After a decent night’s sleep in my cave of solitude, I arose to a nondescript morning, ready for a day in the city.
I spent sone time in the hall of this wonderful hostel, using the wi-fi to look up things in Rostock and Helsinki. I was successful in getting a really fancy hostel in Helsinki that has a sauna I can use for free every night. It’s a little pricey, but I’ll be sleeping in the seaport and on a ferry for the two nights before that, so I’ll do alright on average. Not so excited about sleeping in the seaport, but the boat leaves at 5:00 AM and the uberseehafen is something like 30 km from the only hostel in Rostock and the fancy hotel near there was booked up. Maybe I’ll find something different when I get there…
To add to the bad news, it started raining while I was on the interweb. Not a light, Seattle rain, a full-on monsoon. Well, I checked the weather forecast and it said the rain would stop in about an hour, so I walked back upstairs and sat on my bed and watched BBC and CNN until it stopped raining. I also ate all the remnants of things edible that I had in my bag: dried cranberries, granola, and some salt and pepper crisps.
I walked back to the Spandau station as soon as the rain petered out. On the way, I decided to look for a place to buy an umbrella. I stepped in some sort of drug store and looked around a bit. Not seeing anything, I asked the cashier lady, who looked quite like a friendly mother from my past life. She said no, but then put up her finger in the international “I have an idea” sign. After a few seconds of looking behind the checkout thing, she produced a small, collapsible and green umbrella. To top this miracle off, she said I could have it for free. I was incredulous and had to ask twice to make sure I understood. Again, this reminded me of the generosity of that nice lady from my glorious past.
I walked the rest of the way to Berlin-Spandau Hauptbahnhof (no, not Spandau Ballet) and got on the train to the center of Berlin. I took the train to Berlin Hauptbahnhof (the station I went to yesterday) and started my trek through the city. My first goal was to hit the huge park known as the Tiergarten. The park is as old as our country, my friends. It’s at least as large as central park, if not larger. It’s one of many large parks in the city, but this one also includes the Berlin Zoo. It’s a lovely park that reminds me a lot of the more wooded parks in Seattle. I took a lot of pictures.
I walked around the park a while, resting a lot and recharging in the slightly damp greenery. Eventually, I walked around the back side of the zoo and out into the city near the zoo train station. In riding the train past this station so many times, I saw a couple things I wanted to check out. The first was an athletic store that had European football (oh, sorry, soccer) shirts. Unfortunately, the only ones on sale were all XL or 2XL. I wanted a German national shirt or a Bayern Munich shirt, but was unable to obtain my size for anything less than 50€, which is about as much as they cost in the states, $70.
After attempting to be a consumer, I went to the other thing I saw from the train that I needed to see, and the first of several sobering sights in my day. A ruined steeple pokes out of the misdle of the zoo shopping district. It is part of the Kaiser-Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche, ostensibly a monument for peace, but also a church. The old church was ruined in World War II, and subsequently stabilized and left standing as a monument. Another church and bell tower were built beside the ruined one.
After observing the outside and taking a picture of a huge record store that I couldn’t even think about going in (how will I get any records home?), I stepped in to the new church. I hope my pictures turn out, because it was rather beautiful other than the scary torture of some guy in the front. The dark blue stained glass creates a lovely hue. I wish they had the organ lit up, because I went straight up and stood under torture-Jesus and took a photo of it (it’s at the opposite end of the church.) Some people have their religion, I have music.
I then went over to the ruined church and checked out the scene in there. The ruins are patched together and have been adapted as a message that Germany is committed to solving world conflict without war. It is an interesting stance. I am curious how current wars around the world are affecting this stance. Outside, the monument had no affect on the consumerist culture. My old video game employer was there with some sort of basketball thing and young Germans were doing their best to be American, wearing Lakers jerseys, playing basketball, and being constantly bombarded with advertising. I decided to ride the U-Bahn (see, getting smarter!) to East Berlin.
I got off the lovely train (after buying a ticket which no one checked…) at Alexanderplatz and stepped out into the Eastern Bloc. A few steps brought me to Karl Marx Allee, an 8-lane street with parking in the middle. I walked past a ruined building and rows of socialist housing that is still occupied. After this short, one block tour of Eastern Europe, I walked back to the U-Bahn station.
