I’m typing this Monday afternoon on the Deutsch Bahn train from Berlin, where we spent four nights, to Prague/Praha, where we’ll spend the next four nights. I may not be able to upload pictures on the train because of little or no Internet connection but will post this tonight from our hotel hopefully. The older couple behind us sound American – Wisconsin maybe. We met up with another American yesterday in Berlin, Maddy, the daughter of my friends Suzanne and Jamie. Maddy has been teaching English in Berlin for the past two years. She went to university in Germany for the first year and a half and then finished her degree in Paris. She speaks fluent German and French and some Mandarin, having lived in Taiwan a few years ago where she also taught English. Meanwhile Laurel high-fived me when I proudly announced that I said to a train station employee, “Entschuldigung. Wo ist die Geldautomat?” (Excuse me. Where is the ATM?”) And then “Dankeshoen.” After talking to Maddy, I realize I should probably set my sights a bit higher.
Late this morning we had to take a U train and then an S train to get to the Deutsch Bahn station/Hauptbahnhoff. Charlie kept telling me at every leg that I was wrong in where I was directing us. (I was not.) While Charlie and I were debating where to find the S line, a 60-ish, trim, little, fedora-wearing, smiling man came up and said something in German which I assumed was, “May I help you?”
“S-funf (5)?” I said.
He directed us to follow him and led us to the correct track. Those Deutschen are gute Menschen.
I intended to get a picture of the East German crosswalk man this morning, but the underground station (at Checkpoint Charlie) where we walked from our hotel is in West Berlin which doesn’t have the same figure. Since the late-1960’s, East Berlin crosswalk signs have featured a fedora-wearing, green man with a big stride and the same man in red with arms outstretched for “Don’t walk.” When East and West reunited, nearly all things East were eliminated. When it came to Crosswalk Man, people protested, wanting to keep their beloved figure. They won, and he’s now an icon.
Laurel and I were making observations and comparisons about Berlin yesterday as the three of us toured the city and as she and I sat at the laundromat last night where we lugged our heavy load on foot and by train.
Laurel said, “Paris is very pretty, of course. But it’s kind of all grey. Everyone dresses the same. People say Paris is so romantic, but I think the few couples I saw kissing or holding hands were tourists. But Berlin, like Maddy said, has room for everyone. I didn’t see anyone with unnaturally colored hair in Paris, but I’ve seen several here. People are less formal and some dress more casually in Berlin.” Re: the casual attitude: I was the only one saying “Guten tag!” and “Auf Wiedersehen.” Here everyone just says “Hallo” and “Tschüss!”
On Friday we went to the Pergamon Museum, so named because of the Pergamon Altar brought to Berlin in the early 20th Century from the ruins of an Ancient Greek city in present-day Turkey. Tugrul told us about the museum, and we had been looking forward to seeing it. Unfortunately the altar exhibit closed a couple months ago for renovations and will remain closed for five years – probably longer than it took to construct the actual altar. We were able to see lots of really cool stuff though.
There’s a fantastic chocolate store near our hotel with all kinds of intricately detailed decorations done in chocolate. I bought the kids their St. Nicholas Day chocolates there, but Charlie refused to eat his when we discovered his bar was milk chocolate instead of dark. He’s become quite the food snob. I wrote rhyming clues for the kids about where in the hotel room they could find their treats (which the kids had already seen me buy). Laurel’s chocolate featured a German landmark. I was thinking aloud about the clue I would write: “My friends sometimes call me Brandenburg Kate,” I began. Laurel groaned at the absurd rhyme and then reminded me that the image on the chocolate is the Reichstag building, not the Brandenburg Gate. 🙂 Also, the hotel staff left us three, tall, chocolate Santas outside our door.
Below: Little remains of the Berlin Wall, but we went with Maddy to the largest section that remains.
Below: From our hotel’s courtyard…
This evening as we ate dinner at our hotel in Prague, I read Kennedy’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech to the kids. It’s very moving, especially after two glasses of wine. I was so choked up I couldn’t read the last line. “Oh my god, no more wine for you,” Laurel said. “You know how I am,” I said, “I would’ve cried anyway.”