Going to Berlin

We awake to The sound of frogs chirping at 6:00AM. I am momentarily confused and then remember that we’ve set the alarm on Pat’s phone because we are catching an morning train to Berlin today. I get up and find the phone and kill the frogs. Pat has an uncanny ability to remain untroubled by alarms–I’ve accidentally set mine on snooze from time to time and found him sleeping soundly with his head under a pillow for as long as a hour after the alarm started going off. I have an irresistible compulsion to get up when an alarm sounds–I figure it’s a good thing one of us does.

After breakfast, we take our luggage outside to wait for the cab we’ve ordered. When we step outside, a cab pulls up and a man walks up to it and gets in. It’s a few minutes early, but Pat says, I bet that’s our cab and then stands there staring. Visions of us standing there for 10 more minutes waiting for a cab that never shows and then having to wait 10 more for another on to arrive prompt me to suggest he go ask before the cab drives away. Sure enough, it is our cab. But, we are all going to the train station, so we will share.

We make it to the station with 45 minutes to spare. We sit on a bench on the track and wait for our train. I decide to use the restroom while we’re waiting. When I get there, I discover that the train station has pay toilets. They’ve upgraded from change operated door handles to a turnstile entry to the restrooms, but now they charge a euro to get in. Having no cash on me, I return to the platform and decide just to wait since the restrooms on the train are free.

The train pulls into the station 3 minutes before our departure time. We get on and find seats. We sit side-by-side with no seats across from us. We sit back and relax, me taking out my iPad and getting caught up on my blog while Pat stares out the window and points interesting sights out to me.

When we get to the next stop, we are displaced. A man has a reserved seat that I am currently occupying. I am somewhat irritated as there are plenty of open seats and I don’t quite understand why he doesn’t take one of them, but when we are displaced again at the next stop, I begin to understand the problem. Pat asks a woman how to tell if a seat is reserved and she explains that the lighted sign above each seat displays the names of the departure and arrival stations between which a seat is reserved. We quickly discover there aren’t two seats together with no reservation (since we have none). Pat spots two seats labeled “Schwerbehinderte” that face each other with a table in between. He explains that these are “handicapped” seats and that we can sit there unless someone who needs them gets on. We settle back down for the third time.

Pat looks around and notices that there are a half dozen “Schwerbehinderte” seats around us. He says, “wouldn’t it be our luck that an entire handicapped tour gets on the train at the next stop?” I almost laugh, but feel like he has just jinxed us and seriously contemplate the likelihood of that happening instead. But, we are not displaced again and we make it to Berlin around 3PM.
We take a taxi to our hotel where we are informed that they have upgraded our room for us. We don’t know why, but we’re not complaining. It’s an interesting hotel, the Gendarmes Nouveau, with hyper-modern decor and lighting throughout the lobby. When we get to the room, it’s a combination of mauve and gray, only still in the hyper-modern theme. I’ve never seen modern done in mauve and gray before–it feels vaguely middle eastern to us, but I don’t know why. Maybe just because our taxi driver was telling us about his flight from Iran on the way to the hotel and so the region is fresh in our minds. In any case, the room is quite nice, very quiet, and we can live with gray and mauve decor for two nights.

After freshening up, we head out. Pat wants to walk to Alexander Plaza, which is supposed to be the center of Berlin. We wander down the streets struck by the contrast with Freiburg. We feel like we’re in a different country. Here the streets are wide and asphalt with regular car traffic, although bikes are certainly prevalent as well. So much so that, on the way over, I noticed our taxi driver stopped on right turns to look up the sidewalk for approaching bikes before making turns. While I have been told before that Berlin is surprisingly new for a European capital and I know from history that it’s really more surprising that anything old is left standing than that most of the buildings are new, I’m unprepared for the architecture of the 60’s and 70’s. There are few buildings of interest and most of them are ancient survivors (or perhaps restored). The bleak and boring industrial look takes up the majority of the city skyline.

We walk past a museum that sparkles with gold leaf in the setting sun, a couple of old churches, and several parks with interesting sculptures that make the walk worthwhile. We go past the Fernsehturn tower, deciding to wait to go up it until the next day, and on to Alexander Plaza. We are both disappointed to find that the only thing interesting here is a fountain and the street performers. We are passed by a man dressed as a half-man, half-goat mythological creature, using stilts covered in fur to simulate goat legs. An electric rock band has found power somewhere and set up and started playing. Unfortunately, they are not so good. They compete with another band around the corner, all acoustic. In the middle of the square, a man plays the sax and, I swear, he sounds much like one would expect a new student of the sax to sound after about two weeks of lessons.

As much as we are tempted to hang out for a while and people watch, Pat notices that teenagers keep gawking at my camera and feels like we’re at risk of getting mugged. We decide to head towards the hotel and find a place for dinner. We approach a fine looking restaurant that advertises it’s been there for 100 years, but when we look through the windows, the men are all wearing jackets and no one is wearing jeans. We decide we’ll try it for lunch the next day instead. We find a more casual place a block later, but they have no indoor seats available. We opt to sit outside, although I am shivering before our entrees are served.

The food is good and hot (although not for long in the cold wind). We eat quickly, racing against heat transfer. We finish up and pay quickly when we are done eating–my lips have turned blue and I can’t stop shaking. It’s not really that cold, but I get cold easily and I am fighting a bug, which can’t help. We walk quickly to the hotel, taking the stairs to the fifth (or fourth if, you’re European) floor just to warm up. Inside, I get ready for bed quickly and snuggle under my personal comforter, but have to sneak under Pat’s to press my cold feet up against his legs to get warm. As soon as my feet thaw, I drift off into a deep sleep.

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