Today was our last day in Berlin, and so we had to have all our luggage packed, ready to store in one room while we went on our final outing, to the Schloss Charlottenburg. I also left my backpack in the room since it was rather full, inadvertantly leaving with only a 64MB CompactFlash card in my camera, which got full fairly quickly as I hadn't downloaded pictures yesterday to my computer. I spent some time at various points this morning reviewing and deleting some pictures to make room, but later, once we were finally in Lüneburg, I found no pictures at all on this card, something that's happened before when I've tried to delete pictures using the camera. Part of it is karma because I illicitly took some pictures at the Schloss despite strict rules against doing so.
The Schloss was built as the residence of the Electress Sophia Charlotte, whose husband Freidrich I after her death was crowned first king in Prussia. He and later their grandson greatly expanded the palace, trying to compete with the emperor in Vienna and with the kings of France. The palace was heavily damaged during World War II, but unlike its counterpart in former East Berlin was saved from a push to demolish it, instead undergoing renovations that continue to this day. The Berlin state lottery contributes part of its earnings to cultural organizations including the foundation restoring the Schloss. The foundation spends money buying on the art market pieces formerly belonging to or similar to those owned by the royal family, for example a few years ago purchasing for $1.5 million a silver mirror that had made its way to America.
After the palace tour, we had a little time to walk in the huge park along the Spree River behind the palace, and then we went to lunch at another Italian restaurant. Then it was off to collect our bags and take the U-Bahn to the Zoologisher Garten station, where we caught an ICE train to Hannover, riding first class because of some scheduling/overbooking problem. First class seats have individual seat-back entertainment too, similar to that on Northwest, but with fewer selections and technological gizmos. In Hannover we switched to a local train headed for Hamburg, back down to second class, which is a bit more crowded and has no footrests or TVs.
In Lüneburg our group finally broke up, each of us being met by buddies who brought us to our living quarters. I have a room in a Wohngemeinshaft (WG), which is a shared student apartment. My room's on the first floor, and my building's a block from the edge of campus, so I'm pretty lucky. Some of the other students are farther from campus or have fourth floor attic rooms. My WG has four women (five normally, but I'm staying in one woman's room while she travels this summer) and one man. Weibke, one of the women, was there to show me around and explain the rules. The first and most important rules had to do with recycling; garbage is sorted not just into trash and recyclables, as is sometimes done in America, but into five different groups! Other rules are that roommates share in cleaning common areas of the apartment, rotating by week, and in washing dishes, each taking a turn in washing all the dishes.
It was only about 9PM when I was left to my own devices. I had snacks and water in my backpack, a good thing because stores in Lüneburg close by 8 at the latest (I found out later that some other students either didn't eat til the next day or were offered leftover moldy bread; one guy did have a roommate who cooked for him). I did venture out to explore a little, but I came home fairly quickly, feeling cold since I didn't have a jacket. I'd expected summer, but right now in Lüneburg it's more like late fall in Ohio, cold, gray and rainy.
This morning's main event was a tour of the Jewish Museum, which of course does tell about the Holocaust but is really about more than that, documenting a thousand years of Jewish history in Germany. Jews faced discrimination since the time of the Roman empire, in which they were often forced to be the tax collectors, responsible themselves for paying any taxes others failed to pay. Later Jewish Germans had to pay separate additional taxes for the right to continue living in the towns in which they'd always lived. After unification the German emperor forced Jewish newlyweds to buy unpopular ugly China from his porcelain company. Finally in the Weimar Republic Jewish Germans received full equal rights, only to face the horrors of the Nazis and the Holocaust lass than twenty years later. Two parts of the museum, the Garden of Exile and the Holocaust Tower, were designed by its architect Daniel Libeskind offer visitors a glimpse of what was felt by those who escaped the Holocaust and by those who perished in it.
The weather in Berlin has been generally cooler than in Ohio this time of year but shares the feature of a lot of rain at unexpected times. Today being a rainy day, instead of proceeding directly to the Synagogue as planned, the group first went to an Asian/Indian restaurant, hoping the rain would subside. Meals in Germany take a long time, in part I suppose because Germans don't like to rush during meals and in part because the wait staff has no incentive to provide efficient service since tips are built into the cost of the meals. Since it was after 3 when we got close to being done with lunch and I didn't care to go to the afternoon's optional trip to the Soviet War Memorial, I ventured out on my own, wanting to go to the Schwulesmuseum (the gay museum). (Others in the group also went out on their own, to limited success; some tried to get into the Pergamon, which has fantastic exhibitions of Greek and Roman antiquities, only to be turned away because of the lines.)
