Thursday, September 13, 2012

Germany Day One

Day One – Wurst, Apple Crumble WHAT?, the Wall and the schnitzel

After being escorted on to the plane from the lounge ahead of (literally) everyone else, Aer Lingus managed to make one of the fastest flights ever to Dublin. I don’t ever remember a flight going by so far (about 5 ½ hours) but then again after 16 hours Chicago to Beijing, everything else feels like the shuttle to Laguardia. I ate the airline food, which wasn’t bad (cheese ravioli). But I note that since the last time I flew Aer Lingus (maybe in 2005?) they have done away with free liquor (sigh, but I dinged them in the lounge, don’t you worry) and breakfast, so now dinner comes about 2 hours into the flight. If you choose to eat, by the time you’re done, you only have about 2 hours to sleep. I watched “The Five Year Engagement” on the plane entertainment system, which was fine plane viewing.

I won’t say I slept well, but I did sleep, both on the Dublin and the Berlin flights. It was only 1 hour 55 min to Berlin but bumpy. No one in the middle seat so I curled up and kept scaring myself awake which I’m sure thrilled Mr. Businessman on the aisle who kept trying to wedge his briefcase on to said empty middle seat which now had my legs on it…

I took a taxi from the airport to the hotel, it was about 38 euro, which is high but I was in no mental condition to figure out the train situation. The hotel is on a quiet residential street off Kudam (main shopping thoroughfare). It’s on the fourth floor and there’s the tiniest elevator pretty typical in this sort of European building. I’ve seen similar in Italy and France: just big enough to hold your luggage and you, but tough to get two sets of doors closed to make it run!

My room is pretty and big. It’s a queen bed and big bright and airy windows and smallish shower/tub combo (the type you step way up and over into, without glasses I am destined to kill myself, or launch myself out the window next to it). I showered and unpacked quickly, packed my day bag and off I went. Christian is the owner of the hotel and he convinced me to buy the Welcome Berlin card for 5 days. That gets me unlimited public transportation as well as discounts on many of the places I want to visit. It was 35 euro, I think, and I’m fairly certain I put a dent in that today just in subway rides alone.

I walked down Kudam first. It reminds me a lot of a very uncrowded Champs Elysees in Paris. There is practically no one out there walking, which is puzzling. All the big designer houses are at my end of Kudam, and the further up you walk, the closer to the bigger train stations, the seedier it gets, like in any other city. I went up that way to catch the underground (this line being U2) to get closer to the Brandenburg Gate.

It was in front of Zoo Station that I had my first currywurst. I’ve never been a fan of street food, but…BUT…this was good! As a newbie to it, I just ordered it plain, which meant I got one big ass sausage that had been steamed and grilled. The vendor cut it into chunks, sprinkled a hell of a lot of curry on it and dumped a gallon of ketchup on it. This, you think, sound horrible, but believe you me, served on that little paper plate with a tiny plastic fork, it hit the spot. Too late I realized I could have had French fries to mop up the remnants of that mess! Tomorrow…

A change or two later and I was walking there and figured out that I was approaching Brandenburg Gate from the side. On the way I passed the Memorial to All Jews Murdered in Europe, which is very chilling. It is 2177 slabs of concrete of different heights that to me look like coffins. I didn’t do much more than stop and look, as I know it’ll be covered on the city tour I do.

Brandenburg Gate is very pretty and it is large width-wise, but I think the Arc De Triomphe is higher. It just feels that way. I won’t say I was underwhelmed but I definitely expected there to be more space around it, remembering the photos of the square in front of it where people were protesting, it just seemed larger. The Reichstag is right across the street, but I want to save that for when I go for the prebooked visit on Sunday.

Taking advantage of the nice weather (low 70s, sunny, blue sky) I decided to go a bit out of the way and see the East Side Gallery, which is the only permanent remnant of the Berlin Wall left. Artists had painted on the eastern side of the wall when the wall came down and they were all invited back to touch them up for the 20th anniversary a few years back. This segment of wall in a mile long and the art on it runs the gamut from tagging to Klimt or Picasso imitations to political cartoons. But each makes a statement about the wall, its short term and long term effects. I took seemingly a zillion photos and walked the entire mile long length of it.

After that I figured what the hell, I’ll go see Checkpoint Charlie then, so I did (bear in mind, all this navigating subways/trams and walking on now 24 hours of no substantive sleep!) So I made my way there, scoffing down a caramel coated shortbread I spied in a shop window to fortify me. This ended up being sort of kitschy but cool. The former border crossing is now a tourist stop, where fake soldiers will stamp your passport with former East German stamps or pose for photos. The guard shack is there as well as the “you are now leaving” sign and the photos of the Russian and American soldier. There is also a Checkpoint Charlie museum which I’d read from several sources that it was a big cluttered mess with a few interesting bits to get out of it, and that’s an understatement if you ask me. The museum tells the story of the Cold War, not just the border crossing, so room after room after room was floor to ceiling textual panels telling the story in a few different languages. Here and there, there was a photo. There were a few exhibits of how folks managed to get smuggled out with either clever disguises or usually by rigging the car somehow to hide the person escaping. That was all interesting to me, but they lost me with so much text over three floors. I think even not jetlagged, I would not have had the patience to read so much in one sitting.

After that, I was beat and it was 4:30. I headed back toward my hotel, aiming for dinner nearby. I shopped on Kudam a bit (Hard Rock Café and Starbucks). (We must discuss the “Apple Crumble Latte” that Starbucks has here. I WILL be trying it!) Then I headed to Dicke Wirtin’s for dinner. I’d seen this recommended in a few place I read and I wasn’t disappointed. It’s located off a pretty little square called Savignyplatz and it was a pub style restaurant serving “Berlin specialities.” I had potato soup, the wienerschnitzel over warm potato salad with a mixed green salad and a glass of Reisling and a shot of their homemade cherry brandy it was 28 euro and delicious. The schnitzel were two patties each about the size of a dinner plate and just yummy. I could only manage to eat one though! The soup was yummy, with a light creamy broth and big chunks of potato, carrot and sausage floating about.

I got back to the hotel around 7 and crashed. Not bad for a jetlagged first day. Looking forward to a nice quiet night in a comfy bed!

Random notes:

A lot of bikers here. Not bikers for recreation or fitness, but bikers who are using the bike as an important mode of transport.  This is more so than just about every other place I've been to in Europe, except Amsterdam.  And here, none of them wearing helmets, like they don't in Amsterdam either.

Everyone who wears glasses has awesome frames.  I have no idea how they got so chic, but every single pair of eyeglasses frames I've seen are heavenly cool.

Everyone drinks beer, whenever.  I saw more people having a midday day beer at the train station, at a street stand and everyone (but me, the non-beer drinker) at dinner drank beer.  It's kind of weird to look over at two old ladies out for dinner together with huge steins of beer in front of them.

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