Preface eins: Having basically no internet access for five days means I have a lot of stuff to dump. Sorry for the four or five updates that are about to occur simultaneously.
Preface zwei: I’m eating Bacon Pep: a Weizen-Kartoffel-Snack mit Bacon-Geschmack. A bag cost 0,50 €. Life is good. (Also, observe my use of proper German numerical punctuation, please.)
Anyway, my life for the last week. I’m living in a homestay with a single woman, Marina, in Kreuzberg, towards the east of what used to be West Berlin. Kreuzberg is a fascinating neighborhood — very vibrant, young, screams “city” — and my apartment’s quite nice, if a bit unfurnished. I have a very large room with high ceilings, a nice leather chair, a comfortable bed, and a balcony, so I’m happy. It’s a bit of a commute to the Stanford center — three U-Bahn trains and a half kilometer walk, which takes about forty-five minutes — but it’s worth it, because I’m much closer to a lot of the interesting parts of the city than many of my friends.
I did my first sightseeing this week, which I suppose makes sense, it being my first week and all. Hit some the major ones: Brandenberg Tor, the Holocaust memorial, the Reichstag.* I didn’t know this at all, but the Resichstag used to have an enormous iron “crown” on top of it which was destroyed during World War II. It was rather recently replaced with a glass version, and the resulting building is fascinating — centuries old, ornate German architecture topped with a modern glass bowl. Also, as long as we’re talking about anachronism, there was a stormtrooper at Brandenberg Tor. Why anachronisitc? Well, it was the Imperial kind, not the Stosstruppen kind. I would upload a picture if I didn’t forget my computer-camera connector at home, alas.
EDIT: cord obtained from another student with a Sony CyberShot. Yessss.
I also went to the Sony Center, which is, in one word, incredible. Again, because I can’t upload my own, here’s a picture I stole off the internet:
And even more incredible is the fact that it stands in what was a barren field just twenty years ago before the wall fell. The sheer amount of change in east Berlin within my lifetime is unbelievable. On Sunday I went to a Turkish market in east Berlin, which eerily reminded me of the Saugus swap meet (for those of you SCVians reading this), but was probably the first place I’ve been where I could immediately tell I was beyond where the wall had stood. One of the other hostmothers in the program told me that Berlin is two cities — which explains its three operas, two colleges, etc. etc. etc. But I think east Berlin alone is two cities — the towering skyscrapers of Potsdamerplatz (the only ones in the city) and the bustling tourism of Alexanderplatz contrasted with the garishly painted tenement projects and the run-down, refuse-strewn parks just east of the Turkish market. On top of that, I’m comparing all of Berlin to the first place I went when I left the airport — the lavish neighborhood of Dahlem, where mansions line the streets and the Stanford house, Haus Cramer, is (of course) located. I knew Berlin was a city of contrasts in the last century — beauty and destruction, statues and rubble, west and east, capitalism and communism — but I had no idea that twenty years after the fall of the wall these tropes would still be so immediately visible. Berlin is dichotomy in dichotomy, and more beautiful, I think, for it.
One unifying theme in the city (this is a terrible segue, by the way, and I apologize for it) is the ads for H&M. The department store advertises all over the city — every single U-bahn and S-bahn stop I’ve been to, billboards, signs on streets, you name it — but all of their advertisements use the exact same model. Every. Single. One. She’s in a “Kleid für 19,95 €” on my U-bahn stop, a “Hemd für 14,95 €” on one of my transfers, and thirty meters tall on the side of a building at Potsdamerplatz. I’m told that in a few weeks she’ll disappear and be replaced everywhere with H&M’s next model in next month’s designs. The job’s a strange modeling gig then — total exposure followed by total obscurity, everywhere followed by nowhere. It’s probably not meant to be a metaphor, but I think it’s a pretty neat (and/or depressing) one.
Now as for my night life, the four day weekend for Easter starting on Thursday really just meant four days of (guiltless) going out. Highlights include: Dr. Pong, a bar centered around a single ping-pong table where one pays two Euros for a paddle and joins the line of people revolving around the table hitting a ball back and forth; Bar 55 (or something with funfundfunfzig in the name) which serves 1,3 L cocktails; delicious Döner stands open twenty-four hours a day; delicious Bratwurst im Brot vendors around twenty-four hours a day; the Tram, which isn’t really a bar per se, but more of a public transit vehicle in a country with no open container laws; und so weiter. Ich liebe diese Stadt. By far my favorite club, however, has been the Döner stand at Schönhauserallee, which was bumping some Akon when I showed up Saturday night, and where I was introduced to what might be the world’s greatest invention, no hyperbole: Döner groß (mit doppel Fleisch).
And so, Things in Germany that are Only Slightly Different and Yet All the More Terrifying for It, Nummer Drei: The McDonald’s menu has no numbers for the meal combos.
Finally, at some point I may have to write up a compilation of bizarre things (let’s not lie, mostly people) I’ve seen on the U-Bahn. Hopefully the trend of the first week continues.
* I wrote “Reichstag” and immediately started wondering why the building the legislature meets in is a portmanteau of “reichs” (empire) and “tag” (day). So the empire is easy enough to explain — government, etc., whatever — but why day? I looked it up, and it turns out “tag” also can mean “diet”, in the sense of a legislative body (think Diet of Worms, which was by far the most hilarious part of AP Euro, and any of you who say it was the Defenestration of Prague can meet me after school in the park and we’ll settle this mano a mano). Now the cool part here, I think (other than explaining the second half of Reichstag), is that “diet” comes from the medieval Latin “dieta” — which means a meeting of councilors, but also means a day’s work. OH SNAP LINGUISTIC CONNECTIONS BIATCH.