Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Berlin: Days 3, 4, & 5

Day 3: Saturday, November 11
This was the worst day of the trip weather-wise with rain, wind, and pretty cold temperatures. It was pretty fitting, however, as we spent the day at Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. It just seems wrong to be at such a place on a bright, sunny day. I also think the weather helps put it in perspective. There we were in warm winter clothes, hats, gloves, scarves, coats; fully-fed; not doing anything strenuous; and we still felt a bit miserable. How on earth did people who wore only lightweight cotton clothes that didn't fit properly, who were extremely malnourished, who were forced to do backbreaking work, and who were tortured ever survive? It's truly unbelievable. You have to wonder exactly how they did it. I don't have any pictures to share as it seemed a bit gratuitous to take photos of such a place.

Since Sachsenhausen was a bit outside of town the trip there took most of our day. Once back in Berlin proper, we took off to find currywurst, a special kind of sausage popular in Berlin. We followed instructions in our Lonely Planet in search of a place that was supposed to be great, but when we got there, the only place we saw looked not-so-great. We looked all around but that's all we found, so we decided to give it a shot. Should have listened to our guts. It wasn't so great. But we'd eaten it. We just couldn't believe the book had recommended that place. (Flash forward to the next day...we're back at the same Metro stop and still marveling that we were sent to that place for currywurst when we realize that it wasn't the spot at all and hidden behind a kiosk was the actual place we were supposed to go. Duh!) Anyhow, after eating our not-so-good Currywurst, we hopped back on the Metro and headed to the East Side Gallery, which is a section of the Berlin Wall that still stands and has been decorated with artwork. Unfortunately much of the artwork has now been graffitied over, but it was still interesting to see a large stretch of the wall and try to imagine it cutting the city in two.

After checking it out, we headed back to Kreuzberg for dinner, this time eating at an Asian place called Sumo. We both had Udon, which was really good. I don't recall seeing a single Asian eatery last time I was in Berlin, but this time they were everywhere. Aside from the doner kebab stands, places selling Asian food were most ubiquitous. It was kind of odd, but then I began to notice that a lot of people doing service jobs were Asian. I guess there's been quite a migration. Anyhow, we called it a night shortly after dinner as it was already pretty late and we were tired.

Day 4: Sunday, November 12
We got up early on our last day in Berlin and first headed to Karl Marx street, because Jeff wanted to try to get a good look at Communist architecture. There were lots of large apartment buildings and some interesting wedding-cake architecture, but it was hard to really get a grasp of it since a lot of it had clearly been updated since the fall of the Berlin Wall. The McDonalds, for instance, was certainly a new edition. While strolling, we had a good opportunity to snap a picture of the East German Ampellmann, or cross walk figure. It's got a pretty interesting history, which you can read about by clicking on that link. I think he's pretty awesome.

From there, we took a train out to Potsdam to visit the San Souci palace of Frederick II. This palace served as his summer home, and the name means "Without Care" in French (he was obsessed with everything French). We were able to get tickets for a tour of the palace at noon, about 30 minutes later than we arrived, so we walked around the outside a bit.

The palace itself was pretty cool. Not too gigantic that we got bored and with lots of fancy and interesting embellishments. Tons of marble, gold, etc. Both Jeff and I enjoyed the intricate paintings on the ceiling the most. We also learned that Frederick really liked potatoes, and Jeff inferred that the younger Frederick was gay because he forbade all women from visiting the place, including the wife he wasn't fond of. We weren't allowed to take photos inside the palace, but I snuck one. It's not very good because I had to be sneaky and couldnt' use my flash, but I couldn't resist. In order to protect the floors, we had to wear these grey slippers over our shoes. They must have been a size 20 and you had to slide your way around to keep them on. We were amused.

After the tour, we took a brief stroll around the gardens, but shockingly not much was in bloom. We did get this nice picture of ourselves, however. Be sure to check out my sweet new orange shoes.

On our way back to the train, we rode past this flying rhino, which I just had to take a picture of.

Back in Berlin proper, we headed to KuDamm, which was pretty much the central part of Western Berlin. It has lots of stores to make sure everyone knew it was in the part of the city practicing capitalism. One of these store, KaDeWe (Kaufhaus des Westens---Store of the West), is a humongous department store (the largest in Europe) that sells just about everything and was, during the years of the Cold War, a symbol of the economic power of the West. Another symbol in the area is the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedaechtnis Kirche, a church that was damaged extensively during World War II bombing and which was left in a state of ruins as a reminder of the cost of war.

