Friday, October 4, 2019

Rückkehr Nach Berlin. Kapitel Zwei (Return to Berlin, Part Two).

Tag Vier 

Saturday was going to be the biggest day of our trip to Deutschland. It was the entire reason we chose to go in June rather than in a slightly more temperate month. Saturday was going to be Wave Gotik Treffen! It's the largest goth festival in the world and it features bands, stores, and most importantly the opportunities to get dressed up all goth and get loads of pictures. 

We planned our travel so meticulously that an observer would have assumed we were German. At 6am we got out of bed and started getting ready. The first snag occurred when I went to put on my gothy foundation. During the early part of the trip I had gotten too much sun. So instead of being maybe a shade lighter than my normal skin tone, the foundation looked like clown makeup! I had to wash it off which wasn't easy because it was quite fancy foundation that really didn't want to wash away. Then I had to redo my makeup entirely.

Still, we got to the Berlin Hauptbahnhof (central train station) with plenty of time to spare. We got some euro from a geldautomat, grabbed a beverage, and located our track. But then I got a text on my phone from Deutsche Bahn. Our train was going to be 15 minutes late. No biggie. That would give us time for one more quick bathroom break. We got back to our platform and suddenly the displays now showed an entirely different time. We were quite confused. Eventually we were able to ask someone and discovered that our train had come and gone!

Next we tried to see if we could at least get a refund on the return trip ticket. But my the German transit employees were disinterested in us. Slowly we began to learn that our train hadn't been 15 minutes late. It had been 3 minutes late. And there had been announcements about it moving to another track. So we were on the platform but thought it was a different train. More frustrating conversations where German transit transit acted like we were morons who didn't understand trains got us nowhere. So 
we decided to cut our losses and just spend the day in Berlin. 

After a quick trip back to the hotel to switch to less gothy but more comfortable shoes, we decided to head to the Carnival of Cultures. It was a large street fair that turned out to be within walking distance of our hotel. We got some rather good food. Kath ate pelmeni (dumpling soup) and potato pancakes with apples from a Polish booth. I ordered a fried pirogi from the Polish booth and it turned out to be massive. I also got a pork burrito from a Mexican booth. Mexican food is my favorite cuisine and  I love the idea of eating Mexican food as prepared by Germans. This was one actually turned out to be a tiny, tiny bit spicy. Not bad considering Germans tend to think of milk as too spicy for their Northern European palettes. 

There were also tons of booths selling shirts, dresses, handicrafts, jewelry, and other stuff. Kath got a paper crane necklace. I bought a witchy black skirt that ended up being really, really cheaply made. The first time I wore it it immediately started coming apart. There was also a booth that sold these amazing feather collars. They were like the ones Sansa Stark had in the 4th season of Game of Thrones. I really, really liked them and would have bought one if it hadn't been €120.00. It was a good decision as they're also on Etsy for like $60.00. 

Across the river (or maybe it was a canal) from the carnival was a large building that Kath wanted to explore after spotting it from the train. It had a real airplane perched atop it. Walking toward it, we also noticed that they had a windmill blade out in front. I had known windmill blades to be tall, but I didn't realize just how tall until I was standing next to one.

Tiny me with a rather large windmill blade. 
The building turned out to be the Deutsche Techniker Museum. It's like the German version of the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum. Except that it's more like the Air, Space, and Suitcase Manufacturing Museum. It turned out to be utterly astounding. Apparently the Germans know a thing or two about science and engineering.

The first section of the museum was all about early computers and televisions. Their collection features some of the earliest computers. Gigantic and shiny, they were entirely mechanical. There were also some of the earliest television sets. My favorite was the "Televisor" unit from the 1920s. 

And there were trains too. So many trains. It was almost hilarious. There were multiple warehouse sized rooms, each one with more trains. And they keep going on and on. The first ones are prototypes made of wood and eventually you get giant steam locomotives, and eventually electric East German train engines. 

It was fun. And then it almost got tiring. No matter how far you walked there were more trains! There were also trains outside. Also there were outdoor exhibits of different types of windmills, watermills, and water towers. 

And possibly the inspiration for the Planet Express building. 
We tired of windmills after the normal amount of time (roughly ten minutes) and decided to head back inside. Yes, there was indeed a rather large, detailed exhibit about suitcase manufacturing. It definitely felt like a East German exhibit. Surprisingly, it turned out to be quite interesting. I mean I never really thought about how suitcases are made.

Upstairs were hundreds or possibly thousands of ship models. There was an entire floor of the museum dedicated to them. As you continued up flights of stairs the transportation technology grew more complex as you rose. It went from wooden sailing ships to steam ships, then eventually to balloons, bi-planes, and eventually WWII planes, and jets. 

