Ann and I went to Berlin for almost a week. I enjoyed it last time and I enjoyed it again this time. I find it to be a nice break from the homogeneity of the architecture of Paris.
Yes, call me a tasteless Philistine. Go ahead. Well, on second thought, don’t actually call me one to my face but you can certainly think it privately. I don’t know, I just have trouble with towns where all the buildings look the same. I absolutely adore Toronto, but the architecture of that town also makes me feel strangely strangled and claustrophobic. You know how some songs have these long, repetitious outros? Like Hey Jude and that Simon & Garfunkel song that goes, “Lie la Lie (crash) Lie la Lie Lie Lie Lie Lie, Lie la Lie (crash) etc.”? For my entire life that has absolutely driven me crazy. I remember being in a pizza parlour playing the jukebox as a child in Clear Lake City and just going insane with misery as those songs just kept repeating themselves the same way over and over and over again. Unfortunately I can get that way about architecture, too.
But this writing is not to denigrate towns. No, this is to praise them. The reason why there are so many new buildings in Berlin (and so many buildings that look old but are, in fact, new but built to look old) is very sad.
The legacy of war is never far from you as you walk around there. It’s really quite amazing to reflect upon how relatively recently all of that, and of course the wall, were. But the damn town has dusted itself off and just keeps on moving. There’s something very vibrant about it. I really like it. It’s absolutely covered in graffiti but it still feels clean. It is not covered in dog feces and man urine like Paris is. I got to hear so many birds singing, just like back in Austin. What a pleasure to get to hear bird songs again. I have no idea why the birds sing louder in Berlin, but they certainly do. Maybe because they have so many parks everywhere?
A really funny and unexpected thing that happened there was the Germans’ utter confusion over my name. I would introduce myself and they would be mystified as if I’d said, “my name is Goeiurawoienrpaoweirkm.” “What is your name?” they would ask with a quizzical look on their face and I would try to be helpful and pronounce it all, “Gray-chee-in” and then to my surprise, that would not help matters any and then finally I would pull out my driver’s license and show them and they would say, “Oh, Gretchen! Like in Faust. OK. OK. Yes. That is not a woman’s name, that is what we would call a child.” For real, I got this over and over again. Apparently this common-in-Texas name is uncommon-in-Germany for females out of grade school. I have a child’s name. Call me Greta. That’s the grown-up version.
They have this photogenic TV tower that no one can ever get enough pictures of. This thing has a total “It” factor.
When you go out to eat in Paris it is expensive and the portion is not Texas-sized. When you go out to eat in Berlin it is cheap and it’s pretty darn massive. And what does Berlin really love? Italian. Everywhere you look there are Italian restaurants. And everywhere you look there are pharmacies that carry Dr Hauschka, Weleda, Lavera and other brands I’ve never heard of to take care of your body and facial care needs. And for considerably less than you’d pay in the US. However, then you have to get them home. And if you’re anything like me, you have already packed your heavy ass bag to the gills.
They also have lots of bikes in Berlin. I am always happier in a biking town. But if you must take a taxi, why not just hop into one of the many Mercedes Benz model of taxis that Berliners use to get around in? Seriously. Mercedes cabs. I quite enjoyed the one cab ride I took. The Berlin Biennale was happening so we went to a number of art openings. They were kindof punk rock and really nicely political. Oh, and for better or for worse, English is spoken a great deal in Berlin. Even the signs for the Biennale were in English. This year’s slogan was, “Forget Fear.” I like that.
Also, they have good coffee. And it’s cheap.
But honestly, I was completely captivated by how photogenic I find that town. You can take a photo of a building from so many different angles and in so many different relationships to other buildings. I went out and spent the money on a Lomo camera. I have been eyeing them for years because I love an arty looking photo. And then when the iPhone got the Hipstamatic app, well now it’s quite easy to get that Holga look. But I don’t have an iPhone. And I’d rather not get one just for an app I can put on the camera. And I do love analogue devices. So I broke down and got a Diana Mini and now my daughter and my money go to the photo lab down the street. I’m still in the midst of a steep learning curve with this thing. But I do love it. I look forward to getting good at B&W portraits. All my life I’ve wanted to take good B&W portraits. Buildings and people, that’s what I got it for.
Lastly, I have been mostly vegetarian these last few months. The Island of Dr. Moreau sets me off on a regular basis and I just get so full of compassion that I cannot stomach meat. However, I can break this fast, too. And I love me some sausage. I had a few sausage bites in Berlin that almost made me break down and cry they were so delicious. I felt truly like a Texan. Like a Texan named Gretchen with German roots, (which I am). I just knew in those moments of enjoying those spicy, greasy bites that everyone in my family would agree that that was some tasty sausage. I suddenly felt so linked to them in a good way.