In the late afternoon, we hit some markets in the area around our hotel, all of which sold the same kind of junk you find at markets everywhere. We then stopped for hot chocolate before heading out for a traditional German dinner of schnitzel and potatoes. And finally, because Jeff couldn't leave Berlin only having had a sad excuse for a currywurst, we went back to Kreuzberg and the recommened Curry 36, where we split a sausage. I have to say that it's still not my favorite thing, but this one was indeed much better, and we could now leave Berlin knowing we'd had an authentic experience. Pshew.

Day 5: Monday, Novemeber 13
Going home day. Sad. Jeff headed back to Sweden, and I headed back to the US. We'd had such a good time that we were both loathe to leave, but knowing Jeff was going to be home less than three weeks later made it a bit easier. All we did was get up, eat breakfast, and head to our respective airports, but I do have two more pictures to share.

First, on my flight from Paris to Berlin, there was a huge dog on my flight. I was all excited about this and told Jeff about it. And then, when I was waiting for my flight home, who would show up but the big dog! And he ended up on my flight again. It was crazy. I don't know what kind of dog he is, but he was very big and had a wrinkly face that made him look so sad. Anyhow who knows me knows I'm not really a dog fan, but I was fascinated by this dog. Again, I had to be sneaky so the photo's not so good, and he's laying down so you can't see his true size, but here he is.

And here, for those of you who have always wondered what Greenland looks like, here you go. We had an amazing view of the country from the window. The flight crew says it's really rare to see it because it's usually covered by clouds. It's definitely not green. I can't imagine who actually lives there. But I'm kind of interested in going, because it just has to be out of this world.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Berlin: Days 1 & 2

So this has been a long time coming, but Blogger hasn't been cooperative in regards to uploading my photos. We didn't take all that many, but I'm illustrating the account with some of the pics we do have.

Day 1: Thursday, November 9.
Original plans had both Jeff and I arriving in Berlin well before lunchtime, but with my flight issues, I didn't arrive until 3pm. Jeff was there on time, however, so once he figured out I wasn't arriving until later, he wandered around and say a few sites before meeting me at the airport. While I would have liked to have arrived earlier, it was kind of nice to have him meet me at the airport and to have him already know how the public transportation worked, where the hotel was located, etc.

Since I only traveled with carry-ons, we were off to the hotel as soon as I landed. It wasn't the best weather, and it actually started hailing while we were on the bus, but it cleared up as we arrived at the hotel. By then it was already almost dark, and we rested a bit after getting checked-in. Next came dinner, and luckily our hotel was in a cool neighborhood, Prenzlauer Berg, that was full of restaurants. We wandered around, checking out menus, before finally deciding (after one false start) on Gugelhof. This ended up being an excellent choice as I was able to get some flammkuchen, which is generally hard to find outside of southwestern Germany.

After dinner, we decided to take advantage of the state museum's staying open late on Thursday, and we headed to the Pergamon Museum, which houses huge ancient works. We didn't take any pictures there, but we did take a picture on the way there.

Both pooped by 10pm when the museum closed, we headed back to the hotel and a good night's sleep.

Day 2: Friday, November 10
This was our big site-seeing, walking all over town day, and luckily we had decent weather. It wasn't warm, but it wasn't raining or too windy, and the sun would peek out every once in a while, so it was definitely bearable.

We started out at the Reichstag, where we stood in line to go up to the dome. Luckily they had brochures and Jeff was able to read up all about the German Bundestag.

It took a while to get inside because they manage the crowd size quite closely, but we were happy we waited because the views from the top were pretty good.

We also had fun playing with our reflections in the mirrored center of the glass dome.

Can you see us smooching in the reflection?

After leaving the Reichstag, we headed down the street to the Brandenburg Gate. The last time I was in Berlin, they were doing restoration work on it, so I didn't actually see it, but just a painting of it that was covering it. Pretty much looked the same.

Just another few blocks away was the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. This was just completed in 2005, so it was new for both of us. I'm not quite sure how I feel about the design of the memorial, but I must say the the information center underneath it is exceptionally well done. It's small but intimate and provides a good combination of historical fact and personal story. My only real objection to the Memorial is that it only honors the Jews. What about the other persecuted groups such as the Gypsies?

We had a lot more on our schedule for the day, so we headed down to Potsdamer Platz. Potsdamer Platz used to lie in the no-mans-land created by the Berlin Wall. In 2002 when I visited it, it was a mess of construction with cranes everywhere. Now it's a bustling plaza full of very modern architecture that relies heavily on glass. One of the interesting things about Berlin is the way the city's history is revealed through its architecture. There are three very distinct styles: 1. Pre-World War II architecture. Most of this is pretty grandiose and typical of the 1800s. 2. Communist Era architecture. Very stark buildings or flowery wedding-cake style constructions. 3. Post-Reunification architecture. Very modern, as if it's making a statement that this is the new Berlin. It's pretty fascinating to see a city with so many faces.

