Berlin Revisited

We couldn't help ourselves. Two days in Berlin was clearly not enough time to even get acquainted with the city AND we wanted to visit our friend's family, so we extended our post-lake jaunt to a four day stay. As was mentioned in the Part II post, we had previously been on a walking tour that gave solid coverage to some of the basic historical and cultural sites. This was beneficial because it gave us the space to have someone else remind us of the facts (and know they were correct) and for our brains to wrap slowly, quietly around the vast and complex nature of this city. With every morning, a new walk through a different neighborhood brought the realization that Berlin has many tricks up it's sleeves. The onion skin would peel back and Kreuzburg would deliver to us a sea of hipsters, bookstores and art surprises as well as a Turkish street market, doner kebap[sic] shops and sanctioned murals on the firewalls of old buildings.

Another day, we found ourselves at the birthday party of Carla's brother, Christoph, held in a super-mod bar with great wallpaper and even better caipirinhas near Hackesher Markt in Mitte. It was here that we found ourselves shouting over the pub crawl packed with young (and loud) British students to continue a great conversation with a friend of Christoph's, who also happens to be a police officer (and, of course, spent a high school year in Wisconsin). It was also here that we felt less like tourists (looking, observing, documenting) and more just like part of a place, if even in a temporary way.

That being said, Berlin is so densely rich with history that being a part of it must be a widely varied and evolutionary experience - growing up through the changes, showing up fresh faced and blinking, or coming to it a year from now all would hold their own story of what its true identity is. The oldness meeting the newness is evident not only in the architecture, but in the people and their convictions, in the personal memorials fit snuggly into the bricks on the street, and in the infusion of art happenings that we heard about and could sense existed but somehow missed the bulk of.

However, to use the architecture to illustrate the point, we got the best view of Pariser Platz - where the Brandenburg Gate is - from the inside of the Académie der Kunst (Academy of Art), which is impressive enough on it's own. Here's the inside of the Académie and the square in full - both practically right on top of one another:

In addition to all of this reflection, we were treated to wonderful meals and a great place to stay with incredibly kind and generous people. In fact, the view of the TV tower at the start of this post comes courtesy of a look out the window from Christoph's flat. He welcomed us to stay the extra couple of days and was exponentially helpful. Overall, we left feeling incredibly lucky - the shared meals and, more importantly, conversations that we are a part of continue to add dimension to our visits that cannot come out of us wandering the streets solo, reading information off the placards. Plus, we enjoyed, with our dear friends, some of the best hot chocolate on this side of the Atlantic thus far:

Location:Berlin, Germany

Germany: Part II

Ten years ago I came to Berlin at the age of sixteen. I saw some things and learned some things and was surprised by some things, but I didn't realize until we were back in the city for a couple days last week how much went over my head the first time around. What really surprised me, though, is how I could have possibly managed to miss it.

The history in the city envelopes you the moment you step off the train. It's in the street art and graffiti, it's in the memorials that are all over the place, and it's in the architecture that switches, noticeably, as you cross from the former east to the former west in this now rejoined city. I'd guess that most anyone reading this knows that my family hosted some exchange students when I was in high school, a couple of which we have been visiting and staying with these last couple weeks. Talking to them brought Berlin alive even further, hearing the stories of first trips from the GDR into West Germany with people throwing the East-scarce bananas and oranges into the car windows as a welcome. That's the kind of feeling Berlin has; it's the kind of place that is still adjusting and changing after an obliviously complex and ridiculous century.

We took a free walking tour on our first day into the city. This was great for getting an overview look at a lot of the more known and anticipated sites in the city, but it was a bit overwhelming and we found ourselves on the train back to Potsdam trying to think of how best to tackle a second day. Answer: a little research goes a long way, yielding us a Wednesday filled with a lot of great art at Tacheles, the best design book collection I've ever seen in one place, a little memorial museum to a man named Otto Weidt and a sense of seeing at least a little slice of the actual Berlin that people live and work and play in.

Post Berlin, it has been back to reconnecting with some of those amazing exchange student friends who have spent the last couple weeks helping, hosting and spending time with us. In Magdeburg with Carla and Sebastian, I went wakebording for the first time (behind a cable, not a boat - another new curiosity that a quick Google search reveals does actually exist in the States). Those are my pasty gams strapping in, captured so nicely by Casey's photo below. What she didn't manage to capture is the sore muscles that still haven't entirely departed a week later, though it was most definitely worth it.

And here are the best game faces Casey and Robert had yesterday at the Kletterpark in Plau, where we all balanced, swung, and held on for our lives through an obstacle park in the trees.

We helped build a baby crib for one of my exchange sibling's impending parenthood last weekend and I carried the toddler son of another on my shoulders this week while we were wandering around Plau. I guess that's the kind of change that can happen in ten years - the same amount of time between when the wall fell and when I met these friends. I don't mean to get all serious or lecture whoever might be reading this on historical happenings. I think I just keep coming back to it all because I am still trying to wrap my own head around it. Tomorrow we will head back to Berlin for a couple more days before venturing on into Poland, and I look forward to taking one more look at the city - to hopefully understand all of the layers and parts it has a little more and a little better. We'll try to cover some of the specifics we may have breezed over here once we get to the German highlights.

We owe a huge thanks to Peter, Carla, Sebastian, Robert, Sara, Michael, Christine, Helke, Wolfgang and Christoph for all they've helped us with (not the least of which is building up a tiny little random understanding of the German language) these few weeks. We look forward to figuring out a way for it to not be ten more years until we see them all again.

Location:Gerwischer Straße,Magdeburg,Germany