Barney’s Birthday Bonanza.


madeinberlin

findthetime

It’s always good to start with a quote, this one is from one of my favourite songs. Don’t worry I haven’t set up a tumblr account and gone vegan, it just started playing on my iPod as I left Berlin on Sunday afternoon and I thought it would be a good way to start this post which will describe the people and events from last weekend.

No persuasion whatsoever has ever been needed to get me travelling to Berlin, a city that I can now boast to have visited just under ten times since I first went with Ludo in 2009. Notably, my mate Simon even managed to persuade me to go on a whim one Sunday evening following a lunch at the Royal Park Pub. As soon as I received the call from Barney, it was on. Swanky restaurants, meeting new people and lots of birthday celebration was in order. Over the weekend our leader set a cracking pace, both in terms of walking speed and event management. After two nights in Berlin I woke up with more stamps on my hands than there are days in the week. It is true; Berlin never disappoints, but for that you pay a physical price. In spite of this, a week on, you start to miss the relaxed lifestyle they have in the Wild Wild East. This story begins Friday 15th March or Independence Day, for the Hungarians amongst you.

ICE ICE Baby.

Thanks to a hiccup from Nath, I took the ICE (Inter-City-Express train) from Munich to Berlin. As cliché as it sounds, trains here in Germany run more smoothly and are just generally more efficient, which I admit is an obvious and boring fact to state, especially given the poor (albeit improving) state of affairs in the UK. As Inglorious Ingo always used to say, the best thing about travelling with the Deutsche Bahn is that they make occasional announcements in English. These consist of polite greetings such as: “Lädies end Gentellmen, velcom on board zee I-C-E to Stralsund, vee vish you a pläsent journey”. Other than that, not much happened on the journey, other than some fairly attractive girls got on at Augsburg. For the time being, we’ll refer to them as Augsbabes. In my experience these girls are all foam and no Weißbier. Having said that, my experience is based almost exclusively on a volleyball player of Lithuanian origin, but still. They overheard me speaking British English on the phone and had a huge debate about which British actors sounded the best. Predictably, Hugh Grant came out on top.

I won’t bother translating the title. You’re better off not knowing.

But my sense of flattery was about to come to an abrupt halt when we stopped at Nuremberg. The seat next to me suddenly became occupied by a portly lady and things took a turn for the worse. For a short while everything appeared to be normal. She poured herself into her seat, took out a book and began to read. Perfectly legit, I thought to myself, nothing wrong with that. This was until she started getting slightly too interactive with the book, stroking the pages as she read, caressing them as she breathlessly soared through the novel. When she took a break to catch her breath, I realised from the title and strange picture of the author that it was a curious sort of book (see right).

The journey continued. After a few more hours of gorgeous fields, we started to ascend and suddenly the trees became increasingly coniferous and a few pretty inches of snow covered the rocky outcrops. Having spotted a Netto with both SCHEISSE and FREIHEIT carefully spray-painted onto it, followed by two youths stood next to a tractor watching a bonfire, I presumed we had arrived in the former East Germany and as it turned out I was right. We weren’t far from Leipzig.

Berliner Barney.

Eventually I arrived in the country’s capital and marvelled at the architecture of Hauptbahnhof as I took about seven escalators up to find the S-Bahn. How can one station have so many levels, I wondered. I have clearly turned into a small town mouse during my time in Munich. As I tried to get over my initial astonishment, I began to think of which train station the Germans would have converted into their extravagant Londoner Hauptbahnhof, had they been successful seventy years ago. Waterloo seems like the obvious choice? Or perhaps Victoria? King’s Cross seems unlikely, though , whereas Stratford seems like a clear contenter for Ostbahnhof. Or would they have just started from scratch? These were all questions that sprang to mind as I took my seat on the S-Bahn to Charlottenburg, West Berlin, home to Prosecco Barney. Gloriously, this part of town also happens to be twinned with Lewisham in South London. This dawned upon me after I read that two streets away from the flat ran a long thoroughfare called Lewishamstraße. Initially, I reckoned I was either experiencing some kind of optical illusion or last night’s Jäger was still talking. However, it was the real deal: the areas are twinned! Citing the infallible wikipedia as my source, let’s take a moment to appreciate the London borough’s other other international ties; namely with Antony, France and Matagalpa, Nicaragua. Fascinating stuff, I think you’ll agree.

