|Berlin Aug 2007|
We rode there on the bus from Potsdam, the new Berlin guide babbling all the way in three languages - English to the bus, Chinese once in a while to the Chinese on the bus (they knew English of course, but I think he was just being friendly), and German driving instructions to the driver. Shortly after leaving the Cecilienhof I fell asleep, waking up again just before we turned onto Berlin's Kurfuerstendamm, one of its major thoroughfares. And now, on a day when we'd already spent several hours on the bus from Wismar to Potsdam and from Potsdam to Berlin, we just continued in the bus around Berlin, the driver pointing out landmarks and giving directions to the driver, for at least two hours. This was both good and bad. It was nice because it gave us an overview of some of the things that are in Berlin, so we would have an idea of what we might like to do once we get some free time. Bad, because it was more time in the damn bus, in stop and go traffic and seemingly driving around in circles. He was trying to point out so many things that half of the time I could not see them or couldn't figure out which building he meant. I also got no clear idea of where any of this was located relative to anything else because we were turning so often! But, this trip was the only time I saw most things in Berlin, like sections of the Wall, cute neighborhoods, the Hauptbahnhof, Russian architecture, etc - and I would never have been able to see it all otherwise (though I took no photos from the bus). Also, the guide had an interesting sense of humor. He asked about whether several nationalities were on the bus but he never asked if there were Americans, so I don't know if he knew. He joked, while we were near some piece of the Wall, that "the thing you have to do when you have a bus full of Americans is park the bus straddling the line. Then you tell them that half of them are East Germans and half of them are West Germans. They really love this!" Somehow it was hilarious, though I don't know why. However, overall the tour was very overwhelming and I still left it with no ideas of which of the tons of cool things I ought to do the next day. But, by the end of this, it was safe to say that almost everyone on the tour was in a foul mood.
We followed it up with great food at a Chinese restaurant (in a former East German disco for only the coolest party types), but it was relatively quiet, with occasional snappiness about how many seats are left at the table or appropriate usage of the big round turning thing in the middle of the table. I think everyone needed a nap!
Afterward, we were finally free. Damon and I went for a walk to a giant CD store the tour guide had pointed out that is open until MIDNIGHT! (This is amazing in Germany.) So, I finally found the CD I had been looking for, and he found himself a cheap set of all Beethoven's sonatas. And for anyone who didn't already know, pop CDs are still a frigging fortune to buy. I wouldn't have even done it, but the only place I knew I could get it online was iTunes and I hate their file protection.
The following morning we had an awesome tour of the Reichstag - see the photos for details of some of the cool things we saw. We were able to see various things in the building and not just the big glass dome, and we also didn't have to wait in the long, long line to get in. And in a strange new experience, being there kind of made me feel....patriotic. Toward Germany. (!!?)
Afterward Damon and I had lunch a couple of streets away from the horrors of the main tourist area around the Reichstag and Brandenburger Tor, then visited Berlin's well-done Holocaust Memorial (see photos). Looking at the Memorial from the outside it appears to be a sea of gray slabs with only slight height variation, but as you walk in, the ground slopes down and you find yourself in a huge, alienating forest of gray slabs taller than yourself. I lost Damon in a matter of seconds, and he turned out to be only two rows away. It wasn't easy to get out because several of the ways were blocked by stairwells down into the info center below. The look of it from the outside also reminded Damon of the old graveyard we saw in Prague.
We then stopped at KaDeWe, a giant department store out in one of the main shopping areas. This wouldn't have been a destination for us normally, but I was having a lot of problems at this point from walking around on a broken shoe so we thought we might find something. No luck with the shoes (still walking around on the broken one!!), but we did find the American food section on the sixth floor, which is a giant fancy grocery store/restaurant. We had a good laugh at the outrageous prices. For example, Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice (the big size) was on sale for 10 EUR (approx $13.60) from 12 EUR! Cans of Campbell's soup were 5 EUR! I had thought about picking up a couple because I have a lot of recipes that call for Campbell's soup, but not at that price, man. I can just keep eating bread instead.
We headed back downtown and saw the German and French Domes, two older buildings sitting on a large plaza along with a performance hall, and the Berliner Dom (of the three, this one is the only one that's actually a church). I also had to stop at Ampelmann, a little shop dedicated entirely to the cute little traffic signal walk/don't walk men which apparently originated in East Berlin. Very cute (but no buying). You can also find this sort of thing at Ostshops, little stores with all manner of things from the former East. We didn't get a chance to go into any of those, but saw them in a couple of different places on our tour.
In the evening we finally properly celebrated our anniversary, which is generally dinner at an expensive restaurant. There was one nearby in Prenzlauer Berg that was recommended in our guide book so we just went there. I thought menus like this were hard enough to read in English! The German one was so difficult I just told Damon to order me something because I didn't want to stare at it any longer! By the time dessert rolled around the waitress had figured out we were English speakers and brought the English menu instead. It was hilariously titled "Consumption time". Thankfully, neither of us appears to have gotten consumption from the experience.