Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Day 3 - Berlin

Day 3
1.Quotes of the day
3.How to find things when traveling
4.Take that, Bono

More matter with less art

The sun beat down upon the steps of time to light the way
To ease the pain of idleness and the memory of decay.

70% chance of rain, so we dress accordingly in clothes that will dry fast. Do not take rain gear, it’s too hot for another layer.

Another slow start, up and out around 10:45. Off to our local S-bahn line to see how it works in reverse. No trouble, we even manage a smooth transfer to one of the U-bahn lines. First up, the Libeskind designed Jewish Museum, completed in1998. Fascinating, his building is next door, the only way in though is through the old building, which appears to be pre-war (making it unusual too). The new building contains several “empty” sections, called voids, which at least one you can enter. This void is about 3-4 stories high, with a ladder that starts up at least 15 feet off the ground. It is much like standing inside a Serra piece, pulling and pushing you with no visible means of doing so. Visit the garden (of exile) which contains 49 columns (7x7) with a willow growing out of the top of each (sort of a composite of the memorial of yesterday and the Goldsworthy that I think is on the roof of the Jewish museum in NY).

Contents are a history of the Jews in Europe. You walk up a long flight of stairs to the beginning of the exhibit, with the last flight ending up against a wall at the top (you get “off” before this last set of steps). The building is very much about making you disconcerted, odd angles, non-linear hallways, sloped floors..
After this, we head off to lunch, about a 20 minute walk to Hasir’s, a Turkish place where the namesake owner invented a new style of kebab called the doner. Try the kabobs, another plate that is schwarma on rice (similar to carnitas sliced thin, enough so we think this is pork though we know it isn’t). Both dishes come with side salad composed of tomatoes and onions (not the same salad, same ingredients and slightly different outcome). The kebabs come with thin tortillas and an oiled roll, other dish with same flat roll without oil. Two beers, $40 (cash of course, no Visa).

On the way to lunch, we stop at a schmuck (jewelry, pronounced shmoook) store and find some pretty decent artisan work. Our scout has her eyes open all the time!
After lunch, we head to a Turkish open market and to find the Zozoville art gallery, owned by a couple of Bay area artists, one of whom is the son of friends of friends. Before doing the market, we figure we’ll head to the gallery, another 20 minutes or so away. No problema…except when we get there, no gallery and not a hint of the artists. Down the street, a guy using a laptop is sitting in an open doorway so we stop to see if he has heard of or seen Zozoville. He speaks British English! He’s sitting in the doorway because it gives him better reception on an open wi-fi across the street. He does a search for us and finds out that the gallery is on a different street with the same name, 2-3 miles away.

We hop on the local U-bahn and head back to the open market; it is getting to be mid-afternoon, and no sign of rain, just intense heat and building humidity. Market is mostly fruit and fabric stands. We refresh with small glasses of fresh orange juice, $3.

Back on the local U-bahn and head to the correct Mainzerstrasse. Neighborhood is definitely more arty, and the heat is definitely building, we are walking the shady side of the street whenever possible. Another 20-30 minutes of walking and we’ve arrived! Oops, if we read the sign on the door correctly, the artists are summering in SF until July 11 (our departure date for Copenhagen) and the gallery is closed. Tempt fate, cross into sun and a local snack spot for our threesies, today a coffee milk shake (lost in translation when ordered by THB), apple kuchen (nothing lost here!) and soda for DB. $10 and soft couch to sit on in an empty place (this is the sunny side of the street). Short walk to U-bahn, this time an easy transfer to the S-bahn.

Do some local shopping for dinner: ½ kilo white asparagus (raw, we boil at apartment), smoked fish (two varieties), dark bread, lettuce and tomato salad, wine, $20 and leftovers for dinner tomorrow (NO asparagus left, all those soldiers died a very very good death).

Rain and thunder around 9:15 or so, too tired to notice much, fast asleep.

Pictures from Day 1 and 2: Berlin

I left Rome and landed in Brussels,
On a plane ride so bumpy that I almost cried.
Clergymen in uniform and young girls pullin' muscles,
Everyone was there to greet me when I stepped inside.
Newspapermen eating candy
Had to be held down by big police.
Someday, everything is gonna be diff'rent
When I paint my masterpiece.

1. Public art mimicking people looking at the Wall
2. Table and chair nailed to a wall, not to THE wall
3. Hotel Adlon, scene of many many spy meet-ups in books and movies
4. Ralph's ghost at the memorial
5. Murdered Jews of Europe memorial
6. Gehry done inside out
7. Another replica: Checkpoint Charlie
8. Fake border agent ready to stamp your real passport
9. Staring at the wall
10. Goldsworthy-like display in the hallway
11. Chandelier from the dining room (now the tech command center)

Day 2 - Berlin

Day 2
1.Quotes of the day
3.We’re not exactly everywhere you want to be
4.Bike lanes
6.Touring, and nudists
7.Ask me no questions, I’ll give you no answers, or Achtung Baby
8.How far from Barcelona are we?