In the Alexanderplatz, there was an exhibit on what the Germans call “The Peaceful Revolution”. It was 20 years ago this year that the reunification of Germany began to come about. Since this happened in my lifetime, I feel a bit more connected to it than many historical events even though I was young and my only recollection is TV images of Germans tearing down the wall by hand. Still, the exhibit in the square was quite powerful.
20 years ago, Alexanderplatz was the site of the largest protest in East German history. To stand in the same square as that revolutionary demonstration of the power of people was quite touching. Yet, I have to wonder how successful their revolution was. Maybe it just got them more places to shop.
After being moved by the exhibit at Alexanderplatz, I needed to see a piece of the wall, so I took the train to Potsdamplatz. Across from the station are a few pieces of the actual wall, placed along the bricks that mark the former location. Again, I was moved by these artifacts, but doubtful about their celebratory nature. As I started my walk along the wall, I came to a building placed directly upon the old wall’s location. On the far corner of that building was a Starbuck’s. I then understood Germany. They don’t want to remember their past. They want to pave it over and build shiny new architecture over anything that they collectively regret. It’s the old conflict between learn from your mistakes or move on. Maybe I should move to Germany, this seems to fit my current mood.
As I walked farther up the path of the old wall, I came to an art installation. 2711 dark concrete blocks of differing heights (0-10 feet or so) and uniform width and length, about the size of a gravesite. As with all great art, my mind instantly started asking why. Why differing heights? Why do some appear to be missing? Why does this affect me so much? What does it symbolize? It turns out I had come across Berlin’s holocaust victim memorial. It is an amazing piece of art. And here again, the Germans (or tourists) were completely oblivious to the significance of the place. They were jumping from stone to stone and laughing and frolicking like it was a park. Perhaps the German psyche is more healthy than mine, because I was quite struck by the monument as a solemn reminder of things lost. Germans and/or tourists thought it was a fun park.
I kept walking up the road to the Brandenburg Gate. I decided to spend more time there on the way back from dinner to the train station. I headed towards the vegetarian restaurant I saw on my ill-fated walk yesterday. On the way, I happened upon more protesters. No tear gas this time, just a hunger strike for democracy in Iran. I’m not sure how protesting in Germany will help, but more power to them.
I walked to the vegetarian restaurant and ate yellow curry in an Asian restaurant in Germany. I haven’t been doing well at eating local food, I guess. Maybe tomorrow I’ll get a pretzel. After my meal, I went back to the holocaust victims memorial to try to figure it out. I spent some time walking through the columns, but I got no closer to whatever truth there is.
I walked past the Brandenburg Gate again and made my way to the reconstructed Reichstag. The sun was starting to set and some magnificent clouds were creating a great light for the building. In the grass out front was a section that someone had killed that read “No war.” After helping some tourists take a picture, I continued my walk along the remnants of the Berlin wall. The clouds quickly turned into thunder clouds, but did not appear to harbor any rain.
Turns out I was wrong about that. As I got within sight of the Hauptbahnhof, a few sprinkles started falling. Then, a deafening crescendo of water, powered by some wicked strong winds. I ducked under a building entrance to get out my free umbrella, despite the wind and lightning. I should have just stayed under the ledge with the two pretty Germans on rented bicycles, but no, I thought I could make it to the train station wirthout getting too wet. So I popped open the gift umbrella and started walking. After 30 seconds the wind turned my umbrella inside out, but I pushed it somewhat back the way it was supposed to go and kept pressing on. I should have stayed with the ladies in their dry sanctuary. I had only two blocks to go and I was too stubborn to turn back. After my shoes got completely soaked, I started running. The umbrella was almost vertical against the wind and rain and I had to peek around it to make sure I didn’t fall into the canal or anything. After a short run into the wind, I made it to the train station to wait with all the smart people who waited there for it to blow over. In another minute or so, it did and my effort was all for nothing as my train did not come for 20 more minutes.
I bought a raisiny sugary thing for breakfast tomorrow, an ice cream bar for some food therapy and had a relatively uneventful trip back to the hostel. I turned on the Bayern Munich preseason game and started typing this. Again, my phone ate about half of it, so it’s now about 2:15 and I’m too lazy to walk down the stairs to get enough Internet to send this. You’ll just have to wait.
Tomorrow I go for adventure and the unknown in Rostock. It doesn’t really bother me that much after what I put up with these past two days. I think that’s really why I’m here, to live the crappiest life possible for a while so that things like figuring out what the rest of my third age of life should look like (the age where Frodo destroys the ring) will be really really easy in comparison. Hopefully they’ll be cheaper, at least.