I'm A Legal Alien Now

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Berlin: A Pictorial Report, Part Zwei

The three of us accidentally overslept until 10.30 on Saturday morning which was a bit of a kicker but we managed to eat our muesli (after I took a rather spectacular fall in their bathroom and grazed my arm but sadly didn't get a huge bruise to show off on my thigh- they have a very Northern European shower which means you have to mop the floor after every use) and trundle off to Potsdam on the S-Bahn. Potsdam is the capital of Brandenburg, which surrounds Berlin which is a city-state in itself. It's also a UNESCO world heritage area. The area is also pretty darn bankrupt, funnily enough. We bought some salami and things from a supermarket (NETTO makes you wanna play the game NETTO makes you wanna pash the blokes, oh what a name, oh what a game, NETTO). Central Potsdam is actually a bit ugly, it was heavily bombed in the war probably like most of this part of the world, and the Soviets didn't waste any time in exploiting the wonders of concrete in architecture. It still felt so wonderfully European though- the tram lines and the cobblestones and smoking and things.

The moneyshot of Potsdam is Park Sanssouci (sans souci = without worry in French)- a huge park dotted with palaces and things. Unfortunately it being winter all the fountains were off and the statues were in their little wood shacks so they didn't freeze/get frost damage.

Schloss Sanssouci (schloss= castle in German and I loved saying it and putting it into different English tenses) was built by one of the Friedrich's as a pleasure place for him and his most intimate (male) friends to talk about philosophy and music. He was the one who wrote flute sonatas and hired CPE Bach as his court composer and Voltaire was a friend. It sits atop this series of terraces covered in vines. Unfortunately at this time of the year it was a bit unattractive because all the vines were bare for winter. It was open for tours only, so we ended up on a tour with a very lovely tour guide. She did the tour entirely in German but you could tell she was really good- and according to Sam & Leonie she was. I got an English transcription sheet. The funniest thing was though we all had to wear these dorky slippers to protect the floors so everyone had to shuffle and slide along. It was all a bit spectacular really, but not easy to describe. Very rococco.

The rest of the afternoon, in rapidly dwindling light, was spent hiking around Park Sanssouci. We didn't go into the bigger, more formal palace the Neues Palais and the Orangerie-

-and Chinese Teahouse are only open in summer. It gets dark so quickly. It was overcast, so it felt like twilight was rolling in at around 3.30pm.

January must be unbelievably depressing. We also saw the recently renovated Belvedere in the park, and the second photo is a very dark Neues Palais at around 4.15 in the afternoon!

By this point out feet were beginning to steam so we headed back to Potsdam Hauptbanhof (another thing I loved to say regularly). We were hoping the famous Potsdam Christmas Markets were open but they weren't. There was however a gluhwein store open so I had my first taste of gluhwein- mulled red wine. This is something I didn't think I'd like much, but it was great. Full of cinnamon and orange and nutmeg. Back in Berlin, we went out to a Thai restaurant in what I think was Prenzlauer Berg, a very hip former DDR district close to Sam and Leonie. We were gluttons for physical punishment so then we had the great idea to go to the Reichstag (the lower house of German government).

The original Reichstag building is a typical, grandiose, somewhat squat late 19th Century affair but then in the late 90s Sir Norman Foster put this amazing glass dome in the middle of it. You go up to the roof, which is all open, and can walk around for some spectacular views then a ramp spirals up to the top of the dome, which is open to the sky in fair weather. There are two interlocking ramps- one up, one down. In the middle of the dome is this inverted cone sort of thing covered in mirrors which points down to the Bundestag, which is the government chamber and is entirely visible to the public. It looks like it was furnished by Ikea. One of the best things about all the new Federal buildings in this part of Berlin, asides from being some brilliant modern architecture, is that they earnestly believe that people should be able to see their government at work so they have great big walls of glass looking in to committee rooms and things. Anyway, the Reichstag is absolutely sensational and may be the highlight of the trip for me. Quirky fact- Hitler never stepped foot in the building! A little Brandenburg Tor moment from the top of the Reichstag:

