Monday, March 24, 2014

The Berlin'ing

It’s the unified character that is the most unsettling for an outside observer. Berlin seems to have been built with a single aesthetic choice in mind. Well, save the historical works. Everything modern is right angles and gray, though.  Each building vying to be more subdued than the last. Subdued from the point of a view of an American, where ostentatious sounds like an oxymoron. I cruised down grand sidewalks, easily double the size I’m used to, letting my eye bounce around, noting where it fell. But it did not fall. Storefronts had their signs and flair, but held well back from any level of intrusive. It feels like Berlin is a city for people who know it. My instincts to choose, at any intersection, the bright, the curved, the noisy were flustered.  At most turns were gray, straight, corridors. You should know the city said. (Special note: I am awful at taking pictures. I usually give myself about three seconds. Sometimes I don't stop walking. People looking at me will negatively impact my ability. You will, however, see exactly what I was looking at. Which is fun.)

How little I understood of the German people comes out with my descriptions lazily reduced to “not this”. I did not see people staring at small screens. Bright colors may be a crime. Sneakers far and away too vulgar. There was no snow but boots were the order of the day for all persons. Nice boots, I mean. Not Uggs or Timberlands. I thought of them as Italian because the only people I knew of who wore “nice” boots regardless of the season were Italians. I suppose I’ll need to broaden that to Europeans. It seemed unthinkable to Not be in excellent physical shape. The people were gorgeous. Striking because of my experience but not in their own expression. A simple outfit, hair tied back, clean face. It must be down in the bones. A perfect foundation. Not just the shine of youth or the payout of the genetic lottery.

It was strange the city did not try to rob me. Being a Major One. I’m used to meals being a minimum of $12. For a single, no frills, portion. Sure, most places will also offer half a sandwich for $8, but I’m not going to count that as a meal. It was all reasonable. Even the Fassbender & Rausch Chocolatiers am Gendarmenmarkt, fancy chocolate shop (it had a volcano!), appreciated the concept of a budget. There is a sightseeing tour for €20 that travels to many of the major landmarks, all day long, and it’s hop-on hop-off. Busses swing by every 10mins. An extra €4 to make it a two day pass? Shut-up. In comparison, there’s an amphibious (ok, extra points for that) tour that’s $28 for an hour and a half. The difference is that the Ducks promise an experience. Germans would have none of this “performance”. The sightseeing bus offered an extremely bored woman listing off the year each building was started / finished and designed by whom, in 17 languages (sometimes an interesting bit of history). And a map. Which, as a traveler, is fantastic. I studied the guidebook the hotel gave, for probably an hour total, and felt certain at the end of that time the map was not actually for Berlin. I could not find the hotel on it. I collected three maps by the end of my short stay, each one offered a piece of the whole picture. I would consult each to get a rough idea of my location, than narrow it down, then widen it again to find my destination, then fine tune it again. I’m absolutely positive had I been traveling alone I would have lost myself to despair and ran screaming through the streets, begging out of this madness, this maze. The pioneer spirit can only last so long. My companion had no qualms about hailing a taxi to which I owe my continued sanity. What pushes the psyche so hard is the monstrous size of the blocks. A decent walking pace yields a block per minute in my city. I felt it was closer to five minutes per in Berlin. You should know the city said. There won’t be a fun little check every sixty seconds, does this look right?

Things Have A Place. That’s a rule and everybody follows it. Advertisements go on these gray (of course) pillars that are situated every so often. Bikes are locked up (or not; unfathomable) on racks. There’s a tiny bit of trash. Dining on the sidewalk is huge (on tables and chairs, ‘natch). For me it was the coolest novelty mixed with the height of luxury. The blankets were colorful. That was allowed. And nobody stole them! It was communal without being forced. As if the mood was why not chat with passersby? Why not be part of the city still? The ubiquitous of it erased any pretention. The seats were not trendy little black and silver pieces. Very comfortable and matched the décor (and had blankets). What is this satisfaction of human desire? Not tarted up fantasy. Keep It Simple a lesson digested nationally, practiced at all times. Except for the traffic. Traffic in England was a ride, to me. Narrow streets driven by men who hauled ass regardless of their vehicle, or turns, or pedestrians. The Germans love to draw lines. As though to catalogue every possible position a vehicle may find itself on the road. Crosswalk signs were not on every street. You should know.

I missed so much. The best piece of art I saw was in the bathroom at a gay café. Which is no disrespect to city or café. My bad for not going to every gallery I possibly could in four days. I missed Currywurst! Though I did not rent a bike, the roads were bewildering enough I don’t really regret it. May I offer this bit of advice? Elevator rides to the top of giant towers should have windows. Bravo on every single person knowing at least two language. That's impressive.