Friday, October 13, 2006

Travel Hazards

My dear readers, I hope you have not decamped for greener pastures while I am too busy having a ball in Berlin and trying to find the letters and apostrophes in the German keyboard.
Lots of adventures to tell you about. I've been walking like there is no tomorrow, and today I rode a bike pretty much over half of East Berlin for about five hours, which for those of you who know me, may come as a shock.

But I have to say, renting a bike is a great way to see this city, because you cover so much more ground in this bigass town. So we went first to Karl Marx Allee which was the monumental main avenue of the communist era. A sight to behold: it is lined up with the requisite Soviet-style humongous monstrosities; imposing edifices with greek columns and reliefs of the workers working, buildings that make the human being feel extremely small.

I was thrilled to see this part of Berlin, that still feels a bit ghastly, because on foot it would be too much of a schlep. Then we went down towards what remains of the wall, near the river, which is covered with stupid graffitti asking for world peace and such and then down to Kreutzberg which is a funky neighborhood with a big Turkish and foreign community and where you can actually see how people live. Berlin seems extremely livable, and word is that the rents are very cheap, which is why it attracts many artists and bohemians. There is so much space here! The transportation system is a miracle, there are bike paths everywhere and it is clean and quiet. BUT. It is Germany. Some people are nice, in a discreet kind of way, and some are very gruff. Nobody here dies of passionate enthusiasm. To wit, today, after my heroic biking adventure, I was so tired coming back to the hotel in the train, that as the train stopped ever so gently at the station, I thought I would lean on one of the support posts and I guess the post must have moved (Nazi!) because I fell down quite dramatically. Yet I didnt hear a peep, not a hum, not a breath, from any of the passengers in the car. I asked my friend if people laughed, or smiled or grimaced or something but she reports they were dead serious. People here are quiet. Restaurants and bars for the most part are so quiet that you can have a conversation without screaming your head off, a reason compelling enough to consider moving here. I assume the quality of life is fantastic, the public services amazing. Just the pristine state of any public bathroom and the fact that there are so many is another reason to think about it. However, they should revise their penchant for sandpaper grade toilet paper, also available everywhere, (maybe they havent noticed, but the war is over).
Mayor Bloomberg seriously needs to come to Berlin and check it out. Clean public restrooms everywhere, bike lanes, public internet spaces, clean trains that run on a schedule like clockwork, etc. Note to Americans: Whatever the Germans are paying in taxes seems to be working for them, ok? Amazing that a place where such barbarism happened is so damn civilized now. And in fact, Europe nowadays seems more civilized than the US. When that happens, it is really time for us to worry. It is not only that the standard of living is better and every service is better. Its that it doesnt seem to be overrun by stupidity.

For instance, yesterday I went to the Film Museum. It is about the history of German film and it is fantastic fun (with lengthy, methodical overexplanations). There is a whole area dedicated to Marlene Dietrich, who is like the German Elvis, except less stupid. The point is that they talk about her work and her personal life and never do they shy away of explaining to the public that she basically fucked everything that moved, be it male or female. They dont say it in these exact words, but they say it, admiringly even. This, of course, would never happen in the States. Because people there prefer to see someones head blown away by a Howitzer, than a female nipple in a football stadium.

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