I really liked this conceptual model of an 18th Century air city.
It was surprising how many WWII German planes there were. I would have thought that the Germans wouldn't really want those out on display. But they didn't shy away from it. They even had V1 missiles out on display. Although it was interesting that the swastikas were only allowed in the historical photographs. All the other displays used a red flag with a white circle in it - a Nazi flag without the swastika.

Out on the rooftop, Kath found her airplane. IT was a real American DC3. It was neat but the view of Berlin from the top of the museum was the real star. But, just as we reached the roof, they announced the museum would be closing. We felt like we had gotten a good gander of the industrial history of German though.

After a day being out walking around we took it fairly easy that night. We walked back to our hotel and found a nearby bar with outdoor seating. It was actually steakhouse but all we cared about were the tall glasses of hefeweizen and kristalweizen beer. 

The best part about the restaurant though was the bathroom. The toilets were quite complex and featured a rotating toilet seat washer. So when you flushed the toilet the round toilet seat would rotate through a sanitizing machine. Okay, great, you're thinking. That's cleaner right? More sanitary? Sort of. They also had one of those old timey cloth hand drying systems. You know the ones? It's where there's a nasty old loop of rag hanging from a paper towel machine. And you can kind of cycle through the rag but none of it feels really clean. They're gross. 

We found a German food restaurant near our hotel and ate there for dinner. It had a real old man bar type vibe. It was cool because there was real German style seating where they'll just seat you at a random table where there's room, even if other people are already sitting there. We didn't talk our neighbors, but there were some really loud Americans behind us who apparently felt the need to talk to the people at their table. 

It was funny because I was endeavoring to use only German when speaking to waiters or ordering food. I wanted to blend in and not be an obnoxious American tourist. And here were Americans right by us doing their best to stick out like sore American thumbs. 

Since we had been running around all day, we made it an early night. Even though it was a Saturday night. 

Tag Funf

One of the things I love most about Berlin is Sundays in Maurpark. Once a gash in the city where the Berlin Wall stood (Maur is the German word for an outdoor wall or barrier), the collapse of Communism left a wide open space that was transformed into a large public park.  It's customary to grab a big bottle of beer or a Radler (a lemon soda and beer combo) and come down to Maurpark on a Sunday afternoon. There are bands, acrobats, and other performers. Plus there are two giant flea markets selling crafts, food, and all manner of used goods. 

So Sunday we biked over from our hotel near Potsdammer Platz over to Maur Park. Berlin is a great biking city. It's flat and there are divided bike lanes everywhere. Plus it's not that crazy large. The main part of the city is about six to eight miles across so you can get anywhere in less than hour on a bike. 

We found some cool stuff in the Flohmarkt. Kath got a black military style cap and a bracelet made from a bent spoon. It was the same vendor she had gotten a bent fork ring from on our last trip to Berlin. Meanwhile I dove into a giant area full of vinyl records. I ended up finding a German imprint Cure single for a friend of mine and a copy of the soundtrack to Christine F. Wir Kinder Vom Zoo Banhauf, which was basically a Bowie live album. Then I found an old Deutsch language Game of Life from the early 80s. I really wanted to get it but there was no way I could get it home on the plane. 

Then we got some bratwursts and beers and settled in to watch a fairly okay acrobat/fire eater from Australia. I saw he was okay because we watched for a half hour and he only did like three tricks/stunts. The rest of it was all padded out. But it was fun because I could understand his German. 

Later that day I checked Instagram and saw that Lauren Mayberry from CHVRCHES was actually in Maurpark at the same time we were. But even if I saw her, I didn't recognize her. Also it's a large park so it's unlikely we were even in the same area. 

After Maurpark we headed over to Prenzlaur Berg to meet an old friend of mine from high school. We went to Prater Beer Garden, a large open beer garden that's nice and shady with lots of trees. We had a few more beers but didn't get food. All they had were bratwursts, pretzels, and pickles. Well, I did try one bite of a pickle. But it turned out to be super sweet. Gross! I like my pickles sour, thank you. Still, it's a lovely place and I adore it. The Germans really understand relaxation. 

I love this warning sign in the beer garden. 
That night our plan was to head into Kruezberg for a night at the SO36 club. We had learned that there was a bus right outside our hotel that got us there in about ten minutes. At about nine or so, we went out to wait for the bus. It did not appear to be coming. A German person told us that because it was Sunday the bus was running on a slightly different route. We didn't feel like risking it though.

