I got back from Berlin late Saturday and will now start to catch up on blogging. Berlin was amazing. Yes, it’s poor and not as pretty as Paris, but it has so much art and culture and incredible history. I didn’t have nearly enough time to see even a fraction of the city. That would require at least another year, maybe ten. In fact, it’s a city I would love to live in. But with its high unemployment rate, it’s hard for foreigners to work there right now. It’s definitely on my list for desirable future homes. I’d decided to go to Germany on a whim, not really knowing much about Berlin or what I would see there. I don’t speak German, although I think I mastered a few essential phrases and tried my best. This was my favorite: “Ich verstehe nicht. Sprechen sie Englisch?” Or: “I don’t understand. Do you speak English?” For the most part people were very helpful, although the public transportation and museum employees could be a little impatient.
My first day was consumed by travel. I caught the 6:00 am TGV train to Paris from Valence and then took the RER to Charles de Gaulle airport. I was impressed by Air France. Both flights I took were on time and the food was actually edible. Plus they had tons of free newspapers. My experience in the actual airport in Berlin was frustrating. There is no train to the airport so you have to get the bus. After being surrounded by French for five months, finding myself suddenly in front of a transportation map with long German names was disorienting. In Berlin, there is the U-Bahn (underground metro), S-Bahn (overground metro), buses, and trams. These are all mixed together on one transport map and you often need to take a combination to get where you are going. Luckily, someone at the airport helped me find the right bus and I was soon outside my hostel. The hostel was in a cool neighborhood called Kreuzberg, although it was one of the quietest hostels I’ve ever stayed in. I was always the last person to go to sleep.
I used the U-Bahn and tram to get to Hackescher Markt and went on a walk around town and randomly ended up in front of the Brandenburg Gate. I saw it at the end of a boulevard and thought that it looked familiar. I would be by there again a few times. For dinner, I ate a mozzarella and tomato sandwich because it was the only thing in the bakery that was obviously vegetarian, so I could point and say one of my few German phrases: “Dieses, bitte” (this please). I then went to the Bang Bang Club to see the Handsome Furs. I really liked their 2007 album, “Plague Park.” If you haven’t heard of them, the Handsome Furs is a Canadian group composed of guitarist and vocalist Dan Boeckner (also a member of Wolf Parade) and his wife Alexei Perry (also a short story writer) on synths on drum machine. It turned out to be a really cool show. I hadn’t heard anything from their new album, “Face Control,” and I’m pretty sure almost all the songs were from it. Their last album was really mellow, but their new songs are more upbeat and danceable. The album will be out on March 10, so I’ll have to track down a copy. There’s a video of them playing one of their new songs, “I’m Confused,” at the Sundance Film Festival on youtube that shows what their show is like. Check it out.
I managed to make it back to the hostel after the concert and got some much needed sleep. I hadn’t seen Berlin in daylight yet and was looking forward to exploring the city.