Speed Dating a New City: Berlin

Sometimes, despite the shifts of the wind,
We still end up at places we originally imagined to reach:
Where days are defined differently from our own,
Where language escapes familiar tones,
And where a sun-kissed skin volunteers attention.
We land and walk where a new excitement enriches.
We connect and we become –
Tourists no more.

Eli Med
May 2017 | Berlin

Why Berlin, Why Now?

Ok, so the Berlin trip was from a few months ago.  I needed to get my mind away from some some pervading thoughts1, and quickly escaping to thoughts of Berlin was a perfect way to distract my mind.

Wait for Me Munich

I adore Berlin, but it was not love at first sight; probably because my first experience of the city was at Berlin Tegel Airport (TXL), a cold, charmless, and industrial remnant of a divided German past. It is not pretty and it is not friendly; but it didn’t matter, as I was just supposed to be there for a layover2; or so I thought.  After one delay after another arrived, and a multitude of other unpleasant twists and turns, I ended-up spending the night in the city I did not originally find appealing.  It took a lot of effort to find an Air Berlin staff who was pleasant and willing to help, but I eventually did and convinced the initially unflinching airline personnel to book me a new flight, pay for my hotel and dinner, and file my refund request.  This was a great accomplishment, especially since I have barely slept in the last three previous legs of my trip and my logic and charm were not at their optimal state.

Although Berlin was originally part of my itinerary, I removed it two weeks prior to leaving California for lack of sufficient time.  But the cosmos had a different plan and interrupted my excitement to see Munich, so I could have a little taste of Berlin.

Lost and Found in Rohrdamm Station

In my lifetime of being lost, I have mastered the art of being calm and collected thinking that “I’ll get there when I get there,” especially while on vacation with a flexible itinerary.  It took me a while to let go of tightly scheduled trips, and as a consequence of loosening-up, I have met more people, seen more places, and found my trips more enriching. Predictability is practical; but uncertainty oftentimes brings excitement, vitality, and growth. Berlin was initially unplanned, unpleasant, and I was momentarily lost. But I found new friends who helped me navigate a city that turned out to be so intriguing, so captivating, and so intoxicatingly confident. I was not so lost anymore.  And I have found a new city love.

Let’s Talk of Precious Gems

John was the first person I met outside of the airport as I struggled with the German signs and with figuring out my location without wifi. He was rushing to catch the train to get home from his university, where he studies to be a goldsmith and jeweler3 I talked about a few precious gems, which impressed him, and he decided to delay his trip to help me get to my hotel. Who knew that growing up with a jewelry-obsessed family would actually have some value in life. John decided to take the train with me going the opposite direction from where he needed to go and he also walked me to my hotel, which I most likely would have struggled to find, too.  On top of this, he helped charm4 the receptionist in German, of course, into getting me a better room than what the airline booked for me.  After he was sure that I was checked-in and that my room was clean and comfortable, John had to rush out to catch the next train.  He refused a drink or a meal, as he needed to get home for a commitment, but he proposed to get together and go out the next day after work, but I unfortunately, was scheduled to leave early the next morning. I told him we will meet again in California or in Berlin.  He said a trip to California may be unlikely for him, so I will have to return and see him again.  I kissed him goodbye5 and as he left, so did all unfavorable thoughts of Berlin.

John was the Berliner I imagined: Pale, cool, edgy, and in all black.  I know, such a narrow pre-imagination.  I did not pre-imagine my first Berliner friend to be so friendly, charming, and helpful; that was truly a gift.

Paper-flavored Pizza and Pinot Noir

When John left, my fattie thoughts returned.  I remembered I have not had anything to eat but the overpriced pretzel and macchiatto from the airport early in the morning.  It was already around 2:00 PM, and I was starving.  I went to the restaurant/lounge area and ordered something I thought would be quick and easy: pizza and wine.  When my pizza arrived after ten days, I immediately noticed it was dry and probably bland.  I was right.  It tasted like greasy cardboard with a dash of salt.  But not even the driest pizza and horrible hotel restaurant service could take me away from the excitement of speed dating a new city.  Freshly blessed with John’s generosity, I was a bit more tolerant of the trend of rudeness6 from middle-aged German women.

German Wine Thirst

On top of being the recipient of a good deed from a local, I also had the silly delight of having my first red German wine IN Germany; and this tickled me away from being overly annoyed. I chose the Spatburgunder, essentially the German Pinot Noir.  I momentarily closed my eyes7 and imagined to be in the midst of German vineyards.  I inhaled my complimentary pizza and wine so I could then set off to see the city.   I  returned to my room to shower; brush my teeth, and freshen my breath; and sprayed about half of the cologne bottle on every inch of my skin, wishful thinking that a torrid kissing scene awaits for me in Berlin City Central.

