History On Wheels


This blog entry about the events of Wednesday, July 21, 2004 was originally posted on July 29, 2004.

DAY 277:  Berlin might have been a less overwhelming place to tour around in the 1980s because back then only the sights of West Berlin were open to American tourists like myself.  But after the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, marking the end of the Cold War between the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R., the east side of the wall was open, making “New Berlin” a bigger and much more overwhelming place of historical sights to tour around.

Taking Sara’s enthusiastic recommendation, Cindy and I decided to join up with Fat Tire Bike Tours, owned and operated by a young American ex-pat named Wolf Schroen who, after seeing the movie Office Space, quit his American software job, moved to Germany and got into the bike tour business.  I met him and his barrage of wisecracks at the Fat Tire Bike Tour meeting place under the TV tower at Alexanderplatz before he passed the floor over to an equally funny personality:  Nicole, a former cowgirl from Arizona-turned-my bike tour guide for the day.  There were only eleven of us that day — more might have been present if it wasn’t drizzling — but Nicole put the sunshine into our tour with her own barrage of light-hearted wisecracks, poking fun at all the sights on our tour.  Not only that, but each of our beach cruiser bicycles had a little extra “sunshine” mounted on front:  a squeaky toy in the shape of a cartoony animal head.

“If a pedestrian is in your way, just wave and say, ‘Guten tag,’Nicole said.  “Or give your little squeaky toy a squeeze and watch as you put a little happiness into the lives of Berliners.”  Nicole also had the habit of using her squeaky toy to “torture” little dogs on the street, but making squeaky noises over and over until they turned around and looked.

While Nicole rode a special golden tour guide bicycle cruiser, I rode a bicycle with coaster brakes named “Rusty.”  Along with the other ten young clients — nine young Americans and one Mexican woman — I followed the trail of Nicole, squeezing my squeaky toy at will.  From Alexanderplatz and its TV Tower — the former East German tower constructed to show those on the other side of the wall that East Germany did have technological progress (even though it was constructed by Swedes) — we rode around in our groovy beach cruisers, stopping at sites on the way for Nicole’s often hilarious historical commentary:

  • the statues of Communist forefathers Karl Marx and Frederick Engelssit in Karl’s lap and he becomes “Marxy Claus”

  • the former East German parliament building-turned-museum (featuring a recreation of China’s terracotta warriors — “No, this isn’t a really big Chinese restaurant… As you can see, not much of an interest to see fake terracotta warriors.”

  • the cafes near the gate between the east and west sides of the Berlin Wall, where American spies in cafes had cameras pointed at Russian spies at the cafes across the street, resulting in both parties having nothing but pictures of other guys taking pictures of them

  • the German Hall of Questions, “where people ask the questions people are dying to know about, like ‘Why do Germans like David Hasselhoff so much?’ and ‘Why to Germans hang onto 80s fashion with such a death grip?’”

Despite the drizzle, we pedaled on with the free disposable ponchos Fat Tire provided to the Babelplatz, former site of the Nazi book burning rallies where Nazis burned the “subversive” books of (Jewish) authors like Henrich Heineand Sigmund Freud (and where Indiana Jones got his father’s grail diary autographed by Hitler in The Last Crusade).  Nicole pointed out the interesting and creepy foreshadowing fact that Heine, over a hundred years before the Nazis burned his books and commenced the Holocaust, had once written “Nur dort wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen.”  (“Wherever books are burned, ultimately people are burned as well.”)

Germany is sensitive about its turbulent and persecuting Nazi past, and the Babelplatz is just one place in which they wish to bury their former horrors — the plaza was undergoing construction to make way for a new underground parking garage.  This attempt to forget the past was also evident in the site of Hitler’s bunker, where an expensive condo complex now stands.  In fact, if not pointed out, one wouldn’t know that Hitler’s bunker stood beneath him/her.  That was the point of course, so that the area wouldn’t become a Neo-Nazi shrine.  The only thing remaining of the bunker were two sealed access doors in the ground — although those attempting to enter would only face a wall of cement, as the first chamber had been sealed off already.

AMONGST THE OTHER PEOPLE IN THE GROUP other than Cindy and Nicole were John and Mike, two of four brothers from Maryland backpacking around Europe (the other two were in Amsterdam), another Mike from Michigan and Tantra from San Francisco who Nicole dubbed “Butt Babe,” when she volunteered to stay in the back of the group to keep the back end head count.  Butt Babe and I swapped cameras for photos of our respective selves at Checkpoint Charlie — the former entry/exit point of the former Berlin Wall where American and Russian soldiers inspected and questioned those passing through — and a soon-to-be-demolished, graffiti-painted remaining portion of the Berlin Wall, where the entire group, inspired by the graffiti, posed as the Fat Tire Posse of the day.

