Berlin, Germany

Although the flight left Athens a bit late, I made it safely to Berlin, landing just before midnight. From Schoenefeld, I took the S Bahn to Alexanderplatz. It’s possible to transfer from there to the U2 line to Spitteimarkt, which was closer to my hotel, but it was a gorgeous evening, so I walked the 1.5 km. Budapest was pretty and gritty and fun. Berlin has some similarities, but was coquettish: seductive, flirty and seemingly willing to try anything. It was filled with a fantastic mix of modern and avant-garde architecture, people from all over the world and the food, and the nightlife and culture to match.

My first day in Berlin, I took the free New Berlin walking tour, which was excellent. The guide – a Scottish lass named Emma – walked us all around the following sights:

  • Pariser Platz
  • The Brandenburg Gate
  • The Reichstag
  • The Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe
  • Hitler’s Bunker
  • Luftwaffe HQ
  • The 17. June Memorial
  • The Berlin Wall
  • The Former SS Headquarters
  • Checkpoint Charlie
  • The Former Red Light District
  • Gendarmenmarkt
  • Bebelplatz
  • The Book Burning Memorial
  • The Old Royal Boulevard
  • Neue Wache
  • The TV Tower
  • Museum Island

After the tour, I wandered around for a bit before coming across a poster for the opera Porgy & Bess. I took the train to the opera house and was able to get a nice seat in the balcony for 25 Euros. The opera was put on by a South African company, and was really wonderful. After the opera, I noticed two really neat things. First, almost everyone – no matter if they’d seen the opera in jeans (like me) or fine suits (like many people on the orchestra level) used the subway to get home. The other is that mobile phones work on all the subways, and people use them as though ubiquitous underground coverage is a foregone conclusion. It may not be in Germany, but even in tech-savvy places like San Francisco, it’s rare. When I left San Francisco, there was mobile coverage in the downtown core, but once you got south of Civic Center on BART, your calls dropped (at least with AT&T).

Germans are stereotypically known for their efficiency, but I experienced something dramatically different at the Marriott Courtyard Berlin City Center, where I spent a couple of nights. The hotel was nice enough, but was oddly arranged on the lower floors. I had to basically walk through a conference area (meeting rooms) to get to my room. The hotel offers free Internet access in the rooms, but only if you have a laptop with an Ethernet jack. So, if you’re carrying an iPod Touch or the new MacBook Air (both of which lack Ethernet ports), do not count on free Internet. Of course, the hotel offers you the option to use the wifi in the lobby for something absurd like 16 Euros per hour. Dumb. On top of that, the hotel staff told me that I couldn’t make a reservation for another Marriott there, and that I would have to either use the Internet to do that (at cost to me) or go use a pay phone in the train station. How bizarre.

On my way out of Berlin, I hopped on a bus to Copenhagen. It might have been called the Cessbus. It arrived from Prague and, although it appeared clean, it smelled of sweat and BO. Bathe once in a while, hippies. Ha ha. Anyway, aboard the bus, I played a game my sister and I sometimes play during roadtrips: Spot the Domestic [car]. In North America, this game has become increasingly difficult as consumers opt less often for domestic vehicles. In Germany, the game is easy. :)