our journey begins on the 6:09 Regional Bahn towards the Bahnhof, which smells suspiciously of urine and is filled with sleepy old business men. Karen has been up already for the better part of two hours, having proven herself incapable of either setting an alarm or reading a clock. I have been up since shortly after five: we are brushed and primped, excited and getting hungry for our breakfast as we arrive at the train station.
We all but rush for the bus station, since we are already a little bit late. Fortunately, we needn’t of worried: our bus didn’t show up for another forty-five minutes. Which for, of course, we waited outside. By 7:05, we couldn’t feel our pinky toes. By 7:15, we couldn’t feel our bums. By 7:20, we’d pulled out all the stops and gone as far as to pull up the collars of our jackets and turn our scarves into little breathing tubes. It was cold. So we fidgeted and waited and waited until something like 7:35, when our salvation turned up in the form of a gold-colored bus.
we met some lovely folks on the train, two native germans who were amazed by our rapid transitions between english and german and the moments in between. we listened to music and looked at our tour-guidey books and ate our brotchens and some cookies. as the minutes ticked by, it became increasingly clear that it was not only unlikely that it was going to be warmer in Berlin, or perhaps even sunny—it also became clear, that we were also going to be quite late.
we arrived in Berlin almost an hour later than planned. the bus driver, charmer that he was, provided the first amazing quote of the day-- auf Englisch, no less! He says, "We reach our destination. The weather outside is shit." The entire non-English speaking bus remains silent as Karen and I burst our laughing and clapping and generally carrying on. we run about the bus pavilion in a sudden burst of energy, having finally found a WC. Searches for an U-Bahn station prove less fruitful, and we follow a lot of signs around for a while, sharing our confusions with other tourists.
eventually, we find the u-bahn station and we buy a day ticket! and we're off...
by this times, we've given up at pretending that we are not tourists. I have my giant camera on my chest, and Karen is carrying a map and a guide book. People keep offering to help us, in English-- but we power through.
our first stop was the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtnis Kirche. This church was heavily bombed and left to stand in the middle of Berlin as a tribute. Most of two sides have been largely destroyed: perhaps the most shocking part of it is that the beautiful tiled mosaic has largely survived. There is a small memorial chamber inside, with artifacts from the original church.
next, we popped back on the u-bahn and headed for the french and german churches. i honestly don't know which was which, but they were pretty anyways.
and then we found a statue of the ampelmann, which is the pedestrian walking indicator in the former east. karen also looked up and randomnly discovered the fernseher turm, which is sort of a symbol of berlin.
it was cold enough at this point that it was time for a warm drink. so we found a cafe that did not seem to be terribly corporate or soul-sucking, although i feel this might have been a lie. it was, at this point, terribly cold, so i suppose allowances must be made. but anyways, so we're in there, drinking our ridiculously over-sweet drinks (i had some sort of thing in which they made coffee and then melted tablespoons of chocolate in the bottom, which my spoon stirred up every time i stirred. but sort of irrelevant...) anyway, we were mumbling on about in our merry little way, embracing the easy bilingualism of being an exchange student-- or perhaps the curse, seeing as I am incapable of having a conversation with another english speaker in only one language.
and then we were attacked. a group of approximately thirty english speaking tourists infiltrated the cafe. nowhere is safe! so we quickly drained our drinks, turned out the corner and ran smack into checkpoint charlie.
(check out the cuffs on those jeans!)
a bit later, we went and got our "visas" stamped. the officer got amazingly confused when I forked over my residency permit and told him that he could stamp it. Apparently he thought I was British and Karen was German? It was odd.
another thing i found odd was that one can easily buy things such as gas masks. in fact, there were a handful of stands that provided easy access to things such as communist pins, russian berets, gas masks and other sorts of memorabilia. once can also buy pieces of the berlin wall.
there are also pieces of the wall all over the place.
we waffled back and forth about going to the holocaust memorial, but in the end, we just ended up running into it. i wanted to have enough time to see the museum, but there really wasn't enough time.
the holocaust memorial, or 'denkmal', is scary and terrifying and overpowering. from far off, it just looks like a bunch of gray-coloured blocks: however, as you walk in, the blocks become taller and taller until you are surrounded and overpowered by dark gray columns. some of them are tilted and others rise from the ground at perfect right angles: regardless, it is a terrifying monument. the stones are neatly laid out, so at a single turn, one may see an easy out, but it gives one the sensation of being surrounded and trapped. perhaps the oddest thing was the look on people's faces: a look of awe and quiet terror, even the children oddly silenced.
it was somewhere around here that we started to get cold. like, really, really cold. so we rushed rushed through the brandenburger tor, through the bundestag building, where merkel works... our jeans were chafing our legs because they'd gotten wet and then cold and then stiff and then ouchy. so we were doing odd dancing odd steps because our legs hurt and we were cold. fortunately, there were no restaurants that did not appear sketchy or bleedingly expensive, so we got a bit more of a workout.
we walked past the american embassy, an unfriendly looking building. we loitered on the edge of it for a while. we couldn't decide whether or not we were allowed to go visit, since we were americans, but the guards looked pretty unfriendly, so we just kept walking.
eventually we found a cafe like restaurant that served italian food and we got some seriously yummy pasta and a bottle of mineral water. when we peaked at the damage done to our legs, we discovered rashes and, in Katie's case, the beginnings of black and blues behind our knees and where the seams of our jeans were. ouch!
after lunch, we found another u-bahn station and hopped on, heading for one of the remaining segments of the berlin wall. unlike when karen went to berlin last, the chunk of wall we saw was not an art installation-- it was a length of graffiti-ed, crumbling wall with a dead man's land in between. i'm not quite sure of the story, but there was a pile of broken, weathered gravestones in the dead-zone.
from the deadzone, the western wall
if one wanted to escape from the east to the west, this is the distance that you would have to make it through.
all in all, the wall is a scary thing to see. there were two walls enforced with steel cables, with a circa 100 meter dead man's zone between them. we saw the lights that would have lit up the street at night to prevent people from running across. but the freedom would have been so close-- and it's scary to realize that the wall only fell something like 20 years ago.
beyond the graffiti-ed wall was a stretch of wall that was only gray-- there were no paintings, no broken strips of steel-- no nothing, a strip of sterility in the environment of berlin...
the scary divide of east and west berlin is just that-- scary. even as a first time visitor, i could normally easily distinguish which side of the 'wall' we were on-- the architecture to the streetlamps to the signs in the underground stations-- the former east has still not caught up, and i can't imagine that it easily will.
but one thing seems the concept of beautification-- we saw countless old ddr builds that had been repainted into bright colours, beautiful and thoughtful paintings made as well as destroyed on almost every available surface. i found myself wondering about the old folks we saw, about their stories and their lives before the fall of the wall-- and after. one cannot help but be curious, i can only imagine.
however, as things must, our time in berlin drew to a close. we headed back for the bus station, exhausted and cold and, once again, having to pee. when we handed our tickets over to the ticket man, we were quite confused when he started mumbling on about them-- for reasons that i do not understand, our return tickets were booked for march. so we forked over for new tickets, stared on in confusion as the ticket man made like 4 copies of my original receipt, tried to explain how i could return it, made copies of my new receipt etc. etc.. quite the adventure. apparently i can get my money back-- i'm just glad we got home!
and as summary of like my entire life in germany: i go to a cafe. i wear a beret. i write postcards. and yes, i would like some back, children.
it was this big!
lots of love