Monday, August 2, 2010

Three weeks in Berlin

Growing up in the USA I have a very specific, and most likely wrong, image of what a German city is supposed to be. I lived in (or near) the pseudo-German American tourist traps of New Braunfels, TX and Leavenworth, WA, and Octoberfest is probably the second most important holiday of any American city with a decent sized population of university students.

Leavenworth, Washington

So when I think of Germany I think of large sausages, sauerkraut, giant beers, and people in liederhosen. Berlin didn't exactly match my preconceived notions. In fact, it didn't even almost match them. Currywurst is more common than Bratwursts, sauerkraut was difficult to find, and I didn't see one person in liederhosen. Berlin definitely had its share of giant beers, but they also had beers like this:

I thought Germany had laws against stuff like this

Given the length of my stay, work put me up in a residential apartment, rather than a hotel. The apartment location seems to have been picked especially for me, as it was surrounded by asian noodle places, indian food, pizzerias, and even a mexican food place! All my favorite types of foods, and all places where the word 'vegetarian' doesn't mean fish. I didn't eat any meat (including fish) the entire time I was in Berlin, and I don't think I ever ate the same thing twice.

While the geographic location was excellent, the elevation kinda sucked. 6th floor apartment in an old building with no air conditioning and no elevator meant the first thing I did every day when returning home was take a shower, and while I originally thought the extra flights of stairs would be good for working off all the fatty foods I was eating, I quickly decided I would rather be fat. There is a reason God created elevators! And air conditioning!

But the apartment was cool (esthetically, if not temperature wise). Quite big and comfortable with a gigantic bathroom and the largest refrigerator I have seen since moving to Europe (about the same size as the normal (American) sized one I had in the US). It also had a pretty cool terrace, a TV from the 1980s, and a VCR. Seriously, a VCR?

The future of home entertainment

Since I didn't bring any VHS tapes with me to pass the evenings, I spent most nights out eating and exploring the city (oh, and working a bit too). At nearly 900 square kilometers, Berlin is a gigantic city. Roughly the same size as Dallas, Texas it is 18 times larger than the city I currently live in, and with a metro area of nearly 5 million people, it also dwarfs the 1.2 million that live in the Lyon metro area. Having gone to Berlin for work, I only had the weekends and evenings to do my exploring, and given the immense size of the city, I am sure I just scratched the surface, but I would definitely give the city the thumbs up. Tons of good food, SUPER bike-friendly, great public transportation, lots of libraries and book shops, cool history (although somewhat scary and depressing recently), numerous parks and public spaces, friendly easy-going people, and quite cheap--the city scores highly in all the important categories. The near total lack of air conditioning was a bit of a bummer at times as neither my working place nor living place nor 90% of restaurants had AC. Despite being nearly 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37 C) almost every day I was there, I was repeatedly told that it really doesn't get that hot in Berlin, so they don't really need AC.

To test out the bike-friendliness of Berlin, we decided to take a bike tour of the city. Fat Tire Bike Tours provided the tour guide and the bikes (my bike was named Chump, and George's was named Charles Barkley--practically synonyms), and miraculously the city provided the first sub 90 degree day all week, so we had a nice 5 hour city tour in great weather. I got great pictures of all the cool Berlin landmarks, parks and a good shot of me sneaking across the border at Checkpoint Charlie.

In fact, I took a lot of really cool pictures in Berlin. I am sure some of them are even Ansel Adams quality.

Artist recreation

Unfortunately due to my ever-worsening Alzheimer's disease and an unscrupulous store clerk in Prague, I no longer have a camera (or more importantly, a memory card) to extract those photos from. So if any famous magazine editors are reading this and some anonymous Czech guy tries to sell you some awesome photos from Berlin, give me a call.

But the disappearing camera just gives me a reason to go back.

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