Monday, May 12, 2008


As I have mentioned before, I spent the past weekend in Berlin. I had a wonderful time. I can’t remember a European city I have been more instantly enamored with. On the train back to Prague I admitted to my fiancée that if we weren’t planning to move to the United States next summer then I would most likely be agitating for a move to Berlin. As a first impression of a city, the Hauptbahnhof (Main Station) takes some beating – a palace of glass and metal, with a shopping mall that would put most shopping centres in Prague to shame. For the first hour or so of being in Berlin, I felt like the village idiot who had come to visit his big city cousins.

The city’s public transport is everything that it should be, clean, efficient and regular – although the ticketing system is something that a Ph.D in astrophysics would be useful in understanding. For example, you can buy a ticket for 2 euros allowing you two hours worth of travel, with unlimited changes as long as you go in a single direction. We couldn’t work out if the day ticket was for a period of 24 hours after validation or just until the end of the day on which it was validated.

Prague and Berlin are very different cities. Whereas Prague has an unmistakable energy to it – it is a city where everyone it seems is trying to be the trendiest person on earth. If the trash magazines were to say that this month’s ideal look is an orangutan costume with bright green stilettos then that is all you will see on the street until the magazines say otherwise. Berlin however is exceptionally laid back, and while there is a sizeable artistic community in the city, it doesn’t translate into being fashionable for fashion’s sake.

Berlin is also a very open city, not just in terms of the people being very helpful and friendly. The city seems to have given over more space to pavements and cycle paths, as such people spend more time on the street. Almost every restaurant had a large number of table and chairs on the pavement, and they seemed to be doing a booming trade. Admittedly we were staying with friends in the most popular part of Berlin for sitting around in a café or bar. Within minutes of the apartment were several Indian restaurants, a Turkish kebab café or two, Arabian restaurants, various Thai, Vietnamese and Chinese establishments as well. On the last night of our stay we stumbled upon a superb Arabian restaurant with wonderful service, excellent Lebanese wine and lamb which just fell apart in your mouth – in short the best restaurant meal we have had in a long time.

Architecturally the centre of Berlin couldn’t be more different than Prague. While the former is awash with Baroque and Gothic palaces, the centre of Berlin is home to some of the most modern architecture in the western world – and yet it doesn’t seem out of place next to the magnificent cathedral or the fascinating Reischstag. One of my favourite sights was the World Clock on Alexanderplatz – largely because of a little historical anomaly, one of the towns mentioned on the clock is Pressburg. Pressburg is a town which no longer exists, though it has not been destroyed, rather it was renamed Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia.

So overall we had a great time in Berlin, and we are already planning another visit – so much more to see and just to be back in a city which is relaxed yet lively, cosmopolitan yet intimate, in short, a model modern multi-cultural metropolis.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Another long weekend

Last weekend was 4 days long - May 1st being a public holiday and the company giving us Friday off as well. This Thursday is also a public holiday, and the company have given us Friday off as well. As you can imagine, this is great! So this weekend will be spent in Berlin.

The reason for the holiday tomorrow is that it is Victory in Europe Day (VE Day), the day when the Second World War came to an end. I like the fact of all the participants in the war, the Czech Republic is one of the few countries still to mark one of the most important dates in world history. This is after all the day when unimaginable slaughter in Europe finished. So many men far younger than I am know died so that we can enjoy the freedoms which we so often take for granted. It is good to remember their sacrifice.

Monday, May 05, 2008

A nasty shock

I live right in the centre of Prague - a few hundred metres from Vaclavske Namesti. On my way home from work everyday I walk through a small park in front of the main railway station - the park is known locally as Sherwood and is generally populated by bums and petty thieves. Recently the local council built a fenced in playground for kids, and two mornings out of the last four there have been used syringes in the doorway of my apartment building. Prague has lost another element of the lustre it once had.