AA on the road: Day 2 – First day with the Land Rover

Day 2: August 28, 2015
Time: 09:00
Location: Berlin, Germany

Guten Morgen aus Berlin!

Today it is all about the car. We spent the morning anxiously counting the minutes until the clock would ring 10:00 o’clock so we could call Ali the car dealer. First high five moment of the day! Our Land Rover has passed the toughest test, the bureaucratic exam necessary to deregister the car in Germany and get the export license plates. Phew… we can breath freely now. After all the craziness of yesterday, the chances of obtaining the necessary papers, stamps and license plates did not look so fat. Anyway all the big worries are behind now, the plates are secured, and the car just has to pass a check up at a workshop that is of course friends with the car dealer. Pick-up time 17:00 and we can hit the road as planned the day after.

Seeing as we got some time on our hands before we brought our Rover back home, we decided to take care of one important business. Stock up on some road trip essentials. Nope… not camping gear or a trailer… Wool clothes of course! On the insistence of Andreas, the man cannot resist his shopping urges. He has recently discovered a newfound passion for Merino wool clothes.

When travelling long and constrained on the amount of luggage you can carry, it is great to have clothes that don’t need to be washed every day. On this trip some of the Merino wool items became our travel companions. To put in a word of admiration, this wool has all the benefits of wool and the softness of cotton. It keeps you warm when it’s cold, and cool when it’s hot. It’s naturally odour-resistant / antibacterial so it can go days without washing. Woah if this was happening in a movie you would by now be bombarded by major product placement all over the place. But seriously the Merino sheep didn’t sponsor us unfortunately, so this is only a tip for the road from two travellers who have crossed many roads.

Yes! The license plates with the famous bear of Berlin are secured. Let the adventure begin!

Yes! The license plates with the famous bear of Berlin are secured. Let the adventure begin!

Little after 17:00 we arrive at the all-too-familiar car compound, and are presented with our red license plates. Second high five of the day! After a few moments of pure joy, and signing of Kaufvertrag, that suddenly had a much lower price neatly scribbled in for the official records only, we join Ali on a short drive to the car workshop. At the workshop before getting off the car, we are kindly asked to settle the workshop payment in the car… Hmm… not shady at all! But we are pressed on time and the sight of our Rover is far too tempting to renew price negotiations.

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Here it is – our Rover!

After what seemed like eternity, the car is ready and we can seal the deal.

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A few Euros and a handshake and the deal is sealed!

 

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First spin of our baby Rover – we are all smiles!

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One proud owner. Just look at his smile :)

After two days spent exploring the used car markets of Berlin, we are now proud owners of a Land Rover Freelander in British racing green, the one and only iconic colour! Third high five of the day. Roads of Eastern Europe we are coming!

Photos © Andreas Eriksen & Ani Movsisyan

AA on the road: Day 1 – Buying the car in Berlin

Day 1: August 27, 2015
Time: 04:30
Location: Copenhagen, Denmark
Destination: Berlin, Germany

The dawn is about to break. Despite catching just 4 hours of sleep we wake up fresh as morning dew hyped from joy and the anticipation of the wide road that lay in front of us. After months of dreaming, worrying, planning, drawing, reading, searching, and dreaming again our big adventure is about to start.

Rewinding a few hours into the evening before, Andreas, the packing-master did an impeccable job of cramming our month’s of travel essentials into two medium-sized The North Face duffle bags. As he pulled the zipper shut on the bags in the late hours of the night, I had two thoughts:

1. Andreas is the Yoda master of packing! Seriously. Every inch of what to me seemed a rather small bag, was masterfully utilised. Every nook and cranny was neatly packed. Every single item we wanted to bring found a home. If there was ever a championship for packing, he would with no doubt win the title. You will discover more excellent proof of this later on as he artfully packed all the goodies of Armenia from lavash, peach, grapes to jams and wine into a 20 kg suitcase.

