Wednesday, September 5, 2007


I sit in the DB lounge at the Berlin train station typing this up, waiting for a train for Prague.

In Berlin, I stayed 3 nights in St Christopher’s hostel. This was my first hostel stay thus far in the trip. And while I eventually got very comfortable with it, the first day I felt like a creepy fossil!

I arrived late on a Sunday as my flight got in very late from Copenhagen…easyjet did not impress me, since the 2.5 hour delay caused me to miss the last train into town so the taxi was about 40 euro. Oh well.

Since it was like 2 in the morning, I simply went to bed the first night. The next morning I tip-toed my way to the shower room like a smelly old cat burglar. Luckily the showers had stalls to close you off, though it was a coed bathroom so I had to towel off and throw my clothes on before leaving. I’d grace the ladies with my bare-chested physique and towel around the waist but I couldn’t bear the shrieks.

I saw some sights the first day, like the Fernseturm TV tower, which was touristy but cool since the weather cleared up just in time to catch a good view. Like the lamo I am, I even purchased one of the guided tour recordings to accompany me. Unfortunately it didn’t have earphones and you had to hold this hideous over-sized cellphone thingy up to your ear. I used it for about 3 minutes before sliding the unwise 3.5 euro rental into my back pocket. I wasn’t aware that each window has a much more informative description of the sights beneath it!

I also used this view as a way to figure out where the hell I was in town. I wasn’t sure which direction was east and west…rather key information in Berlin.

My hostel is on the east side, but rather close to many of the sights and yet just far enough away. I have to say I experienced mostly East Berlin only, as it sure seems like a lot of the most popular sights are there.

Chris gave me a tip to see a few places my second day, like Gendarenmarket, which was an awesome square in town (still east I believe) with a French Cathedral to the north and a German Cathedral to the south. It was surprisingly empty (maybe because it looked like it was about to pour rain but didn’t) so I enjoyed having to myself essentially.

I must say I’m very impressed with Berlin overall. It truly is a well organized town. The train system is very easy to figure out (key when you’re a moron) and they are also incredibly punctual! And all the maps are well-planned and there are even maps throughout the town.

Chris also suggested Gedaechtniskirche, which is a war-torn church right around where the Berlin wall used to be…though looking at the map, this seemed to be nowhere near the former Berlin wall dotted line on the map. Oh well, I probably misunderstood Chris, as this place seemed clearly in the west side. But the church was very interesting, and after touring it, I got my third dose of “currywurst”, which is some simply awesome junkfood they have on many corner stands. Knockwurst and powdered curry with spicy ketchup. I will need angioplasty soon but it is worth it!

So after my second full day in town, I started to feel like I knew my way around TOO well, so I got off at Bellevue (park stop) and got delightfully lost in the park. Very cool! (this was like 4 o’clock so not at night!)

To digress extremely randomly, most of you know I’m the worst athlete ever, especially at basketball. However, I always maintained that I would always play up to the level of competition I was playing with, like no matter whether I was on varsity or some pickup game with a bunch of uncoordinated guys, I would always contribute the same 6-8 points and 4 rebounds, no matter who I was playing with.

I bring this up as I feel like being in such a well-organized, efficient town, it has rubbed off on even ME. My travel planning in Berlin has been excellent. Germany seems to have a hell of a lot of 10 minute rain storms, so whenever rain would come, I’d scurry down to a nearby train station, find a new sight/stop and by the time I was off the train, poof, the rain was gone!

This happened several times. And each sight, I seemed to spend a perfect amount of time touring and took JUST enough pictures. I’m telling you, I toured like a warrior poet.

And on one occasion, I got to see the most impressive fall I’ve ever seen by a human being. It was not impressive in how ugly a fall it was, but how magnificent and efficient a fall it was. Clearly this person was German!

I was in Alexanderplatz and was taking a rest since I had my day pack with 300 lb laptop in the back of it, when my keen ears heard what sounded like a stumble and peripherally I saw the beginning of it. A portly woman of about 40 was descending down the last of 2 steps on the square and she must have stepped on her shoelace or something.

Well, she knew she was going down, and if I didn’t know better I’d say she LEPT forward, as if Michael Phelps at the starting block on the 100m fly.

At her zenith, I swear time stood still, like she was in the matrix.

As I gazed with gaping jaw, I watched her incredibly efficient landing, as every single part of her front side hit the ground at the same time except her head and face, arms extended forward the whole time. She minimized the impact by doing this, instead of breaking a wrist or kneecap by falling like an unworthy American on our joints.

It was something to behold, I swear!

She then hopped up unscathed, mildly annoyed by the inefficiency of her walking, and she went about her day and left me in awe.

After my day of touring, and realizing it had been 2 full nights since I boozed, I noticed the travel guide had an advertisement for a “pub crawl”. Now, I was wary that this was the free travel guide from the hostel so the pub crawl would be full of youngsters, but then I realized “um, when have you ever had a bad time at a pub crawl?”

So I listened to my wise conscience and hit the pub crawl, which was INDEED full of youngsters. There were others my age…okay kinda. I had a great time anyway, spending much of the night with a couple from Antwerp, Belgium, a biomedical engineering student from Singapore who’s going to school in London and some firefighter guy from Oregon.

The pub crawl tour guides might have a job more dangerous than king crab fisherman, as they were totally hammered throughout the crawl, and they do it every night! I can’t even say I was jealous…though I think I’d take the job in a second.

It was fun, but keep in mind this was a Tuesday so I didn’t get too crazy. (no fire escape lodging accommodations on this pub crawl like in Boston)

I made it up fine today and took one last shower at the hostel, alluding any forms of life for each of my 3 showers throughout the hostel stay!

Let me add also that Germany is a gorgeous country. On the train to Prague, I could NOT believe how green and pretty it was, riding along the river Elbe almost the whole way. We passed Dresden, among other towns, which seemed very cool, especially the villages on the outskirts.

Germany really wasn’t what I was expecting. VERY much worth visiting.

Berlin Ratings:

The scenery: 10
The "local feel": 9 (I really felt like Germany isn’t overrun by tourists, despite all the great sights…and only about 30% of the people spoke English at best, though 90% of people you encounter on tours or hostel staff speak english)
The bars: 7 (pretty darn good…and yes you can smoke!)
The food: 8 (I had currywurst 4 times and bratwurst twice. I love cholesterol!)
The friendliness of patrons: 8 (very friendly country really)
The ladies' presence: 6 (just didn’t see many, but it was early in the week)
Desire to return 9 (MANY places to see in Germany, kinda pathetic I only did one town)
Value for Money 8 (now this was surprising, beers were pretty cheap and I never felt like anything was overpriced)
Opinion of Americans 7 (didn’t talk to enough locals, but they seem to like us)

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