Thursday, August 22, 2013

On to Berlin!

So, Air Berlin is amazing.  The man checking me in for the flight was so pleasant.  He actually thanked me for asking him how he was doing.  Apparently there had been only one other person that day that had inquired to how his day was going and that person was also American and on my flight.  I’m glad that my fellow American and I are giving our homeland a good reputation.

In fairness, I didn’t really care how he was doing. I mean, I did in the human decency kind of way, but I was just being extra friendly to distract him because I thought my carry-on might be over the 12kg weight limit.  Either it wasn’t or he didn’t care because “Americans are sooooo friendly.”

The flight attendants weren’t particularly friendly.  They were very German - abrupt and to the point, actually, not mincing words or adding pleasantries.  They were redeemed, however, by the amazing chocolate heart they gave me upon exiting the plane. It felt like a gift or a reward for making it successfully through the flight.  A-mazing.

On the tarmac, while slowly unwrapping the delicate foil of my reward, I saw the other American on board. He was wearing a NY Yankees hat.  I chatted with him on the commuter bus, he was doing a mini version of my trip.  His itinerary included 5 or so countries in 2.5 weeks. But he was capping off his trip with his family in Ireland.  I declined sharing a cab in lieu of the 2.90 Euro bus, gave him my blog address and bid him adieu.

40 minutes on the bus and 10 minutes on the train and I was successfully at my flat in Berlin. 

My roommate was super nice.  When I got there my room was very tidy with maps, tourist information and Haribo gummy bears on my bed.  Plus, he was smoking hot.  I didn’t remember him being that cute in his profile picture, but with a new beard, he was a sight for sore eyes.  Two days later, I caught him in his boxers walking from the bathroom to his room.  Hello. Yum.  Thanks for that, Christian.  Keep up with the yoga, its treating you well.

I took a couple hours to catch up online, check in with my mom and find out what my friends in Berlin were up to.  The funny thing is that I have 3 friends in Berlin.  I met 2 in Brussels last year and they both work for Deutsche Bahn.  And, I met a 3rd friend while in Paris….and she also works for Deutsche Bahn.

Fanny, Silvia and I had made plans for Wednesday night drinks and dinner, so I contacted Inga to see if she wanted to go to the outdoor theater to catch a British flic in the park.  She had a event that she was going to and had invited me along.  So, I went.  It was a great group.  First, it was all you can eat sushi for 12 Euros.  Second, I met some really great women that gave me excellent tips throughout the city.  Jani suggested the Sandeman’s walking tour, which was free and amazing.  I ended up doing 2 tours.  Another girl, Catherine, was a freelance journalist and gave me great ideas on how to become a freelance writer, write pitches and find resources for submissions.  Another, Nicole, gave me some excellent restaurant and bar recommendations.  Plus, it gave Inga and I a lot of time to catch up and make arrangements to meet up several more times that week.

By the way, I’ve adapted a new Euro style – rolled up skinny jeans and keds…its pretty much my German go-to since I’m still not hip enough for harem-esque Berliner rocker pants (think Gwen Stafani).  My friend, Fanny, pulls it off amazingly. I look like an idiot, not a cool, German hipster.

The next morning, I had a plan. I got up at 10 and walked over to the free Sandeman’s walking tour. It started at the Brandenburg Gate.  The clouds looked a bit ominous, so I was glad I had an umbrella. My tour guide, Rob Shaw, was incredible.  He was super enthusiastic about the city.  He came as a tourist and gave up his journalism career and decided not to leave.  Instead, he spreads his love and at times cynicism to a willing, frugal audience in exchange for an international following of admirers and tips, of course.

One of my favorite stories was of the goddess that guards the Brandenburg Gate.  He described her as the most talentless woman of all time, that she was complete shit at her job.  Her name was Isis (I think) and she was supposed to protect the city of Berlin with peace.  Well after several wars, the 50 year war, the 10 year war, the French revolution etc., it was clear she was not shielding the city with peace so they renamed her Victoria.  Victoria would bring victory to the city amidst any battles.  Well, we all know how WWII turned out, she was clearly not successful there either.  So, she sits atop the Brandenburg Gate praying that she will not have to work another day in her life.

 This sculpture is of Prometheus.  It was a recovered piece of Nazi art.  Rob pointed out, quite accurately actually that he has noticed that most Nazi art is of naked beautiful men in compromising positions.  Nice chains, bro, go figure.

 Early in the trip was the WWII memorial. It was absolutely amazing.  What looks like a collection of different sized cement blocks is actually rows and rows of cement blocks that dip up and down through a hilly infrastructure.  As you get deeper into the memorial, you lose light and almost feel swallowed up by the darkness and hard cement.  You get an instant sense of chill, sentiment and sorrow with no words or music.  It's quite powerful but delivered with such subtlety it’s confusing, unconventionally beautiful and draining.

they get taller as the floor drops out so you feel like your drowning or being swallowed.
 Across the memorial was this cool building with a rooftop view, the China Club. I asked if it was open to the public and was told no.  It costs 50,000 Euros just to be a member and I couldn’t afford it.  Don’t you know who I am?  Oh wait, I’m on a free tour of Berlin and you’re working for tips.  Ok, so maybe I couldn’t afford it, but I knew I could definitely get in.  It felt like a challenge.  No one is going to turn down a pretty girl in a little dress…. I’ll add it to my “defy authority to-do list” and I’ll see if I can make time for it.

