Monday, September 17, 2012

Germany Day Five

Day Five - Latte Mystery Solved, U2 Pilgrimage, Slowing Down and Taking It In

I woke today and logged on to find that the DC zoo had a panda cub delivery over night. That consumed about 45 minutes of my morning. I’d wanted an early start, but I read and watched what I could before I forced myself out. Onward I went.

Same breakfast again today. Honestly, there are other things on offer (cold cuts, raisin bread, rolls, hard boiled eggs) but this standard has gotten me through the first four days, why change now?

On my way out, I asked Christian the owner of the B&B when I should leave for the train tomorrow (8:00 a.m. for an 8:45 train to Dresden) and I thought to ask him if the Stasi prison in covered by my Zones ABC transport pass. He did his very best to talk me out of going. He made it seem a mess to get there, and said “you can find much better things to do here.” I didn’t pursue it further, but it gave me pause. Quickly in my head, I reorganized my day, which was a bad thing as I was now out nearly an hour later than usual.

Stopping at Starbucks today, I finally solved the discounted latte mystery. It seems that this month is the 15th anniversary of Starbucks in Germany, so all barista crafted drinks are E1.50. I don’t know much German at all, but I figured out what was written on the chalkboard over the register.

My first stop was to the Victory Column in the center of Tiergarten Park. I took the S-bahn from Savignyplatz to get there and it was quick. Then a walk through Tiergarten to the statue. For the uninitiated, this statue was featured prominently in the Wim Wenders movie “Wings of Desire” and also more importantly, in the U2 video Stay (Far Away So Close). After a brief warmup with the walk to the column, I climbed 270 steps to the top. Now, it was cool this morning but not cold and by the time I reached the top (going of course at step mill speed, not casual stroll speed) I was a big sweaty mess. It felt good as it’s now been over a week since I’ve hit the gym, but I really didn’t want to spend the rest of the day a big sweaty mess. Ah well, I figured if Bono dragged his two pack a day butt up there, I was going to run it up. So I hit that top step and looked out and was overcome with a wave of vertigo that had me grabbing the doorway. I managed to take a few shots up the street towards Brandenburg Gate and one shot overhead to prove I made it to the angels, before I was running back down all 270 steps without having had a chance to catch my breath. Just chalk it up to exercise I suppose.

From here, I walked my way back to the S-bahn, changed to the U2 line (how many U2 references will I make in this daily installment anyway?) and got off at Mendelsohn Park. I hadn’t planned to do any sort of U2 pilgrimage on this tour, but I looked up Hansa Studios last night and realized I’d already walked by it about 10 times this week already. This studio was where most of Achtung! Baby, my favorite album, was recorded. And Depeche Mode has recorded there as well. It seemed silly since it was so convenient, not to stop by. So I did.

What I never realized is how close to the Wall the studio was, and U2 recorded here mere months after the wall came down. Potsdamer Platz is the closest U-Bahn stop, and that was one of the ghost stations from 1961-1989. The band was really in the thick of things when they were here recording. Interesting trivia for me.

From here, I walked up to Brandenburg Gate again and decided to walk up Unter den Linden (that means “Under the Linden Trees”) to Museum Island. This was an interesting walk, passing by the American and Russian Embassies, past a few nice book stores (browsed, did not buy!) and right up to the area where the tour was on Saturday, near the Neue Wach, Humboldt University and the museums.

I’d been meaning to save the museums and that part of the city for when I return here after Dresden (and am staying up in that area) but I’d read about the DDR Museum and decided to head that way. I got slightly sidetracked though when I realized I had plenty of time today and I popped into the Berliner Dom in time for its noontime prayer service. I’m always curious to see what “the biggest church in…” whatever city or country is. Given that this church isn’t even that old (1899, I think), it was understandably modern in feel, compared to a St. Paul’s or St. Peter’s for sure. But it was pretty and huge and it was nice to sit and listen to the music and the sermon, even though I understood not a word. It was only 15 minutes, so a nice break from the day.

I should mention that by this point, I’d long shed my jacket and rolled up my sleeves as it felt nearly 80 outside, warmer in the sun. So while it was a beautiful day to be enjoying outside, the occasional break and air conditioning was welcome too.

Before the DDR Museum, I needed to renourish. There was a nice looking river-side café where I sat and had, yes, yet another currywurst and fries. Oh yes, and a caramel gelato to wash that down. I may be wearing leggings knee length sweaters when I go back to work if I keep this up.

