We were standing in line waiting to get through Immigration in Berlin when I started to look at all the various visa stamps I have in my passport. In this past year alone, I have left my job, and found myself upgraded to Gold status on the Krisflyer frequent flier club because of my trips back and forth to the US. In this past year alone, I have been to Penang, Paris, Brussels, and Berlin. I have also (officially) lived in St. Louis, Singapore AND London. Not too bad for a person in a mid-life crisis, yes?
Anyway, this past trip to Berlin was very different from my trip to Paris even though both trips were with friends. For one thing, the trip to Paris was with the RussianPrincess and her darling Prince. We have been friends for 10 years, and know each other well. Most importantly, I think both of us have the same interests and we are both adults. At that time too, money wasn’t as tight for me.
But this trip to Berlin was with a group of very young undergraduates, who were more interested in taking it easy, and slow, and very unorganized (trust me, the RussianPrincess had every minute planned). And they weren’t interested in the art, or the architecture or history of Berlin. Not that it was a bad trip, it was just very different. I think they were also very focused on having to spend ALL of our time together, while I would have appreciated some alone time. I felt so guilty ditching them for the opera on our last night! Still, one of the boys had the Sony alpha. I loved his camera. And I really appreciated that he allowed me to use it at various points on the trip as well. As usual, food was also the focus of this trip. Honestly, with 2 Singaporeans and 2 HongKong-ers, how can it not be?
Amongst my favorite food items were the fried Champignons (or mushrooms). I’m not sure what sort of sauces they used…but it was sooo good! The mushrooms were nice and soft and chewy. Absolute heaven! The Germans also seem to have a fondness of Currywurst. I’m not sure if that’s a recent trend…or perhaps I’m misinterpreting the “curry” in there. It wasn’t spicy, very tomatoe-y to be truthful. But delicious all the same. Lots of street food was available everywhere, mainly at the Christmas markets. But I’m not sure if that’s just because of all the Christmas markets around due to the festive season.
I also had some sugar covered dough balls, which seemed to be everywhere. I don’t know if its a festive food but all the little bakeri stands had it.. It was definitely an indulgence. But they were everywhere and I remembered having them with UltramanHK in Baltimore and just for an instant, I was homesick and desperately wanted to have some. Maybe I should have dough balls in every country I visit just so I can create a photographic essay entitled “dough balls in every country”. Oh, if only I am as easily inspired when it comes to trying to figure out my research project!
I am also absolutely certain that all the different additions to hot chocolate, for example, rum and baileys, are purely due to the fact that its the festive period. But walking around in rainy, cold Berlin, with a cup of hot chocolate, spiked or otherwise, or even with a cup of Gulchwein, made the treks through the rain somewhat pleasant and indulgent.
We also spent quite an un-healthy amount of time trying to figure out where to eat Pork Knuckles. Even though it is a traditional Bavarian specialty, it is no longer served everywhere. As you can imagine, it probably isn’t the healthiest of food and probably requires too much effort to cook I guess. But when we did finally find it (in a restaurant located in a mall!), it was very satisfying. The HKLawStud had lobbied very hard to eat one, but I opted instead for a dish that I had never had before. It was basically baked pasta (short strands) covered in cheese. Except the pasta wasn’t thick and heavy like the american version. Quite enjoyable. And I imagine quite hard to make. Probably made harder by the fact that I don’t even know what its called!
Of course, we did more than just laze around, and eat like pigs. We did, try very hard to capture some of the sights.
Hamburg was a little bit of a disappointment. There really wasn’t much to see, and it was a rather long journey from Berlin.
The Corporal was disappointed not to be able to see the fish market. But honestly, he didn’t really research as to when it was going to open either. We saw more Christmas Markets and even tried out some of the fish sandwiches. I wasn’t a big fan of it since the fish patties were cold. But apparently that’s how the Germans like it. We also climbed up the Belfry of one of the oldest cathedrals (I think its called St. Michael’s?) in Hamburg. The view up there was electrifying. Apparently every night, they also have a bar open mid-way up there. I can’t imagine trying to walk down the stairs with any sort of alcohol though. The climb was very tiring and I was surprised I wasn’t clutching at my chest at the end of it.
And honestly, am I the only one who is seriously tickled by the fact that city hall in German is “Rathaus” (aka Rat House??)?? But I’ll be honest here, once you’ve visited one night market, you’ve visited them all. They are all pretty much the same. But you can’t help but keep going anyway, because the little ornaments are just so pretty….
We did join two walking tours. One took us to Sachsenhausen concentration camp. I was rather reluctant to go at first. My visit to the Imperial War Museum in London had unnerved me, and the thought of being at one of the first concentration camps in Germany was discomforting to say the least. Now that I’m safely back home though, I’m glad we went. It was a very sad visit, but it was a real punch to the stomach when you are offered a glimpse of the grimness of it all.
We also paid a visit to the Berlin East Side Gallery. Its basically a monument to the fallen Berlin Wall, covered in graffiti art. The AccountStud lent me his camera because his hands were too cold to take any pictures and I was ecstatic. It was so much fun, with all these different random fancy functions.
We also paid a visit to the Holocaust memorial in Berlin. Of course, it isn’t actually called the Holocaust memorial, but its official name is so long that it doesn’t fit on the maps, so most tourists, and their tour guides have called it the Holocaust memorial. Of all the different memorials to WWII I have visited, that has to be one of the most thought provoking ones I have ever seen. Its a large piece of land, dotted by large slabs of gray concrete of varying heights. Walking through the memorial, you will also see that the ground goes up and down, like little valleys. When you are in the middle of it, the slabs are so high, you have to look up just to see the sky. In the bleakness of the rain, it made me feel so small, and disoriented. In many ways, I can see why it took so long to build this one. It required a lot of thought from the person who designed it because he wanted the people who visited to think as well. At once an art installation, and a site to remember the sufferings of others long gone. I had many different feelings about it as I walked through the memorial. I thought of the people that were killed, I thought of how the ordinary citizens felt, how they reacted. I don’t think cruelty, and evil can truly ever be explained. But I truly think that Germany, is, through this memorial, trying to explain how they had allowed all that evil to dominate them, and to apologize for it as well. I commend them for trying to not hide their past, regardless of how bloody it was.
I thought that the walking tours were rather good. The guides were great story tellers and I had a good workout at the end of it. They have a company here in London as well, which I think I will go on, one of these days, when the weather is nicer. Well, that’s about the end of my Berlin/Hamburg trip. I’ll end with an inside Berlin joke picture since the last couple of paragraphs were a little depressing.