Instead of Kreuzberg, we wandered around our hotel's neighborhood and found a good spot to sit and drink more beers. Okay, Kath and I were on vacation! We don't normally drink this much. But we do love German beer. I love Kristallweiss, which is nearly impossible to find in the US. Kath loves her Hefeweizen, which is easier to find in the US but still not exactly abundant. After drinks we wandered a little bit and then grabbed some Halloumi at a doner kebab place. I don't know why I never tried Halloumi before. It's like delicious grilled cheese in a pita with fun sauces and veggies on top. It was perfect. 

Tag Sechs 

Monday was our last full day in Berlin. Since we had tried (and failed) to explore Charlottenberg on our last trip, we thought it would be good to give that West Berlin neighborhood another go. After a hearty breakfast, we set out west via bicycle.

Near Ernst-Ruter-Platz we saw a van from the Church of Scientology. For those of you who don't know, Scientology really doesn't like psychiatry or psychology. Actually they kind of lump those two together. Scientology considers them both evil. And they operate museums about how evil psychiatry is. They call them "Psychiatry: An Industry of Death." Well, we found the van that apparently drives around Berlin advertising for this. Kath has worked in this field for twenty years so she is an SP (a supressive person) and she also finds the entire thing hilarious.

We also found the Berlin Scientology Kirche. While we were getting photos out in front, an actual German Scientologist came out and offered to take a pic of us. We declined. Kath wouldn't let me go into the Kirche though. She fears that the Scientologists will convert me. I keep telling her that I grew up Evanglical and got out of that so Scientology is nothing. She seriously underestimates my dislike of joining groups. 

After a while we decided to stop for a coffee. Now, in the US there is this beverage called "iced coffee." It is made of coffee with ice in it. But in German ice or eis, means ice cream. So if you order an eiskaffee, you don't get iced coffee. Instead you get a sundae with coffee added. So instead of a late morning pick me up, Kath and I ended up in a cafe eating giant coffee flavored ice cream sundaes. They even came in those tall, thin sundae glasses and those super long sundae spoons. They were delicious, so who are we to complain? 

After that we explored the Schloss Charlottenburg, a giant palace that was the home of the Elector of Brandenburg. See, there used to be a Holy Roman Emperor who was elected by various nobles and many of those those Elector states eventually became political divisions within modern Germany. Okay, that's enough history. The palace has enormous, ornate grounds. We walked and biked all around them, including around a canal that runs behind the palace. 

For lunch we had our second meal of German pizza. After all, Germany is just one Switzerland away from Italy. Actually pizza is pizza. It's hard to screw up. Both the pizzas we ate in Germany were good. Maybe it's because pizza isn't usually spicy. Germans mostly end up in culinary trouble when they try to do food from spicy cultures like those of Thailand or Mexico.

Remember when I said we screwed up our last visit to Charlottenberg? Well, we screwed that up by trying to walk there from the East Berlin neighborhood of Prenzlaur Berg. It's too far to walk. But this time we screwed up by going on Whit Monday. What's Whit Monday you ask? I have no idea. Something Catholic. Maybe it's Cathol's birthday. But it does mean that quite a bunch of stuff was closed. So we sort of screwed up our second visit to Charlottenberg as well. Though we still had fun. We just didn't shop.

We rode back through the Tiergarten, Berlin's giant park. There's a wide road that cuts through it. It's essentially Unter der Linden, but when it's in the park it's called Bundestrasse 2. We stopped to look at a statue of Otto von Bismark. As we walked up to it I saw something scurry over a fence. It looked like a cat but not a cat. It definitely wasn't a dog either. It was a dog cat of some sort. Actually it came out again and turned out to be a fox. It was rather cool.

That evening we got bottles of beer at a tabac and wondered around Prenzlaur Berg. It's a beautiful neighborhood with tree lined streets and lots of outdoor dining. It also has an old water tower as a central landmark. Since we hadn't explored the water tower before, we decided to take a look. It's in the middle of a large park.

We climbed up an artificial hill in the park and found a bench overlooking the neighborhood. The sun was starting to set. So we sat there drinking our bottled beers and watching the city. The view was amazing and the moment was perfect. 

We rode back West through Alexanderplatz. We paused by the Spree though, by the Berlin cathedral. The sun was setting and I couldn't have asked for a more beautiful view for our last night in the city. 

It was a really fun trip, although after the first day or so I stopped taking selfies or asking Kath to snap pics of me. My face was bright red and my body was covered with what I eventually learned were hives. I'm still not sure what I was allergic to. But once I got back I went to a dermatologist who suggested I take some Benadril. Thankfully that cleared it right up. Wish I had known that on day two of the trip! 

Our next trip abroad will probably not be Germany. There's just too much world out there. I need to see other stuff. So 2020 will hopefully be Dublin, Edinburgh, and London and some combination of at least two of those. We still have to figure out the details. And hopefully on that trip I can avoid hives and get lots of cute pictures. 

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