From Potsdamer Platz, we began our search for lunch and ended up with our first doners of the trip. Mmm. Mmm.

Our next stop was Checkpoint Charlie. The building now standing is a reconstruction of the original, but it's still pretty interesting to think about what that building meant and what the wall meant and what it must have been to live in a divided city.

The sun was getting low by then, so we scurried off to the Topography of Terror, which is an outdoor display located on top of former Nazi Gestapo Headquarters...a pretty terrifying place. We took in as much as we could before it got too dark to read and we were kicked out.

Not yet done, we headed to the Jewish Museum, which offers a very interesting history of Jewish life in Germany. It's also a very well done museum, with a good mix of images and texts and plenty of hands-on activities to keep you interested. We made it through in two hours, but they were closing the doors as we headed out. Upon the recommendation of the coatcheck girl at the Museum (my German skills came in handy throughout the trip, and we were both glad to be in a country where we could communicate), we headed down to Kreuzberg for dinner. We ended up at an Italian restaurant named Primavera. It was a serious deal. We had bruschetta, two pasta dishes, a coke, a beer, and tiramisu for 20 euros.

And although we could have called it a night, we decided to take advantage of our all-day public transportation pass and take a double decker bus on a loop through town for a free bus tour. Eventually we ended up back at the hotel and asleep in bed.

(If I can get Blogger to upload the rest of my pictures, the rest of the trip will follow tomorrow.)

Saturday, November 18, 2006

What We Did In Berlin

From Jeff's To-Do List
1. Pergamon Museum
2. Reichstag
3. Holocaust Memorial
4. Potsdamer Platz
5. Checkpoint Charlie
6. Topography of Terror
7. Jewish Museum
8. Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp
9. East Side Gallery (Berlin Wall)
10. Karl-Marx Street
11. Potsdam--Sans Souci
12. Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church
13. Markets in Prenzlauer Berg

From Theresa's To-Do List
1. Doner Kebab (x2)
2. Schnitzel
3. Flammkuchen
4. Chocolate Croissants (x3)
5. Ritter Sport Bars (x3)
6. Currywurst (x1.5)
7. Hot Chocolate

We both ended up happy.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Berlin Trip: Getting There

I was flying Delta to Berlin. I should have been wary. I've only flown Delta one other time internationally, and it was a bit of a fiasco. But the flight was cheap and the times were good. Of course, it was destined to not work out as well as it looked.

I got to the airport two plus hours ahead of time, so I felt on top of things. The line to check in was short, but the people in front of me were all military and all toting huge weapons that had to be unlocked, inspected, locked, certified...I don't know what else. Suffice it to say it took them a good while to get through the check-in process. But by 1:45, I was at the counter, and with a 3:15 departure, I was feeling good. Until the lady behind the counter started giving me funny looks. Uh-oh, I thought, can she not find my reservation? What's going on? Well what was going on was that the Delta flight I was booked on was delayed and would cause me to miss my connection in New York to Berlin. So she was switching me to an American Airline flight that would get me there in time. Fine...except that it left at 2:05 and it was now 1:50. Shit, I thought. Run, she said. So I did.

I begged my way to the front of security, fumbled with my shoes and luggage and hurried to the gate---only to find no one there. Crap, I figured, I missed it. So I head down to my original gate and talk to a not particularly friendly guy who told me the flight was just delayed but still ahead of my original flight so I should go wait for it. Fine. I go back, someone's there, she checks me in, and again I'm feeling good. I'm on my way. But, wait a second, what's that announcement. Oh yeah, the flight's now not just delayed, it's cancelled. Oh boy.

So it's back to Delta and my original flight. I only had an hour between the flights to begin with, so with the delay, making my connection is questionable. Trying to stay ahead of the game, I ask when the next flight out of JFK to Berlin is, and make them book me on it as a back-up. It's an hour later, connects through Paris (I was originally going direct), and gets me there four hours later than planned. Not the best, but so it goes, and I still have my fingers crossed that I'll make my original booking. I'm optimistic.

But optimism has never been my strong suit, and I remember why as the minutes tick by and no plane materializes. There's no no way I'm going to make the original connection. It's the later flight, I guess. I'm resigned. But then...what's that...worse news. JFK has grounded all incoming flights that have not yet taken off while they get caught up on other landings. The earliest the flight will leave DC is 5:35. There's no way I'll make either option now. So it's back in line and back to the desk to find out what the next option is.