The DDR Museum was actually a great find. I liken it to a discovery museum for adults. Adults in the “strong historical content” sense, not the “explicit material” sense. All of the exhibits were meant to be experienced by touching, listening, viewing. Most of it was interactive. I’d never been to a museum like it before. The first half of the exhibit covered daily life in the DDR (this was East Germany) after the wall went up. There was a Trabant car to sit in, a model kitchen and living room to walk through, a model Stasi prison cell. When you opened certain drawers or cabinets, you’d learn more about things like “Women’s Day” (when all men did all the housework for one day) or what foods were available and not available at the time. There is a very thorough account of schooling, right through college and to the first job. The children were raised to be good socialists with the expectations of becoming good workers. In college, students went through all the course work together in the same group. When they graduated they were expected to work right away.

There was a surplus of jobs and not enough workers. Because of the low tech nature of most of the work, a lot of people didn’t want to do a lot of the available jobs. However, those found to be “work shy” or not actively working on a regular basis, were imprisoned because they did not follow the standards set for citizens to follow. In some jobs, a person could be put into a work team and the expectation was that the team would not only work together, but also socialize outside of work all the time too. Promoting this type of brotherhood seemed to be the norm.

Vacations weren’t very common because you couldn’t go too far outside of East Germany or other communist block nations. Many people went to lakes nearby and oddly enough, nude sunbathing became the norm. From what I could gather, it was the one thing they could do that wasn’t regulated to death. But when the country merged in 1989, the first thing the government did at these beaches was make the “clothing optional” beaches “clothing required” and vice versa. Sort of switching the balance between clothed and unclothed without making anything outright illegal.

Another tidbit I learned was that under DDR health care, every female was given oral contraceptives. It became so widespread that cases of veneral diseases increased drastically because no one used condoms any longer.

The back half of the exhibit was more about the politics of the time, the military service required for men, how interrogations went when the Stasi called you in. The informant culture was vast. People either volunteered, were pressured into informing or paid for doing it. Citizens would inform on just about anyone to get ahead and stay ahead. The Stasi listened, read and watched just about everyone do everything. Files were kept on everyone in Stasi archives. After the country united, they could go and request to read their file and learn why things had happened to them in life; why they’d gotten a job or been refused, why people around them disappeared, why just about anything happened to them while they were being watched. Sometimes things only became clear after they read their files, sometimes things only got worse if they found out who was informing on them. No one could be trusted.

Initially after the wall went up, no one could travel between east and west. After a time, Westerners could travel into the east periodically to visit family. After a bit more time, Easterners could petition for visits in the west for special circumstances. It seems to me that all this gradual loosening of restrictions led to the eventual uprising in the Eastern Bloc nations. They kept getting more and more bites of freedom until finally it was too much to bear.

I could go on for ages about this. I’ve read a lot of books on life in the DDR, so ask me if you want recommendations.

After the museum, it was still gorgeous outside, so rather than go to another museum, I jumped on a boat ride around the canals near the Dom and Museum Island. It was just really an out and back ride, but seeing the Dom, Reichstag and some of the government buildings from that viewpoint was interesting. And it was a nice day to just kick back and put my feet up and enjoy the fresh air and sunshine. It occurred to me that I don’t often just stop at home. A very good friend of mine wrote me over the weekend and said “don’t forget to just stop and take it in.” Today I took her up on that and it paid off well. It was the first day I didn’t worry about home, and it felt good.

After the boat ride, I walked to Hackesher Markt, which is a series of small markets off of courtyards that are linked together over several blocks. I walked in and out of some cute and trendy shops (bought a scarf even) but just strolled and enjoyed watching the people and exploring the area. By dinner time, it was still warm and sunny, so I sat in a café with a glass of Reisling and listened to a brass oom-pah band. They were a group of about 6 young guys and they were quite entertaining.

Dinner tonight was a slight deviation in plans. As Berlin has a substantial Turkish population, I decided to eat Turkish tonight. I went to a place in Hackesher Markt called Hasir. There I had an appetizer of fried eggplant, jalapeno peppers and tomatoes with a yogurt sauce. I was really craving veggies and that seemed to hit the spot. My main dish was a kebab medley of lamb, beef and some form of sausage with a tomato sauce and more garlicky yogurt dip. Both were really very tasty and I was pleased with my choices. I did not have dessert here, as I spied an Amorino gelato stand, of the Paris Amorino variety, down the street. I had a small cup with caramel, mascarpone and milk-free chocolate gelatos.

Back to the hotel early tonight to pack up and watch a bit of panda cam before bed. Today, life is good. Really good.

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