I just returned from a great trip to Berlin, and I’ll spend the next few hours re-living it in writing for the benefit of my future self and anyone else who might be interested. As I expect this to be particularly long, I will divide it up into parts for the sake of those readers who won’t be able to get through it all at once.
1 – Arrival
My train from Hannover to Berlin didn’t leave until 1:30, as when I booked it I’d thought Alan might be in the Chinese embassy taking care of his travel documents for his trip this summer until mid-afternoon. But he called me earlier in the day saying he’d already taken care of it, so we could basically meet up as soon as I arrived. But because my hostel was far away in the other direction, he said I should just go check in and then return to the city centre where we’d meet up. My train arrived at 3:00, and while I was pretty much ready to start the fun right then, I still had the incredibly annoying task of using Berlin’s ultra-confusing public transport system to find my hostel.
I hadn’t spent much time shopping around for hostels before I made my reservation several days before. A place called the JetPack Eco Lodge caught my eye, as it got great reviews and was apparently right on the edge of the city forest. Always a sucker for woods, I booked the place right away, not realising just how far it was not just from the city centre but from any tram station. Unless I wanted to walk for 45 minutes I had no choice but to take a bus. Not only that, but according to the directions provided by the hostel on the internet, I’d have to change busses in mid-stream, from the 110 to the 115. And before any of that I had to buy a public transport pass and take a tram to the “Zoologischer Garten” area. I found the right platform to get me there, and I found a ticket machine, but having just visited an ATM all I had were two €50 bills, and the machine wouldn’t accept that as payment for a €15.90 weekend pass. I went back downstairs in search of a place to buy a pass from a human, but in the chaos of the main train-station (hereafter referred to as the “Hauptbahnhof”) I decided to just fuck it and take the tram without a pass to the Zoologischer Garten, which I thought was just one stop away. It turned out to be three stops, but it didn’t matter because nobody came to check tickets. I bought a weekend pass at the Zoologischer Garten stop, which nobody checked throughout the whole weekend anyway. I would later ask Alan if he’d ever been checked by a ticket-taker in all of his many visits to Berlin, and he said he never has, so it’s quite possible that a frequent visitor to Berlin could actually save money by riding the trams with no ticket and simply paying whatever fee there might be in the extremely off-chance that you’ll get caught.
I found the 110 and rode it to Elsterplatz, where I was supposed to hop on the 115. The only problem was that the sign indicating which busses stopped at that particular stop didn’t include any 115. I waited for the next bus and asked him in German what bus I should take to get to Pücklerstrasse where my hostel was, and he said to take the 115. I said, “there is no 115” and he informed me that the stop for that bus was around the corner. And sure enough there was another Elsterplatz bus-stop around the corner where the 115 supposedly came every 10 minutes. But when it rolled up, I got on and showed the driver my pass as you’re supposed to do, and he gave me a strange look for some unknown reason. I asked him if the bus went to Pücklerstrasse and he said no, that I’d have to take the next one. Okay. A little weird, but whatever.
As I waited for the next 115, an old German lady came up to me and told me that there was a man sleeping on the street. She seemed concerned that he might be sick, and she seemed to think that there was something I should be doing about it. I looked at him and saw him stirring, then told her in my poor German that he had just woken up, but she didn’t seem satisfied. “What should I do?” I asked, but I couldn’t understand her answer. So I changed the subject and asked her if she was familiar with this bus stop and whether the next 115 would take me to Pücklerstrasse and whether it might be faster just to walk. I gathered from her that it wasn’t too far to walk, so I went and walked the rest of the way.
It took about 15 minutes to find and walk to the end of Pücklerstrasse, which is right on the edge of the forest, and then I discovered that you actually had to walk into the woods to get to the hostel. It was about a five-minute walk down a path into the woods until I finally came upon the hostel, which looked like a lodge in some kind of boy-scout summer camp. As I walked through the gate in the little wooden fence surrounding it, a Turkish-looking guy in a green shirt spotted me and I asked him in English where to go for reception. He told me to hang on a second and we called his pretty Turkish wife out to come check me in. As she checked me in I bantered with her a little about the public transport and she explained to me a better way to get to and from the inner city, but even in a best-case scenario it would take about 40 minutes. But she was really nice and the hostel looked pretty decent. I dropped my shit off and took just the necessities out with me, then headed through the woods along a path she had told me would emerge near a bus-stop where I could take the X83 to a tram-station that went directly into the city. When I reached the bus stop I called Alan for the fourth or fifth time during my little adventure and let him know that I’d checked in and would probably get into the city in about 40 minutes, and we planned to meet at the Burger King in the Friedrischstrasse station. I got there without any trouble, and met up with Alan at about 6:30.