2. How on earth did I go from doing a weekend travel with a fully packed North Face bag to the same fully packed North Face bag rationed for one month of travel! Insane. I must say at that moment I secretly felt rather proud of myself for developing traits that helped me to exercise self-discipline on my urge of packing ah these 3 cannot travel without dresses, and oh that absolutely essential t-shirt collection, and 3 pairs of shoes… Don’t be fooled, it was a darn hard struggle, firmly led by the packing master, Andreas. After a month on the road though as I was unpacking the bag I found that there were even clothes I simply didn’t manage to wear throughout the trip. Ah girls…

Back to the morning after. We have a flight to catch. We are going home. To Berlin. Our home for a year and a city that has become the site of our annual pilgrimage since then. Quite symbolically Berlin is what we chose as the start of our road trip.

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This oh-so-familiar corridor at Tegel airport in Berlin. Magical city, here we come!

One hour on an AirBerlin plane, and we are taxiing to the gate of TXL. This airport is not one of the world’s most glamorous, but oh it is so efficient. 5 minutes in and out the door and you are on your way to a TXL airport bus taking you into the city that has so much to offer, to amaze and to make you fall in love with.

Our mission for the day is to locate and secure our ride. A rather important mission, given a car is an absolutely essential attribute of accomplishing a road trip. After many hours of online search Andreas had already shortlisted three potential candidates for us to check out. We naively thought that it would not be such a hard task buying a used car, after all it is civilised, law-abiding Germany we are talking about. But oh no… Berlin car dealers. Many pages could be dedicated to this particular segment of the city’s population. We will suffice with only a brief summary of probably the most intense day of our trip.

Around 11:00 we arrive at the first address, a huge impound, somewhere in Neukölln to check out the first candidate, an old Mitsubishi. After just a few seconds on the site we already felt like we were in Turkey. After some Turkish/Arabic exchange of screams among the various dealers, we are finally shown the right car dealer who possessed the Mitsubishi from the online ad. But the first attempt is almost never a success. Voila the car miraculously broke down yesterday and of course the dealer did not even bother to remove it from the online system or even try to fix it. Disappointed we leave the impound, off to the second location.

This one is half-way across Berlin somewhere in Südkreuz. This time the impound, or rather the car yard, was a much smaller site, with only a few exhibits. The dealer – another Turkish member of the Berlin car mafia, constantly on the phone and constantly screaming. In between those calls he showed us the car – a scratched, beaten up, plastic parts broken off Land Rover. Test drive did not make it better. After futile attempts to try to say thank you and good-bye to the dealer, who did not even bother to interrupt his 20 min and counting conversation, we left the premises to find the third car place.

Seems like we arrive at the hornet’s nest run by a Lebanese familia. Ali was the man who was juggling around a couple of bosses. He had many cars for sale, and among them with a dead battery parked behind a couple other cars, stood our beauty, an old, very old Land Rover Freelander. For Andreas it was love at first sight. His eyes were set on it and only on it.

After 3 hours spent walking around in the impound, being called kollega left and right, witnessing many phone calls, negotiations, Polish buyers, money flying around, and observing firsthand a closely tied network of dealer-car workshop-paper fixer, we were finally taken to a werkstatt where cars were piling on each other. So Andreas’ dream car was deemed unfit to pass the TÜV test, the German car test that is needed for obtaining a car registration. We drive back to the impound, and after some more hours and many more phone calls and a brief meeting with the Big Boss himself we negotiate a price and a plan to make the car ready for us by Saturday, the day we would like to start our drive towards Czech Republic.

After a total of 5 hours on the impound, feeling exhausted, hungry and dusty we were released to enjoy the evening in Berlin.

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Exhausted. 5 hours with Gebrauchtwagen händler in Neukölln finally paid off. Maybe? Awaiting TÜV test and Ausfuhrkennzeichen.

