Germany Part Two: Berlin

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Reconstruction: “Berlin should be called the city of cranes.” Rebecca

From the moment we landed in Berlin, we saw very little of it because of all the construction and barriers. And if they weren’t fixing something, they were fixing to celebrate something.

On the advice of a stranger at Tegel Airport, we took the Express bus to the City Center after our early-morning flight out of Düsseldorf, plopping us down between the train station and just north of the Tiergarten Park, (the old hunting grounds of German royalty). Now, it is the grand promenade to the Reichtag and the Brandenburg Gate.

Our B and B was just on the south side of Tiergarten Park. How long of a walk could it be to cross the width of the park?

An hour later, 9:30am, we were still pulling our “rollies” through the crushed granite pathways and gardens. We had to walk around a huge fenced-off stretch with dozens of acres of pavilion structures being hoisted up for “Reunification Days.” Once a year, on October 3rd, the Germans celebrate the fact that East and West Germany reunited, and by the scope of these preparations, this was going to be enormous!  Unfortunately, we would miss the October 1 kickoff by two days.

We finally reach our B and B a little after 10 am and found that our host had left for work at 10. So I quickly got directions from a kind young woman that had served us a roll at a small sandwich shop on the corner of the apartment building. She explained how to take a bus to the street near Artem’s (our B and B host’s) work. It was about 10 bus stops away, so while Rebecca watched or luggage in the oak park across the street, I headed off to find him. So far, our timing has been less than stellar.

In fewer than 40 minutes, I made it on the 48b bus, meet Artem, got the keys, found the return 48b bus and met Rebecca in the park.

I ended  up staying in a small, run-down park across from the street from the cafe/deli and Woody followed directions to get to Artem’s workplace.  I watched kids play on a spinney merry go round and on an interesting structure where they had to work together.  A couple of kids climbed the short ladder to the top of the structure and two more on the ground below, filled sort of crane bucket made out of an old tire, with sand.  Then the two lower kids used a pulley and hoisted the load up to the ones on top who then dumped it down a chute.  They took turns, trading places and one kid stood under the pouring sand until an adult told him not to.  Quite fun!         

I wrote in my journal, and a ode to my faithful wheels on my little suitcase that get so much abuse.         

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Ode to the Wheels on my Luggage
Ode to the Wheels on my Luggage
Small, round, hard, and rugged,
You follow wherever I lead;
Over cobbled old-town squares, Up stone steps that are crumbling and steep, Over narrow gratings above metro trains,
And never once grumbling. You work hard to keep your balance As you bounce down curbs and cross busy streets. Round and round you turn as we wend our way through towns.  Through grit and pebbles and mud and puddles, we climb hills and down.      
And still you follow without complaint; Just a friendly clickity-clickity sound to let me know you’re still behind me, following: earnest and loyal, Keeping my precious cargo above the filth.
And what do I do to show my thanks?  I drag you through the muck again. 
*I tried to format this the way Rebecca wanted it, but Word Press is not cooperating!

Woody came back 15 minutes sooner than I had planned in my head.  We crossed back to the deli and down one door.  The key worked and up to the 4th floor we went.  His apartment was roomy and light.

We enter to find a large, spacious apartment on the fourth floor, overlooking the park. Sparse furniture, little stashes of neatly stored toys, and a few sketches on the walls, lead Rebecca to guess that Artem is a young, single dad who rents his apartment out when he can to make a few extra Euros.

We left our bags and went out to explore Berlin.  We took a bus and sat on the top level to have a good view of Potsdamstrasse ahead.  On about the third stop, the traffic was stopped in front of us by police.  Pretty soon, maybe 40 police cars and motorcycles came whizzing through from the left, turning onto Potsdamstrasse in front of us.  I noticed someone on the street waving a Turkish flag and then the motorcade of black cars speeding around the corner behind the police.  One car was flying miniature versions of the same flag.

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After the dignitary hubbub, we ended up missing our stop by one very long stretch that took us under a tunnel and back to the train station where we had started our day, north of the Reichstag.  This time we explored the train station a bit.

