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"An unhurried sense of time is in itself a form of wealth." -- Bonnie Friedman
|Episode 38--Germany: The Berlin Wall
@ Where`s Cherie?
Aug 05 2002 - 16:41 PST
|cherie writes: November 2000
In Germany, it's the women who rule. They don't wear make-up, they have posted signs ordering men to sit down and pee (to reduce the seat sprinkle) and the pay phones are all pink.
The architect's revenge upon women is placing the bathroom power outlets in the most obscure places. Every time I go into a German bathroom I have to play "find the socket". After I have given up, I am always sarcastically told "it's under the sink" or "it's in the medicine cabinet." Sure, why didn't I just check inside the toilet bowl?
Certain we'd find a wellspring of sarcasm, we headed back to Munich to visit Antek, Torsten, and Model. There we had the pleasure of introducing Torsten to sushi. The combination of a German man and a raw fish is a comic strip just waiting for a quotation. But, Torsten fared pretty well (except for thinking that the soy sauce dish was an ash tray.)
The next night Torsten dragged me to out to eat traditional Bavarian food where I cringed through the menu.
"What is Kuheuter?""That is the thing that you squeeze on the cow to get milk." Torsten replied."The udder....no thanks, I am not ready to eat cow udder. What is Kalbsluengerl?""Those are the things the cow breathes with.""The lungs? No way. What is Kalbskopf?" I just kept going down the menu."That is the head.""O.K. I am looking for something like a breast or leg, are we going to have to go to a different restaurant?" I asked.
The next thing I knew, a kinda-cooked freshly hacked off pig's leg was served to me with a dumpling. Bavarians are definitely the highest order of carnivores. The restaurant was established in the year 1158, and I don't think the menu has changed much since then. After washing my dead animal flesh down with a few liters of "beir", I convinced Torsten and Antek to accompany me to the most respectable of tourist traps--the Haufbrauhaus. It's the most famous beer house; Hitler used to give speeches there and you can still see where the swastikas were painted on the ceiling. Now the swastikas have been painted over with the blue and white checkers of the Bavarian flag. People seem to find the Bavarian flags less offensive.
Like a lost bird, I have been heading north for the winter. (Oh, how I ache for the bare legs and sleeveless nights of warm weather.) I hoped a train to Berlin where my friend Anita (from UCLA) is living for a year. Anita is as brilliant as she is simple; as adventurous as she is peaceful. When she lived in Los Angeles, she lived on a sail boat. She's a vegetarian, speaks four languages, and gets her advice from psychics. She also told her boyfriend Jeff that he should stop buying her romantic gifts (like flowers) because she preferred practical ones (like boat lights.) If they ever break up, he is ruined.
Anita gave me a personalized Soviet Monument tour where the evidence of Russian intimidation still stands in massive angry metal monuments. (Anita's favorite is the one in Treptower Park with a colossal soldier holding a little baby, and a giant sword crushing a swastika.)
Enter Mecki (a Hamburger) who met us in Berlin. The person who coined the phrase "it's the thought that counts" must have met Mecki whose intentions are what I will always remember. Examples: he washed my pants and then left them in a wet ball on the kitchen floor, and he walked me to the train station and then told me about a fatal train crash just before I boarded. My favorite was when he said that he wanted to buy me dinner, but he needed to borrow some money.
Speaking of money, I just spent a bunch buying a new camera. Did you know that they still make compact cameras WITHOUT automatic focus? I learned this lesson the expensive way, I bought one. Another added benefit of my new camera is the little button you push to rewind the film, is not so little. This means when I ask a stranger to take my picture, they inevitably rewind my film for me.
One picture I wish I could have been there to take was on November 9, 1989. It was the date when the fractured city of Berlin was reunited. "The Wall" collapsed. Of the hundreds of miles of wall that used to separate East Berlin from West Berlin, today only a few thousand feet remain. The Berlin Wall stood from 1961 to 1989, and in that time 191 people lost their lives trying to gain their freedom.
But there is more to Berlin than the remains of a wall. Berlin is a beautiful city best viewed at sunset at the top of the Reichstag where a spiral of mirrors twist under a glass dome. From this great height, one can see that the great disparity between East and West Berlin is still alive. The ghosts of communism still haunt the dilapidated housing blocks. The communist dream of block housing is the architects nightmare. It is chronically boring. It is horribly practical. It must have been as exciting to design as an airport urinal.
There is beauty in simplicity, but there is no beauty in living in a cube. The nauseating housing blocks, stripped of any style or embellishments, are constructed of post-war rubble. It looks as artful as a second grader's collage, minus the cold macaroni. Inconspicuous, the housing blocks prescribe the cold existence that communism demands. East Berliners lost the war, their freedom, and their individuality. In the USA the most expensive apartments are on the highest floors. In Berlin, it's the poor who live on the top floors--there are no elevators.
More ex-communism ahead.
Next stop: Prague, Czech Republic
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