Having rang Barney upon my arrival I was given a slightly worrying set of orders. I was told to meet him in LIDL, near the Russian Supermarket – the sort of directions that would make even urban heavyweights such as Liam Neeson take a second look at Google Maps. Having eventually found a sufficiently suspicious Russian cafe, I cleverly put two and two together, rounded the corner to find the gangster grocery. Clearly every Mafia boss’ wife had sent out her hubby and son to fetch groceries in a Mercedes M-Class, the perfect midsize SUV for the family mobster. I looked marginally out of place as I waited outside. If this was some sort of Oxford initiation then it wasn’t very funny.

Barney and two friends Josh & Ed kindly came to pick me up as I had resorted to asking passers-by if they knew where LIDL was. One clueless Frenchwoman had no intention of helping me and also made no attempt to hide that she was offended that I’d asked her. We then did a quick shop at said budget supermarket to get a few essentials in. Beer and crisps seemed to be fairly high on the agenda, as well as some outrageously cheap wine which would soon unimpress the girls. After brief introductions and a few drinks it was time to head off to one of Berlin’s most exclusive restaurants, Spindler & Klatt. We ate fantastically, I personally opted for Sushi which was good and the whole group seemed to enjoy the food. The coolest thing (literally) about this eaterie were a) the DJ whose unfortunate choice of T-shirt meant that he looked both serious and naked and b) the loos. They were large walk-in boxes made out of corrugated iron, and in the gents the urinal was full to the brim with kilos upon kilos of ice. I think this says it all, really. As well as being strangely satisfying, pissing on ice makes you feel quite important. That was my first time pissing on ice and I can definitely recommend it. Although, sadly I don’t think Phillip Schofield would feel comfortable presenting such a show. Perhaps on Channel 5, but it certainly wouldn’t be up to ITV’s standard.

We then headed to Warschauer Straße, in East Berlin and where the word “edgy” was thrown around almost without justification. The bar we were heading to happened to be having a Hungarian Folk Dancing evening and we sort of just joined in with it as if it was the most normal thing in the world. It appeared to be a sort of Hungarian flash mob, but it transpired that the 15th of March is an annual celebration commemorating the revolution of 1848. After a round of shots which didn’t taste like any of the flavours they had promised to reflect, Ella and I agreed it was time to kick off the dancing. A few minutes later and we were hands on shoulders dancing round in circles with some friendly Hungarians. Eventually everyone came over to our way of thinking, and the whole team were all dancing some form of jig involving turning and simultaneously stamping whilst holding hands and moving round in circles. By the time we’d stamped our last stamp, we were on our way to the club opposite, the infamous Cassiopeia. This is a club which brought back many memories for me. After all, Berlin was the city in which I experienced the concept of clubbing for the first time. It has a simple layout, two dancefloors up- and downstairs, complete with table football and a large outside area which increases the capacity five-fold during the warm summer evenings.

By this stage in the evening I started to feel as if I had a good enough rapport with the group and I was honoured that I had been accepted into their midst, despite being a martyr and insisting on taking photos of “the real team”. It sort of felt like I knew them quite well, as if I had started as a Fresher at Somerville in 2010 and was one of those basket cases you hear about who takes a load of drugs and ends up in a coma, having woken up missing both first, second and most of third year (buddy). It was sort of like I’d known the group for ages even though I couldn’t relate to any of the stories they were telling or any of the characters that featured. It occurred to me that it is perhaps a good exercise to join a tight-knit friendship group, it offers perspective which you wouldn’t normally be able to experience when surrounded by the comfort of your own friends. Sort of like a documentary by Louis Theroux. The team included Katy, Sam, Liv, Ed, Molly, Ella, Josh and of course the man of the moment: Barney. And I think they were some of the most charming people I ever met, there must be an compulsory charm seminar that you take at Oxford. To them I was effectively a complete outsider to the group, because they all studied together at university but in spite of this they made a big effort to include me, explaining different terminology specific to Oxford: including “Crew dates” where they would end up “sconcing” their friends. The most spoken of whom was Stephane, German by blood by British in his heart. Story after story was told about him, without end. More on him later – now back to the content.