The most amazing thing about Berlin is that they celebrate their city in such an amazing way.  They celebrate the good, the bad and the disgracefully ugly.  They are proud to be a community that is rebuilding itself and part of that duty is to acknowledge and respectfully honor the past.  They have built memorials and shrines for many of the ugly events that occurred during Hitler’s regime including, the town square massacre, the book burning, the Berlin Wall etc.

There was a huge massacre here after a freedom protest.  Its marked with several murals...

and a poster explaining what happened and why.

Original Berlin Wall section 
Touristy Berlin Wall pieces at Checkpoint Charlie

In addition to there being painted wall pieces throughout town and a 1 mile stretch of the Berlin Wall still in tact, they created a cobblestone marker through the street where the Berlin Wall used to stand.

Straddling the wall...East vs. West
This square contains a concert hall and 2 identical cathedrals only 200 meters apart from each other, one built for the French, one for the Germans. The square also contains an homage to the book burning that occurred here nearly 70 years ago.

The concert hall

It was sunny over the German Cathedral skies...

and very ominous skies over the French Cathedral
Our final leg of the tour was through the Lust Gardens, which were underwhelming given their name and through to this amazing park and palace.  There is no royal family in Berlin, but they had a palace (not pictured) near the Berlin Cathedral. 

Lust Gardens...not so lusty or lush or gardeny

Berlin Cathedral...not as old as it looks. It was built in the 20th century

Another Nazi statue.  Naked guy on a horse with a sword...
 The tour is capped off with applause and a field trip to a pub where we drank beer and had some traditional grub.  Walking there, you can still see bullet holes in the buildings from WWII battles.

 More cool stuff from the tour....

Trobi cars skinned in animal print...yes please! 

After the tour, it was time to meet Fanny, Silvia and Inga for dinner in Fredrichshain.  We all met up a pub by the Schlesisches Tor U-bahn stop where I endulged in a local favorite, weisswineschorle.  It’s basically a white wine spritzer.  While there, I used the creepiest bathroom in Berlin.  If you are not a customer, they actually charge the public .50 euros to use it.  Can you imaging paying to use this??

My iPod camera really did not capture the creepiness of this bathroom

At the recommendation of my tour guide, Rob, we went to Edelweiss for currywurst and live music.  Edelweiss is a cool restaurant located just inside Görlitzer Park.  Görlitzer Park is the sketchiest park in Berlin.  At dusk, its filled with aggress drug dealers and homeless people. Its pretty much accepted that that’s where they retreat and locals (nor us) go through that park after dark, not even on a bike, unless they have a specific need to be filled from inside.  We walked around the outside to go home.

The food and company was steller. However, by 10PM everyone, including me, was tired and we actually left before the music started.  #partypoopers

Original Berlin Cider

Cheese plate

Currywurst and potatoes

Cucumber Salad

Some weird pasta dish that was delicious
Fanny, me, Inga and Silvia at Edelweiss
However, on the train ride home, Silvia and I got a second wind and stopped into a bar that was outfitted as a giant living room for another round of drinks.

Don't worry, I get my iPhone next week.  No more crappy iPod pictures...
Inspired by Catherine, from my first night in Berlin, I decided to write and pitch an article to some online magazines. I went to this famous Internet Café called Cafe St. Oberholz where they welcome writers, programmers and other artsy types with free wifi and reasonably priced food and drink.  

Their bathrooms were kind of cool as well.  The bar soap was creepy, but cool.  Just an uncircumcised penis looking bar sticking out of the wall that begged you to rub your hands on its slimy handle.  Economical, I guess, but gross in so many ways.  (Of course I used it. The full shaft, not just the tip.)

Got a note from the American on the bus.  We made arrangements to meet up for dinner.  Ha! I had date with an American in Berlin!  

Well, kind of.  I only had an 90 minutes before I was supposed to meet up with Silvia.  We went out for Beer and pretzels at Praters Biergarten.  We had a good time, he was super fun, so I invited him along with Silvia and I. I told him he could have a 2-4-1 date with an American and a German that looked like sisters.  Of course he agreed.

We went to Strand Bar where they were doing Tango lessons.  We watched for a bit over weisswinescholes, then headed out to 2-3 other bars, none of which were particularly happening.  So, we decided to make our own party.  We went to a bar, ordered fruity cocktails and played Left, Right Center until 11pm, then called it a night.  James headed south and Silvia and I left together. Fun times.

The next morning, I got up early.  I had decided to stay an extra couple of days in Berlin, because I loved it so I had to move to a hostel.  I checked in to Pangea Peoples Hostel near Alexanderplatz.  It is the cleanest hostel I have ever seen.  Seriously, it was immaculate.  The food was good, the staff was helpful and it was cheap - only 20 euros a night.  There were lockers in the room and they provided linens.  The bathrooms were shared but totally clean and had enough stalls for the number of people on each floor.

I stored my bags and headed out for the Sandeman’s Alternative walking tour. More to come...

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