Sunday, July 31, 2011

Berlin, part I.

After our damp train trip from Much, Sam and I headed Northeast to met our friends John, Lauren, Will and Carmen in Berlin for a week in the city. The entire European vacation came together based on one inebriated and spontaneous evening with these four last October.

We were at a charity event in town, eating and drinking and gawking at all of the socialites with the means to attend galas like this on their own dime (each of us had scored complimentary tickets in one way or another). Well, a few glasses of wine later we were feeling like socialites and started bidding on the silent auction. Seriously, when you bid in a silent auction, you are about 98% certain you will never win. And the wine and the foie gras from the evening had a feeling a little bit daring, so for a cheap thrill, down went our name to bid on a one week stay in Berlin, followed by a drunken pinkie swear we would all be in if we won. An hour later, much to our disbelief, we won. And that, my friends, is how we ended up in Berlin together in a lovely apartment overlooking the Berlin Zoo and the Tiergarten.

The city was incredibly interesting, if a bit more cosmopolitan and urban that one imagines when they think of old Europe. It only makes sense. After all, Berlin was basically leveled after the war, and built back up in two competing movements - a Western capitalist effort and a Communist socialist effort. The history of the city captivated throughout our visit, from it's days as an old European power, to the Nazi rise and occupation, through the Cold War and The Wall, to today.

That photo that led off the post is the group of us jumping in front of the Reichstag, Germany's Parliament building. Of course, since the photo is minus the photographer, me, I took a lone version too. We wanted to climb the glass dome to the top, but we saved this for our last day only to learn (unmentioned in all of our guidebooks) that we needed to make an appointment 3 days in advance. Blast. So instead we took silly photos outside.

The glass addition to the German History Museum was designed by I.M. Pei, the same architect that designed the glass pyramid in Paris' Louvre. The museum was full of historical artifacts and the story of Germany from the Germanic tribes through today.

Have you ever had a Kinder chocolate. I am sure in German Kinder is some sort of low-brow candy, but to our American palates it tasted like heaven. The many varieties of candy use hazelnut and chocolate and crispies and yogurt and sugar to make addicting treats. Plus, these Kinder Joy eggs came with a prize. I brought home an appalling amount of Kinder treats as souvenirs for friends and coworkers.

The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe sits in the center of Berlin. It is a very modern and conceptual large-scale sculpture that visitors can walk through and interact with. There are multi-height coffin shaped stones that lead into a maze of stone, and it is designed in a way so that any direction you walk, it always looks as if the exit is uphill. Attached to the memorial is a very moving museum with photos and correspondences tracking the stories of holocaust victims alongside the history.

I am pretty sure we were not using German correctly, but we started calling sitting "platzing", and we took every opportunity possible to platz - on the lawn, on a bench, in the U-Bahn (subway) - basically anywhere that would rest our weary feet. It turns out that in addition to regular exercise, a European vacation requires an aggressive regime of standing practice in advance of the trip. Our tired feet required more platzing than expected.

The apartment we stayed in was lovely, like an Ikea poster child. We were on the eighths floor with floor to ceiling windows in the living area, and two terraces with sweeping views of West Berlin. Plus, we overlooked the Therman Day Spa, full of naked people swimming all day and all night. It's true, we drank cocktails and ogled the nudists. We even saw an old man do naked calisthenics on the lawn. After all, we are American prudes and it was a cultural experience.

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