(Note: This is from yesterday, 3.14, but I didn’t get a chance to post)
Today I saw a different face of Berlin–a slightly more rested, put together face. I ventured to the West side, which although still sporting some scars of WWII bombings, saw a different fate during the Cold War years. Quick history lesson: Following the end of WWII, Germany was divided into four sides: The United States, England and France took control of the west while The Soviet Union absorbed the east. Berlin, despite being in the east, was similarly divided as the seat of power. In 1961 the Berlin Wall was erected to keep those in East from escaping into the rapidly modernizing, capitalist west. In fact, hundreds died trying to escape over the wall. The West began to heal from the Nazi wounds–embracing western ideals, cinema, and budding alternative lifestyles. The East fell into Communist oppression. The wall finally came down in 1989, uniting Germany once again. Ok, enough history. But the traces of this divide are still very present. Today, West Berlin is a metropolis of modern, globalized commerce. Forever 21 and Mercedes dealerships stand beside couture boutiques. Colorful “gypsies” prey on wealthy tourists. And as if to highlight the stark contrast even more, the sun decided to come out to play today–making the 40 degree weather feel like summer.
Side note about the gypsies (the Roma to be PC)–they have truly perfected the art of begging. It’s fairly entertaining to watch them work. In colorful headscarves, flowing skirts and fluorescent high heels (not kidding), they aggressively thrust their cups into passerbyers’ faces and plead with hapless eyes. They don’t take no for an answer either. One particularly aggressive, and actually a little creepy, woman dressed all in white with her entire face painted white approached me as I sat on a bench and made kissy noises in my face repeatedly. It took a solid five “NO!”s before she moved on. I suppose they figure if they badger you enough with bizarre behavior you’ll throw them a Euro to move on. I don’t play along. Another common scam in touristy zones is for a woman in headscarf pushing a baby stroller to approach you and ask if you speak English. When you say yes, she shows you a sign in English explaining that she is a destitute refugee of Bosnia. The baby is a nice touch, and you MIGHT be tempted to help her out–if five of her identical friends weren’t circling the square doing the exact same thing. But, the fact that the signs are in English and not German means they know their victims! (I mean audience).
Following my brush with the modern Berlin, I took on the German history museum. Cue the depression once again. The conflict in this country stretches back to recent history. Like most of Europe, wars of territory and succession have plagued the German people. But these poor folks just can’t seem to get much reprieve. What’s fascinating is to see how WWII came to pass. The reality is the stage was set half a decade earlier–one failed leadership decision after another led to a country in socio-economic crisis. Unemployed, frightened and disenfranchised they turned to a charismatic leader promising change. Oops.
After a few hours with the history of Germany I needed some sunshine in my life. I wanted something warm and fuzzy, boots of beer, lederhosen and silly hats–Disney does Germany. I found it. I also found all the Americans. I moseyed into a “traditional” German bierhaus with servers dressed in costume serving liters of beer to eager 20-somethings. Faux snow-capped trees and and a German band completed the ambiance. Yes, it was silly and kitschy, but it was some much-needed fun and great people watching.
After that I tracked down some traditional German fare and scored when I found a cozy place that had vegetarian schnitzel!
I’m attempting to practice a few German words out and about but my accent must be atrocious because waiters and shop keeps can’t even understand a simple “Danke” coming from my mouth. Sigh…
Tonight I headed back to the hostel’s cozy living room to find it bustling with travelers escaping the frozen evening. Beneath cheesy strobe lights and to the beat of American pop, we threw back a few, played cards, grilled each other on our homeland and swapped travel stories. I now have news friends from Singapore, the UK and Argentina! I’m typically the oldest of the crowd and they youngin’s find it fascinating that I’m traveling alone, especially at “my age.” Bless their hearts. I’m giving them inspiration that life doesn’t end after 30. 🙂 Although I do wished I had taken the time to dance across the globe right out of school, there is something to be said about jet-setting with a little more savvy in your pocket. I know things now. I’m prepared with a few more street smarts. I appreciate things that might have been lost on me as a younger monkey. I understand the value of sleep.
Well Berlin, you weren’t my favorite place, but we made some memories. Tomorrow it’s off to Prague!
The glitizer West.
Creepy “ghost” beggar.
Writing the old fashioned way.