On Sunday morning Leonie's choir was singing in a church service so we went to that. Unfortunately this was the exact point my jet lag hit me the worse and I spent much of the sermon frozen in terror that I was going to fall asleep. I was surprised how easy it was to sing along in German with the hymns. The pastor mentioned 'Charlie Chaplin' in his sermon and 'der smalltalk' which Sam later told me has negative connotations in German. Leonie's choir was great, but it was a very long service not to understand a word of it. Brunch in Prenzlauer Berg followed before an excursion out to Checkpoint Charlie. Charlie was a bit hideous touristy and I couldn't really enjoy the historical aspect of it.

What followed next got a bit silly as I really wanted to get William something very particular for his birthday so we ended up shuttling around Berlin looking for one, including at the famous flea market in the Tiergarten (which includes a stall full of doorknobs and another full of chandeliar parts and boxes full of old photos) and Alexanderplatz. We passed through Friedrichstrasse S-Bahnhof seemingly hundreds of times as we criss-crossed the city. We were also looking for an open Christmas market to no avail, and at one point checked to see if Berlin's most prestigious, the Gendarmerieplatz, was open. They were all opening the day I was to leave!

Happily though we had one more market left to try- the one neat the Staatsoper Unter den Linden (which for convienance I shall call the Operaplatz though I am entirely making that up). Unlike the first time we went to the Unter den Linden at night, all the linden trees, though leaf-less, were decorated with hanging lights and it was unbearably pretty. It was also a nice place to be with friends.

The Operaplatz Markt wasn't entirely open but was open enough so I was thrilled. It was like stepping into a Faller catalogue (the model train people). All these kitschy but nice stores selling Christmas decorations. More gluhwein and chocolate dipped fruit on sticks and these deep fried sugary dough balls and all in all it was completely wonderful.
Ridiculously cheap pizza that night plus more half litres of beer. They do love their beer in Germany. Beer and recycling. I've never seen a city so dedicated to recycling. All the public trash cans (ABFALL!) have several different sections and a number of times I'd be holding something in my hand studying the bins trying to work out which category it fell under. Germans are sticklers for rules. They don't even jaywalk!

Touching farewell scenes as Sam headed off to work and Leonie and I headed to their local version of the 'dro, the Gesundenbrunnen which I've told them they have to call the 'bru from now on. Picked up all my lebekuchen bags (couldn't pronounce it so just called them Bags of Goodness) before heading back out to Tegel. After a slightly terrifying check-in by someone who most likely used to work for the Stasi (DDR secret police) I was soon on my way onboard Deltaflot 79 to New York JFK. The video screen was broken for the first three hours but just as I was about to start gnawing at my fist in boredom they managed to fix it and I was able to enjoy the cinematic delights that are My Super Ex-Girlfriend (expectedly crap) and Ricky Bobby: Talladega Nights (surprisingly crap). Amusingly, the only people who thought I was German during the entire trip were the Deltaflot flight attendants who not only spoke to me in German, but also gave me all the customs and immigration forms in German. This is more evidence that Americans are confounded by any accent they don't recognise.

8 and a half hours later, into JFK where Immigration and Customs were surprisingly painless (one of the perks of my class of visa I suppose). Hiked to Terminal 2 which is a shithole on par with Charles de Shithole Terminal 2D. It was so crowded and foul and they would board multiple flights through the same gate to there was the scrum of people. Expedia had warned me that DL6023 was only ever on time 20% of the time and sure enough we spent an hour in a queue to take off at JFK. Fortunately though it's such a quick flight down to Baltimore that we were only half and hour late and even better the train to DC was arriving at just the right time so I was home by 8.30pm.

*Das Ende*


Blogger anney said...

Wow - it's sooooo pretty!! V jealous, I really should swing by berlin sometime...

11:58 PM  
Blogger Ian said...

There's a great kitchen floor to sleep on!

7:49 AM  

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