Although it too gets a mention in Frommer's guide to Germany, the Schwulesmuseum doesn't even get close to the scale of the Jewish Museum. Instead of its own building by a famous architect, the Schwulesmuseum has a few sets of unconnected rooms downstairs and upstairs off a back courtyard on Merhingdamm in a poorer part of Berlin known as Kreuzberg. Downtstairs the museum did have an extensive exhibit on the French gay philosopher Michel Foucault, and upstairs some interesting works by gay artists were displayed, but the museum does not yet have the history of homosexuality mentioned by Frommer's. The friendly woman at the museum did explain to me that they plan an expansion by next June to include that history.
Having some time to spare, I went to Berlin's gay district, Nollendorfplatz, where I found a big gay bookstore, Bruno's, at which I bought some gay German magazines and some gay German books. I also found a nice bar/café with free WiFi, so I sat and enjoyed a große Coke while I uploaded my Pride Dinner pictures (it's hard to keep a blog updated with such limited Internet access).
As I mentioned earlier, football is huge in Europe, especially tonight because the Germans were to play the Czechs. Some of us had agreed to meet at the Sony Centre at Potsdamer Platz where people could watch the game for free on a huge TV screen. I got there at the agreed time, 6:30, and found a huge line stretched along the building. No sign of the others, so I got in line alone. Some of the others finally found me, we waited in line a bit and then decided to do what many Germans were doing, which was to leave the line, move to the front and try to push our way in. That wasn't very successful, and we were afraid it was going to start raining, so we left Potsdamer Platz and went back to the sidewalk bar on Friedrichstrasse where we'd been Monday, arriving just in time to get first row seats and missing by seconds a downpour. The service wasn't terrific, and I ended up with a Berliner Pilsner that confirms I don't really like beer instead of the sweet stuff I'd had before, but by blurting out that I also wanted a schnitzel I also got dinner half an hour before the others in the group who stupidly insisted on getting menus. We had a good time though, meeting some German businessmen hosting a couple colleagues from their English office. Everyone was happy when the Germans scored a goal, and then I couldn't keep from laughing every time afterwards the Germans had near misses, bouncing the ball off the side or top of the net. The Czechs ended up beating the Germans 2-1, ending German hopes for the title.
|Today we woke up early enough to meet at the hostel's offices in order to eat breakfast at 7:45, crowded and European style but not bad. I had bread with cheese and a kind of bacon, bread with Nutella (a chocolate/hazelnut spread Europeans love that I last had in Belgium a few years ago), a hard boiled egg, and some strawberry yogurt mixed with Muselix. That may seem like a lot, but I burned those calories away on the walking tour of Berlin we went on next.
Our guide was not Iris but a English-speaking man who works for a company offering walking tours of Berlin and nearby sites. He was pretty cute, and I thought at first he was British, but he's actually German. Our tour was mainly in former East Berlin and included many sites of former Imperial buildings that either had been torn down by the Communists after World War II, had been or were in the process of being renovated since German reunification, or had been replicated or were being considered for replication. For example, the former Imperial palace had been exploded by the East Germans in the 50s, but now people want to rebuild it, although the government doesn't have enough money yet to do so. Another example is Museum Island in the Spree river, on which five museums had been donated to the German people by the Imperial royal family, heavily damaged during the war, left to languish for decades and now are being renovated. Among other things we also got to see the Brandenburg Gate (but were shooed off by police in preparation for a state visit by the Governor General of New Zealand), a short remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall, and Checkpoint Charlie. Our guide told us of how as a college student in Berlin in 1989 he was part of the crowds of West Berliners to go out and greet the East Berliners who'd finally gained the right to travel to the West.
After the tour we lunched at Café Adler, by Checkpoint Charlie, and then went to the Checkpoint Charlie Museum, which documents the story of the Wall and the many people who escaped over it or were killed trying. Afterwards, people split off to do different things. One girl and I went to Potsdamer Platz, to a Dunkin Donuts that had Internet access for 1 € per hour. I'd transferred pictures to a CD and to a CompactFlash card, hoping to upload from one or the other to my site, but we had access only to monitor, keyboard (German! in a different enough layout to be frustrating) and mouse, so I could only check my e-mail and send a few brief messages home. Later I figured out that the huge Sony complex in which we were in had free WiFi access.
This evening we all went to the Berliner Philharmonie, in a building near Potsdamer Platz which I (and others) thought was quite ugly outside but beautiful inside. The Großer Saal (bigger hall) in which the Philharmonie performed (and apparently also the Kammermusiksaal in which another performance that same night occurred) are unusual in that they have seating on all sides of the orchestra, including behind. Before the concert Kathryn, one of our June session students and a music major, gave us a small presentation about the two pieces to be performed, Beethoven's piano concerto number 5 and Schumann's symphony number 3. Tonight's performance was a Benefizkonzert des Bundespräsidenten, and the president of the Federal Republic of Germany was in fact present, giving a short speech and getting a standing ovation. In Ohio standing ovations are fairly common with Daytonians standing up for any and everyone. Apparently not so in Germany, since after the Beethoven, the Germans clapped long enough to recall pianist Radu Lupu back to the stage five (yes 5!) times but did not stand for him. Berliners, also unlike Daytonians, know not to clap between movements of a piece, something Kathryn specifically instructed us about during her presentation.
