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Published: October 5th 2014
To get to Berlin we trained up to Warsaw and spent the night there in a Soviet-built apartment building which had been converted into a half-assed hotel. The reception area consisted of a small room holding two conference tables, two uniformed women and a large key/ message box leaning against a wall. It was cold that night and we had no Gazprom heat so we hunkered under the covers and watched episodes of NYPD Blue on the laptop. The 'Start Aramis Hotel'. $60 a night. Don't miss it if you find yourself in Warsaw.
The next morning we high-tailed it back to the train station for our ride to Berlin. We killed a couple of hours at MacDonald's sipping coffee and bandwidth. It was a crisp, cold, sunny Polish morning. A Communist monolith of a building lay outside the train station. A large clock at its crown. Odd sight.
Great train to Berlin. We shared our compartment with a Polish bus salesman named Gregory. We learned more about Polish bus construction than we ever wanted to know. Bottom line is: Polish buses are way cool. Karen had her first dining-car meal as we clickety-clacked to Germany. Waiters and everything. Much
Palace of Culture and Science
The 1955 gift to the Polish people from the Soviet Union. The tallest building in Poland.
better than AmTrak's snack wagons.
The Berlin station is a train-friendly shopping mall. Opened in 2006 it is an aquarium-glassed architectural stunner with multiple levels of eateries, shops, subway stations and train platforms. A trip to the bahnhof bathroom will cost you a Euro. About $1.25. There are no bathrooms in the restaurants as we soon learned. Everybody has to use the public restroom for $1.25. Awesome. There's a short subway line in the station's basement that will haul you out to the Brandenburg Gate. It's the U-55 line and it only runs for three stops. Getting to the regular subway (U-Banh) requires taking a bus (S-Banh) to a nearby U-Banh station. The ticket including transfers is 2.60 Euros each way. The buses depart from the front of the train station. Just look for a bunch of people standing around in the rain. If you want to leave your bags at the station; A locker big enough to house a Hobbit will run you 6 Euros for 24-hours. The lockers are located on the station's 3rd level. Just look for the yellow sign that reads; 'Gepacken'.
We were fortunate enough to find a couchsurfing host in Berlin. Berlin
is notoriously difficult to secure a couch in. As a result, Berlin hosts are quite picky about who they'll accept. You must be quite charming in your written requests if you want a shot at a place. Luckily we found a great guy by the name of Caspar who is an NFL freak (49ers fan but we let it slide) and a frequent traveler to the States. Impeccable English. Jackpot! We did two nights at his place on the south side of town. Nice neighborhood. Spent our evenings talking about where we had been and would like to go. Nickle packages and counter-treys. He's catching two NFL games in the States this month; one in Cincinnati and another in Nashville plus a Raiders game in London. Just a wonderful human being whom we immediately connected with. I was sorry that Tom and Ellen weren't with us. That would have been cool.
We did the next day cruising around Berlin. Construction cranes spike the cityscape like storks. Tearing places down and replacing them with bigger places which they'll tear down in 7 years and replace again. The city oozes money. There are some major players floating around here. I saw
KJ with Czech Surfer and Caspar
It's official. Caspar has hosted over 400 people and we are the oldest he has ever entertained.
more Japanese in Berlin than I had seen on the rest of the trip combined. So many Chinese business people it looks like a Beijing school field trip. Major museums and buildings to see if you're into that sort of thing. Excellent public transport system and restaurants. We caught brunch at the Einstein Cafe near the Brandenburg Gate. Felt like Viennese coffee houses used to feel. Great service. We'd do it again in a heart beat.
The gate is a must see stop in Berlin. Imprinted in American brains by decades of television coverage showing us the building of the wall, Kennedy's famous speech, Reagan's demand that Gorbachev tear the wall down and the fireworks of reunification. Today it's the place to go to watch political demonstrations, street performers, kids taking selfies and panhandlers. A large display recounts the Nazi atrocities in Poland during the war. It is an objective statement in a city not given to many comments on the war. Hitler's bunker is gone; A marker there is the only reminder that it ever existed. The line of demarcation between East and West has been all but erased. The last remaining sections of the wall will be
The Alte Museum
It's on Museum Island along with another half-dozen monster-sized buildings.
a museum shrouded memory in ten years. Today it's all about the money and there's no shortage of that.
In the end; The best parts of our Berlin visit were hanging with Caspar, eating at the Einstein and schmoozing with the Turks at the local Doner dive. Berlin has a great public transport system, pretty buildings and a lot of history going for it but those restroom fees just stick in my craw. Would we go back? To see Caspar; Definitely! The rest of it; Been there, done that.
I know that I'm going to get a lot of flak from Berlin (sic) fans saying that I didn't give it a chance and if I had only gone to such and such a neighborhood I would have been dazzled by Berlin's eclectic, Hipster culture. I don't buy it. You can get the feel for a German city within the first hour there. Just get on a Strassenbahn
and examine the passengers' faces. I liked Berlin better in the 70's. At least it was edgy back then. Today's Berlin is a constipated throwback to Frederick the Great's Prussian culture. Weisbaden and Frankfurt have a much more progressive buzz than
These folks were there on behalf of Kurdish refugees. Next on stage were the 'Make War No More' campaigners.
Berlin. Nuremberg; a more interesting history and Stuttgart; Better shopping.
Gross Gott and HTTR
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