Robert Hampton

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June 2012

5th June 2012

The Elephant in the Room
Posted by at 10.30am | Gay, Out and About | 3 responses

I’ve spent the past few days in Berlin with my friend Andrew. Wonderful Berlin. Beautiful, exciting, cosmopolitan Berlin. There are numerous pictures and blog posts to follow in the coming days.

Most of our first full day in Berlin was spent doing some historical sightseeing. This city was at the centre of world events for much of the 20th century, and the lingering after-effects are there to see all around. In a later blog post I’ll talk about what I saw of the remains of the Berlin Wall and the Cold War era.

First though, I need to acknowledge what I saw and learned about the darkest chapter in Germany’s history – namely, those twelve years from 1933 to 1945 when the country descended into tyranny, terror and unspeakable evil, culminating in the most destructive war in the world’s history, and the attempted extermination of a race of people.

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8th June 2012

Wall to Wall
Posted by at 12.39am | Out and About | 4 responses

Checkpoint Charlie "You Are Entering The American Sector" signMy history lessons in school were heavy on Germanic stuff. World War II featured prominently, of course, but I was always slightly more fascinated by the post-war era, particularly the political situation that led to the division of Germany and the erection of the Berlin Wall.

Die Berliner Mauer carved its way through the city, separating West Berlin from the country of East Germany entirely. It wasn’t a neat separation, as the wall zig-zagged and wiggled its way through the streets to reflect the borders of the post-war occupation zones. Roads were blocked and railway lines severed. People living on the same street found themselves separated from their neighbours. The only access to and from West Berlin was via a handful of road, rail and air corridors. For East Germans and East Berliners, crossing the border was deliberately made as difficult as possible.

Berlin WallUS President Reagan’s demand to the Soviet authorities (“Tear down this wall!”) was belatedly acted upon in 1989. 23 years later, there is little of the Wall left, and what remains is in various states of decay.

Reunification and reconstruction has removed most of the physical evidence of The Wall but it still makes its presence felt in some ways. There are still two distinct “city centres” recognisable in East and West Berlin. To this day, the city’s tram network abruptly stops at the former border (The West Berlin authorities abandoned trams while East Berlin retained them), although there are plans to extend it into the West.

My knowledge of the Berlin Wall was largely limited to that gleaned from playing the eponymous Scenario in SimCity 3000 (which, as it turns out, is not accurate). In order to rectify this, Andrew and I set out to find ourselves some Cold War relics.

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11th June 2012

Ich gayer nach Berlin
Posted by at 7.56pm | Gay, Out and About | 2 responses

Naturally any visit to Berlin would not be complete without sampling its gay scene. While the days were spent sightseeing, most nights Andrew and I ended up in and around Fuggerstraße.

The gay district is not just big, it’s open and in-your-face in a way I’ve never seen before. A giant rainbow flag hanging outside Nollendorfplatz U-Bahn station indicated that the city cherishes its gay community. And the welcome extends beyond the immediate area: we found this poster in a bus shelter in a random suburb.

Respect Gaymes

There’s no ambiguity whatsoever about the nature of the area. Rainbow flags hanging from various poles (stop it), shops selling all sorts of… interesting stuff.

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16th June 2012

Posted by at 5.23pm | Out and About | 1 response

Berlin FernsehturmIt’s hard to miss the Berlin Fernsehturm.

This striking piece of Communist architecture dominates the landscape in Berlin. It is 368 metres tall, making it the fourth tallest freestanding structure in Europe, just behind the Riga TV Tower and just ahead of Greg Davies.

It’s a long-standing joke that in films set in Paris, the Eiffel Tower moves around to be in the background of every scene. A similar comment could be made about the Fernsehturm and Berlin, but this time I think the effect is real.

When looking through my holiday snaps, it was amazing how many times the tower appeared in the background, even if I hadn’t noticed it at the time.

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19th June 2012

DDR you having a laugh?
Posted by at 10.49pm | Out and About | No responses

DDR Museum EntranceAs mentioned previously, Andrew and I had a couple of hours to kill between buying our Fernsehturm ticket and actually being admitted to the tower.