Every time we visit Berlin, there is one special place that we always return to: Sony Center & Potsdamer Platz. If you have been to Berlin, you will probably say just about now, but that is so touristy, why, oh why? Well, yes it is. Potsdamer Platz is quite popular amongst the crowds of people visiting Berlin. The Berlin Wall once ran here. We love it for two reasons: #1 it houses the Sony Center, a beautiful piece of architectural mind. We have our beloved spot, lying on the metal benches under the center’s colourful roof, surrounded by all the life passing by, and gazing dreamily at this sky… And that is exactly what we did to release the long day’s exhaustion.

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There is no place like this – Sony Center

#2 is the sight of the three skyscrapers of Potsdamer Platz. Somehow standing there on that busy sidewalk, at the crossroads of Berlin’s turbulent history, looking up at these three buildings, you think back on the past and look forward to the future.

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Potsdamer Platz in evening light.

So here we where, in the midst of enjoying pizza at our usual pizza joint on Potsdzmer Platz, when Ali the car dealer, tracks us down to sign some papers for the car registration and receive cash, of course more than initially agreed for the broker’s service, another guy in the familia, to handle the registration for us with a small price bump along the way. After a really long day, we say good night to Berlin, hoping that the morning after will come with good news…and hopefully no more last-minute pricing surprises.

Photos © Andreas Eriksen & Ani Movsisyan

Berlin – Köpenick

Ich liebe Berlin! A sentence well-well used and meant. I too represent those millions of people. One of the reasons of this love is the wonderful people I met and befriended in Berlin mostly through my German classes at Volkshochschule. This Köpenick adventure I made with Valeria, an ever-smiling and amazing Veronian, who joined our class to refresh her German and who now shows absolute resistance to talking Deutsch with me. Hope this public shaming will open up your mouth 😉

Valeria stayed in Berlin for just a month but we managed to run around Berlin in search of crazy adventures in the freezing months of February-March. I miss you Vale… baci!!!!!!!!

Köpenick, meaning “place on a river”, is a quaint town on the outskirts of Berlin and is part of a bigger region by the same name. To get there take the S3 direction Erkner and get off at Station Köpenick.

Having escaped the convergence of tourists, it is a wonderful destination if you want to spend a relaxing afternoon and leave the buzz of the big city behind. Altstadt Köpenick is particularly charming. Don’t forget to visit the City Hall and the famous local – der Hauptmann von Köpenick – whose statue greets you by the door.  He was an unemployed cobbler, who plotted to rob the City treasury in 1906. Der Hauptmann succeeded of course – disguised as an army captain he ordered a group of soldiers to march with him to the treasury and guard him while he conducted his unusual business. The City Hall houses a small exhibition dedicated to this ingenious thief, lesser known by his real name Wilhelm Voigt. Today you can relive his brave act every June during the Köpenicker summer festival.

The old city, the peaceful rivers and lakes, the charming palace, Schloss Köpenick, and the 18th century fishing village on Kietz street, with beautifully restored houses, will leave you in a dreamy state of mind. As my lovely husband put it “for suburbian tranquility in Berlin, seek to Köpenick” :)

Floating Berlin

There are many ways to explore Berlin. While the on foot option is the “cheapest” one, well not counting the expense of tired feet and slightly used shoes, Berlin from a watery perspective is no less charming.

Through the heart of the city runs Spree, stretching approximately 400 km. On the banks of it are nestled many of the Berlin highlights, so naturally a cruise across the river is a nice chance to admire the city. Which we did on a beautiful April day, when the sun was shining bright and the sky was deep blue. As it proved later such days would be a rare occurrence in the summer. We – Berliners – were left to the mercy of never-ending rain, grey sky and cold temperatures. The sun was too shy perhaps…

There are a few cruise operators in Berlin, we went with Stern und Kreisschiffahrt. They offer various tours from a basic one-hour journey covering the highlights (9 EUR) to whole day cruises through Berlin (24,50 EUR). Here are the links to the tours we did:

Besides Spree, there are tons of small and big lakes scattered in and around the city. A lake in German is called “der See” (pay careful attention to the article, as there is also die See – sea. Well what can you do this language is so full of tiny little tricks and traps). Now if you look at a Berlin map, it is full of Seen. Wannsee, Tegeler See, Weissensee, Schlachtensee, Grosser Müggelsee and tens of other Seen. Take your pick and enjoy the idyllic nature. Most of them are conveniently reachable by the wonderful Bahn service.