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Near the train station, we saw a building with a life-sized Trompe-l’oil (French for: “deceive the eye,” an art technique that uses realistic imagery to create the optical illusion of three dimensions on a two dimensional surface.

The train station which is also used as a shopping mall with a glass dome and lots of shiny stainless steel.  

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Trains passing above the mighty, steel trusses overhead going east/west and below the escalators going north/south, with shopping in between.

Eventually we made our way between all the pavilions west of the giant Reichstag building, where the Rick Steve’s’ audio tour starts–but it was all cordoned off because of the Turkish PM and his bus load of dignitaries that were also visiting the sites. 

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Peaceful protests from Turkish women wearing the Turkish flag, as they talk to police and TV cameras.  We never got the point of their protests, but the news was there to cover it and this added to the general congestion around the Reichstag.

We sat nearby and listened to the audio history, then we walked toward the memorial of the murdered Jews, which was also cordoned off–we could see the VIP’s disembarking from a bus to tour the same site.  

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2711 concrete slabs, purposeful placed so that you sink below the level of eyesight so that you get lost and cannot be seen.  The memorial was closed off to tourists today.

We made it to the Brandenburg gate as well, but it blocked off and was covered in scaffolding as well, so not much to see there. 

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Brandenburg Gate, monumental gateway to Unter den Linden and the City Palace of the Prussian Monarchs.  It has now reinvented itself as the symbol of unity between East and West Germany after Reunification.  The gate is being dressed up as a part of the big Reunification Celebration that we will miss. But we did not miss the preparation for it!

This has been a bit disappointing, so far.  We walked the long way round to the famous street, Unter den Linden, (Under the Linden trees) and continued the walking tour from there. 

We crossed to the Museum Island formed by  a split in the Spree River where the major museums are located.  We found a grassy place in the Park Lustgarten, near the Altes Museum.  It was a lovely shady, green space that was just across from the Church of Berlin, I don’t know what religion, maybe Lutheran. But it was as ornate as any Catholic Church. 

20180927_155814(0)We had a nice time lying on our backs in part sun and part shade and listening to the rest of the tour before we walked the rest of it.  Sometimes it gets hard to stay tethered sharing a pair of headphones, just 18 inches apart as we walk along among the crowds.

We walked along the far side of the riverbank to check prices of a boat tour.  Maybe tomorrow?   Then on to the TV tower that looks a bit like the one in Seattle.  We’ll come back to this part tomorrow and go to some museums.  Woody wants to rent a bike–maybe we’ll try that because many roads are closed off to cars so it might be safe.

We wended our way through some smaller streets and under a pretty archway that led down a cobbled way.  We stopped for a drink at a very typical-looking German pub.  I had a beer with “limon” in it. It made it taste like a hard apple cider.  I can actually say I liked it.  The waiter looked like he was unhappy–no smile ever.  I think his feet hurt him. We sat and listened to a carillon from the chapel near the pub play two songs before it chimed five o’clock.  Very pleasant.     

After our beer, we headed for the 42b and got back to our bus stop with no trouble.  We walked up Potsdammerstrasse and saw some storefronts being used as art galleries.  There was an art show on our street all weekend long.  A woman asked us for directions and Woody used his phone to help her.  She was French but spoke English.  It was fun to be able to help someone else.  I think people–most people–have the innate desire to help.  I think it needs to be nurtured at a young age. I think all the people who help us along the way are usually glad to help.     

We found a run-down restaurant with a very helpful man behind the counter.  Woody had a half chicken and I had a zucchini and veggie fried thing with rice and TWO salads.  It was great and cheap, one of the best values we’ve had, I think.  I loved the salads.  I think the sores I’ve had in my mouth for three days now have developed because of the small amount of  green vegetable food I’ve had.           

Back at our apartment, Woody was tired but I decided to catch up on writing.  This apartment has terrible lighting–one bare bulb in the middle of the room.  How can he read or write?  The space is fine, it’s just the lighting and lack of places to sit.  I’m interested to meet him when he comes to visit us tomorrow.

