Monday, July 6, 2009

Days 8 and 9 - Berlin

Day 8
1.Quotes of the day
2.Flea markets
3.Prenzlauer Berg
4.Documentary on the streets of E. Berlin

Day 9
2.Book memorial
3.Wurst for lunch again
4.Guggenheim and Daimler Benz museums
5.Dinner in the hood

The serpent that did sting thy father's life
Now wears his crown.

Broken hands on broken ploughs,
Broken treaties, broken vows,
Broken pipes, broken tools,
People bending broken rules.
Hound dog howling, bull frog croaking,
Everything is broken.

Day 8
Short version: went to flea markets, ate wurst for lunch, watched most of men’s final of Wimbledon, smoke-filled outdoors dinner in former East German neighborhood, somebody left a TV on the street. Skip to Day 9.

Today we decided to take it easy and walk and visit two of the more famous flea markets. The weather has broken, it is low 70s and overcast. Oops, that last about 5 hours, and during the day it clears, gets warmer and more humid. By evening, we are back to our usual: warm, humid, no breeze.

The first is market is full of much secondhand junk, the second market is more like a good crafts fair (clothes and jewelry) and an upscale flea market (better than average old stuff, some antiques) combined. Lunch of wurst ($5, very good), eaten while sitting on a bench in midst of the second market, then a walk through the Tiergarten and an ice cream near Brandenburg gate ($6).

The Tiergarten is a very green, well maintained, flat version of Golden Gate Park. It is relatively unused, even on Sunday (though that may be because we are there between 12 and 1 and the crowds arrive later). Very creative parking: the street lane nearest the sidewalk is reserved for bikers, and there is a pair of white lane markers where cars park (in effect, in the second lane), with enough space between the markers to save a space for opening car doors without killing bikers. Very clever...this is a very bike friendly town, including being unbelievably flat.

Take the afternoon off, and one of us decides it is a great opportunity to watch Federer vs Roddick in Wimbledon finals. Roddick hits one bad stretch, losing 6 points in a row to end the second set, or he might be the champ in 4 sets. Of course, the announcing is in German, so the mute button comes in handy. We head out as the match heads to 17th game of last set; heightens the suspense to not know the result for another 3 hours (or, more likely, means that watching with the sound off as the guy serving wins game after game doesn’t exactly pull you into the event). Aside: can there ever be an extended time like this when the two best individual athletes in their respective sports shared winning on the same day as frequently as Tiger and Roger? These guys are like superstar twins who decided to go out for different sports.

We decide to go to dinner in the nicest neighborhood in E. Berlin, Prenzlauer Berg. A short walk past our local S-Bahn stop leads to the U2 line, which goes directly to our dinner stop, no transfers. Only later, as we are sitting on the train, do I realize that it takes 16 stops to get there, vs only 10 if we take the S-Bahn and transfer (which is how we decide to go home and, yes, it is a lot faster).

So, the nicest neighborhood in E. Berlin turns out to be a place for under-30s (meaning cheap rents and/or a large university nearby. And the operative phrase is “nicest in EAST Berlin,” because this is the least nice area we have seen outside of the first Mainzerstrasse (remember the search for Zozoville?).

Ahead of time, we have picked out two restaurants on the same street for consideration, the decision is made for us because the one that served German-Japanese food no longer exists (really, that was the description! Couldn't be left over from 1942, right?). We sit outside with about 15 other people, all of whom are smoking, every one. Constantly! Non-stop...even for Berlin, this is a bit extreme. Even our waitress takes frequent smoking breaks, sitting on the stoop and puffing away while we await our drinks.

This is supposed to be “light” German food, and we order arugula salad (good), pasta (very mediocre, not light) and lamb chops (very thin cut, hence “light”) with ratatouille and potatoes (side dishes very good, not too greasy and hence “light”), beer and wine, total $50.

On the street a few doors down from the restaurant where a car would normally be parked, is a very large flat panel TV, in a semi-tent, playing some sort of documentary. There is another couple watching, and he speaks English and explains that it is a documentary on the very area (and street) we are on, complete with shots of the building behind us, with locals from the time of the fall of the wall discussing before and after 1989. Turns out, this is a “traveling” TV, rotating through locations in the area, and showing different documentaries as it shifts from parking spot to parking spot Unique idea, no? Imagine leaving a huge flat panel TV on the street, any street, in most any country in the world and finding it is still there waiting to be moved to its new location on the posted schedule. Maybe even the tent doesn’t make it until the morning!

Our translator was in SF a few years ago. He explains a friend took him to some place north of the city where the locals kept stealing the town signs, and we figure it out: Bolinas! He’s impressed!

Day 9
Weather: hot, clear, humid, slight breeze, back to the norm.

Off we go to see the Reichstag with its new dome, a Norman Foster (also did the huge new terminal 3 in Beijing airport) creation made out of glass with a cone shaped structure of mirrors inside. All to provide transparency to the parliament meetings below, plus very eco-friendly. While waiting an hour to get in, we (individually take breaks and) study a memorial to the members of parliament killed by the Nazis in the 30s, another strong artistic statement. There’s also a Serra-like pair of steel walls nearby (mimicking the Wall), we don’t think/know if it is Serra, and a real Chilleda (we visited his sculpture garden in San Sebastian last year) is installed in front of one of the other government buildings.

Finally, we get to the roof and the views are magnificent. You walk a double spiral inside the dome, getting ever better views of the city. Very unusual and very accessible (if you don’t mind the wait).

Then to see the book memorial, which had been covered up by a huge fashion week tent. It’s a small Plexiglas cutout in an empty square, and you look down into a brightly lit room with empty bookshelves lining the walls. This is to commemorate the Nazi book burnings. Another memorial where the power is in what is not seen.

Wurst and brewskies sitting on the Unter den Linden, $13. Then a short walk to see the Guggenheim, free on Mondays, for an exhibit of Imi Knoebel. We saw his stuff at Dia Beacon a few years ago, still don’t like him (I mean, this is late-Matisse done early, childish cutouts and lousy fingerpainting and poor geometric versions of Mondrian...this guy hasn't got an original idea).

Then a long walk to find the Daimler museum, no easy task, there is a little door in the midst of a lot of upscale street eating places. The current exhibit is honoring several South African clothing designers and a few photographers. DB likes it, I am ambivalent about the clothes, like some of the photographs a lot.

Back in afternoon to rest up, then to dinner at Nu, which is right on our corner. It specializes in Asian (noodle) dishes, and we have gui con (VN spring rolls, excellent), pat thai (less tomato-y than we get, very good) and duck with pumpkin (really good!), two beers, two glasses of wine, $70 (they take Visa, this is the first place where service is not included).

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