Sunday, November 11, 2012

Berlin (Part 1)

Finally! Berlin.

Berlin's is one of the European cities that I've looked forward to seeing pretty much since I was a kid. I have no idea whatsoever why I had always wanted to go there but it probably has something to do with getting introduced to punk rock and alternative music by my friend Mike when I was in high school. One of the bands that we listened to back then was called Berlin, who, it turned out, was actually from Los Angeles!!! Doh! Anyway, I always kinda' fantasized what the city'd be like - the culture, the architecture - whatever - all of it.

Well, last week, due to Hurricane Sandy (a long story), we headed to Berlin for a few days. Once again, we went via Mitfahrengelegenheit (long German words like that don't even phase me any more). About an hour outside of Stuttgart, this classic came on the radio:

Our first stop upon arrival? Yep. The Brandenburg Gate. Can you believe it?

Okay, so I feel like I missed something in history class. I learned recently that, because Berlin was deep inside of Russian-controlled eastern Germany, the Berlin Wall essentially made Berlin into an "island", surrounded by east-German territory, which required constant resupply via air. Yeah, yeah, I know. The Berlin Airlifts. Geography. I'm sorry. I'm just not that quick of a guy, I guess.

There's very little left of the original, in-place, Berlin Wall. They've laid a ring around the city that's two cobblestones wide where the wall used to stand. It's crazy to see how much the city must have changed since 1989 as the cobblestones run right up to new buildings that have been built straddling the line, much like I'm doing in this photo (yes, it was COLD!):

In retrospect, I'm not really sure what I expected Berlin to be like. I think that something along the lines of a gritty version of Paris or something. It doesn't make much sense now. What I didn't expect is basically a copy of New York City, which is what I think that it's become since the fall of the wall. As you may already know, Germany's economy is doing fairly well, especially compared to many of its Euro counterparts, and there are construction cranes and new buildings everywhere in the country, and especially in Berlin. A view up Broadway (not really, but it could be):

We did spend some time exploring some of the older and more residential parts of the city, especially in the eastern side of the city. These areas were definitely more interesting as a lot of the pre-wall-fall architecture is intact. Still, it wasn't quite what I had visualized. A view down a random residential street in the former east Berlin:

Is this photo not the classic European vista with its Smart Car, Fiat 500, and the multifamily housing in the background?

Diana and I again used airbnb to find a place to stay and, again, it was awesome. We paid about 40 euros per night (~$50 U.S.) and stayed with some great folks in an AWESOME apartment. Our hosts not only gave access to all their food but also to a ton of ideas of what to do including where to eat. One of the foods that Berlin's famous for is called Currywurst, which is a hot-dog-like sausage smothered in a red curry sauce. We opted for the side of fries with ours (and, yes, that's mayo along with ketchup on the fries - YUM!!!):

"Curry #36" is, according to our hosts, some of the best Currywurst in town. When we got there, the line was about 50 people long and we had to wait about 15 minutes for our turn. It's an outdoor-style place where you order your food at the window and eat at stand-up tables outside. I figured that it was going to be about 90% tourists before going but it there were a lot of locals there. It reminded me of a lot of some of the places in Philadelphia and New York where you eat outside no matter the weather and time of the year.

Mandatory self portrait at Curry #36:

We had a late-afternoon tour appointment at the Bundestag building, which is Germany's equivalent of the United States Capital building in Washington, D.C. On the way there, we passed by a theater where they were setting up for the German premier of the new James Bond movie, Skyfall, which was happening later that evening. Having lived in Los Angeles, I wasn't overly excited but Diana, who's never been to a movie premier and still unjaded, was super excited:

The German Bundestag is responsible for creating the laws much like the U.S. Congress. The building where they work offers tours of the roof, roof dome, and a museum where you can learn about the government as well as see highlights of the surrounding neighborhood from high up in the building. It's also, apparently, according to Spain and Greece, where that evil Angela Merkel strategizes to make life difficult. :-)

Sitting down to write this made me realize just how much we fit into that first full day. Pretty impressive. I guess that's why, in retrospect, my feet were aching so much when we finally got back to the apartment for tea with our hosts. It was a good day and I was ready for day 2!

One more shot of the Brandenburg Gate, this time after sunset:

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