My stay in Germany and my travels without Mandi have largely seemed uneventful.  I mostly passed the four days in Berlin on my laptop, finishing up my last remaining hours of work for the Employment Blawg and writing some Spanish essays to get credit for my time in Spain.  There’s nothing to ruin a city like spending your time there fulfilling bureaucratic requirements.  I did spend a few hours each day seeing the sights, though.   

Friday night, having met a pair of Spanish cousins and two girls from Italy, I went out to a lounge/bar with them.  Although most of us were proficient in two languages, there was no common language among us.  We all ordered drinks in English and spent the night speaking in an intriguing mixture of Spanish, English, and Italian.  Berlin is famous for its nightlife, and some locals teased us for heading home at 1 a.m.  I half regretted not having the full, stay-up-til-the-next-morning experience, but the next day my four companions all had fevers and sore throats, so I was happy I had treated my immune system well. 

On Saturday, when I spent six hours working on the blawg and several more hours on the New York Times website trying to get caught up on current events, my only “sight” was a nearby Italian restaurant.  Their 2€ soups and 3€ pizzas were a sight for sore eyes, though, after an expensive week on in Belgium and the Netherlands. 

Sunday I wrote my much-loathed Spanish paper.  Finally freed of that responsibility, I made my first jaunt into the city alone.  I found the Hamburg Bahnhof art gallery, home of several very interesting exhibits.  The main exposition was a huge display of trash art, which I was more than happy to ignore.  Instead I focused on a nice sampling of paintings by … some guy.  It might be dull, but I am a huge fan of paintings that are just juxtapositions of flat color.  This is one from a series called the Grove, which represent the organic nature and colors of an olive grove in the very flat, geometric nature of square paintings.  I liked the irony of that, plus it matched my shirt. 

Grove

There was also an audiovisual work on the second floor that captivated my interest for half an hour.  It was an oral history of Manhattan Island that accompanied a video panorama of the island.  The emphasis was on the Dutch and English settlers and their interactions with the local Indian population, as well as on the importance of names.  Very nice.

From there I found the equally artistic Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.  The plot of land is covered with grey stone blocks of varying shapes and sizes.  Apparently the memorial was designed to have no metaphorical significance.  For instance, the number of stones was dictated solely by the size of the land. 

Memorial 1     berlin-memorial-2.jpg

The museum underneath was very well run and very powerful.  The most affecting part was an exhibit about fifteen different families and how the Holocaust affected each one.  Time and rising emotion limited me to reading only one of them: only the younger sister survived, but the father and older brother were killed just weeks before the end of the war. 

On Monday I explored the next chapters in Berlin’s history: the Berlin wall and the Reichstag building.  I visited the longest remaining stretch of the wall, called the New Side Gallery.  I saw the famous painting of (someone famous) kissing (someone else famous), as well as some other less famed ones.  Many panels consisted mostly of peeling paint.

Besos     Wall 2

I came across one panel where “Nunca tu solo caminaras” (“You will never walk alone”) was written.  I liked that, since it was only my second solo excursion ever. 

I took the train to the Reichstag building, home to the Bundestag, Germany’s congress.  The building remains from before the world wars (although it received some serious damage).  After the reunion of the two halves of Germany, when the capital was moved from Bonn back to Berlin, the Reichstag building was revamped.  The huge glass cupola and gigantic paned glass windows represent the transparency of the new German government, and visitors are allowed to ascend to the very tippy-top of the dome. 

Outside dome     reichstag 2

The building is annually visited by 11 million tourists, since the tower affords an amazing view of the city.  I arrived at 8 p.m. to find a half-hour wait.  When I finally reached the front of the line, I was herded into a small glass antechamber with perhaps fifty others, and the door closed behind me.  We stood there for a good fifteen seconds before another door opened and we were allowed into the building. I’m not a public relations expert, but it doesn’t seem prudent for a visitor’s first impression of the new German government to involve being crammed into a little room and trapped there, however temporarily. The view from the top was indeed gorgeous, though, and worth both the wait and the claustrophobic entrance experience.  Here’s a shot of the famous Brandenburg Gate. 

brandenburg gate

The most surprising part about being up their, looking over the vastness of the city, was when I a woman tapped me on the shoulder and waved hello.  I waved back and turned back around, until it dawned on me that I did indeed know her.  She was a Dutch woman, one of two I met on my first day in Berlin, when I was utterly confounded by the ticket machine for the S-bahn, rather lost, and crying.  She had helped me find where I was going.   With the entire city as a backdrop, it seemed even more incredible that we should find ourselves together again.  Even rarer: we met again on the U-Bahn heading to our respective hostels!  Europe has been funny that way. 

Dresden 

The next morning I headed off early for Dresden.  I took the train, as always, and was very pleased with the experience.  There were gorgeous vistas of rivers, mountains, farmland, villages, cities, windmills, fields of solar panels, and even just pretty train stations.  It was just as picturesque as flying, except everything was at a human scale.  And because I wasn’t driving, there was no need to keep my eyes on the road.  The shame of it all was that, through the double paned glass, and at high speeds, it was impossible to record the experience to share with others.  You’ll just have to buy a ticket and take the journey yourselves.  It’s gorgeous. 

In Dresden I stayed in the most beautiful, second most boring hostel of the trip.  I shared my room with two middle-aged businessmen.  Uck.  (Hostel reviews coming Sept. 1, when I finish my travels.)  The benefits were threefold: it was cheap, very close to the train station, and in the center of the bar and restaurant district.   

After a ridiculously long and delicious nap and a bite of Chinese food, I found a lovely little hole-in-the-wall place called the Teegadrom.  It was a dark and comfortable tea room/bar where I got a glass of cider and a mug chai tea and took in some more of Estampillas Bostonianas, my book of Spanish travel journalism.  I thought fondly of Kurt Vonnegut as I drifted off to sleep later.  If not for Slaughterhouse-Five I never would have gone to the lovely city.

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