Many of the lakes are also good for swimming with or without swimsuit, check the beach first to avoid sudden shocks. Berlin and Germany in general have a strong naturistic culture. Ever came across the term FKK – Freikörperkultur (Free Body Culture)? Here is a website that lists all the FKK beaches in Germany. Scroll and take a bath.

As if lakes are not enough saunas too support FKK :) Besides they are mostly mixed gender. Of course you can choose to keep your attire on but that might be judged as weird by your fellow sauna-peers.

One of the uniquely crazy yet adorable things about Berlin is the Strandbar (beach bars) that spring up like mushrooms in every possible or impossible locations. People like to put up beach chairs, pour some sand and enjoy the life in the middle of all the hustle. A selection of these can be found here if you are lucky and the sun is smiling at you that is. Join the bandwagon fun :)

Berlin English Language Cinemas

For the moving picture enthusiasts Berlin has a wide choice of cinemas, including English language. We usually go to CineStar at Sony Center, I suppose the most popular one. Well first their venue is absolutely gorgeous. You can never get tired of looking at Sony Center roof and admiring the colour-play in the evening. If you are into dreaming, try lying on the metal seats and gazing up towards the famous man-made sky…

Anyway back to CineStar, being the biggest cinema in Berlin they show all the new and hit releases. Check out this link for more info and don’t forget students get discounts and the prices vary during the week: Tuesday is the cheap day, Friday, Saturday, Sunday are most expensive. Average price is around 7-8 EUR.

 Besides this, there are a lot of other choices scattered around Berlin:

Cinemas in Berlin showing English films
New schedules are usually released weekly on Fridays.

For a short description of each cinema check
http://berlin.angloinfo.com/information/32/movies.asp

For the true movie lovers do not forget that Berlin hosts the international film festival Berlinale every year in February. www.berlinale.de

Berlin on Foot

Here comes my first little tip for you hungry travellers out there, a small welcome to Berlin and tips to conquer the city on foot.

Berlin is like a big treasure chest waiting to be uncovered. From posh Charlottenburg to historical Mitte, from dreamy suburbia of the south to the bustling and colorful north, it has got it all… Where it lacks in history, creativity comes to the rescue. It is an amazing place to be even for a day or two. If you are into guidebooks my recommendations are:

Time Out Berlin is very practical, with accommodation, eating and sightseeing neatly divided in sections and districts. So that was our first investment. For the Danish speaking audience the good old friend Turen går til Berlin by Politiken has been a steady companion for us.

Through a friend I got to know Polyglott Berlin Walks (Polyglott zu Fuss Berlin entdecken). It is an amazing 30-tour pocket sheets, with various tours all over the city and beyond, including the Potsdam area. I did many of the walks and they are just super and handy. It has a tour map, with information about each journey-point. The tours are categorized by by length and some are even suitable for rainy weather – a feature very welcomed this summer… Right now it only comes in German, but even if you don’t speak German, the map is all you need – below is a little sneak-peek for you :)Polyglott Berlin Walks example

Hello world!

So this blogging spree got to me too. I love travelling and learning languages so this perhaps will turn out to be some mixture of these two. My current location on the wide wide globe is Berlin. My quest here is to learn Deutsch, a language I compare to a chemical formula. Hope you enjoy the stories. The very first one is already up and running and more will follow soon ☺