Of course there's a next option right. It's still early. International flights leave all night long. But according to the guys behind the desk...rude, slow, and pretty much worthless...there is no other option. They swear they've searched everything. There's nothing they can do. I'll have to come back tomorrow and get on a flight that won't get me there until Friday. No way is my only thought. I'm mad. And I'm upset. I only have four days, I haven't seen Jeff in a month, and I just want to be there already. All optimism is gone. I don't know what to do, so I do what you do when you don't know what to do...I call home.

We set up a plan...my mom will look online while I call Delta. Of course, it takes forever to get through to a human, and with each moment I picture my last option flight taking off. I finally get through to a person, and he seems sympathetic and helpful. I beg him to get me out today and tell him that I will go anywhere, make as many connections as I have to, do whatever it takes to get to Berlin on Thursday as I was scheduled. Just please please please get me to Berlin. He looks and looks and then tells me he's found me an option...I'm thrilled. I want to hug the guy. Everything's going to work out. He puts me on hold to book it. I wait, and I wait, and I wait. It shouldn't take this long. And when he comes back, I know I'm right. I hear it in his voice when he says my name. He's sorry, but it won't work out. The flight's booked. Now I'm just pissed, but that doesn't get me anywhere either. He too says my only option is to go the next day.

No, no, no, no, no.

But there's a message from my mom, and I give her a call back. Online she's found a flight from BWI that goes to Atlanta, then to Paris, and then to Berlin. And according to her computer, there are still seats on these flights. Despite all the day's defeats, I'm still hopeful, for some reason. I just have to get there. So I go back to the desk and the unhelpful "customer service" people. I give him the flight numbers and he fiddles on his computer, the one that said there was no possible way for me to get to Berlin. "Oh yeah," he says after looking up the flights, "that should work." I just stare at him. It's now 5pm. I've been there all afternoon begging for a way to Berlin and he's been telling me there's nothing, but now, all casually, he's like "That will work." What? Are you kidding me? I wanted to give him a piece of my mind, but I didn't have time. The flight to Atlanta was leaving at 5:45 and I had to rush over to that desk to get booked. Fortunately, the woman at that desk is very kind and gets everything taken care of. My flight has an extra leg, is a good deal longer, and doesn't get me in to Berlin until 3pm (7 hours later than I was supposed to get there), but I will get there, and I'll get there on Thursday, as originally planned. I'm so relieved. It's been an emotional few hours, and I'm wiped out.

While the flight to Atlanta is fine, as is the one to Paris, the connection in Paris is a disaster. I'm supposed to have two hours between flights, but due to gross incompetence of the people unloading our plane, I end up having to run and make it onboard my flight to Berlin as the very last person. But I'm on it. And I make it to Berlin, and there's Jeff waiting for me. (Thanks to my amazing mom and her persistence in trying to get through to him and let him know that I'm not going to be there when he expects me.)

And I'm happy. The flights are behind me, Jeff's with me, and we have a few days together in front of us. Life is good, right?

(Pictures and more about what we did once I finally got there is forthcoming.)

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Off to Germany

Tomorrow I'm off to Berlin. Jeff has some time between his classes, and I have a long weekend thanks to the Veteran's Day holiday plus my Flex Day, so we're meeting up there. It was his choice--well I suggested three cities and he made the final decision. It's looking like it's going to be cold and rainy, but I don't think we expected it to be otherwise. It is November after all. And, of course, the main point of the trip is just to get to see each other. Although I must say that Jeff has a list a mile long of things he wants to do. I've been to Berlin once before, so my list is a bit shorter, but I'm happy to do a lot of the stuff again. It's such a fascinating city.

I'll be back Monday evening, so check back next week for an account of the trip and some pictures.

Monday, November 06, 2006


Tomorrow is Election Day. It's not a presidential election which means that turnout will probably be under 40%. Unfortunately, I bet that the over 60% of people who don't show up will still run their mouths about our government. Ugh. We might have more representative government if people would exercise their right and vote.

Anyhow, I strongly encourage you to go to the polls tomorrow and let your voice be heard. (Unless, of course, you plan to vote Republican!)

Thursday, November 02, 2006

This Is What My Family Photo Would Look Like

if I were an only child.

But I'm not. So this is just a picture of me, my mom, and my Dad in Shenandoah National Park.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Halloween Treats

Hope everyone had a Happy Halloween!

Doesn't my pumpkin look like it has ghoul eyes? It reminds me of the ghosts on Scooby Doo.

Remember Sixlets? Well, I've got 144 packs of them! Jeff and I were talking the other day about the Halloween candy we liked as kids. I couldn't find Sixlets in the stores anymore, but he found them online and had them sent to me. Apparently there was a two box minimum. Mmmm.