Alan and I chatted for awhile in the station where he’d ordered a tea from one of the cafés there, and I informed him of my priorities for the moment: food and beer. He said that neither would be difficult to find. We left the station and walked down Friedrichstrasse, an area densely packed with bars, restaurants, and clubs. We stopped for dinner at an Italian place he likes, and I ordered a pizza and a pilsner. Alan’s plan was to do a “pub crawl” which started at 8:15 from a nearby street corner. I hadn’t heard of one, or if I had I didn’t remember what it was, but Alan explained to me that it was basically a bunch of tourists going from pub to pub and meeting each other and getting trashed. The pub-crawl we would be going to started with free beer for an hour, followed by a free shot of Jägermeister with every beer you bought for the rest of the night.
After dinner, we stopped at another little bar for a small beer, simply to kill the remaining 20 minutes we had following dinner. It was a nice little bar but the bartendress had a serious attitude about her. When Alan asked her where the toilet was and he went to the bathroom, I think she was making fun of him with the other people sitting at the bar who must have been regular customers and/or friends of hers. I’m not sure exactly what she was saying but the word “toilet” was definitely used. When we left that bar I informed Alan, who found it rather amusing, figuring she had just been laughing at his German pronunciation, which to be fair is pretty laughable.
We reached the street corner where a couple of people were holding signs that said, “Pub Crawl Starts Here” and a few other little groups of tourists were standing around. After just a few minutes the Pub-Crawl guide was shouting at us to queue up and buy our €12 wrist-bands that ended up being a great value, what with all the free beer and Jäger we’d be consuming. He said that they were expecting over 100 people tonight, a lot more than the usual 30-40. They ended up splitting up the groups later on though, so it wasn’t so bad. Once we had our wrist-band on, the girl who was assisting him pointed us in the direction of a club called Zapata which was to be our first destination.
Zapata was mostly empty inside, but out back there was a huge courtyard with a ground covered in sand, a stage in one corner and a beach-bar looking thing at another corner. It was like somebody dumped a piece of the Caribbean right in downtown Berlin. There were a few kegs and Pub-Crawl people tending them to pour free beer to anyone with a wrist-band. With the hundred or so pub-crawlers who came in over the course of the next hour, we more than doubled the number of people there.
Alan and I got our first free beer, which was actually his second and my third beer of the night already, and stood around like the natural wallflowers we both are until a girl came up to us and asked us the basic questions about where we’re from and what we’re doing in Berlin. She was from Seattle and was there with her Canadian boyfriend, and both of them were IT people working for a big German company like Siemens that does all kinds of different things. I turned to try and meet some people sitting next to us, but all I got was that the girl was from Spain and she was working for a tour company. She wasn’t part of the pub-crawl and she didn’t seem too interested in meeting anyone.
The only other person we actually met at the first place was an Australian guy who’s been trekking around Europe for a month or so according to a plan he hammered out completely ahead of time. This was his last night in Berlin, and then it was off to Helsinki. We chatted with him for most of our three free-beers, and then bought one at the beach bar, thus earning our first free Jäger shot. That was probably the point where I went from buzzed to drunk. I also busted out my first cigarette of the night, as I’d figured I would really want one and I’d bought a pack, figuring I’d rather have a pack and give a bunch away than bum one every time I wanted one. It turned out almost nobody else ever wanted one.
We left Zapata at about 9:45, just a short time after the sun had completely gone down, and stumbled out onto the street with a group of what must have been 30 or 40 people. Most were men, and the women who were there weren’t especially attractive. Only one girl really caught my eye all night long but I was fully aware of the beer-goggle factor going on and I didn’t get all emotionally hung-up on her as I often do in these situations.