Friday, September 28th

We left the apartment sometime after 9:30 and decided to try the underground today.  We found a subway stop near the restaurant where we ate last night and headed underground.  There are no turnstyles or anything, you buy your ticket at a machine then validate it at another and climb on a train.  I don’t know what happens if you don’t do it that way, does an alarm sounds or do you get a hefty fine if someone checks on the train?   

We ended  up at a cafe for breakfast that had good WIFI.  I could never to get it to work for long but Woody was able to do some email and bills.

For breakfast, I had a plate with scrambled eggs, beets, avocado, a mayonase sauce, bread, and goat cheese.  It was great, though not what I think of breakfast, more brunch.  I was noticing the cashier.  He flicked a dead bug off the counter and it hit a waitress by accident in the back.  He saw that I saw and gave me a sheepish grin. 

After breakfast as we were making our way to the Pergamon Museum, we walked up a pedestrian path and ended up in an area that I had planned to see toward the end of the day called the Hackesche Hofe in the Hackescher Market.  It was a cool design; apartment buildings around courtyards with shops on the bottom floor and they have archways that lead into other courtyards that lead into yet other courtyards.  Each courtyard has a distinctive style–one with fancy tiled walls, another with artistic graffiti. We sort of got lost exploring.           

We followed Woody’s GPS to the Pergamon Museum.  Half of it is being renovated, and it was quite a gauntlet to run just to get to the entrance.  

We set out to visit museums today.  Rebecca wanted to see the Pergamon Museum with the Ishtar Gates, an object of history she has  taught about for over three decades.  She also was interested in the Nues to see the bust of Nefertiti and other ancient treasures.  I know that I have a low tolerance for museums.  Something about walking on marble floors for over two hours gets to me mentally and physically.  So I agreed to go to the Pergamon with her, then I would pick up one of the ubiquitous city bikes and take in a wider circumference of sights and meet her when she was finished at at the Nues and go from there.

Inside, what a treasure!  Right up the stairs you turn right and there are the Ishtar Gates!  Bigger and bluer than I imagined.  I felt tears spring to my eyes.  Many of the tiles had been replaced and it is obvious which tiles are original, but the effect is stunning. The museum has the largest reconstructed pieces of antiquity.  Besides Ishtar’s gates from Mesopotamia, it has the marketplace of Miletus from Turkey, and the Pergamon (which is closed until 2019 for renovation.) The marketplace gates are well-preserved and makes one feel insignificant.      

 

So many lovely pieces  here. I am happy that I saw them.

 

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Construction going on inside the museum…
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…and outside the museum

 While Rebecca toured the Nues, I rented a bike and went crane watching.  I rode on bike ways along the Spree Robert Banks for a bit.  Bike lanes work really well, until you get to a  bridge and then you have to drag the bike up steps to the car crossing sometimes.  I rode through the Spreebogenpark, then around the west edge of Tiergarten Park and by the zoo.

I came back around down Unter Den Linden, and watched some of the reconstruction activity at the Berlin Palace.

After I met up with Rebecca again, I invited her to see an exposition about the reconstruction of the Palace.

Since reunification on October 3rd, 1990, (Some Germans like to call the event “Die Wende” or turning point) the reconstruction of East Berlin began in earnest.  Large scale urban projects that would rebuild historical structures while preserving a percent the land still bare from WWII for parks, transportation modernization, pedestrian walkways and bike ways.  In many respects, this is a planner’s dream.  Billions of reconstruction Euros and in many cases, a clean slate.  One example is the Berlin Palace, which was heavily damaged in 1945, then demolished in 1950.  It is currently planned to reopen as the Humboldt Forum, as the successor to the Ancient Prussian Art Chamber. IMG_20180928_153800931_HDR

The project has cost now over 100,000,000 Euros, and it is likely to end up double that by the time it is done in 2019.  They are relearning many of the forgotten arts in sculpture and casting.  They are painstakingly doing reproductions of architectural elements, most of which were originally created by hundreds of various artisans.

We walked by a canal where we ran into the oldest draw-bridge in Berlin.  You could see it was a hand cranked bridge.  Quite cool.

