Berlin- Ups and Downs
Trip Start Jun 01, 2006
63Trip End Ongoing
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Arrived in Berlin a bit before noon. Since I had no response from my various requests for rooms, I went to the Information Office at the train station and was able to snag a room for the night. From there, I began navigating the Metro/Train/Bus system. Berlin is not so orderly (as you would expect with its Prussian background) and the system is not an easy one to master. Add to that, the specific Metro I would normally use is out of service (several stations under repair) and all the signs advising how to navigate around the disruption being in German, well, it was frustrating and long (with the pack on my back).
I made it to the right Metro stop, and started hiking using my map. I eventually found the "Pension" and went in
Berlin is full. I do a search for rooms and find nothing closer than the airport (far away) or on the edges of the burbs
I go on trudging. At one point, I enter a pension, climb the four floors to be met by a perfectly coiffed and dressed older lady. It turns out she does rent rooms, by the hour. She asks if I know what that means. I blush and say I do. I try to leave. I must not be her usual clientele and she wants to talk. About her time living in Florida, her children in the States, her wish to return
I stand out there, have I sunk so low that I'll sleep with bugs? Well, just about, in fact. I try two more places further down the street. Providence smiles on me. I find a hotel with a room scarcely bigger than a closet- but it's clean. I pay in advance. And it is after 5 o'clock. My first day in Berlin and most of it spent looking for a room. DAMN that porn convention! But I have certainly had a close look at seamy hotels and pensions and a wide swath of this neighborhood so I suppose all is not lost.
After a rest, I walked around looking for a restaurant for about an hour and settled on a nice-ish place (not too expensive, after all the Pension is still $50Euro a night) and have a good meal. Glass of white wine recommended by the waiter (crisp, nice- am getting white wine palate) and plate of meatballs in caper sauce, boiled potatoes, beets, and a salad. The meatballs are soft and tan (veal?) the sauce is smooth and has a bite- all the elements go together well. I am content.
Then I tour the gay neighborhood (I am not far). Berlin is the unofficial gay capital of Europe. While in Amsterdam the 'legal' issue remains supreme (gay marriage) and it is touted as the 'in' place, other cities, like London and Berlin, based on size, have huge gay populations
I have two beers. Now being in Germany this means LARGE beers. More than I want. So off to bed, wondering where are the places middle aged guys go to hang out in decent surroundings and have a glass of wine?
Today, up early (with a bit of a beer hangover- TWO beers, I swear!) and groggy after a crappy nights sleep (people are up late and I hear them come and go). After breakfast, at which I meet Frau Hoss, an uber cheerful blonde who plays counterpoint to cranky Herr Hoss, I move my room to the end of the hall- shared bath
Berlin is a big city. It sprawls. I got down to the Brandenburg Tor and began there. The thing that strikes be about Berlin is the layers of history that co exist side by side. Imperial Hohenzollern imprinted by Nazi, that in turn imprinted by Russian occupation, that topped off with re-unified (modern). This is most evident in the center of town. The Brandenburg Tor is not all that large (to me, savy traveler that I am) but I'm struck by how, feet away from it, once ran the wall that divided the city (see photos starting here) and the ongoing construction. There is construction everywhere and cranes don't just 'dot' the landscape, they are everywhere. Even at the Brandenburg.
What I find most interesting about the Brandeburg Tor, is that the statue that surmounts it is the Goddess of Peace entering and protecting the city. For how long has this symbol of Berlin been used as a backdrop for pictures of war and its aftermath?
All day long, the song in my head is "Deutschland, Deutschland, Uber Alles".
Just behind the Tor is the Reichstag. Again, Imperial, site of Nazi history, and now topped by a huge glass dome (which really is cool to see). However, the line to go up into the dome is over 2 hours long so I go back to the Tiergarten (which starts right behind the Tor- the Garten is much like Central Park in NYC) and find an old man who sets up each day a memorial to those who died trying to cross the Berlin Wall
Lunch was Bratwurst (yum) coffee and two jelly donuts (known in slang as "Berliners", which I didn't' know)- hungry!
I walked along the Unter den Linden, which while being a wide paved road, is not very attractive. Lined with stark office buildings and stunted Linden trees it could be magnificent but is not. I passed the Platz where Hitler held book burning bonfires, near the Opera and University. I headed towards the older section through construction towards the "Dom" or Berlin Cathedral. Built by Kaiser Wilhelm, it wasn't finished until 1905 and, unlike the old Gothic cathedrals, was built for really a different purpose (glorification of the Hohenzollerns) and has a totally different look (compared to St. Stephens, for example, in Vienna). On a huge 'Platz' or plaza (site of army reviews for various kings, then site of Nazi rallies) it broods more than inspires. I paid and went in.
Being a 'modern' cathedral, it is a huge dome on the inside, vast and soaring but not inspiring
Now, before you think I have a crypt fetish, I only went into one other, St. Stephens, and the tour of the Berlin Dom runs you through the crypt on purpose- it was fascinating. When the Kaiser built the church, he moved all the Hohenzollerns from their various burial crypts and put them in one place to push his dynastic ideas. It is a huge place, filled with simple coffins, elaborate funerary sarcophagi, crowns, marble (and good electric lighting). I found myself getting lost in comparing style and makes and coffins, tracing different periods of history by the decoration on the coffins, wondering about the stories of the little infant coffins (some plain boxes, some show pieces of art) until I realized "hey, this is a little morbid, get the hell out" so I did. But the place was interesting, and full of people doing the same thing!
From there, I walked back down the Unter den Linden and looked at tourist junk, and was fascinated by the postcards
I observed the Berliners too. Overall, they are a less cheerful bunch (than people in Vienna for example). Less fit, tending to be overweight, they have dour expressions and often frown. I also note that in crowds, they never 'give way'. I have been bumped and jostled here unlike anywhere else (in fact, I don't recall be bumped and knocked about anywhere else). I was once almost knocked over on the Metro by a man who simply pushed his way up the escalator, leaving people behind yelling swear words in German at him as he plowed ahead, oblivious. The predominate fashion color- black. Black everywhere. Remember the "Saturday Night Live" skit with Dieter? He wore all black? Dieter reigns in Berlin- unless you are wearing black leather. Leather is also everywhere.
Walked back all the way through the Tiergarten (and long damn walk) to the Siegessaule. This is a large victory monument topped by a gold statue. Beautiful. From there, walked back to the hotel and a nap! Now, out for dinner.
As I wrote the above, there was a knock on the door
I had planned on taking the Bike Tour of Berlin tomorrow (I love bike tours as you know) but it starts only once a day at 11 (being 'off season') and I fear I'm going to miss it.
So I went out and ate an "American" style restaurant- cheeseburger and fries: comfort food. It didn't help.