Walking in Berlin

Most of you would likely agree that exploring by foot (or bicycle in some cities) is the best way to get to know a city.  As a prelude to my walking escapade, I took a train from my hotel and made it to Berlin City Center in about 20 minutes.  On the way to the city, I met a wrestler, a DJ, and a lesbian couple.  Our interactions were brief and I did not get to connect through social media with all of them, only the cutest one.  After de-training8 at a beautiful station, I walked and walked, with no apparent sight of a makeout session9.  My eyes made love, however, with the mesmerizing city scape and that was worth smelling good and having fresh breath for.  With the few hours I had, I made the most of the experience and walked as much as my muscular10 calves would allow.  Berlin is a lovely city with plenty of wide open spaces, great architecture, and interesting people.  I was competing with the daylight and wanted to see as much as I could of the city, so my stops, although fantastic, were momentary.  I normally like to pause and enjoy the gifts of the moment, especially in a new city, but I was just in town for a few hours and I knew I would return.  I was at peace with just seeing a quick sampler of the city.

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Travel Solo-tude

Although I enjoy traveling with family and friends, I also thrive on solo trips because they give me an opportunity to geek out and be slow without annoying anyone on things that captivate me.  I always remember that trip to New York City with my sister that ended disastrously because I took so long in seeing the art at The Met.  She was done in an hour, and although I tried my best to be considerate and rush, three hours was the best I could do.  We were kicked out of The Met for the hostility that ensued and only one of us made it out of Central Park without blood on our hands.11

I have seen images of the Berlin Cathedral and it was spectacular to see it in person. The Berlin Cathedral is the biggest and most important Protestant Church in Berlin (and perhaps all of Germany). Being in front of and/or inside iconic buildings never fail to bring me awe.  I did not travel a lot as a child or teenager, and I am grateful that as an adult, I finally have the opportunity and the means to travel and learn more about the world and other people.  In the process, I learn so much about myself, too; and such knowledge significantly impacts my personal journey in life.

The Gate

I’m one of those people who could just stay still – stand/sit and stare12 and reflect on the place’s significance in world and my own history.  Such was the case at the Brandenburger Tor, Berlin’s most popular and arguably most important landmark.  It is an enduring symbol for the decades of pain and suffering brought by division and the healing spirit of unity and liberation.  I could not believe I was there.

Searching for the Fountain of Youth
I love waterscapes, both natural and artificial, and although I am often chasing waterfalls13, there are times when I chase fountains, too. Berlin, like many European cities, is known for its fountains, and when I was at Alexander Platz, I had to linger around the Neptune Fountain.  The Neptune Fountain is one of the most iconic fountains in Berlin.  It was originally built in 1891 and adorned castle grounds with its magnificence.  It was damaged during the war, though, and was then rebuilt in its current location in front of the red town hall in the 1970s.  The four women surrounding the fountain are said to represent four great rivers of Germany – Rhein, Elbe, Oder, and Weichsel.

I was not initially enchanted by Berlin, but now I find it so hard to erase from my mind.  The city sort of reminded me of New York City, with a touch of Washington, DC.  The architecture was most impressive with Baroque-style buildings side by side with the modern structures.  I very much liked the architectural character of the city and I look forward to returning for a more in-depth experience of its interiors, especially since I heard that there is spectacular art within the city.  I also cannot wait to experience the night life, and with a fantastic local friend to guide me.  Twilight was approaching and my exhaustion was becoming more evident.  I walked and walked to see as much as I could; and then I started to head back toward the direction of where I will need to take the train back to my hotel.

I did not want to get anything heavy, so I could rest well in my hotel, so I got something to eat on the go from the train station. How interesting that the sleeve said, “Sun in my heart and pizza in my belly.” That’s your train station dining poetry, on a pizza sleeve.  I speak no German, but food is my universal language.  The wrestler dude earlier proposed to have a drink when I am back in my hotel; that didn’t happen, but something else may have.14

On my walk back to the train station, I momentarily got lost and ended-up finding a Wine Bar.  I did not want to miss my train, so I simply took a quick photo of the window and quickly walked back to the direction of the station.  It was a super quick taste of Berlin, but one that was definitely filled with memorable sights and people.  I am most grateful that such unplanned trip interruption happened, and I cannot wait to return to explore the city even more.

  1. Stay tuned for the next Wine and Heartbreak episode, haha.
  2. From Budapest to Munich; and a trip prior, from Prague to Budapest.
  3. . I first thought he was joking and that there was potentially a scam coming up, but he sounded so sincere and actually showed me his portfolio of work.
  4. This is normally my role in a country where I could speak the language.
  5. Yes, I kiss everyone.
  6. Wait for my Munich grocery story.
  7. Yes, I am sometimes weird like that.
  8. Is that a word?
  9. Refer to previous section if this puzzles you.
  10. I am experimenting on science fiction writing.
  11. Ok, it was dramatic, but not violently dramatic.
  12. With mouth closed most of the time
  13. Figuratively and literally.
  14. I shall not affirm or deny whatever the imagination could imply.

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