Wednesday, August 3, 2011

I mentioned the war once…

(but I think I got away with it.)
Abbey in the Oakwood (1808), Caspar David Freidrich
Joe Berlin was the end of our (by this time conjoined) trip. I'd never been before—Jennifer had, of course, but that was before the wall came down, and things have changed a bit in the meanwhile. On second thought, let's give that present perfect a progressive aspect: things have been changing, for by Friday afternoon it was clear that the reconstruction isn't done yet. But that's getting ahead of the story.

We had planned on having two days in Berlin, but that wasn't realistic given that we woke up Thursday morning in Wolfsburg—or more to the point, that we had spent Wednesday night drinking beer in Wolfsburg, after Sweden's unexpected triumph over the US in the Cup that evening. Nevermind that now: the point is that by the time we made it to Berlin Hauptbahnhof the afternoon was well along. Beyond having reserved a hotel room, we had done embarassingly little prep for Berlin; fortunately S. found us the bus to Friedrichstraße before she left for the airport, which dropped us at the straße in question. From there all we had was a street address—106—so trusting to my innate sense of direction we set off down the street. 130, 131, 132… have I mentioned that one should not always trust my innate sense of direction? Choosing to put our faith in the natural numbers rather than instinct, we pulled a volte face and headed off the other direction. Five blocks later we'd made it down into the 120s. We were just contemplating whether to stop for lunch before finding the place when suddenly we found ourselves in the low 130s again; on closer examination, the name of the street had just changed. What the what?

We flagged down a passing postman—because, you know, addresses—but got little more out of him than an agreement that 106 was probably somewhere back in the direction we'd come from. So we walked all the way back, and sure enough the numbers on the far side of the street were coutning down even as the ones we walked past counted up. We finally found the place, half a block past the place where we'd first turned around.

I tell you all of this so that you will understand when I explain that we didn't actually do that much in Berlin. It was the end of a long two weeks, we were tired and hungry, and the cold that I had picked up from my roommate back in Turunç was finally hitting full stride. So, rather than setting out immediately to explore this little piece of what used to be East Berlin, we collapsed in our relatively comfy hotel room until evening. A little internet research led us the few blocks to Kartoffelkellar, where we sat on the patio and ate schnitzel and potatoes while catching each other up on our various adventures over the previous week or so.
Friday we had nearly a complete day in the city, so after breakfast we left our bags at the hotel and set off to while away the hours until our evening flight out of Schönefeld. Our destination was the Alte Nationalgalerie, now the home to one of the world's premier collections of 19th century German Romanticist art. I know this might seem like an odd choice, and admittedly we did consider making our one destination the Stasi museum; but we both have a fondness for the seriously overwrought paintings of Caspar David Friedrich, such as Abbey in the Oakwood (pictured above). Plus, we figured it was better to pick one thing and do it well; honestly, flights to Berlin have proved to be so ridiculously cheap that we really have no excuse to not come back again, soon. Anyway, it was a day of wildly romantic views for us. It's a pretty nice collection, and we wandered through as much of it as we could stand, then had a leisurely fika in the basement bookshop before taking a quick peek at the rest of the place. And it wasn't all overwrought—there were actually a number of rather whimsical pieces scattered throughout.
The Tyrolean gentleman in the center has clearly just been outwitted by a girl.
We took a few minutes to sit in the lawn outside the museum, but then it was time to scramble back to Freidrichstraße to pick up our bags and catch a train to the airport. And this was when things started, ever so slowly, to go wrong: wrong entrance to the station, ticket office for the wrong train company, then a series of ticket uncooperative machines that either wouldn't take credit cards, or wouldn't take our type of card, and then wouldn't take a €20 note (the smallest one the ATM would dispense), necessitating a quick trip to the fish and chip shop to break it. In the end, we did make our train, with hot fish and potatoes snarfed along the way and a warm pretzel for the ride. The airport situation in Berlin, incidentally, is a mess, with one of the three airports closed as of 2008 and the other two seriously overburdened. Our destination was Schönefeld, which was the old East Berlin Airport and looks it. The train dropped us at a largish outdoor station, with at least half a dozen platforms, all but one apparently mothballed some time ago. We trudged down the ramp from there to the underground passage, then all the way under all the abandoned rails, then all the way up the next ramp to arrive at… the end of a 400 m covered walkway to the airport parking lot. Sheesh. The airport itself, tiny and extremely 70s, was absolutely swamped with Friday evening departures; after the pre-ticketing and post-ticketing security checks, there was no seating to found anywhere, and departure gates weren't even announced until maybe 20 minutes before departure, leaving most people just sitting in the hallway. We consoled ourselves by purchasing Rittersport bars with all our remaining euros, and chuckling at the repeated pages for passenger Petrovic to please proceed immediately to his Aeroflot flight to Moscow.
  1. That's when I mentioned the war, incidentally.

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