However, the Berlin Wall wasn’t always pretty pictures and wannabe gangstas; during its hey day of the Cold War, it was your life if you tried to escape from the east into the west illegally — a solider in the “Death Tower” would open fire and leave you for dead.

“GIVE YOURSELVES A HAND, you should be proud of yourselves.  You’ve just done what every army wanted to do back then, and that’s pass through Brandenburg Gate,” Nicole said after we rode through the gate built by Wilhelm II during the age of Prussia and served as a symbol of the division of east and west during the Cold War.  “And directly behind us is the Hotel Adlon, which also has some historical significance.  That’s the balcony window that Michael Jackson dangled his baby from.”  It was evident to me that Berlin’s history would continually be written, even in the tabloids.

From the site of the atrocities not from the Nazis but from the King of Pop, we zipped through the forest-like Tiergarten, Berlin’s big central park, where the rain started to pick up.  The coming downpour didn’t bother us that much, for we knew our next destination would be worth the trip:  a biergarten for a beer and lunch break.

“What’s the local beer here?” Chicago Mike asked Nicole.

“There’s Berliner Red, which is sort of a raspberry beer and there’s Berliner Green, which is kind of hard to describe, but the name translates to ‘Master of the Forest.’  It’s the Conan beer.”

“Well, here we are in the forest,” I said.  “So I might as well be the master.”  Cindy and I ordered a couple of Berliner Greens and wondered just how the Master of the Forest beer would be.  Chicago Mike pointed out that with Germany’s strict beer making laws, it’d be something formidable.  However, when the drinks came we discovered the “Conan” beer was the girliest beer of them all, served with a straw — literally green, it tasted more like a sour apple Jolly Rancher candy than beer. 

“I guess I was wrong about the beer laws.”

THE RAIN STARTED CLEARING UP by the time we left the biergarten (with a little buzz of course), giving us clearer skies to see the Siegessäaule, or Victory Column, the symbol of Prussia’s victory over France in 1870, and cruise by the Spree River to the Reichstag, the building of the various German governing parties through the decades.  By 4 p.m. we rode back to the Fat Tire office at Alexanderplatz, when the clouds finally cleared for a blue skied sunny rest-of-the-day — after our tour.  Most of the tour group went their own ways, but Nicole pulled me aside for a moment as a normal person, like she did a couple of time on tour.  She was a much different person “off camera” when she wasn’t performing as an offbeat bicycle tour guide. 

“You won’t believe how many people don’t get that David Hasselhoff joke.  It’s sad; I guess I’m showing my age,” she said.  “Sometimes we get a bunch of guys right out of high school and they look at me like ‘Who?’”

“Don’t worry, I get it.”  (I was one of the few that chuckled at the former Michael Knight wisecrack.)

Perhaps it was my understanding of the humor of David Hasselhoff references that caused Nicole to ask me if I wanted to work at Fat Tire when I was done traveling.  They were pretty understaffed as it was — it was just her, Wolf and another guy named Mike — and they were looking to expand around February 2005, about the time The Global Trip 2 would end.  It was something to think about in a day in the future, but not yet — the day hadn’t ended just yet.

AFTER SEEING SOME OF THE SIGHTS AGAIN on foot in a different light (sunlight) — including Brandenburg Gate (picture above) and the site of the upcoming Memorial of Murdered Jews — I joined Fat Tire on a nighttime pub-crawl, which was run by tour affiliate New Berlin, also run by an American ex-pat.  Tantra (a.k.a. “Butt Babe”) and Cindy, whom I had asked to go where no shows, but that was okay because Maryland John and Mike came out, along with what seemed to be thirty students from the University of Toronto, all in Berlin for a summer study abroad session.  It was a night of heifeweizens in bars, clubs and pubs — none of the “Master of the Forest” nonsense anymore — and shots of New Berlin’s homemade cocktail while walking the streets.  (No problem with that; drinking in public is legal in Berlin.  It’s not uncommon to see a guy downing a cold one on the Metro train or a cop drinking on while on duty.)

