Truth be told this wasn’t the first time I’d been in Berlin. But the previous time involved a midnight stop at the train station when I was traveling with my friend Slacky from Sweden to Prague during college, and I just don’t think that counts. Within thirty minutes of landing at Tegel airport I had taken a bus and a subway and checked into the hotel near the Gedächtniskirche – German efficiency was a welcome change.
After sorting out room keys and hotel policies my first order of business was to scope out the local Thai food options – I left the reception desk with addresses for the three nearest choices and it wasn’t another half an hour before I was sitting down trying to savor (instead of inhale, which is what I really wanted to do) my curry lunch special. I was in heaven.
I met my Tbird friend later that afternoon and for the next five days managed to keep a pace that I never would have thought possible. We made good use of the train system getting around – Berlin covers a huge expanse – and I felt we did a fair job mixing tourist duties, nightlife, and oddball stuff. There were a few sleeping hours in there somewhere, but not many.
Here’s a countdown of nine things I’ll remember:
There’s a place that makes them fairly true to the form I was used to in San Francisco. It was unexpected but welcome – next to Thai food probably the cuisine I miss the most from home.
Missing The Mission:
(8) THAI FOOD
I promise I’ll move away from food-related highlights soon, but I had a total of 5 meals at Thai restaurants over the course of a five day visit. Mmmmmmm.
Good design puts me in a good mood – the Bauhaus exhibit was small but well organized and the guy at the front desk that took my money was really friendly (probably from being surrounded by inspiring design).
(6) UNPLANNED DAYTIME ADULT BOUNCY-CASTLE FUN
Or Jupiter Jump, or whatever you want to call it. It was inside the exhibit hall that the United States donated to West Berlin in the 1950’s. Hassan and I first thought the building was closed but then walked around to discover that it was in fact open, and that there was an industrial strength bouncy castle just waiting for us to enjoy (the exhibit security people encouraged us). It was cool for about 5 minutes, until we realized that we were actually exercising, at which point we promptly stopped.
(5) CITY BOAT TOURS INVOLVING FLAGRANT BEER CONSUMPTION
I don’t think I really need to elaborate on this one, but the warm sunny spring weather made this kind of outing somewhat obligatory.
(4) THAI FOOD
Okay, I lied. But this will be the last time I mention food. Promise. Man I miss Thai food…
(3) CLIMBING REICHSTAG DOME AT NIGHT
Two earlier attempts to climb had been thwarted by the long line permanently stretching into the lawn area in front of the building. Being the long Easter holiday weekend I think many out-of-towners had the same idea we did. We finally suceeded one night, and the experience was worth the wait. The design idea is that the public can access the dome for free – once in the dome there are mirrors that reflect downward into the floor of the legislature, so that the elected officials can look up at any time for a reminder of who put them there. Doesn’t sound like such a bad idea…
(2) MEMORIAL FOR MURDERED GAYS
The holocaust is well known – and rightly so – for the murder of Jews. Six million of them. What is lesser known is that the Nazis targeted other groups, including homosexuals and Roma (Gypsies). Across the street from the Memorial for Murdered Jews is a Memorial for Murdered Homosexuals. I did not expect to see this. Inside the memorial is a video showing two men caressing and kissing. Again, something I didn’t expect. After so long in homophobic Angola (where being gay is against the law) it was refreshing to see a monument denouncing the very intolerance I’ve felt the pressure of since moving to Africa.
A few weeks later, a colleague sharing a ride with me home from the Luanda office asked to see my photos from the Berlin trip. Seeing as how we were in a 4-hour traffic jam (to go all of 3 miles, but that’s another story), I didn’t think anything of the request, until she got stuck on the photos from the Memorial for Murdered Homosexuals. She asked about it, and I explained everything in a somewhat clinical (but honest) fashion, and did so while being careful not to come out. It was uncomfortable. I have no idea what must have been going through her head then, or even now. I’ll pretend she’s gay herself until further notice. It helps me sleep better…
Explain This To Your Angolan Colleagues:
(1) BEATING DRAG QUEENS AT PING PONG
We set out to find a dingy warehouse-y bar called Dr. Pong, where communal ping pong is played. The idea is that everyone brings their bats (I didn’t know this was the techincal term for a ping pong paddle until this trip) and forms a big circle – everyone gets one volley and keeps moving around in a circle. When someone misses a return that person sits out, reducing the size of the circle. Eventually two players are left, who then play an actual game. When the game is over everyone is back in the circle and the cycle starts over. We found Dr. Pong. But then we found something way, way better.
It turns out there was a gay version of communal ping pong happening at another bar in the same neighborhood, so after a group conference lasting about a picosecond we were on our way to venue #2. Hassan and I were kindly given bats and we didn’t waste much time jumping into the circle. Now, to be fair, not everyone in the circle was a drag queen. Some people were just drunk, and others clearly had no business playing ping pong. These factors go a long way towards explaining how I was able to win a round. It was random. It was exhilarating. It was my favorite moment of the trip.