After a good stint at Cassiopeia, we then proceeded to an inconspicuous club round the corner in the same complex, but alas our platoon had been decimated and only a mere section remained. All the rest had made the sensible decision and retreated before dawn. Casualties that remained included Barney, Katy, Liv and myself. The day after we were all so shattered we got nothing done, but it was good to just have a lazy day. I think if I hadn’t already done Berlin 100 times I would have been keen to get about but otherwise we were good to vegetate in the flat, only to step out blinking into the daylight to eat currywurst, withdraw more cash and nip into the Jaguar-Land Rover Showroom.

The big event.

Saturday night was the main event, the moment we had all been waiting for. With a bit of help from pop star Finn Martin (a contender to be Germany’s entry for the Eurovision song contest, if I understood him correctly) Barney had managed to organise a series of visits to the city’s most exclusive restaurants and clubs. The highlight of which, unanimously agreed, was the official Birthday Meal; a private dining function at member’s club, Soho House Berlin. Interesting to comment here, is that although the Kaufhaus Jonaß is now occupied by the club, previous tenants included The Hitler Youth and later the Institute for Marxism & Leninism. But I still like to think we made history, to an extent. We were almost certainly better behaved than both parties. Well, definitely no worse than the Hitler Youth, but yet not quite as dull the Marxists must have been.

It was a shame that Nonie couldn’t make it, because she was in Budapest but there was still much to talk about as we got to know her friend Alice. It was really interesting to hear from her about her experience at St. Andrew’s and their crazy Harry Potter-style traditions (for want of a less coarse phrase) in contrast to her life as a language assistant in Europe’s second largest city. The meal was of course extravagant and everyone seemed very impressed with the dining indeed. We enjoyed five-star food, wine and of course vibrant and captivating company. Ed also confirmed it was a successful evening, announcing at one point that he “didn’t feel stressed”, so I guess it was a success all round, despite Josh’s best efforts to send crockery flying in all directions.

Barney then co-ordinated a perfectly smooth transition to our next destination. A convoy of taxis to Cookiesthe Schicki-Micki club in the capital) where we would meet Finn the German pop star. People were more excited for the arrival of the infamous Stephane and, after a hectic day of voyaging back from a skiing holiday via Hamburg, the chap eventually managed to meet us outside the club. After a good spell of dancing and drinking, I ended the time in the club randomly winning a porcelain camel as part of a promotion. Camel in hand, we set off to a bar near Moritzplatz, Kreuzberg and despite pumping ourselves full of complex carbohydrates en route, the alcohol meant that some members of the team were starting to show signs of fatigue. But Berlin refused to let us sleep. Once we were done in the “edgy bar”, we set off to our third event of the evening/morning. After a quick tour of a nearby roundabout in arctic conditions, we found ourselves stood outside the club in Ritterstraße at around 5.30am. On the walk there Sam felt it was time to voice his concerns, understandably referring to the sketchy area as being akin to “some sort of dystopian nightmare”.

“Camel, camel on the wall. Who is the edgiest of them all?”

At 8am on a Sunday morning, you really need to summon up all the motivation you possibly can, in order to party on. I’m not sure what’s more ridiculous, taking a camel into a club or the someone actually offered to buy my camel for 11€. I seem to remember having a couple of shots of Jägermeister with Ed and then fist pumping my camel at randomers in the club. Who’s edgy now, Mr. East Berlin?

Hometime.

Berlin taxi drivers understandably didn’t want to lose their licences just because we wanted to get home, so I manned up and took one for the team, taking the U-Bahn and S-Bahn home solo, and getting some disapproving looks from roughly 84% of people I came into contact with. All too soon the weekend was over and despite The Bank of Fabian losing it’s AAA rating I’m of course overjoyed that I was invited to such a prestigious and key event in Barney’s calender. Thanks to everyone who made it a fab weekend, especially to Barney for a fantastic weekend of unbeatable generosity and hospitality, I am confident he enjoyed it, too which is of course the main thing. Now I need to start thinking about my own 21st.

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The Only Way is Essen.


This weekend Mum and Dad were in town! They decided to opt for a city break, which is convenient seeing as I have now set up residence here.