“What’s up Toronto!!” was one of the things I remember saying that night, toasting a table of young Torontonians.  However, there was a period of the night I don’t quite remember, a period that I misplaced my glasses — talk about a city trying to bury old memories.  Luckily I had time-stamped photos of my little digital spy camera, which helped me track them down the next morning.  The cleaning woman at the Oscar Wilde Pub had found them and shined them up for me nicely.  She was an older German woman that I didn’t speak much English — it was all hand signals and body language through the window — but I’m sure she was still old enough to understand the humorous nature of David Hasselhoff — or to even to have loved him in the 1980s.

Next entry: House of Superheroes

Previous entry: Overcoming Dysfunctions

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Comments for “History On Wheels”

  • FIRST!!!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/28  at  08:39 PM

  • No fair!!!

    Office Space has had a profound effect on so many people. I think it should win some kind of humanitarian award for helping 9-5ers across the western world pursue their dreams!

    What do you guys think?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/28  at  08:49 PM

  • Hot damn, I think that’s the first FIRST for me. I almost had time to read it before Td0t got in there.

    Great pics! That bike tour looks like a damn fine idea, and a good time. Any one know if Paris or London has something like that? Beats the hell out of wandering with a map sometimes. Hey how young does someone have to be to NOT get the David Hasselhof joke?! Eek.

    I guess you got your memory card snafu unravelled. Very cool.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/28  at  08:55 PM

  • David Hasslehoff is my hero!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/28  at  08:56 PM

  • Ever after Baywatch Nights LP?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/28  at  09:01 PM

  • Even after Baywatch Nights LP?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/28  at  09:01 PM

  • TDOT:  I read that Mike Judge gets approached by people as fans of “Office Space” more than “Beavis & Butthead” nowadays—even though no one really saw it in theatres…

    BTW, “Office Space” was the reason I quit Prentice Hall, where CHRISTY still sits now…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/28  at  09:08 PM

  • CHRISTY:  Fat Tire has tours in Berlin, Paris and Barcelona, with partner bike tours in Munich and Amsterdam.  When they expand, London will most likely be included.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/28  at  09:10 PM

  • CHRISTY:  I think the cut off is 1981 to get the Hasselhoff references—hence, my issues with the “1981ers”... 

    Any 1981ers out there disagree?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/28  at  09:12 PM


    I think I might have gotten a virus on my camera; I’m looking into it—although I may have already found a solution.

    *VENT*: Not only do I have to deal with this, I still have to catch up on writing AND experience my last day in Prague!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/28  at  09:22 PM

  • tdot i agree about office space winning some humanitarian award.  i think the after-effects of that movie have not been fully appreciated!

    erik….so have you come to ANY conclusions as to why the germans love David Hasslehoff so much????

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/28  at  09:33 PM

  • First time poster… great site.

    Question though - It seems like you’re moving pretty fast through these countries.  Do you ever feel worn out or tired of all the moving around.  Maybe I’m misreading or just the way its posted, but it looks like you’re doing a country every 2 or 3 days.  I’m planning a similar trip, but have been suggested by many to cut down on the speedy arrival and departures and take more time.  Whatcha think?

    Keep it up!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/28  at  09:43 PM

  • Even though I straddle the fine line of 1981, I can still relate to David Hasselhoff references. I remember Night Ridder like it was yesteryear!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/28  at  10:10 PM

  • DAN: I’ll let Erik welcome you… But if you look a few months back in the archives you’ll find that Erik has spent weeks in various South American and African countries. He’s just rushing through western Europe because he has already been to many of the cities.

    My favourite blog countries have been Peru, Bolivia, Brazil and Zambia. Have a look at those!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/28  at  10:21 PM

  • I’m in the process of going back and reading through them… I check out those recommended ones.  Thanks.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/28  at  10:25 PM

  • I’m a 1970-er, so the Hasselhof jokes never get old!  I’m 33 going on 24… 

    Yes, Office Space is a phenomenon. And doubly true for me because not only am I in an office now, but I used to work at a Friday’s-type restaurant and have to wear “flair” and sing to people on their birthday.  yikes!!!  No wonder I travel so much. 

    Those fat tire people seem pretty cool. 

