Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Ich bin in Berlin!

For the second time around... First thing in the morning, at 8 am Berlin time, as I'm walking towards my hotel, utterly jetlagged and schlepping my luggage, a burly German man starts talking to me in German, oodles of talk. I don't even know that he is actually talking to me, since I don't know him from Adam and he is standing on the street seemingly yapping at the street in general. When I finally ascertain he is indeed addressing me, I say simply " I don't speak German." And he says, in perfect English and really pissed off: "the arrogance of the English speaking people". To which I respond, "I'm sorry, I don't speak German, but you are very kind, thank you" and then I add under my breath, and just for my own benefit, "fuck you, motherfucker".
1. What kind of reception is that?
2. My friend and I were walking down the street minding our own business, not looking distressed or lost or unable to take two steps without the aid of a male at all, so I don't know what this guy wants from me.
3. One would think that at this historical juncture in time, some Germans would stop having perceived notions about other people's arrogance. Yikes!
But I'm happy to be here, in beautiful fall weather, taking in the sights. I'm really looking forward to visit the Topography of Terrors, a really creepy exhibit about the Gestapo, and also the museum of the Stasi, the notorious East German Secret Police.

The Topography of Terrors. An outdoor exhibit in the wasteland that used to be the Nazi Headquarters in Berlin. Behind it, a part of the wall that separated the city.

Nazi hatred. Meticulously codified.

To be fair, there are also many fantastic and more benign museums I didn't have a chance to see the last time around, like the Neue Gallerie, in a stunning building by Mies Van der Rohe, and the Egyptian Museum, and the Film Museum. This is a city with too many things to see and do, which is fine by me.
The Neue National Gallerie, unfortunately closed for renovations...

The last time I was here, the Memorial to the Jewish Holocaust had recently opened. It is a sobering open air monument, with granite slabs forming a kind of labrynth. Below the monument is an excellent and harrowing exhibit detailing with great precision the Nazi program and implementation of the plan to exterminate the Jews of Europe. I defy people to go in there, even the most callous, even Ahmadinejad, and not copiously use the kleenex.

Well, this time around, and I'm guessing because of the recent World Cup and the influx of hordes of tourists, now there are a bunch of little tacky souvenir shops and refreshment stands with small open air seating right across from the monument, in what seems to me a monumental display of bad taste.

So you can look at the slabs while you gulp your beer and eat your sausage and ponder the fate of the Jews. Hey, in Prague it was the same. Exterminate them, drive them away or both, then open as tourist attractions the forlorn, almost abandoned Jewish places and of course sell every farkakte tchotcke you can right then and there.

Oranienburger Strasse is a lively street with bars and restaurants and a beautiful Moorish synagogue from the turn of the century. It also is prostitute central. They are all very young, quite fetching and they wear a rather ridiculous sort of uniform:
Heavy makeup, peroxide blond hair (this you know) and a fluffy down jacket, usually pastel colored, over which they wear a waist cinching black corset, plus Frankenstein kind of shoes, (you know those that the goths like to wear with huge, unwieldy platforms). Every whore wears this get up. It seems clearly stolen from Japanese anime, some sort of futuristic, slightly infantilized, fetishized idea of what the whore of the future looks like.
So much for individual taste.
I have this to say about the transportation system, which includes the U Bahn (subway) , fabulous double decker buses, trams and suburban line trains: it works like a charm, everything is clean and on time, and you know the drill about German efficiency. As I wrote the last time I was here, it runs on the honor system, which astounds me.

Coming from New York there is one thing we find really shocking, and really welcome: the silence. The refreshing absence of relentless noise. In restaurants music does nor blast at ear splitting levels, nobody honks their car horns, it is a busy city, but it is quiet. And that feels good.

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