Our guide gave us the run-down, telling us to stick together and not be distracted by all the food and prostitutes on the street. His name was Timmy, and in my drunkness I shouted “Timmy!” like the South Park character, which made a bunch of the others in the group laugh and repeat it. I was thus officially noticed by the rest of the group, and for the rest of the night we’d all be shouting “Timmy!” at the top of our lungs whenever the guide took us anywhere. Alan asked him at one point if he gets that a lot and he said he did and he “loves it” but we couldn’t tell if he was being sarcastic.
At the next place I sat at a table with a bunch of new guys who now thought I was cool as hell for the “Timmy” thing and chatted for awhile as we drank another beer and shot of Jäger. Alas I don’t remember anything about any of them except one fat effeminate guy who was really nice and pleasant to talk to. Ironically, he was the only one all night long who asked me for a cigarette.
The rest of the night just comes through in bits and pieces. There was lots of stumbling around and shouting “Timmy!” The next place where we had a beer and a shot was kind of crappy and all Alan and I could remember about it the following day was that there were a lot of rooms. That was also the place where I talked to the attractive girl because she was right there and I was incapable of feeling nervous. Of course I have no recollection of what I said or what she told me about herself. I think she was American but for all I know she was from Iceland. In any case, I’m pretty sure I didn’t wind up having sex with her, and that was the last interaction I had with her all night. The last place we went was a big fucking dance-club where you could stay as long as you want, and I think I had one more beer and shot before leaving at around 4 a.m.
Alan told me a few interesting things the next day. Apparently at one point we’d stumbled past a group of police officers all lining the street and I started cheering “Polizei! Polizei!” at the top of my lungs. Alan got comments from some people like, “Holy shit! That guy was crazy from the very beginning! And he’s still drinking!” Inside my own head I didn’t feel like I was noticeable at all. I always feel quiet and invisible so it’s weird to think I was the complete opposite for awhile. And that would explain why throughout the night a bunch of guys randomly came up to clink their glasses with me as though we were best friends or something.
Anyway, I left the dance-club just as the first hint of a possibility of a downward emotional spiral presented itself. Dance-clubs do not agree with me very well. Lots of hot girls getting hit on by guys and me standing around not hitting on anyone. Not because of nervousness but simply because the whole point of hitting on a girl is to try and fuck them and I always know in the back of my mind, no matter how inebriated I am, I won’t allow myself to do that.
So I bid Alan goodnight and stumbled out onto the street on my own, now faced with the daunting task of finding my way back to the hostel at night. The lady had told me how to get there from the Zoologischer Garten but I had no idea where I was or how to get there. But there were a bunch of cabs right outside the club and it was just so easy to hop into one and tell him to take me to the Zoologischer Garten. I didn’t think I was that far but it turned out to be the most expensive thing in the world at €16 which pissed me off. Just as we got there I saw a bus about to leave and I hopped on it, realising a few stops later that this bus wasn’t really going anywhere I needed to go. So I got out and found a tram station not sure which tram I needed to take or which direction I needed to go, but the next stop sounded familiar so I got off and walked out to where the busses were and found I was in luck and that the night bus I was supposed to have taken from the Zoologischer Garten stopped there. The only problem was I didn’t know which stop I was supposed to take from the bus. When the bus came I asked the driver and he told me, but I didn’t remember what he said. But at one of the stops awhile later he turned around and told me I was supposed to get off here. And he told me to take my empty beer bottle with me. I turned and saw an empty beer on the ground where I’d been sitting but it couldn’t have been mine and I told him that in my drunken German. Don’t know if he believed me. And for all I know I was carrying an empty beer the whole time…but no, couldn’t be. I was fucking around with my map the whole time, and that required two hands.
Of course as soon as I got off the bus I realised I still didn’t know where the fuck I was. I pulled out my map again for the eight hundredth time, which was now crumpled up and ripping apart. I layed the map on the ground and stared at it for awhile until the names of the streets came into focus, then picked the direction I thought I should go and took off running. I guess I was just anxious to be back at the hostel already and I figured walking would take too long. Drunken night-time jogging is surprisingly easy. If it was any kind of strain at all, I was too drunk to feel it. Luckily I’d picked the right direction and soon enough I was back on Pücklerstrasse. I ran all the way to the end and into the woods. Somehow I didn’t bump into any trees as I ran up the path and reached the hostel. I got to my room where a couple of other people were already passed out, chugged a bunch of water, then passed out. It’s nothing more than a small miracle that I actually got to sleep before the sun came up. I consider that a victory.