Luckily, just around the corner is another attraction, the DDR Museum, dedicated to all things East German and packed with artefacts from the 51 year history of the Deutsche Demokratische Republik. We dutifully rolled up at the entrance and paid our €6 entry fee.

Life in East Germany wasn’t exactly a bowl of Kirschen. Democracy was non-existent, the state infringed onto most aspects of people’s lives, the press was dominated by Government propaganda and the Stasi would round up anyone whose political attitudes were “incorrect”. Nevertheless, there is a certain level of rose-tinted “Ostalgia” for the old days. The DDR museum caters to that, although it doesn’t gloss over the less savoury aspects either.

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22nd June 2012

Don’t Hassle the (Tempel)hof
Posted by at 11.05pm | Out and About | 2 responses

Berlin Tempelhof (former airport)Berlin is well provided for in the airport stakes. Our easyJet flight touched down at Schönefeld Airport, just outside the city. There is another airport at Tegel, in the western suburbs of Berlin.

The two airports are required due to Berlin’s status as an important European destination, but they’re also a relic of the city’s division. During the Cold War, Schönefeld served East Berlin, while Tegel was for West Berliners. One of the final acts of stitching the city back together will be to concentrate all flights on the Schönefeld site and close Tegel. In fact, the new airport was due to open during our stay and – had things gone to plan – we would have been one of the first passengers to use the airport on Sunday 3rd June. My travelling companion Andrew, a committed aviation enthusiast, was immensely disappointed when a series of cockups postponed the airport’s opening to March 2013. To add insult to injury, the free tourism brochure left in our hotel room was filled from cover to cover with articles expounding about how great the new airport terminal was going to be.

Berlin Tempelhof (former airport)Until 2008, Berlin had a third airport – Tempelhof. Opened in 1923, it was one of the oldest airports in Europe, possibly the world. It became famous during the Cold War when, in 1948, Russian troops prevented access to West Berlin, forcing a massive airlift operation. US planes, carrying food and supplies, landed at Tempelhof Airport as often as every three minutes, beating the blockade. The US Air Force maintained a base at Tempelhof until 1994.

Tempelhof closed in 2008 as part of the process of consolidating all Berlin’s air traffic on one terminal. In the long term, the whole area will be redeveloped, but plans have been put on hold due to the current economic crisis. Rather than let the runways and taxiways stand idle, however, the Berlin city authorities have had the smart idea of opening the huge site up to the public as a park.

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26th June 2012

Raised in a Bahn
Posted by at 11.21pm | Out and About, Trains | No responses

Berlin S-Bahn train at Schönefeld Airport stationI tend to judge a town by the quality of its public transport. A city could have the world’s best cuisine, culture and nightlife, but if its subway system is scruffy, it will lose a lot of points in Hampo’s Travel Guide.

First impressions of Berlin’s transit network were, in fact, not good. We wanted to use the train to get into the city centre, but Schönefeld Airport station is an absolute dump. This could be excused because they were expecting the airport and its station to be closed from the beginning of June. However, there’s no excuse for the complete lack of information to guide incoming passengers. We had a vague idea that there was a “RegionalExpress” train into Berlin city centre, but we couldn’t find its departure platform amidst the jumble of destinations on the departure board and missed it.

S-Bahn interiorWe ended up instead on an ambling S-Bahn train. These suburban trains are great, but stopping at every little wayside station meant it took forever. Also, the train terminated at Sudkreuz, some way short of our intended destination. We had to change to another S-Bahn line, then transfer to the U-Bahn to reach the station nearest to our hotel. It took a lot longer than we thought it would.

Fortunately our later experiences cancelled out this initial trouble, and I’m pleased to report that – from this tourist’s point of view at least – Berlin’s transport is generally quite good.

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30th June 2012

Berlin Loose Ends
Posted by at 11.51pm | Out and About | 1 response

We’ve come to the end of my Berlin blogs. By way of a final flourish, here are some other things Andrew and I saw while we were there. They cannot justify a blog post on their own, but I’m bringing them here together for your enjoyment.

Berlin bears

Berlin’s symbol is a Bear (the animal, not a large hirsute homosexual gentleman, although there’s plenty of them around too) and these large statues, each uniquely decorated, are dotted around the city. Did the Liverpool Go Penguins team draw any inspiration from this?

Berlin Bear Berlin Bear

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