Sunday, August 11, 2013

Roadboy in Berlin

Nothing Prepares You For Berlin

I booked an evening AIr Berlin flight from Vienna to Berlin. I figured we'd get the most out of our last day in Vienna before our departure.

But a little rain and a "Minor" mechanical issue delayed our flight to the point where we could no longer land in  close-in Tegel airport. 

So we landed at the much more distant Schonefeld Airport and Air Berlin arranged for buses to take us to Berlin's main train station. What a drive. With no autobahn in sight we drove the  23 km turning right, then left, then stopping for ambulances, then right, then left, all on narrow city streets teaming with highly inebriated Berliners at 2 am on a Friday night. Every block had a variety of "automated casino" pubs and kebab shops. Berliner's do love their doner kebaps and currywurst (I'm not going anywhere near that crap).

From the Hauptbahnof station we taxied to the Hotel Berlin. And despite it being a huge hotel, we were clearly the last travelers to check in because our arrival was met by a wry smile and personalized greeting from the desk clerk.

We hit the sack by about 3 am groaning in the knowledge that we had to get up for a 4.5 hour bike tour the next morning.

Day One: Berlin from a fat tire cruiser bike. 

The meeting place for the bike tour was the base of East Berlin's mondo ugly TV tower. The tower was built to demonstrate the technical prowess of East Germany during the cold war. Except they could not figure out how to do it. So they quietly hired Swede's to engineer and build it. It is still the tallest structure in Germany. It is referred to as the "Popes Revenge" since the sun hitting it casts a bright cross shaped reflection. 

The Berlin Tower

The bike tour took us on a comprehensive first pass of Berlin. What a complex city. Once the fourth largest city in Europe, it has been virtually destroyed and completely rebuilt in one lifetime. It is a city that embraced diversity and artistic expression and then systematically destroyed both in the most diabolical and hideous methods it could conceive. 

Now it fully embraces diversity again. Its population is young, highly expat, heavily gay and restless. There is a palpable "on edge" feeling. Klaus Wowereit Berlin's openly gay mayor since 2001 refers to the city as "arm, aber sexy" (poor, but sexy). I find it hard to square that this underemployed, relatively poor city has once again assumed the role of capital of a country that calibrates every screw turn on their meticulous automobiles.

But, the bike trip turned out to be a very relaxing way to get our bearings. Our British guide Tomas was blunt. He described the burning of the Reichstag and the methodical rise of the Nazi regime. 

At The Reichstag 
(With Its New Glass Dome) 

We saw where they burned the books. We visited the parking lot with its unmarked concrete slab that is actually the roof of the bunker where Hitler and his bride committed suicide.

We then pedaled to Eisenmann's disturbing, yet powerful, Jewish Holocaust Memorial. A city block of square grey concrete boxes that are all differing heights and listing at different angles. Immediately when you walk into it it becomes a maze. Families routinely get separated once they enter, just seeing glimpses of each other now and then. The symbolism of separation is evocative. 

The Holocaust Memorial 

We rode to Checkpoint Charlie and the last preserved portion of the Berlin Wall, including one of the last sniper towers that lined the wall.

A Berlin Wall Sniper Tower

We even started to notice that nearly every building and concrete fence from that era still show bullet holes from the final siege of Berlin.

It was a lot to take in. 

Lunch was traditional beer garden fare, dinner was a big wonderful Persian dinner.

Day Two: The German History Museum

We began our day at Noah’s on the Wittenberg Platz for Sunday Breakfast. We now know summer is chantrelle season in Berlin! Works for me, they are my favorite mushrooms. I appreciate how they generously include them in all sorts of dishes. With a good start we set out for a day’s visit to the wonderful Pottsdamer Platz and it's dazzling Sony Complex.

The place was full of people out for brunch, coffee or a beer (they start drinking beer right after brushing their teeth here).

The street in front contains Germany's walk of stars. Except their stars may be seen using special viewing scopes that create holographic images of the stars themselves standing directly on their star. Very cool! 

The "Star" Viewer Scopes

 Lilly Marlene On Her Star

I admit weeping inside a little when my kids admitted being clueless as to who Marlene Dietrich or Billy Wilder were.

From there it was on the German History Museum. I found the museum's original section very well presented. The newer section is designed to house special exhibits. It is not one of I.M. Pei's better moments. A modern little jumble of stone and geometry, clearly recycling details from the East Wing of the Smithsonian. It demonstrates no respect for the original museum. He did include his trademark horrible bathrooms (joined here by a single completely unusable drinking fountain). 

The Museum currently has a tour-de-force temporary exhibit detailing Hitler's methodical genocide on the mentally Ill, children born with retardation and / or (what he viewed as) defects, the gays and jews. The realization that the murders of the mentally ill and children along with forced sterilizations had begun well before, and were taking place all through, the 1936 Olympic games was chilling.

Back in our hotel room that night we heard Russia's own psycho Putin announce a new program of active persecution for its gays. There were also announcements that Russia will actively prosecute anyone (including Olympian's) exhibiting gay behavior during the upcoming Russian Olympics. Forgetting history dooms us to repeat it.

Dinner was an all-you-can eat sushi and teppanyaki restaurant Mr. B and I found the night before.

Sitting around us at dinner and walking earlier that night we could see Berlin's amazing Turkish population. We also saw many bi-racial couples and same sex couples walking hand-in-hand.

It occurred to me that the very city that a psychopath, and his willing workers endeavored so hard to genetically recompose, has gone on, in one generation, to become perhaps the world's premier example of what he feared. 

And for that, Berlin, you have my utmost and profound respect!

Tomorrow is our Alt Berlin walking tour. That should be pretty enlightening.

Equal parts amazing and scary. 


Raodboy's Travels © 2013

1 comment:

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