Thrift, thrift, Horatio! The funeral bak'd meats
Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables.

He oversees his kingdom
So no stranger does intrude
His voice it trembles as he calls out
For another plate of food.

We’ve been blessed, it is neither roaring hot nor too humid. That said, it is probably in the mid 70s and slightly humid, enough to sap us as we walk around. And walk we do, from about 10am til 4pm.

I’m up early and out by 6:30 hunting pastry. Much success, five different rolls and sweet things, $5.

First order of business, finding an adaptor to replace the one we have that ain’t adapting. Try computer store (well, it said hardware on the outside), Apple store, and then DB has the idea of “American” hotel, into the Crowne Plaza and we get directions to Saturn, a giant combo Radio Shack and Best Buy. Success, $22 (way overpriced).

Money: we are finding that many places do not take Visa! Not even on Saturn. First day we show up with equivalent of $200 in euros. Day 1, off to find Deustche Bank (BofA partner, no fees for ATM): 200 euros. Day 2, we buy concert tickets, off to find DB ATM, 300 euros. At this rate, we will just stand in line at international ATMs all day long getting larger and larger denomination bills. DB (THB partner) sees someone pay for dinner with 500 euro bill! One way to keep that wallet thin, run around with $750 bills instead of twenties. And, in Argentina nobody wanted to break a $5 equivalent. The joys of comparison traveling.

Our new friend Gerry told us about the bike lanes, they are painted red. Not quite enough info, turns out the lanes are part of the sidewalks. So now do we not only have to look when stepping off the curb, we have to pay attention when walking along the street. And, when the bikes cross the road, they have dotted lines on the roadway, much like our crosswalks, so at beginning we start walking between the lines when crossing the street: double jeopardy! There are sporadic bikers, nothing like Viet Nam. People here do obey signals, even if there are no cars for blocks. Bikers, too. The signals are short, so on wide streets you really have to hustle to make it all the way to the other side of the street without being stuck on the meridian.

After walking to city center, we are nearing lunch time and enter Ka-Da-We, the famous department store. Head upstairs via escalators while DB does best to overcome shopping instincts and keep thinking: Food! Even skip the famous food court floor. Buffet on top level, views of the city while you eat. For cold food, you take plate and fill it and then weigh out at register (here they take Visa!). With one beer, $50. Hmmmm, guess those heavy plates are included, and we can take them home. Who knew! Very good white asparagus salad, now in season.

Back down to food court, which is impressive. Halfway through, a very strong smell builds up, it is the cheese section. Overpowering. Someone forgot to cover the epoisses. We abandon the floor and continue our walking tour.

Walk along the Spree, river that runs through town. DB had taken the boat tour when here last summer (for a very short day) and we see several large boats touring, they are reasonably full. Decide the walk may have supplanted future boat ride. Very pretty, not a lot of interesting sites. Then we hit the Brandenburg Tor (gate), made famous by various visits and speeches (Obama outduels McCain, 75k in crowd to 7.5 at German deli). Right near here is a Gehry building with his trademark flowing steel panels INSIDE the building: weird. Not allowed all the way in, you have to stand in foyer and wonder why filling the atrium with a Gehry-like structure makes it a Gehry building. Architecture as art becomes architecture is art.

Then we get to the memorial for the murdered Jews of Europe. Fascinating, a combo of Maya Lin’s VN memorial and a cemetery full of non-descript crypts in a New Orleans cemetery where the ground has sunken in odd undulating waves. Very impactful, the plain blocks (DB points out, the width and length of coffins, 2700 total?) are also of varying heights and close together, so as you walk through you catch fleeting views of others (like in movies where ghosts are portrayed as blinks on the edge of your peripheral vision). A stunner, on order of Oklahoma City memorial (also a must see if you are anywhere close).

More walking around and finally a stop at one of the many branches of Café Einstein for milk, iced mocha and a slice of chocolate cake: $12. More importantly, a chance for your reporter to get off his weary legs for a bit. Thank goodness this city is flat, it could be a lot worse on the legs.

Continue walking the area around Checkpoint Charlie, where my partner spots a guy up on a balcony of third floor of large apartment building, standing in the buff. Then sits down out of our view, facing the afternoon sun. Best I could tell, with my weak eyes was that he was a bit over 6 feet tall, pale, skinny. Partner may have noticed more details, she's not talking.

Time to activate our one week rail transit cards ($40 for 7 days, unlimited rides, starts with first ride, honor system from then on as there are no ticket gates). Off to find the right S line and our trip back to Savigneyplatz (Sa-vin-eeeee platz), two blocks from the apartment. No station agents present, at all, anywhere (we look). Two different people on S platform explain in mock-English we need to go upstairs. Upstairs is back out on the street (cosmic joke?). We head for U line; we’re at the U2 station. Down we go, and again a station with nobody to ask for directions (not even a blow-up of Bono to pretend to ask questions of). There is a list of stations on the wall and we find the one closest to us, the Zoo station, about 5 blocks from apartment. Easy ride and on the walk to apartment we find local strawberries to have for breakfast tomorrow.

