Tuesday, June 30, 2009

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.


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