3 – Red Berlin
Shockingly enough, I had a nasty hangover the next morning. At least it helped me sleep through the snoring of one of the other guys in the room. But when I first woke up, around 8:30, I decided to stumble over and take advantage of the free breakfast while I could. I ate some toast and cereal, took a couple of aspirin, and plopped back into bed. I finally got up again shortly before 11:00, did lots of shitting and took a shower, which really woke me up because there was no hot water. I then tossed on a jacket and brought a bottle of water outside with me to go for a little walk through the forest. I called Alan and asked him if he was alive, and learned he was suffering just as much if not more than I was, but that he still wanted to do a walking tour which started at 1:00 p.m. from the Brandenburg Gate. I learned from him how to get there and figured I still had some time to kill before leaving. So I took a nice walk through the woods, intending to just stay on one path but not being able to resist the allure of a little trail that branched off from the main way and I ended up getting lost.
About twenty minutes later than I’d hoped to be back at the hostel, I finally found my way back and went inside to get my things together only to discover that I’d left the room that morning without my key, and the other guys had already left and locked the room. I found the really nice Turkish lady who runs the place and learned to my dismay that she didn’t even have an extra key. Apparently the previous guests had taken the key with them when they left the hostel so now she had no extra. She tried calling someone, probably her husband, but there was no answer. So the only remaining solution was to go outside and break in through the window, which she helped me do. I got my things together and left, then took the bus and the tram to the “Unter den Linden” stop where I got out and spotted Alan also on his way to the Brandenburg Gate where the tour groups were assembling.
I learned that he’d been at the club until much later, and didn’t make it back to his hostel until well after the sun had risen. He couldn’t even sleep when he got back, and stumbled around outside for awhile looking at crap the street vendors were selling before finally heading back in and crashing for a few hours. But now we’d both had some sleep and some powerful aspirin and with the fresh air and just one little sandwich before the tour, things were looking up.
There’s a free walking tour, but it was already filled up by the time we arrived so we had to take one of the tours you had to pay for, which ended up being better for us anyway because the tour groups were smaller and the tour had a specific theme. We could choose either the Third Reich tour or the Red Berlin tour. The girl who told us about the tours was actually the Spanish girl from Zapata the night before but I don’t think she recognised me. She was explaining to us that the Third Reich tour was about Nazis and the Red Berlin tour was about Communists, as though we were so stupid we couldn’t have figured that out ourselves. But to be fair to her, she does deal with tourists every day and I’m sure plenty of them are so dumb they actually wouldn’t know without being told. Anyway, Alan wanted the Red Berlin tour so we picked that and paid our €12.
Our tour group was really nice and small, only about 10 people, and our guide was a really nice guy from Amsterdam named Lewis who had learned English and Dutch at the same time growing up so he spoke as well as a native speaker. This was his last tour before he’d be returning to Amsterdam. His first order of business was to get us away from the Brandenburg Gate area, which is normally crowded but was even more insane today because it just happened to be the 60-year anniversary of the formation of West Germany, and there was going to be a huge public party there that evening. That must have pissed off the East Germans, who were also turning 60 but not having a party because…well…East Germany doesn’t exist anymore. Technically, neither does “West Germany” so the whole party was obviously just an excuse for a big drinking party. The Germans will have a big drinking party for just about any reason you give them.
The tour was absolutely fantastic. Lewis took us places that actually aren’t on the official tour, starting with the Stasi Musuem. The Stasi were the secret police of East Berlin, those who spied on their neighbours for the government. Some were paid to do so, and others were blackmailed into doing it because the government controlled everything and could prevent your kids from going to a good school if you refused to cooperate and such. At the height of the Communist regime, as many as 1 out of every 6 East Berliners was working for the Stasi. Lewis actually had a friend whose parents were spied on by their downstairs neighbour, who spent years recording their kitchen conversation and sending it to the government where agents would actually type all of it up and document it. Apparently it turned into something like 20,000 pages of kitchen-conversation, and the only incriminating thing they got from it was that the boy liked chocolate, which you weren’t supposed to be eating in East Germany because it was “Western Imperialist” food.