Friday evening: I met Mum and Dad at a rather suave hotel and to fit in I decided to pretend I was James Bond by walking up to the desk very abruptly in a dark jacket. Coupled with my sinister and serious attitude I decided to speak more than one language in the vicinity of the receptionist, mainly to throw her off. Yes, that’s how I roll. We had a good catch up in the hotel room whilst we prepared to brave the drizzle in search of traditional German eateries. In the lift on the way down we agreed that it was in fact best to plan tomorrow once we were intoxicated.

To my dismay, all the good restaurants seemed to be booked out. Just when I was starting to wish I had booked somewhere ..anywhere…where else did we stumble upon on Friday evening but the Hofbräuhaus! The world famous beer house has been delivering mouthwatering, thirst-quenching beers and starchy grub since it was founded in 1589 by the then Duke of Bavaria, Wilhelm the 5th.  Amongst the regulars were Lenin, Mozart and Hitler, though presumably not at the same time (Hallo ve’d like a table for four…Bismarck vill be joining us at eight sirty). Without being too flippant, we embraced ourselves for a messy night knowing that on previous occasions the antics had in fact inspired World Wars. Without a moment’s hesitation we ducked out of the rain and hurried on inside just before Mum started making jokes about sausages (she had by this stage already expressed a preference for restaurants which offer more than just porcine recipies). As the men of the party, myself and Dad took it upon ourselves to look not only busy but authoritative, by sorting out a table. We tried our best to get the attention of the waiter. A waiter, we thought naively, would surely be polite, accommodating and friendly before leading us away to free table. We were wrong. Not in Germany. Politeness is inefficiency. You’d have thought I’d know by now that waiters weren’t as friendly as in the UK. And like any normal Brits we were immediately displeased with a foreign queueing system and publicly criticised it, mainly because we didn’t understand it. However, out of the corner of our eyes we noticed Mum waving a bit manically at us. She was giving us the signal. The technique she had employed actually predates me…it dates back to her days in training with the Grandparents at Saffron Walden car park…my Mum’s side of the family have yet to be defeated in the theatre of war that is Car Park Management (shout out to Granddad and Grandma!). Nowadays you could probably dedicate four years of your life to a degree in Parking Studies. Before we knew it we were working in synchronisation like a team of honeybees supported by the Queen Bee (Mum, of course). She had managed to chat to a smashed Irishman and partly because of his drunken stupor, partly because of her charm she secured us a table. We waited…poised and ready to pounce once the current guests eventually decided to leave.

Once sat comfotably we ordered drei mal Maß, drei mal Schnitzel (mit Pommes, obvs). We got our three Steins without a problem at all. However, the waitress had misunderstood me and brought a meagre two Schnitzel with chips. Deep breaths were in order…but I instead decided to vent my dissatisfaction with the situaiton in the direction of the waitress, to whom I had clearly repeated the order to…with counting on fingers and everything. In the style of Inglorious Basterds, I then realised that I had used my middle three fingers to describe the number of Schnitzel required, instead of the Germanic thumb, first finger and middle finger. Needless to say she was very apologetic and continued to bring me a steady supply of Jäger shots as I waited for my food to be prepared. Andy and Alex took almost no notice because they were busy tucking in to the grub and discussing the different merits of the Bavarian delicacy. Both were absolutely loving the lemon juice sqeezed onto the breaded meat. So we eventually washed our meals down with another beer and stumbled back in the direction of Marienplatz. All feeling fairly tipsy we rejoiced in Germany’s ability to provide brass music, hearty meals washed down with frothy beer.

Hofbräuhaus with Mum and Dad

Saturday: Some of us feeling slightly worse for wear, we met at BMW Welt at around lunchtime. We had a look around at all the cutting-edge technology in the German automakers pristine and iconic King showroom. BMW Welt really showcases the future of automotive travel. The secrets lie in the heart of this building in the new electric cars the BMW i8 and the BMW i3. Awestruck by the shiny cars, we took a look at Rolls-Royce once I had persuaded Dad out of the Junior-Campus kindergarten room. I then found myself dragging Mum away before she convinced herself that buying the new Phantom was a good idea. We grabbed a snack and no sooner had we started chomping away on sausage, than a chap from Husqvarna Motorcycles had started revving up. He showed off by giving us an ironic indoor display of one of their new off-road bikes. It ripped around the showroom going up and down stairs, doing wheelies and other cool tricks. Every kid wanted a photo with the motorbike man after the display – it was a truly spontaneous and unforgettable performance. We then decided to hit the BMW Museum located just over the road, right in the shadow of the awesome BMW-Vierzylinder building.

