Friday, November 3, 2017

Deutschland- Tag Zwei (Germany Day Two)

For our second day in Deutschland, we didn't have anything planned other than to explore. It's how I love to do vacations and I'm lucky that I found a partner who likes to spend her vacations the same way. Growing up, I always hated vacations because my Dad ruined each and every one. His idea of fun was to get up as early as possible, preferably around 3am, then proceed to drive 18 or so hours, and then yell about how we were constantly behind schedule. It wasn't until I met Kath that I really learned to enjoy travelling.

So, day two in Berlin we set out on a walk with no particular destination in mind. We figured that we would simply explore the new city, starting with East Berlin.

I mean who wouldn't want to explore a city with five story high 50 Foot Woman murals? Plus, even signs with flowers seen ominous when they have German text on them. Geschutzte Grunanlage just means protected nature area, but imagine an angry German man shouting it at you. Geschutzte Grunanlage! You would definitely not pick those flowers. 

East Germany is full of Soviet Era art and architecture. Kath and I also refused to smile in many of these photos in order to properly display East German emotions. Having grown up during the Cold War, there's something so fascinating about Eastern Europe and its Soviet influences.The GDR was basically a Soviet puppet state and after WWII East Berlin was rebuilt by the Soviets. So it definitely has that feel; lots of gray, boxy buildings.

When we form an 80s inspired synth rock band, these photos will definitely be our album art. 

The buildings, and much of East Berlin, are now covered in graffiti. But, there were also some wonderful, Soviet-era murals. This one at the Haus des Lehrers is one of those great 60's era murals showing all the various industries; science, architecture, teaching, even home making. 

When we got home we watched a documentary about the Berlin Wall and saw this mural in it! The Central Committee would have been proud. 

We of course also stopped for some pictures with the Fernsehturm Berlin, aka the Alex Tower, in the background. Now, neither of like this demonstration of East German technical prowess since it's not quite aesthetically pleasing. But, I guess cities can't pick what becomes a landmark. Plus, in SimCity 3000, a game I've spent many hours playing, you can actually build the Fernsehturm Berlin in your city. Though, I rarely did. 

These bears were everywhere. Even our hotel had them. I want to say they're gummi bears, but we never actually thought to ask any locals or to look it up. One thing I loved about Deutschland was the abundance of Haribo! Every tabak in the city has tons of Haribo for sale, plus it comes in larger bags and it's cheaper!

Actually, that was one of the great things we discovered about Berlin. Everything is way cheaper than NYC, even taking into account the Euro conversion. Meals, beer, gummi bears, it was all so much cheaper than we're used to.

We wandered around the greater Alexanderplatz area taking some more pictures, and just, reveling at the fact that we were in Germany. We were in love with Berlin. 

Also, I took some pictures of the Berlin cathedral, but we didn't go in. Every time Kath tells me we should go to Italy, I'm always like "I've seen enough churches and art!" When I travel I want to see the real city, the real places that people live and work and eat and play. Hence why I think exploring is so nice. Thankfully Kath enjoys exploring too. Also, apparently Italy is beautiful and we're going next year.

For the first day or so, I felt fairy self-conscious. While I wasn't sure if I were imagining it or not, I felt like I was getting more looks than I get in America. You know. That Look. That look that transgender women hate. That one that seems to say "Ewww, what are you?" It kind of bummed me out a little. Maybe they were glaring at me because I was American. I mean, I'd glare at Americans too. We're kind of awful and look what we've done with our own country. But, of course my mind went to anxiety over my presentation and passing.

It didn't help that I had left the lace a little too long on my wig. That kind of made it unfortunately obvious that I was wearing a wig and maybe that's why I got some stares. At home I would have just cut it with some scissors, but being on vacation I didn't have access to any. I thought about asking at the hotel desk, but that would seem too weird. So I made a mental note to find scissors at an aptheke if we found one.

But, as I needed a better jacket, and because, hey who doesn't like shopping, we did spend some time at the Galeria Kaufhof. The fun thing about shopping in Berlin is that pretty much everything is my style. It's all solids, a lot of black, and slightly gothy and/or punky. It's wonderful. Plus there are tons of tall women around. Did I say wonderful? It's more like paradise. We also, yes, hit the mall. 

I found a cool motorcycle jacket, which something like 80% of the women I saw in Berlin seemed to be wearing. Plus, I found a nice beret that would help cover up my ugly wig lace screw-up. My anxiety and the looks did abate once I had my German outfit on; fashionable motorcycle jacket, all black clothes, skinny pants, boots, a hat, and sunglasses. Then I really felt like I was blending in a bit more. I even had people come up to me and start speaking German like I were a local. So maybe I was passing as a German and as a woman. Now that's a good feeling.

After a bit of shopping, we kept walking and headed out past Museum Island and past a bunch of touristy stuff, then sort of accidentally found ourselves at the Brandenburger Tor, the most famous symbol of Berlin. It's the site of Reagan's famous "Tear Down this Wall" speech and in Civilization V it grants you a Great General and earns new units 15 experience points. Yes, I do tend to know all my landmarks through video games. Okay, actually I have a degree in history and read a lot of history.

Back when Berlin was divided, the gate was something of a no-go area, but now you can actually walk under it toward the Unter der Linden and the Tier Garten. Naturally, we got quite a few pictures of the Brandenburger Tor.

