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08.09.2009

Weekend In Berlin II 

Some life experiences, while totally awesome and enjoyable, are more like sequels to previous experiences rather than new and unique ones.  Going to Berlin this past weekend with Krissi was like re-living the great time I had back in May, doing most of the same things but with a different cast of characters. 

I normally like to write about these things very shortly after I get back, but we returned on Sunday afternoon and now it’s Tuesday afternoon, so the events aren’t as fresh in my mind as they normally are when I write travel stories, and on top of that I’m slightly out of it from another night of drinking last night and I want to get out and go somewhere nice with Krissi this afternoon so I’m going to try and make this a lot more brief than I usually do. 

As far as our arrival goes, there’s not much to tell.  Our train arrived shortly before 6 p.m. on Friday evening and we had no trouble taking the trams to get to the hostel.  I decided not to buy a public transport pass based on my previous experiences in the city and hearing from Alan that he’d never been checked in all the times he went there, and convinced Krissi not to either.  So we both saved about €16 that way because even though we were tempting fate, we didn’t encounter any ticket-checkers the whole weekend. 

The first night was good, simple, bar-hopping fun.  We ate dinner at a Turkish place and filled up on kebabs, which I was surprised she likes after so many years of vegetarianism, but that served us well to soak up a lot of the alcohol we’d be taking in over the next few hours, which ended up being a lot, way more than I intended.  We were in the same area of East Berlin that Alan and I had gone on our second night the other weekend, and we popped in and out of different pubs, having a shot and a beer in each of them—occasionally two.  We finished up at the Dachhammer, the really awesome old school East Berlin-decorated lounge that the tour guide on my previous trip had recommended.  We sat at a table on the balcony outside and quite fortuitously found an umbrella that the people who’d been there before us had left.  It was raining pretty heavily when we left so that really came in handy.  I carried that umbrella with me for the rest of the weekend although it was nicer than the weather forecast said it would be and I never ended up using it.  But I brought it back with me, so that’s one free umbrella. 

When we got back to the area around the hostel we continued to drink, buying beer and a mini-bottle of Jäger from a nearby Kiosk.  We went inside to the common room of the hostel where I looked up my international calling pin number and made a shit-faced call to my parents at 2 in the morning, I guess around 8 o’clock their time.  While I was talking to them Krissi sparked up a conversation with a Portuguese guy who was also there hanging out, and when I finished I joined the conversation, although unfortunately I was too drunk at that point to remember anything about him other than his nationality. 

I woke up the next morning with a headache that didn’t fully subside until much later in the day, but it wasn’t enough to ruin the walking tour.  Krissi, as I kind of expected, took awhile to get ready, so we were cutting it very close as I frantically dragged her through three metro stations trying to make our way to the Brandenburg Gate.  But we arrived with about ten minutes to spare, just enough time for me to buy a sandwich and eat it before the tour began. 

There were two guides giving the free walking tour that day, a guy who looked really cool and a young British woman.  The guy took tickets 225 through 250 and the woman took everyone else.  Our tickets were under 225 so we went with the girl, and when she announced that the rest of the people would be coming with her I felt kind of disappointed, as I didn’t like the idea of listening to a female British accent for the next four hours, and she didn’t make an excellent first impression. 

But she talked about a few of the things right there in the Paris Square and then took us under the Brandeburg Gate to run through 800 years of Berlin history in 10 minutes.  By the time she wrapped up that speech I was completely sold, as it was obvious she was an excellent tour-guide.  She turned out to have a delightful sense of humor and explained things wonderfully, making the history sound just as fascinating as it was. 

What followed was another excellent walking tour through Berlin, past the Holocaust memorial, the parking lot over the place where Hitler’s bunker used to be, as Tax building with its own rich history of going from an Air Force ministry to a Communist headquarters outside of which there was a labor revolt in which many workers were gunned down by their Stalinist leaders.  And of course there were all the major cathedrals, museums, and a section of the old Berlin wall.  The tour ended at Museum Island, where she sat us on the steps of one building and launched into a ten minute half-speech / half-reenactment of the events immediately preceding the fall of the Berlin wall, from the street demonstrations to Honecker’s fateful appearance with Gorbachev, and finally the spokesperson who fumbled threw the notes he’d been given about supposedly opening up travel between East and West Berlin, and not having attended the meeting or reading the notes beforehand he hadn’t realized it was supposed to be a rouse for political purposes and informed everyone that travel would be opened up to everyone with the proper documents “absofort” (right way)—the word that brought down the Berlin Wall.  Her telling of the tale was so fantastic and inspiring that it literally gave me chills.  When she was finished I went up and gave her a €10 tip for me and Krissi, telling her that of the three Berlin tours I’ve done, hers was definitely the best, which it was.  So if you’re ever in Berlin, try to get Inez as a tour guide. 

Since we were on Museum Island at that point, I suggested we go to the Pergamon, and I took Krissi there and spent the next hour (it was closing in one hour when we arrived) going through and checking out all the stuff I’d missed or just breezed through the last time I was there, letting Krissi go and do her own thing until we met up afterwards. 

From there we simply walked down to Friedrichstrasse, walked around looking for a place to eat until deciding on an Irish pub for some fish and chips, which turned out to be a little disappointing but served the purpose of filling us up before the pub crawl. 

After dinner we killed the last few remaining minutes before the pub crawl by eating a little ice cream dessert, promising ourselves to be extra healthy over the next week, and then we headed down the road to where the pub crawl picked up.  Inez had recommended a pub crawl during the tour and said we could get a euro off the price if we mentioned her name, and it turned out to be the same exact pub crawl I’d done with Alan. 