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/28  at  11:07 PM

  • Here’s some food for thought…

    Ever notice that the collapse of major American corporations such as Worldcom, Tyco, and Enron were completly unprecedented before the release of Office Space?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/28  at  11:22 PM

  • Love the picture of the Prussian tower. And going through the forest? Makes me kinda sick… But, the tour overall sounds AWESOME! I need to find a city with it and wander it… Although, even on in Santa Monica, CA would be grand…

    Erik - you rock - keep it up, we’re all VERY appreciative when you come back to blog-land.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/28  at  11:47 PM

  • DAN:  Hey, welcome aboard!  Thanks for breaking the silence…

    Europe is insanely expensive compared to South America and Africa, which is why I’m zipping around pretty fast.  You’re right, just 2-3 days per city/country to milk the $964 I paid for my unlimited 30-day Eurail Pass…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/29  at  01:23 AM

  • Erik - the train pass seems soooo expensive!  Is it actually worth it?  Or would it have been better to buy individual tickets do you think?
    Sorry to hear about your camera woes.  :(  Hope everything gets fixed ok.

    Posted by Liz  on  07/29  at  01:56 AM

  • Erik - I’m wondering something along the same lines as Liz - is there something less expensive? I know I could look it up, but I’m curious as to why you chose that one…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/29  at  02:43 AM

  • Liz, I’ve just asked for the price of a train ticket from Madrid to Lisbon, it’s 155 USD one way…

    it looks like you had some real Berlin weather there…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/29  at  06:07 AM

  • LIZ / NOELLE:  As F. LEVANTE pointed out, individual tickets are way more expensive than the Eurail pass… There are cheaper options, like only picking 10 days of train travel within a one month period…  I went the way I did so I could be fully flexible and could go where the winds took me.  You could also get a cheaper Eurail Pass if you limit yourself to five countries or less—again a limiting factor if you just want to go where the wind takes you…

    I guess the 1981ers have something on me; if I were 26 or under, the price of the Eurail Pass would have been $300 cheaper for the same deal…  Good thing I milked one of those when I was 25…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/29  at  06:11 AM

  • Am I the only one to notice that while Erik is giving the “yo yo” posse hand thing in the group photo by the wall, almost all of the others are saying “live long and prosper”??

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/29  at  07:16 AM

  • They were missing the Hang Loose hand sign!! But, while in Berlin, “live long and prosper” probably isn’t a bad thing.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/29  at  07:45 AM

  • Hasselhoff for President!

    Posted by becomingbuddha  on  07/29  at  04:29 PM

  • Damn. Totally missed my chance to save that $300 - oh well… Thanks for the info on the passes. Something to keep in mind for trips.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/29  at  04:51 PM

  • I got a 6 travel day pass valid for 5 countries. I need to get back there and milk the full pass within the next 4 years!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/29  at  08:48 PM

  • Td0t - so you can use it not continguously? (is that the correct application of that word?) Hmm, that’s a thought…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/29  at  09:14 PM

  • Noelle: It’s called the Eurorail select pass. It’s flexible and cheep if you are planning travel around 5 bordering countries. Checkout the info at: http://www.raileurope.com/us/rail/passes/eurail_selectpass_index.htm

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/29  at  11:29 PM

  • Erik, Did you buy a RTW plane ticket, or buy individual tickets? How is it working out for you? Thanks.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/30  at  12:43 AM

  • Big time blog withdrawal :(  What’s up everyone?  Even the comments have died down!

    Posted by Liz  on  07/30  at  04:15 PM

  • KIRSTEN:  I booked tickets on AirTreks.com ... use their magical itinerary maker and plan your dream RTW… they set up the tickets out of cheaper offices in Bangkok or something…  Airplane inventory is only available for up to a year, so in June 2003 I could only get tickets up to June 2004… Got me to Egypt… 

    From now on I will most likely just get tickets as needed on the way, as to not lock myself into any itinerary…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/30  at  04:33 PM

  • LIZ (AND OTHERS IN BLOG WITHDRAWAL):  Sorry!  I’m under incredible pressure over here now (MOSCOW)... trying to get it done and still see the sights AND organize my train which leaves Tuesday—I don’t exactly have the tickets just yet. 

    Europe, unlike South America and Africa only had a month of travel time (as opposed to four months), with not much room to breathe…  (Breathe = Blog)

    Right now I’m hoping I DON’T meet any interesting people on my first leg of the train through Siberia so that maybe I can just write the whole way to catch up.  (Sad, isn’t it?  Damn this Blog!)  Problem with Europe is, I keep on meeting up with cool people who want to do stuff OTHER than wait for me sitting in front of a computer for hours…  Spain killed me; Jack and I didn’t know if we were going to sleep in the streets in Pamplona or not, which is why I didn’t bring my laptop with me…  The Blog doldrums now are still a result of the ten days in Spain…

    Right now I have two stories in my lap, all typed up… BUT I’m in a mass market internet cafe that is blocking me from hooking up my camera…  I will pay the extra fees to go wireless from my laptop tomorrow so that I can upload what I have…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/30  at  04:43 PM

  • Erik - chill smile  Not trying to pressure you.  The blog readers can entertain me LOL I know you’ll get it up eventually!  Guess the camera is better now?  I’m sure in the 7 days you’ll spend on the Trans Sib, there will be some time to write wink  No matter how interesting the people are.