Okay, yeah. Quite a few pictures. But, a really great surprise was that we stumbled across an LGBT rally on the other side of the gate. We even saw some people with transgender pride flags! While we did go up and say hi to them, and told them we liked their flag, they didn't really speak English. And I think they thought we wanted to see their flag. So they showed it to us. It was slightly confusing. But hey, I ran into other transgender women in Berlin! 

We later discovered that the rally we saw was actually a counter-rally. There was a large anti-abortion march, possibly affiliated with the Alternative für Deutschland party. AfD is basically Germany's Trump. So, we joined in the protest for a little bit. It helped that all the chants were in English anyway. It felt wonderful being part of the group that was fighting against awful people in Germany. Even if we were only part of that group for a little bit. 

Soon our stomachs were grumbling and we set off to look for food. Unfortunately, we were in a kind of tourist area so there weren't too many authentically German places. But, we did actually find German food, even if it was kind of fake German food at a place for tourists. Well, at least they had beir und wursts mit senf. Lots of senf (also known as mustard).

After lunch, I found a red VW bus! Okay, this will mean very little to anyone, but when I was in high school and college I drove a red VW bus for several years. I loved/hated that car and named it Dumm Wagen, or stupid car. I even wrote my own song about, set to the tune of Garbage's Stupid Girl. So, I did get quite a few likes from old friends when I posted this picture on Facebook. 

Eventually, we wandered our way to the Berlin Holocaust Memorial. For those unfamiliar, it consists of about a couple city blocks of space covered in concrete blocks. When I had first heard about this memorial, I had dismissed it as being a little too avant garde for its own good. I mean, a field of concrete blocks? 

But my opinion changed the first time I walked through it. You see, from the outside it looks as though all the blocks are the same height, but the ground there is actually convex, like a bowl. As you walk through, the concrete pillars begin to tower over you. You see nothing green or alive. It feels oppressive and dehumanizing. It's really an amazing structure that it can impart such clear feelings of dread and claustraphobia with such a simple design. As you walk back out though, you begin to feel relief. You find your breathing returning to normal and the feeling of oppression lifts. We actually walked through a few times in order to experience the feeling again. I tried to take one photo to show the sense of foreboding and oppression, but a mere photo cannot capture it. 

After the memorial, we visited the Tier Garten, Berlin's large park. There we saw the memorials to the Romani, to LGBTQ people, and also the Soviet-built memorial to the fallen Soviet soldiers of WWII. 

And of course I stopped for a selfie on the Straß des 17 Juni, the wide avenue that cuts through the Tier Garten. And some other selfies too. Cause we're cute. How can we not take selfies? 

Late that night we had plans to meet up with an old friend of mine from high school who now lives in Berlin. Of course I wore my best German frau outfit. I hoped I passed as a cis woman and also as German woman. These are my goals in life.

We ate dinner at a French restaurant in Prenzlaur Berg, then after dinner we stopped at the tabak to grab a beir for the walk. Yes, in Berlin you can totally buy a beer at the corner store and then drink it while walking down the street. It's great! I got the actual Budweiser. Not the crap American Budweiser, but the original, actual beer that the American company ripped off. This one is actually from Budweis. It's quite good. 

My friend took us out to a seedy punk bar in East Berlin. It was smoky and there were random art films being projected. It was amazing. I don't know if I've ever felt cooler in my life then I did hanging out at a punk bar in East Berlin. We had a couple drinks there, at the cost of like €1 each, with a €0.50 tip for every other one. I felt really bad about tipping so little, but my friend assured me that it's the European way.

Next we went out to another bar to see a Rockabilly band play. They were pretty good and we had a great time. After they finished their set, we even got up on stage and danced. Until some creepy guys joined us. That made us duck out quickly. We set out to try this Alice in Wonderland themed bar near our hotel, but for some reason they wouldn't let us in. Maybe it was a private party, or maybe we didn't say the code word. Or maybe we're not quite as cool as I thought. We tried looking for another bar, but it was 2am at that point, so time to bid my friend gute nacht and headed to bed. There was so much more Berlin to see!


  1. Faith -

    Regarding Budweiser... For years, the Anheiser-Busch company had to use "Bud" to sell their beer in Europe, while the Czech brew couldn't use their name in the USA. The Czech beer was known as Czechwar here. One was the beer of kings, while the other was the king of beers. Both are now owned by a large international holding company, and are starting to sell more on each other's turf.

    The key difference between European Beers vs. American Beers - European Beer is consumed shortly after brewing in most cases. American Beer has to have a "long" shelf life, and uses stabilizers such as rice in the brew. As such, American Bud could never pass the German Rheinheitsgebot (German Beer Purity Law).

    Hopefully, you were able to have a taste of that beer you were holding....


  2. Hallo/hello Faith, I live in Belgium but I do love Berlin as much as you do. It's such a fascinating city with a dramatic history. Reichstag, Brandenburger Tor, Ku Damm, Gedachtniskirche, Checkpoint Charly.... Which other city has some many stories to tell...?
    I learnt today that Budweiser is really not American (no, it's Belgian, owned by Belgian company Inbev - lol.
    You do look fantastic in your jacket and beret - you could easily play a part in Atomic Blonde, not so bad movie situated in Berlin.
    Looking foward to the next chapter.