So we began at Zapata, the place with sand outside and lots of different “beach bars” scattered around, and just like with Alan we pretty much kept to ourselves at the start.  It wasn’t until the next pub that we started meeting and talking to people, first a group of three Australian guys who were traveling around together.  We told them about America and they told us about Australia, important information such as the fact that dingoes don’t really eat people’s babies and surfers don’t get attacked by sharks nearly as often as the rest of us in the world imagine.  We stuck with them in the next pub as well, telling travel stories about Amsterdam and psydellics and whatnot, and by the fourth pub I was starting to get officially drunk, singing stupid songs with all the other drunk fools as we roamed through the streets.  At the second-to-last place I remember talking to some Indian guys who’d also been on the tour but I have no recollection of what was said.  That is the downside to meeting people while drinking, because once you reach a certain point you’re not really meeting them but just kind of drunkenly babbling things to each other that no one will really remember the next day. 

I sobered up a little bit on the way to the final place, the big dance club called the Matrix, but on the way there that ‘I’m-hammered-and-I-want-to-go-to-bed’ feeling washed over me, but I agreed to stick it out with Krissi at least until we got there.  When we did I grabbed a table at one of the little rooms outside the main dancing area and Krissi ordered me some water from the bar, which ended up costing a ridiculous €2.  We sat there and talked about what to do next, as I just wanted to go home—I knew I couldn’t drink another drop of alcohol without puking—and she wanted to stay and dance.  Too drunk to really consider the consequences I told her that she ought to stay and have fun and not end her night early on account of me.  She agreed, and we parted ways. 

I stumbled out into the street and made my way back to the tram station closest to the hostel with only a few minor difficulties—nothing as bad as the first time.  I stopped for a kebab on my way back to the hostel and shortly after I finished it I got a call from Krissi who was now heading home.  As I approached the hostel I got about two more calls from her, and I explained as best I could how she was supposed to get back before finally passing out and waking up the next morning to see her sleeping on the bed adjacent to mine, so I assumed everything had gone smoothly. 

I finally woke up for good around 11:00, and lied in bed until noon at which point I woke Krissi up and learned that she hadn’t made it back smoothly after all—she’d lost her hoodie at the club and was stumbling around the city for hours in nothing but a skimpy shirt trying to find the hostel, the name of which she couldn’t even remember.  She eventually walked into a hotel and got some help from the front desk agent there, who apparently called a cab for her and she got dropped off in front of the closed and locked hostel to which she had no key.  She couldn’t call me because she’d dropped the phone and the battery came out, and she didn’t have the pin-number to get it working again.  She rang every doorbell on the building until somebody let her in, then went to the door to the area where the bedroom were and knocked for about twenty minutes until someone finally got up and let her inside.  She said that if she hadn’t lost her hoodie in the club she probably would have just slept on the street, but she knew that would just not be acceptable in nothing but a skimpy shirt.  She loved that hoodie but it was a good thing she lost it because it drove her to get all the way back to the room.  If I’d woken up and saw that she wasn’t there I would have panicked, and if she hadn’t even made it back to the hostel I don’t even want to think about how awful that day would have been. 

But there was no crisis, everything worked out and we both learned our lesson: when you’re in a foreign city in which one of you doesn’t speak the language or have much experience with public transportation, don’t fucking split up.  But it did give her a really good story to tell all her friends, so it all worked out. 

My plan for Sunday was to visit the Reichstag building before heading home, walking up the glass dome for a good view of Berlin as I’d done five years ago as an exchange student.  But that plan was thwarted when we stopped to pick up a sandwich and she went for her wallet, not seeing her purse with her wallet and all her important stuff there.  Figuring she’d left it at the hostel we turned around and went all the way back, a sense of dread slowly growing in her.  I wasn’t too worried as I knew we hadn’t been gone long and hostel-goers are generally good people so if anyone did pick it up they’d probably just leave it at the front desk.  But I called the hostel back up and they didn’t find a bag in the common room, the place we assumed she’d left it. 

When we got back there we checked ourselves and didn’t find it, then went back to the room and didn’t see it there either.  Krissi went to the bathroom for a moment while I was left to contemplate just how much of a fucking nightmare headache this was going to be if Krissi had indeed lost all her credit cards.  When she got back to the room we searched it some more, then she opened up her backpack again and…lo and behold…there it was, shoved underneath some clothes.  She just hadn’t seen it before, and because she’d lost her hoodie the night before she was perfectly willing to believe she’d absent-mindedly left it at the hostel. 

So in exchange for a trip to the Reichstag we had a good laugh, then just headed directly to the train station, arriving with 40 minutes to spare before our departure which we spent shopping for souvenirs.  I didn’t get anything although I was tempted to buy some Ampelmann merchandise, but she found what she was looking for—a badass Ampelmann patch which she has since sewn onto her purse. 

We got on the train on time and had a smooth trip back, getting right back to our routine once we arrived, but for the first time since she’d arrived, neither of us drank.  She didn’t intend to drink last night either but we ended up buying some wine, which once finished led to a shot and a beer and for me a slight non-headache hangover which made my only class today rather interesting. 

But looking back I’d say it was definitely a great weekend, in some ways not as cool as the first because it wasn’t all fresh and unique to me, but in many ways more enjoyable, particularly because I spent it with the best possible company I can imagine.