The Stasi also went so far as to go into schools and show pictures of Big Bird from Sesame Street and if any of the kids recognised the picture their parents would be in trouble because nobody was supposed to be watching Western television. The last super-interesting fact about the Stasi had to do with their interrogation methods. They sat someone on a chair for 22 hours, then let them sleep for 2, then back on the chair for 22 and so on until the person was so delirious they started talking. Perhaps waterboarding would have been more effective…I don’t know. But by the time the suspect left, their scent would be soaked into a cloth on the chair, which they stored in labeled jars just in case they ever needed to use dogs to hunt you down or to find out whether or not you’d been somewhere.
Starting at that museum really set the tone for the rest of the tour, which included all kinds of places of Cold War significance, including two sections of the Berlin Wall. One of the things Lewis talked about which I find to be fascinating about Berliners is that even though we think of the fall of the wall as some kind of great historical moment, there are many who genuinely miss the old days. A lot of people who lived under communism for decades and had everything provided for and decided for them had serious problems adjusting to the western lifestyle where you not only had to make you own decisions like what to eat or what to wear for the first time ever, but you actually had to get a job and provide for yourself. Under communism, every single person had a job (although sometimes there’d be 10 people doing the same job which meant lots of standing around and doing nothing but still taking home the standard pay) and day-care for children was provided for free, something that was greatly missed when the Soviet Union fell. There’s a word for the phenomenon called “Ostalgia”, “Ost” being the German word for “East.”
There were also some really interesting non-communism related facts about Berlin that Lewis slipped into the tour. The pedestrian traffic-signals in Berlin, for instance, don’t just have a generic man standing still or walking, but an actual character called “Ampelmann” who wears a hat and is supposed to be more “relatable” to the common man. Apparently some “traffic-psychologist” (how you get that job I have no idea) had got the idea that people would pay more attention to the traffic signal if they felt they could relate to the person on the signal. Lewis told us that Ampelmann was actually a very popular character who had his own cartoon show to teach kids traffic safety, and you can still buy Ampelmann merchandise like back-packs and action figures. At first I thought he was joking but sure enough we passed a number of shops with Ampelmann merchandise on prominent display. I even noticed one—just a plastic figure of the green “walking Ampelmann”—at my hostel during breakfast the next morning. In any case, it apparently works because Berliners will wait at the crosswalk for green Ampelmann even if no cars are coming.
I could go on and on and on about all of the interesting shit on the tour, but I think I covered the highlights. Between stops we spent a lot of time chatting with Lewis and some other tour-takers, and by the end we were sad to say goodbye. He said he might stop by Planeo if he visits Hannover (that’ll never happen, but it was nice of him to say) and that we might bump into him if we went to the party at the Brandenburg Gate that night. But that was not to be, and both Alan and I gave him a nice €5 tip at the end of the tour to wish him farewell.
4 – Pub to Pub
The tour ended by the largest preserved section of the Berlin Wall which is right along the river, a really beautiful spot. Alan and I stopped for dinner at a café there, then went to walk the distance of the wall, which Lewis had recommended we all do. They’re actually doing work on the wall right now, as a lot of artists had painted murals on the wall after it fell but time and additional graffiti had destroyed them. But now they’re bringing the artists back to re-do what they’d done almost 20 years ago, and then they’ll be covering the whole thing in glass to preserve it.
We didn’t get very far when we came to a break in the wall where you could walk up to the river, where there was an anchored boat which was apparently also a hostel. Alan couldn’t resist checking it out, so we boarded this ship and found it to be quite fucking cool. Because Alan will be coming back again next weekend to pick up the papers he’d ordered from the embassy the day before, he actually went and booked a room there, but not after drinking a tea on the stern out back.
We walked a little farther and came to another little fake beach area along the river through a break in the wall that, like Zapata, looked like a piece of the tropics in downtown Berlin. We ordered a beer and sat on another little boat along the river, this one just a café patio rather than a hostel. But it was really nice sitting there along the river, boat gently rocking up and down, sipping on a beer in the late afternoon as the sun sank slowly over the West.