Andy & Alex at BMW Welt/BMW-Vierzylinder. We keeping you up, Dad?

We took a quick look around the museum and were amazed at the different types of early engines. So many cylinders…so many changes in design – it really showed just how far BMW had come in so many years of innovation. As the weather was fantastic we decided to take a quick walk up to the hill in Olympiapark where on a clear day there is a breathtaking view over Munich with the mountains in the distance. Deciding to capitalise on the great weather we then headed straight to the Chinesischer Turm at the Englischer Garten for needless to say…a couple of Steins. Andy was still feeling it from Friday night but me and Mum didn’t want to let the side down so we cracked on and got zwei Maß Weißbier in. Having drunk previous generations of rugby players under the table at Oxford…Mum was polishing off her Bier in no time at all – a great effort indeed.

Sunday: The Munich Marathon happened to be on and we cheered on competitors including the leading woman who was miles ahead of everyone else, including a load of older men. We paid a visit to the Alte Pinakothek (recommended by Alfie) which is a massive art gallery near the Technisches Universität München (TUM) main campus. The Alte Pinakothek was very interesting indeed and gave a great overview of some impressive pieces of art throughout the centuries. And because Sunday is a cheap day to visit museums, we paid 1€ each for the pleasure – not bad in the slightest. The only thing that did get on our nerves was the blatant disregard for British art, the gallery made a point of displaying zero English paintings. Still though, you can’t change the fact that we are associated with the flag of St. George. So there! If you like to see Jesus doing some of his magic tricks then you would have loved this place. He was a real magician. One minute he was dying (on and off the cross) then he was being reborn. Then he was being a baby again. Mary was also ascending and descending throughout, if that interests you. To really appreciate the amount of different pieces of art, a quick morning visit simply wouldn’t suffice. It was a marathon in itself. In the early afternoon we decided to call it a day and head in the direction of the university to a very trendy Thai restaurant. The last thing we wanted was more German food! Again the weather was bright and despite being a bit chilly in the late afternoon we managed to sit outside comfortably in the fresh air having demolished our various dishes. It was then that Dad came up with a pun that will go down in history. He described my chemical state during Oktoberfest as “tempura”. Tempura being battered shrimp. “Were you absolutely tempura, Marcus?”

Mum and I doing our best to look edgy.

I really can’t thank Mum and Dad enough for taking time out of busy schedules to come and visit. They treated me very well indeed and I believe the weekend was a huge success. But best of all it was great to just see them again and I now look forward to coming back and seeing the whole family at Christmas and finding out how everyone is getting on.  I am very lucky to have had so many people visit me already – may it continue the entire year.

Mittagsessen beim BMW-Vierzylinder.


Tuesday 4th September 2012

 
Phrases of the day:
 
Bis gleich – see you in a bit
(es) freut mich – pleased to meet you

We took a tour around the BMW-Welt which is just the most immaculate and well-designed museum/event you can imagine. With our ID’s we get in for free which is cool. Today I had the pleasure of going for lunch at the BMW-Vierzylinder and being driven around in the new X6. To say that it was a cool experience is an understatement. It was absolutely brill.

I struggled to get an iPhone contract because my EC-Karte hasn’t arrived yet. Which means what despite having all the details correct, the account isn’t activated and so can’t be used.

In other news the person in the room above me started going mental and started throwing everything out of their window like some crazed banshee. We saw flashes of pink as women’s underwear braced itself for a rough landing. Myself and Matthias were half expecting a TV to come crashing down at some point. Rather than check whether the occupier was OK, we decided it would be better to giggle about their misfortunes all evening.

Nath came round for pasta which we ate out of the pan, becasue someone may have forgotten to buy Teller (plates) or Schüssel (bowls). Matthias and his friend Fabian then joined us and we had a strange introduction. As I began to introduce myself as Marcus, he replied “Fabian”. I was completely dumbfounded by this. “Meine Nachname ist auch Fabian…”. Anyway, they brought a “Bügeleisen” (iron) which pretty much made my day.

Golden nugget of advice: If you need cutlery and/ crockery then “Karstadt” or “Kaufhof” are the places to go.