Dinner is at Adnan, right around corner, at what guide books say is classic Mediterranean, which translates to classic Italian when we look at the menu. Tomato and feta salad, pizza with prosciutto and arugula, linguine a la puttanesca, bottle of Italian Sauvignon, waiter from Barcelona who was there for the Olympics, and $80 in cash. We sit outside, amid the many smokers (not too bad, empty table near us for most of meal). We're lucky, the cigar smokers turn out to be at a table around the corner. Full outside, maybe 40 others eating, very pleasant, we’re there from near 7 to after 9pm, we’re getting on local time quite quickly.


Sunday, June 28, 2009

Day 1: On the road to Berlin: Nieburhstrasse 77

1. Quotes of the day
2. Airport comings and goings
3. Nieburhstrasse 77
4. UH OH...what did I just order?

O! from this time forth,
My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth!

Oh, what'll you do now, my darling young one?
I'm a-goin' back out 'fore the rain starts a-fallin'

We get to SFO and there are three lines for checking in at United.

Pop Quiz: which line moves slowest
a) A line for people who haven't checked in on-line and are going to Frankfurt
b) A line for people who have checked in on-line and are only checking bags and having IDs verified
c) A third line between the other two that has no identifiable title or meaning

Bonus question: which of the above lines are we in
Double Bonus question: How slow WAS this line?

Slowest and first bonus question answer: Line B. When we finally arrive at the one person assisting this line, she proceeds to tear up our boarding passes, admits she can't give us seats on the Frankfurt-Berlin flight, and can't explain why all the people in front of us struggled with what appeared to be something Southwest solved 5 years ago.

How long: let us just say that the third line, between the two, was empty for at least 15 of the 20 minutes we waited, with no clue as to what it meant to be in that line (or not to be in that line...that we figured out: slowness)

On flight, first real test of Bose headset, which definitely blocks out most if not all white noise and other sounds on the plane. Damn, we share but it is DB's b'day gift and she gets them whenever she wants. AWESOME product!!

Lufthansa is not be outdone by United. THEIR check-in process to get boarding passes takes 25-30 minutes. Partner sez this is what happens when airlines scale back on staff and cut flights (to make them more crowded). My response: see above re Southwest and issuing boarding passes for all flights.

Off to Berlin: very short flight made even shorter by the fact I slept for 37 of the 45 minutes. On-time arrival and a short cab ride ($22), and we are at our exchange apartment, greeted by Gerry, a German neighbor of owners who has a lifelong fascination with American Indians. We get the tour, our apartment is very spacious and quite handsome, and the owners clearly are artists, lots of work up on the walls. Pics to follow when we get camera off of jet lag, it's definitely had a day or two setback.

Ulrike, a young sculptor friend of owners comes over and we arrange (at least) one day of seeing her work, galleries, and possibly other studios.

Off to dinner, walking the 'hood, which is very pleasant, and roti chicken and potatoes (we don't order the everything combo that comes with 5 different versions of chicken and 7 of potatoes. Gruner veltliner for DB and dark beer for THB. $40

Now we realize that our German menu translation is way worse than we thought, crash brush-up course required (or we only eat in places with English translated menus, which may be everywhere).

later, THB and DB

Friday, June 26, 2009

Appreciation and appreciation and more appreciation!!

Hello all:

One of my faithful followers pointed out that not only should I appreciate all those that sent in nice comments about the India posts, I should also appreciate those that:

a) didn't really like the blog all that much and held their tongues
b) didn't really read the blog (for any number of reasons) and held their tongues
c) liked the blog and didn't clog up my e-mail with endless exchanges about how great the blog was
d) don't like to be appreciated, at least not "directly"
e) didn't want to say how much or how little they appreciated any thing that crossed their minds, any time, to any one

For all of you out there, I just want to say I really appreciate you (except for those of you in category d, in which case this post is not for you, about you, or even anywhere near you)

Quotes of the day:

I'll speak to it though Hell itself should gape
And bid me hold my peace.

Do I need your permission to turn the other cheek?
If you can read my mind, why must I speak?

Thanks, THB

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

What I will and will NOT be writing about

Pre-leaving quotes of the day:

Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit,
And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,
I will be brief.

Oh, ev'ry thought that's strung a knot in my mind,
I might go insane if it couldn't be sprung.
But it's not to stand naked under unknowin' eyes,
It's for myself and my friends my stories are sung.
The rest is silence.

Things I will not be writing about:

1. Up (the movie)
2. The Parkway closing
3. Puppy mills
4. Oakland A's
5. Does Mucinex help cure tinnitus?
6. Financial crisis

Things I will be writing about:

1. Zombies
2. Going back to work
3. Food
4. Art
5. Oddities of travel
6. How much things cost