    Posted by Liz  on  07/30  at  05:15 PM

  • I agree with LIZ… somehow we’ll manage. Blog is semi-hibernating—but will bust out of it’s slumber once you have a chance. Don’t sweat it buddy… I couldn’t bear the thought of you missing something awesome just to catch up on the Blog.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/30  at  09:07 PM

  • And I’m in agreement with Christy - we LOVE it, and go through withdrawals, but y’know, we can survive… Gloria Gaynor anyone?

    Anyway, I can’t wait to hear about Moscow. I really, really want to get back there. It was nice, but not super fun when I was there. So, I’m interested to hear your stories…
    Be well.

    I’m curious, what is everyone doing for their summer weekends? I’ve spent this one and the last at the beach in SoCal - I know that NYC-ers love their beaches too… I want to travel, but b/c I’m broke - beaching it is good… just curious…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/31  at  03:47 AM

  • i can’t afford to go anywhere.  i’ll probably just hit the jersey shore a few times this summer.

    Posted by Alyson  on  07/31  at  04:01 AM

  • I’m working LOL How’s that for depressing???!!!

    Posted by Liz  on  07/31  at  06:18 AM

  • Office Space is on….

    Well I guess I HAVE to watch it…yet…again…

    ...umm…yea hi…it’s Bill Lumburg..uh…yea…BOOOOP…..

    ...umm…yea hi…it’s Bill Lumburg..uh…yea…BOOOOP…..

    ...umm…yea hi…it’s Bill Lumburg..uh…yea…BOOOOP…..

    I love it! lol….

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/31  at  06:34 AM

  • ERIK - 404 error on ” the plaza was undergoing construction to make way for a new underground parking garage.”

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/01  at  05:16 AM

  • NOELLE - back from vegas….no more rest of summer plans….quite sad, isn’t….but after vegas…i can’t even afford the new prices going in effect at grays papayas…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/01  at  05:45 AM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by BootsnAll.com. It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

Praised and recommended by USA Today, RickSteves.com, and readers of BootsnAll and Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree, The Global Trip blog was selected by the editors of PC Magazine for the "Top 100 Sites You Didn't Know You Couldn't Live Without" (in the travel category) in 2005.

Next entry:
House of Superheroes

Previous entry:
Overcoming Dysfunctions


Confused at some of the jargon that's developed with this blog and its readers over the years? Here's what they mean:

BFFN: acronym for "Best Friend For Now"; a friend made on the road, who will share travel experiences for the time being, only to part ways and lose touch with

The Big Trip: the original sixteen month around-the-world trip that started it all, spanning 37 countries in 5 continents over 503 days (October 2003–March 2005)

NIZ: acronym for "No Internet Zone"; a place where there is little to no Internet access, thus preventing dispatches from being posted.

SBR: acronym for "Silent Blog Reader"; a person who has regularly followed The Global Trip blog for years without ever commenting or making his/her presence known to the rest of the reading community. (Breaking this silence by commenting is encouraged.)

Stupid o'clock: any time of the early morning that you have to wake up to catch a train, bus, plane, or tour. Usually any time before 6 a.m. is automatically “stupid o’clock.”

The Trinidad Show: a nickname of The Global Trip blog, used particularly by travelers that have been written about, who are self-aware that they have become "characters" in a long-running story — like characters in the Jim Carrey movie, The Truman Show.

WHMMR: acronym for "Western Hemisphere Monday Morning Rush"; an unofficial deadline to get new content up by a Monday morning, in time for readers in the western hemisphere (i.e. the majority North American audience) heading back to their computers.

1981ers: people born after 1981. Originally, this was to designate groups of young backpackers fresh out of school, many of which were loud, boorish and/or annoying. However, time has passed and 1981ers have matured and have been quite pleasant to travel with. The term still refers to young annoying backpackers, regardless of year — I guess you could call them "1991ers" in 2013 — young, entitled millennials on the road these days, essentially.

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