ich bin ein Berliner

Reichstag Building

Reichstag Building

Look.  I am not days, or weeks, so much as countries behind at this point. It's daunting, not to say actually paralyzing.  And I'll be honest; I'd like to go to sleep right now, but a certain local has made--well, I don't like to call it a demand exactly; let's say a highly authoritative request--that I write about Berlin while I am in Berlin. And so I am complying because I feel I owe him that much.  He did make fish for me the night of the Euro Cup final, and who has the requisite concentration for fish on such an occasion?

When I arrived, I was filled with stories of Copenhagen and the almost unimaginable niceness of nearly everyone I encountered there (there was one bus driver who wasn't so great, but exception rule, etc.). Christoph forewarned me that that would not be my experience in Berlin, that, in fact, I should be prepared for the opposite. Well, I'm pleased to report that so far no one has been mean to me in Berlin. Maybe they're saving it up for the last day or something. If so, tomorrow is going to be lousy. Eek.

It has been notable that everyone I've talked to about Berlin since I've been here (except Christoph. Ahem.) loves Berlin.  Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that they are in love with Berlin. There is a certain starry-eyed quality to their praise of their adopted home. (I don't think I've talked to anyone who hails from here originally.) I imagine that I might come to love it too, but I don't think I'll be here long enough to be in its thrall. It is an enormous city where I have yet to even explore the neighborhood immediately outside my front door and whenever I try to go somewhere specific, I unfailingly set off in the wrong direction.  As a noted technology hrumpher, I would like to publicly state that were it not for the offline maps app/little "you are here" GPS dot, I would probably still be wandering in circles in Amsterdam to this day. I think that when you are still unable to tell East Berlin from West, you haven't graduated to smitten.  I wish I had time to get there, though. I think I would.

So far, I have been a mediocre tourist, but a pretty good visitor. In terms of Important Things One Ought to See, I can claim the Reichstadt Building (and could possibly cheat a claim a lot more since you can see quite a lot from the dome, but I won't),


Also, the Memorial to Murdered Jews, the Jewish Museum, the installation about the wall at Bernauer Strasse, and the Gendarmenmarkt which provides three impressive buildings all at once, including this one which was my favorite, generally preferring as I do theatres to churches.

Thanks to Christoph, I've also seen in passing the Brandenburg Gate, the Chancellor's residence, some pleasingly geometric parliament buildings, the famous radio tower,  a very old church, a castle that once existed and is being rebuilt, and the Haus de Kulturen de Welt, which is a dramatic structure that reminds me a bit of the Marin Civic Center, of all things. It was closed, alas, so we have had to improvise on the world cultures front (and I think we've done admirably), but we did go to a café behind the building where we had some unpleasant soggy salad with a nice view of the river. There's probably some world culture in that somewhere.

Haus de Kulturen de Welt

Haus de Kulturen de Welt

Put all together like that, perhaps it isn't such a shabby showing after all. That is because you don't know that after I saw the deeply moving WWII section of the Jewish Museum I was alarmed to discover that the rest of it addresses nothing less than the ENTIRE HISTORY OF JUDAISM.  To sum up: Judaism is not new and it really hard to find the first floor of that museum from the top floor of that museum.

It is not that I did not enjoy seeing the Important Sites, I did.  It's just that I didn't enjoy it quite as much as not seeing them.  I've been busy doing other things like talking to an Icelander in an American-run brewery, or expounding on the douleur de l'amour in French over lunchtime pizza in the kitchen, or meeting a charming Norwegian over hummus, or being really proud having ordered a glass of wine in Italian, only to realize hours later that I had totally made up the word I thought meant glass.  I like talking to people. And, apparently, consuming things at ever possible opportunity.  But wait. There's more.

Berlin began, unexpectedly, with a battle of the swing bands.  Christoph had high hopes when he put on his dancing shoes--alas, it really was too crowded for dancing. But the music!  Oh my.

Berlin locals The Dizzy Birds faced off against the even appallingly badly-named California Feetwarmers who'd come all the way from L.A, The contest aspect was arbitrary and included such things as which band had the shiniest shoes and worst haircut, but the music!  They played separately; they played together. They played and played. There was a tuba and a mirror ball and an androgynous judge in shorts and a lab coat. At one point, a guy dressed as a banana peeled himself. I was as happy as I could have been.  Had I not also only just arrived from another country by bus, train, boat, and tram, I probably could have held out to see who won, but I couldn't make it. If anyone ever did win (about which I am extremely dubious), I congratulate them.

The next day I was taken to a secret garden (which wasn't secret to anyone but me). I just assumed when I was told we were going to Pierre's garden, that it would be in the back of Pierre's house. Nope. Pierre's garden is a garden among many other gardens in a lot devoted only to being an urban oasis. His is the best one.  It just is. It had a hammock and a flamingo and several very nice people who all spoke English for my benefit even though it was their lovely Sunday afternoon and they didn't have to.

As if things weren't international enough at that point, we then watched the proud nation of Portugal beat [the equally proud nation of] France in the Euro Cup finals with commentary in German. In case you missed it, there was also a bonus French moth who was very quiet, but made its presence known by landing on Ronaldo's face at a critical time for maximum media exposure. I'll bet that moth's agent is thrilled.

Then, as one often does when visiting a foreign city for the first time, I went to a graduation ceremony for a Global History Master's program. I recommend it. It was good fun.  Among the graduates was an affable young Englishman who suggested that I visit the brewery where he works and swim in the lake nearby. When I mentioned this to my Airbnb host he upped the ante, suggesting that if I liked getting this insider view of the city so much and wanted to be really German about the whole thing, that I ought to go to the nude side of the beach. And so I did. And now am a bit sunburned in places I don't entirely understand. But diving unashamedly naked into a lake, despite one's Cake of Many Lands summer vacation belly, proves to be one of life's great pleasures. And, honestly, the sunburn could have been much, much worse.

Berlin, I feel we've barely gotten started. I'd have liked us to reach that important stage in the relationship where I can read a German menu and take the correct exit from the U-bahn station, but it is not to be.  Not this time anyway.  I'll be back.  Meanwhile, if you're looking for me, tomorrow I will be walking out of the all wrong exits in the Paris metro.

Auf Wiedersehen.

insider tip: if you try to do something outrageous like bring water to a swing dance club, you will be thwarted and forced to stash it in the antler shed.  Bright side: it will still be there when it's time to go home.

insider tip: if you try to do something outrageous like bring water to a swing dance club, you will be thwarted and forced to stash it in the antler shed.  Bright side: it will still be there when it's time to go home.