Tuesday, October 15, 2013

In Berlin if it doesn't move - tag it!

This is definitely the most 'painted' city I've even seen. And I though New York was colorful! Personally, I am of two minds on graffiti. I hate lazy tagging and marring of public art and directional signage. But some images can be inspirational and represent a time and place in a city's history - and sometimes train cars deserve a little love. We stayed in East Berlin where the pieces of the Berlin Wall still standing were layered with paint. And just about every other wall and doorway was embellished in some way. After a while, it all just became part of the fascinating landscape.

A doorway just down the street
A little less inspiring - but still, everywhere!
The soldier that got away at the last minute! A prominent image.
She says she is afraid of all the colors. That's not going to work.

"Life is a Cab Away". Ok - I just had to put that in writing because it was stuck in my head - and once a copywriter, always a copywriter. But in fact, we didn't take a cab anywhere other than to and from the airport. Once again, the public transport was excellent and very near where we were staying in the hip Prenhauser district. Options included trams, trains, buses, and the underground. But as usual we walked most everywhere.

This time our flat wasn't as nice as the others. Maybe that's East Berlin, or maybe this owner has an affection for dead plants, dust, totally random cooking equipment and lumpy pillows. And to top (or bottom) it all off there was a Dutch Toilet...I'll let you Google that yourselves.

Not the kitchen of my dreams
It certainly brought us down a peg, but the location was great. Bringing our own pillows from home seemed a little wimpy in the beginning - but they really have brought added comfort to every stay, and really helped in this case. 

We followed our usual procedure of getting settled, buying basics at the store and then checking out the neighborhood.And of course finding a free walking tour for the following day.

The grocery store was awesome!

The Germans take their organs seriously
However, it turned out October 3rd was a huge holiday celebrating the Unification of East and West Berlin.We were heading to the Brandenberg Gate to meet up with the tour but as we walked that mile we were joined all along the way with people heading the same direction. The closer we got the larger the throng. Turns out the gate was the location for a giant all day concert and street fare. The next three days would feature more entertainment, military parades, endless beer gardens and food stands! Good thing because every shop in Berlin was closed tight.

We were able to take the tour the next day. It was once again, very informative and got us excited about what we could see in the city on our own. The history here is so intense and can be seen physically at many levels just by walking - but there is much, much more to take in regarding Germany as a whole and its role in the world today.

The TV tower was built in East Berlin in the 60's
Our most memorable visit was to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. There was an incredible sculptural representation above ground that filled a city block and a fascinating interactive exhibit below. No matter how much you think you know about the Holocaust you never now enough. It made for a thoughtful day deserving of the cold, grey sky.

A contemplative walk through the memorial by a visitor
As in Stockholm we are spending just a week here, so we saw what we could while still 'living local'. We loved the flea markets and they seemed to be everywhere. Our favorite was the huge Saturday market not too far from us - it must have stretched a mile. Rows and rows of second hand everything, cheap socks, toys,  antiques, jewelry, crafts (taxidermy?), and much more, punctuated with great street food and entertainment. One the the benefits of our travels is we really can't buy anything since we are right at the weight limit for baggage, so it makes it fun to look without obligation. However we can eat and drink! I love food you can eat out of hand and we were not disappointed. Turkish Kufta wraps, sausages, flat bread pizza, satays, fried donuts - roasted nuts. And Currywurst. Now apparently this is a Berlin go-to food - based on it being available anywhere, anytime. Basically it's thick, icky bbq-ish spiced ketchup piled a hot dog that is then sprinkled liberally with curry powder and served with fries. Yuck.

Everything but the fleas. But I am sure they were there.
Had to try a Currywurst. Yuck! Is all I can say.

Could eat spicy meatballs and peppers in a fresh wrap all day
We also went to a large Turkish market. It sets up twice a week and serves Berlin's large ethnic communities. Again - good food and lots of things to look at. No vintage or second hand wares, but lots of spices, fresh fish, odd meats, cheese, dried everything, underwear, and booth after booth of bolts of fabric. It would appear that the Muslim community makes much of their own clothing (makes sense) and it was fun to watch the haggling.

Travel Planner at work using three computers!
Michael's thoughts on Berlin:

Growing up, I never thought that apartheid would end in South Africa in my lifetime nor could I envision the collapse of the Soviet Union or the fall of the Berlin Wall. Of course we now know that all three came to pass so it was great to spend a week in Berlin to see first hand what a unified city and country look like.

The Berlin Wall went up in 1961 and came down in 1989. During that time, the Eastern part of the city sort of went into a deep freeze while the Western modernized with the rest of Europe. Our apartment was in the area that was in the former "East Berlin" and even today, that part of the city still lags behind the rest of the city. The buildings are more often tagged with graffiti and they somehow have a depressingly drab Soviet style appearance. Having said that, the neighborhood we stayed in was alive and vibrant with shops, bars, restaurants and nightlife.

Back in 1969, when I was racing in Europe I had a chance to race in what was then East Germany. I remember how scary the border crossing was as we went through the checkpoint with our vans and race cars. The good news is that all of that is in the past so it was exciting to see a united Germany again. If you ever have a chance to visit Berlin, I'd recommend it.

We're having a wonderful adventure - thanks for following along.
Happy to be moving on to warmer temperatures in Italy. Milan is our next stop. Ciao!

(celebrated our 35th Wedding Anniversary yesterday - what a blessing)


  1. So powerful & overwhelming I'm sure these experiences in Berlin must have been.

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