Although the plane landed in Amsterdam at about 6AM, I hadn't slept any because to me that was just midnight. Around 11PM EDT or 5AM in Amsterdam (and Germany, the same time zone) the flight attendants served a light breakfast, I suppose to trick our bodies into accepting it was morning, something mine wasn't inclined to do, despite seeing the daylight.
The Dutch immigration officials seemed very laid back compared to American ones. The guy who stamped my passport didn't even ask me anything. Getting through customs last December on St. Croix was much more of a hassle, and that was for an American citizen traveling from one American territory to another.
My layover in Amsterdam was two and a half hours, and while I was too jittery to sleep, I didn't feel like hassling trying to go the city and back. Instead I spent my first Euros, 1,75 € for a 75cl bottle of Evian, marked in both Dutch and French, I suppose for both Belgium and the Netherlands. Sitting at the gate for Berlin wasn't boring though. I eavesdropped as best I could on some German businessmen, and I watched a cute American kid who sat across from me and flexed his arms lifting his backpack up and down with his wrists.
The flight to Berlin was crowded but I was so tired I did manage to sleep a bit. At Tegel I was surprised to find that the baggage claim for my gate and its neighboring gate was right next to where we disembarked, very convenient. I thought about hassling with my luggage on a bus and the U-Bahn but splurged on a taxi (15,90 € instead of 2 €). The taxi drove past Kaiserdamm 82, however, and had to do a U-turn. I hadn't realized until then that addresses in Germany work differently than in America. Kaiserdamm 81 and 82 are next door to each other, not across the street from one another.
It was just as well that I had used a cab because I would have been pissed to have walked from the U-Bahn stop to Hotel Pension Gribnitz, the offices for which are on the 4th floor (5th floor American-style; Europeans don't count the ground floor), only to find that our group was staying in apartments around the corner from the U-Bahn. The man who answered the intercom, even though I'd said I was with the Lüneburg USAC group, had me come all the way upstairs with my luggage, then told me where we were staying and led the way back downstairs without even offering to carry a bag. I'd been warned not to have more luggage than I could manage on my own, but this was the first sign of the different expectations Germans and Americans have for customer service.
Although we are to have private rooms in Lüneburg, in Berlin we were set up four people to a room, two keys per room. Not having flown on the group flight, I was the first to arrive. I took a shower and soon afterwards was surprised by people arriving, people who turned out to be June session students who were going on the Berlin tour. They were tired from having gotten up early to travel from Lüneburg but were not jet-lagged so they went off to explore, and I took a 4-hour nap before dinner.
Our Leiterin while in Berlin was Iris (pronounced auf deutsch like "ear-rhys") Heine, who is one of the German as a foreign language professors at Lüneburg. She's 36 and seems to deal pretty well with a bunch of college students, some of whom are used to Germany and want to head off in a million directions and others of whom don't have any idea what is going on. This evening, we went to eat dinner at an Italian restaurant down the street from the apartments. Our budget is 20 € per person for each meal, excluding alcohol which we must buy on our own, and that pays for quite a lot of food.
After dinner we took the U-Bahn and a double-decker bus to the Reichstag. Also part of our pre-paid tour package is a daily public transportation ticket, which costs around 5 € and is good for U-Bahn, S-Bahn and busses until 3AM the day after it's validated. Going to the Reichstag in the evening was good because it wasn't crowded, atlhough there were a fair number of people there. The security to enter the building was high, with X-ray machines and a series of double glass doors controlled by the guards. We were allowed only on the roof terrace, the interior of the dome there being closed for renovations. Up there we did what all the people there, German and otherwise, did, which is to take tons of photos.
Afterwards I headed out with a group of girls who were going to the Irish Pub to meet Donovan, one of my roommates, who'd already seen the Reichstag and had gone there to watch the England vs. Slovakia football game (part of the European football championships, apparently held every four years). I'd surrendered my room key earlier, since I was napping and others were exploring, and I wanted to be sure to be able to get back in easily, and also I still had enough energy to do some more exploring. We walked, going through the Brandenburg Gate, along the Unter des Lindens and down Friedrichstrasse for a bit, until we realized we were lost, waited while one of the girls who had a German cell phone called for directions, and finally took the U-Bahn and S-Bahn til we got to the right place, arriving in time to see the English score two goals and to get our pictures taken with a happy and drunken Englishman, after which the group decided to leave the Irish Pub and walk/U-Bahn some more back to an outdoor bar on Friederichstrasse which had a big screen TV. There I had some German beer that wasn't half bad, perhaps because it was laced with some kind of syrup.