Saturday, 22 February 2020

Berlin it to win it

I got back this morning from a short trip to Berlin, my birthday present from the lovely Suzanne. We spent three nights on Turmstrasse in Moabit, not far outside the Mitte neighbourhood. We had a brilliant time, it was only a pity we couldn't stay longer. We arrived on Wednesday afternoon and chilled out for a bit, before heading out for some snacks and beers in the local cafes and bars. We might have had a few too many of the beers, in retrospect, as we didn't manage to get up until midday. However, we did have an excellent night, especially once we found our way to a craft beer place run by a barmaid who could somehow keep fifteen tabs straight in her head. We made some friends and crashed a Tinder date, and sampled some very good beers. A couple of shots, too. That might explain the missed morning as well.

Once we managed to get ourselves out of bed, we walked along Alt-Moabit to Mitte to visit the Museum fur Naturkunde, one of my main reasons for wanting to visit the city. One of the best natural history museums in the world, the Berlin museum is famous for holding the largest mounted fossil skeleton in the world: the great Brachiosaurus brancai. Also known as Giraffatitan (respect to the museum for sticking with the traditional classification), this gigantic beast was uncovered in Tendaguru, Tanzania and is 13 metres tall. It shares its central podium with a Dicraeosaurus and a Diplodocus carnegii, the latter a cast from the Carnegie Museum specimen. That's the same as Dippy, currently on tour from the London NHM, and its incredible that the huge dinosaur that usually dominates that museum's entrance hall is dwarfed by the brachiosaur. Dippy is longer, but doesn't have the sheer size of the brachiosaur.

I got plenty of snaps - I'm not photographer, so not everything came out well - including the Allosaurus, Elaphrosaurus, Dysalotosaurus and Kentrosaurus. I got too excited explaining the significance of the Berlin specimen of Archaeopteryx lithographica to remember to get a pic of it. Plus there were some plesiosaurs and sundry pterosaurs (Flugsauria!), a huge gallery of taxidermied animals, including extinct species such as the thylacine and quagga, some alarmingly large models of insect and spiders and a gigantic display of organisms preserved in jars of ethanol.

Other than the dinosaurs, which I got far too excited about, the best part of the museum was the Earth and Space room, which had a huge display unit projecting the evolution of the universe, suspended over a sort of sofabed. The excitable kids made it, although my back didn't survive quite intact, it was a lot of fun. Plus I learned that the German for Crab Nebula is Krebsnebbel, which is not only hilarious itself but when run back through Google Translate comes out as Cancer Fog. (Also, German for seal is seehund, which is adorable.)

This wasn't the only bit of culture we took in. Friday was our sightseeing day, thanks to a hop-on/hop-off tour bus which took us right into the heart of Mitte. We got off to see Checkpoint Charlie and the Berlin Wall Museum that sat at the old site, which provided a brilliant multimedia experience that really brought the bizarre situation in Berlin in those days too life. It's weird to think that was just over thirty years ago, well within living memory of many people in the city. We were, appropriately enough, staying in the old British Zone, but nowhere in the western part of the city is far from the line with the east. Suz and I can just remember the Wall coming down, but we were very young indeed and the significance we pretty lost on us back then. It certainly looks pretty American around there now, with KFC and McDonalds immediately dominating the road across from the museum. We focused on currywurst, kebabs and waffels while we were in town. (We also accidentally ordered a mixed grill for four at McDarwich, but we salvaged the remains for later snacking.)

We followed the Wall with the Spy Museum, which wasn't very secret at all, but was fascinating and a lot of fun. The dressing up area was a bit poor, since the spy look seems to be just my normal hat and coat (I thought about swapping my hat for a less well-worn one, but they were all tagged.) The history of spies and cryptography is astonishingly long, though, and there was a lot to learn among the kid-friendly activities.

It's a shame we didn't have more time for a few more museums, but we also wanted to get in plenty of restaurant and chilling out time as well. We're definitely planning on going back, now that we vaguely know our way around and have a better idea of where else we want to see. There's enough museums to keep us busy for a couple of weeks at least. And plenty of beers and currywurst still to try.

(Photosauruses to follow)

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