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We were hungry and ate dinner at an elegant wine restaurant that had their own wine label.  Woody had ribs and I had risotto.  Not my favorite meal but the wine and mango sorbet were fine.

We walked to a bus stop, and after an unkind, surly bus driver couldln’t understand us and refused to give us change for our fare, we waited for another bus.  More police vans whizzed by.  The PM goes all over the city!

Rebecca got off the bus after a rude bus driver started yelling at us when we didn’t understand what he was saying. I understood him to tell us that this bus would not go to the street we were telling him–I think it was because we were pronouncing it wrong and he was just tying to get us off the bus.  It really irked me that we had to wait for another bus.  I thought about how much at a disadvantage all travelers are who don’t speak the language.  So far, everyone had been really kind to us; this experience was really the outlier.  As I sat there, I realized that Rebecca was right to simply get off rather than stay there and argue, which is what I was  prepared to do.  We have a lovely day, a nice meal and I’m sitting with a lovely woman waiting for the next bus.  What’s not to enjoy?

We got the next bus and got back home with no trouble.  Artem was there to check in on us. 

Artem speaks about six languages and is originally from Kyrgystan He has studied languages and politics–very interesting guy.  We talked for a bit and I tried to play a card game with his son, but it didn’t really work out.  Now I am ready for bed.

Artem now works for an employees’ group that represents workers for a booking agency.  We compared notes.  He explained that it is not exactly like the teacher union work that both Rebecca and I have done.  It’s more like an in-house watchdog group that the business must to provide for its employees.

“So you’re doing important work, protecting the rights of the workers,” I said.

“Well I would like to think so,” said Artem, in his earnest, thoughtful English.   “But at the end of the day, it’s the employer that has the longer arm.”  Some struggles never seem to end.

The realignment of post-socialist workers’ expectations of decent wages, health care, and other services with the capitalist mindset of hustle for success is still under construction like the rest of Berlin.

There’s always tomorrow.

Last day in Berlin: Leaving on the 9:15 tonight.

We tried to get an early start and make the most our last day, but wound up finding that most stores and restaurants are closed until about 11am on Saturdays.  Berliners take their days off seriously!

After breakfast, we rented City Bikes with an app and rode around Tiergarten–the huge park west of Brandenburg Gate.  It was a bit cold, but a lovely ride on good paths in and out of sunlight and dappled shade.  It isn’t a manicured park–much more wild than Central Park, but still nice.

We rode two hours cross-crossing our way and stopping at the rose garden (mostly dormant) and along a canal.  We heard a carillon play.

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We rode back over to Unter Den Linden where we left our bikes and found a cafe for tea.   From there, we found a lovely book store.  I sat in a courtyard for a bit and found a Hatsheput Sphinx, just sitting there for people to touch or write on, but luckily no one did.  (It was on loan while the museum was being repaired.)  There was also a living wall,  four stories tall–three panels wide.  I want to build one somewhere; mine won’t be that tall.

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Four story living wall in the Berlin Urban Bookstore
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A real Sphinx curiously sitting in the foyer of the bookstore

We took the subway back to our neighborhood where we had an early dinner with a nice Castilian waiter at an Italian restaurant.  We talked to him in Spanish.  I felt cosmopolitan, speaking in Spanish to a man that was serving Italian food in the German Capital.       

At the apartment, we talked to Artem for a bit, retrieved our luggage, gave back the keys, then set off for the airport

Easy Jet is an amazing bargain! Only 48 Euros for both of us to fly from Berlin to Vienna, IF you know the system and travel light.  We ended up paying another 47 Euros for one bag that did not meet their size limit, almost the same amount that we paid for both of our tickets. But it’s still less than one train ticket!

We met a very nice young Austrian woman in line for the same Easy Jet to Vienna. Michella was a medical student returning home for a short vacation. Her family lives in Graz, on the same highway we’ll be taking tomorrow to the south of Austria.  We said we’d wave to her on our way by. She laughed. Talking to her helped to pass the time to board the 9:15 (which was running late and did not board until nearly 9:45.)  It was only an hour flight so we were on the ground, and into our room at the Moxy Hotel airport before midnight.

Some final memories of Berlin:

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