After that we walked the rest of the wall, then found a train station and took a tram to an area of town where there was a pub that Lewis had recommended called the Dachhammer. This was an area of the city that Alan had never been to before and he was quite impressed with it. Like Friedrichstrasse it was littered with pubs and restaurants but it was a lot greener and there wasn’t as much traffic on the streets. We found the Dachhammer and were the first ones to arrive for the evening, when they open the upstairs which is like a time-warp. The furniture and wallpaper are all authentic East Berlin style, and the atmosphere was just really nice. We drank a beer and had a cocktail, then left to walk around just as twilight was giving way to actual night.
We stopped at another place called Lebowski, which is actually a tribute to the film “The Big Lebowski” in pub form. There are pictures from the movie all over the walls as well as a bunch of Big Lebowski merchandise. Alan got some other weird kind of liquor and I ordered a White Russian, which I felt obliged to do considering the theme of the bar.
I was pulling for us to head to the Brandenburg Gate and check out the scene, but Alan was extremely tired and he had no desire for a huge mob scene. I didn’t put up too much of a fight as I’ve been a part of enough rowdy drunken German parties and as much as I wanted to see it just for the sake of seeing it, I didn’t care all that much. I suggested we just head to a more central area of town from which it would be easier to get back to our respective hostels and have one more beer. We went back to Friedrichstrasse and walked around for awhile before finally settling on the same place from the night before where the bartendress had presumably made fun of Alan’s pronunciation of the word “toilet.” She was there but her attitude seemed slightly better than the night before. We each had a beer and then finished off with another small one, chatting up all along the way about everything from the music playing to what we thought were the best parts of the tour and so on. We also had a lot of fun comparing that tour to the Brewery tour we’d taken in Bruges, which was almost worth it now just for the laughs we get at the thought of how awful it was.
When we left the pub Alan had to head in a different direction than me, so we parted ways for what would be the last time on the trip. Even though we’d each had about seven drinks at that point, it had been spaced out over a lot of time and there were no shots of Jäger in the mix. Normally 7 drinks would have me pretty drunk, but it just paled so much in comparison to the night before that I might as well have been completely sober. I made it back to the hostel without any problems, and even got off at a much closer stop (having studied the maps at the bus stop and put together a game-plan beforehand). Two guys who got off at the same stop came up to me and asked me if I was also heading back to the hostel. Apparently these were the other guys staying in the same room as me, part of a group of 3 guys from Brazil who were currently on a 2-month tour of Europe. I had planned to walk up to Pücklerstrasse and take the straight path into the hostel but one of the guys had a light on his cellphone so we took the more roundabout path through the woods, chatting it up the whole time, before successfully reaching the hostel and going to bed.
5 – Departure
I woke up many times throughout the night, but in spite of the snoring I was able to get back to sleep each time, except at 7:00 when there was some really loud fucking noise coming from the common room. There were arguments and shouting and then music and then maybe some guns going off…it took me awhile to realise someone must be watching a movie, and when I couldn’t get back to sleep I went into the room and found a crazy-looking woman sitting there all alone and watching a DVD. She looked kind of intimidating, but I went up and asked her very politely if she could turn it down just a little. She smiled and agreed, and I thanked her and left, closing the door to the common room behind me. That solved that problem. I got back to sleep right away and woke up just after 9:00, feeling groggy from last night’s alcohol consumption but in comparison to the previous morning I felt super fit and healthy.
I took a cold shower, ate some breakfast, then went out for another little walk through the woods, this time heading to a little lake near the hostel and staring at the lovely reflection of the trees in the water for awhile. That was a beautiful way to start the day. Being out in actual nature totally makes up for the difficulty in getting to the hostel. When I got back I got all my stuff together and found the Turkish lady so I could check out.
She noticed where I’d written my address that I lived in Hannover, and she said it’s an ugly city, and I almost took offense to it but of course she’s right. The buildings in Hannover, especially those in the city centre, are certainly nothing to write home about, but I defended Hannover by informing her that there were many nice areas if you just knew where to look.
