of maintenance. They have also been vandalised, with lots of graffiti in evidence. There were signs warning against defacing the murals, but they didn’t seem to have discouraged anyone (I actually saw someone scribbling something on the wall with a permanent marker, making no attempt to hide what she was doing).

East Side Gallery

It’s a shame, because the artworks on show were striking. The gallery stretches 1.3km, between Mühlenstraße and the Spree river. I didn’t intend to walk the whole length of the gallery, but that is what I ended up doing.

East Side Gallery East Side Gallery

Across the road from the East Side Gallery is O2 World, a giant concert venue, and a temple of commercialism which I doubt the East German regime would have tolerated. A billboard advertised an upcoming appearance by James Last.

Some sections of the wall have been removed to allow easier access to O2 World, and also to luxury apartments which are being built along the river. No-one can accuse Berlin – where memorials can seemingly be found on every street corner – of forgetting its history, but it’s a shame that the East Side Gallery seems so unloved.

O2 World

I trudged back to Ostbahnhof, its exterior now lit up with bright neon lettering, and caught a train back west. My original plan had been to grab a quick bite to eat somewhere and then sample some nightlife, but again, old man Hampo was tired.

Berlin Ostbahnhof

I ended up buying a Chinese takeaway from a stand near Zoo station and retreating to my hotel for the night. There, whilst flicking through the channels, I alighted on Das Erste, which was showing what appeared to be a localised version of Stars in Their Eyes. I mention this only because they had a quite amazing Freddie Mercury doing I Want to Break Free.

Freddie Mercury

Francis Fulton-Smith, I salute you.

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