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Are the best in the world. Period.
Hanging out in Frankfurt airport I was reminded how all the announcements in English end with "Goodbye." Very funny.
I’ve been mistaken as German two times on this trip.
1. In Barcelona I asked a person in English whether they could take a picture of me. Afterwards, I asked where he was from, he asked me. He said, “Oh, I thought you were German from your accent.” I asked if he could hold on for a minute, went and threw up in the bay, and came back: “Accent? You thought I had a German accent?” I think it’s because I spoke extra slowly…you never know how well someone knows English so I try not to burst out talking at normal speed.
2. In Madrid a guy asked me how to get to the 3rd floor of this building. We were speaking in Spanish to each other. At the end he asked if I was from Germany. Oh fantastic, I guess my Spanish has a German twang to it, too.
In actuality, I attribute these to looking somewhat German and, in the case of #1, wearing a World Cup Germany hat. But the question is: Should I be proud of being quasi-German?
I spent one day and one night in Munich. It’s a good city, though I liked Berlin and Dresden better.
Check out their Science and Technology museum, the largest of its sort in the world. Also don’t miss McFit, a gym in Munich which offers guests their first visit free. I had a headache going into the workout, and it all melted away two hours later. One interesting observation in the gym: I was the only person listening to an iPod in the entire gym (which was huge!). In America every person has some personal audio device. There, no one was listening to anything (well, I guess the main gym music, which was on pretty loud and playing good songs, but still).
Munich, like Zurich and Paris and probably other European cities, has a tourist gig with different kinds of animals donated by patrons (and ultimately sold for charity) that you can pose with. For Munich, it is lions. When I first started seeing them on every street corner I had a weird sense of deja vu. A minute of thought and I knew why I thought I’d "been here" before — I had seen the beautiful Amy Batchelor pose in a moment captured by The Lion of blogging. Amy — I may not be wearing lion-colored mittens, but at least I didn’t need an umbrella!
Dresden is a city in Germany most known for being pummeled near the end of WWII by British and American warplanes, but as I experienced over the past two days, they’ve done a remarkable job rebuilding the city from scratch. Though their tourism industry is growing, Dresden is still somewhat off the beaten path, providing the freshest look at true German culture and everyday life for me so far.
You visit Dresden to soak up the amazing architecture. It glimmers with old style charm while still being newly built, thus making it nicely devoid of any decay typical of old buildings. It is a bit odd to think about building new buildings in an old style. See my post on cultural authenticity for more on this.
There are four bridges which span across a river which runs through the city. Walking over the bridge with the sun beating down on all the buildings has proven to be one of the prettiest moments of the trip.
My Mom did a day trip to Meissen (home of the factory which produces the china by the same name) which she really enjoyed. It’s a 2 hour boat ride with plenty of bike trails to boot. I spent the second day at a conference, exercising, catching up on some work, and thinking about globalization.
A couple days in Dresden is well worth the train jaunt from Berlin.
After arriving in Berlin I needed a late dinner / snack to hold me over for the night. I asked an African bellman (I could by how long his name was!) where a close, quick restaurant was. He pointed me to an Asian place around the corner. The Chinese cuisine was staffed by what looked to be a Korean waiter. The only other people in the restaurant were Hispanics, eating pot stickers, watching Trinidad play soccer in the world cup on a TV. The play-by-play was in German. And of course, we were all sitting in Berlin. I love this kind of diversity.
After spending 3/4 of a day in Cologne, Germany where we visited The Dome / cathedral, we trained to Berlin. What a pleasant ride — high speed, comfy seats, plenty of leg room…and best of all, no security checks whatsoever. (Side note: Why are we so strict on airline security and do nothing for trains?)
Berlin Day 1 was beautiful! It’s a true big city with some streets bustling with activity, and others right next door harboring urban blight. Some buildings are huge and modern while others are still "Old Country" style, yet to be modernized. This creates an interesting architectural effect; walking the streets of Berlin you have one foot in the 21st C and one foot in the 20th C.
To understand Berlin, I learned, it helps to know your history. I knew no history only 24 hours ago and now feel like I could intelligently converse about Berlin history at a cocktail party, which is the only thing that matters, anyway! The Cold War / Berlin Wall falling / Soviet Union etc etc are all events BEFORE 1988, the year I was born. So for my generation these aren’t in our immediate radar screen. Obviously we talk about them in history textbooks but there’s not that very real texture to them like there is to, say, 9/11, probably the defining historical event of our generation (so far). I’m not good with dates or numbers, so I think about history in broad brushstrokes. As I wandered around Berlin here’s what I kept in mind:
* WW2 – Nazi Germany vs. Allies (U.S./British/Soviet Union).
– We had only aligned with Russia for these brief few years to defeat Nazis, in general we were still wary of communists there
* Allies win
* US/British defeated Germany by closing in from the West, Soviet Union closed in on the East
* They split control of the city (Yalta Conference) among the victors. Soviets controlled East Berlin (and Germany) and the US/British controlled West Berlin.
* Communist rule in East Berlin – people tried to flee; Germans tried to rebel, most failed. Berlin Wall erected at split of the city
* The wall comes down 11/9/1989 with the fall of Communism.
With that history out of the way….We started our day at the Brandenburg Gate, the last remaining monument from the Berlin Wall. It’s OK – definitely nice architecture but not a whole lot to check out. Then I had lunch with Dirk Nolde, business editor of Die Welt newspaper.
We then headed to the Checkpoint Charlie museum, a series of exhibits located right next to the end of the American Sector, and the start of the Soviet Sector (behind the wall). Fascinating stuff. A particular emphasis on the struggles of the German people to keep the City from being divided and the worldwide solidarity with the Berliners in that effort.
Next we trekked to the Judisches Museum Berlin, housed in a massive building designed by American architect Daniel Libeskind. The exhibits and activities were overwhelming — tons of stuff, endless things to do (listen to audio, watch video, etc). It was good not great, I would have liked to have learned more about the state of Jews in Berlin *now*. The best part of the museum though had nothing to do with Jews and everything to do with Sigmund Freud in a special exhibit celebrating Freud’s 150th birthday. Loads of cool stuff: mini-case studies, pictures, and a good refresher on Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis.
At dinner the City of Berlin reaked of honking horns — Germany had just won in the World Cup. The people were going absolutely nuts. Every car honking, people screaming, singing. Ugh. It struck me that there is nothing in the U.S. that rivals the nationalistic pride these countries are showing in the World Cup. Around big events like the Superbowl or World Series there is a lot of city pride, but nothing that spans the whole country.
On Day 2 we visited the Picture Museum of Berlin where there was loads of good Flemish/Dutch art. Visiting the art and listening to the expert self-guided audio tour brought back lots of art history memories and factoids. I’ve always loved the Flemish portraits. We finished our evening at the Berlin Philharmonic hall where a guest choir and ensemble performed Handel’s Messiah.
All in all, Berlin is beautiful cosmopolitan city with kind people, interesting museums, and good visitor/tourist infrastructure. Highly recommended to future Europe tourists.