Her husband was there too and as I was telling his wife about New Jersey we got into a little chat. His English was great which I learned is because he grew up in the American sector of the divided Berlin and everybody loved the Americans. Apparently in East Berlin they still look on English as an Imperialist language and people only speak it begrudgingly, but the West Berliners still have a very positive view of Americans because the soldiers who occupied their territory were so nice to them. I was thinking that our soldiers in Iraq could learn a thing or two from this historical example, but I didn’t say anything. Why bad-mouth my own country to one of the only Germans I’ve ever encountered who genuinely seems to like America? He told me a great little story from his childhood when he and his friends would steal bicycles and ride them to the American-military-controlled areas where the German police had no jurisdiction. One time a police officer came into the territory and demanded he and his friends hand over their papers (I’m not sure what papers he was referring to) but they refused and there was a big scuffle. The American soldiers came out and tried to tell the police officer that he had no right to enforce German law on this territory, but the officer didn’t speak English and didn’t know what was going on. So he radioed in to headquarters and was told that he had to get the fuck out of there and leave those kids alone. The American soldiers gave the kids a thumbs-up and let them go their merry way.
He too clearly had a sense of nostalgia for the old days of a divided Berlin, but from a different perspective than the East Berliners and their Ostalgia. Among other things, he just loved how the police weren’t the ultimate authority in the city. It’s crazy when you really consider it, but they actually liked being occupied by American soldiers. My how times have changed. Anyway, we ended our conversation with a few remarks about the city of Berlin in general and how dynamic it is. It’s nothing like it was ten years ago, and ten years ago it was nothing like it was ten years before that. The Berliners themselves, at least all that I’ve talked to, are just fascinating people, having lived for so long in one of the front-lines of history.
After that nice little chat I said goodbye to him and took the public transport back into the city where my objective was to visit a museum Alan (as well as the tour guide Lewis) had recommended called the Pergamon, which has lots of artifacts from the ancient world including Greece, Rome, and Babylon. I got to the museum shortly before noon, giving myself about an hour to see as many of the exhibits as I could. It was definitely well worth the entry price—easily one of the most impressive museums I’ve ever seen. As soon as you walk in you’re confronted with a giant reconstruction of the acropolis from the ancient Greek city of Pergamon in modern Turkey, much of which is made from actual parts of the temple that had been recently excavated. Lots of stone columns and beautiful statues depicting ancient Greek myths, which you could hear all about thanks to the audio tour. In another room they had another huge reconstruction of the city gate in Miletus, the Greek city where the world’s first philosophers—Thales and Anaximander—had come from. Through the gate there’s another reconstruction of a gate in the city of Babylon, which I didn’t spend much time on because I did that last, when I thought I was running out of time.
I spent a huge bulk of my time in the upstairs “Dionysus” exhibit, which contained the most valuable artifacts in the museum, genuine statues of different Greek gods, each many thousands of years old. Each God had his or her own room, like a room for Apollo, Aphrodite, and of course Dionysus for whom the exhibit was named. It was so fucking cool to be face to face with statues carved thousands of fucking years ago, each a significant contribution to the ancient’s perceptions of their own gods. With my pre-existing knowledge of Greek mythology I was able to appreciate these artifacts a hell of a lot more than if I had just been learning about them for the first time. I already think Greek gods are cool as hell, and being actually able to touch actual statues of them carved by people who actually believed they existed was…well it was a nerd’s wet dream.
I could have spent way more time there but I wanted to make sure I was back at the Hauptbahnhof on time for my train, so I left the museum and winded up back at the station a full 30 minutes before my train had to leave, which made me slightly angry that I could have spent that much more time in the Pergamon. But it’s not like I can’t just go back some other time. Alan’s been there twice, and I definitely wouldn’t mind going again to soak up all the stuff I missed or just breezed by.
I’m an expert at killing time, so I had no problem with the extra time. I spent the half-hour first walking the perimeter of the station and soaking in the Berlin atmosphere one last time (for now), then buying a sandwich and eating it out on the steps with a nice view of the city. I reached my train platform just as it was arriving, and had a nice pleasant ride back to Hannover. All in all, it was a great fucking weekend. I did spend a lot more money than I’d planned but I can’t think of a better way to spend money than on travel experiences. That is, after all, the very reason I’ve chosen the path in life that I have. And on days like today, after a weekend as fun and memorable as that, it’s more obvious than ever that I made the right choice.