Tag: Berlin

An Inaccurate Guide To European Manhole Cover Art: Berlin

Today’s manhole cover comes from Berlin, Germany. Berlin is one of Europe’s smelliest cities , but it is also one of Europe’s sexiest cities (according to t-shirts sold in Berlin). It is also a city with good food, good museums, good history, and great manhole covers. (A quick suggestion for the manhole cover makers in Berlin, if you didn’t drill holes in the cover it might reduce the sewer smell.)

Berlin

Berlin

Before we dig in to the cover, let me apologize for the shoes, I realize that they are a distraction and there is no excuse for buying shoes this bright, but it happened, it was nearly unavoidable, and I now like them. (If you are curious about how they got on my feet you can read about it here: TSOJ: Berlin–Ugly Shoes, Horrible Hotels, and How Germany Won the War of Breakfast.)

This is a pretty busy manhole cover so starting at the bottom it goes: Reichstag, TV Tower, Brandenburg Gate, Victory Column, Mystery thing, No Idea thing, and Kaiser Wilhelm Church.  I think some of the better places have been left off the cover, but that might just be me. When the artist planned this cover out I am sure there were a few tough decisions to make. For example, they were probably told to get an equal amount of stuff from both sides of the city;  this theory might also explain the two mystery objects on the cover. It is also possible that one of the mystery objects is the Pergamon Museum (the one closest to my left foot), but I don’t recall the Pergamon having any big, tall towers. Is it possible the museum had towers at one time? Yes. Where did the towers go? That is something that requires research and therefore that won’t be happening this morning. Just for fun, let me say that the towers were put in a museum in Turkey after WWII.

I don’t know about you, but I cannot see an image of the Brandenburg Gate without thinking of David Hasselhoff singing Freedom, which should be reason enough to remove the image from the manhole cover which would leave space for some other stuff that wouldn’t remind me of David Hasselhoff. It is one of many oddities of German/American relations. We (USA! USA!) dropped a number of bombs on Germany and then said, “You know, let’s be friends.” Then we spent the next 50 years hating half of Germany and loving the other half. We expressed this love by inflicting David Hasselhoff on them. They now pretend not to know who he is and people like me continue to remind them.  Germans don’t forget embarrassing stuff, I still remember getting perms in high school, as well as every junior high dance; I’m talking to you, Tammy Carroll…too tired to dance, sure. (Yes, I am a little German.)

The TV Tower is also know as Fernsehturm Berlin, but since English speakers have no chance of getting that pronounced correctly we call it the TV Tower; if there is one thing we know how to pronounce it is TV. The tower was on the wrong side of the wall back in the day, but today you can go up to the top and see the whole city. (These views are always overrated in my opinion. Seeing a city from up high is pretty disappointing. I end up looking at a lot of parking lots and wondering how much it costs to park there.) The TV Tower is also the default wide-angle-arial shot used by all movie directors to indicate that the setting is Berlin. It simplifies things. If you had a shot of the Reichstag people would wonder where it was, if you had a shot of Brandenburg Gate people would wonder if David Hasselhoff was in the movie (which, like yelling “Fire” in a theater should be illegal), and if you had a shot of the Victory Column people would get super confused…it has been a long time since Germany finished a war with a victory.

Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche is really not named well, but it looks good on the manhole cover. The cathedral should be named something else since it is really a cathedral and a half. There is the old blown up part, and then there is the new tower and church that holds the biggest, scariest, gold, flying Jesus I have ever seen.  I think the church ended up on the cover more because of its location (“West side represent”) than its value as a historical landmark in Berlin. It is cool to take a peek inside the church and see all the blue stained glass and flying gold Jesus, but I can think of several locations that are better.

I have avoided the mystery object long enough, let’s tackle this thing now. I have no idea what that thing is. Is it a map of the park? Is it the food court at KeDeWe? Is it a palace garden? Is it a piece of toast that has its own children’s television show? (You heard me right, look this up on YouTube: Bernd das Brot. You’re welcome.) Whatever it is, it doesn’t belong with the other buildings because I am sure it is not a building. I don’t make the rules for what can or cannot be on manhole covers, but I think a rule should be made. Either you go all buildings, or you go no buildings. It seems very un-German to have something this inconsistent on the cover. Maybe some of those German engineers I hear about all the time should devote themselves to straightening out Berlin’s manhole cover.

The final detail on the cover is for the sewer workers. The words say, “Berliner Wasserbetriebe” which I believe means Berlin Water Company or something like that. The arrows are there to help the workers know which direction to put the cover back on correctly. I think the arrows are a good idea, more manhole covers should think about having some directional arrows to help out.

Well, that’s enough learning for today, you have my permission to take a nap and call it good.

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TSOJ: Final Thoughts on Berlin

I found beer flavored beer was best.

I found beer flavored beer was best.

10. Flavored beer has its limits. While in Berlin I sampled lime flavored/colored beer, raspberry flavored/colored beer, lemon beer, and grape/colored (is grape a color?) beer. The research was exhausting, but that is why I am here, I boldly drink what many women and children have drunk before. The lime beer was passable, the lemon beer was good, everything else was a bad idea. I refused to try the banana beer. I did hear that the banana beer was good, but after the grape disaster I decided to stick to regular beer.

"I'm Scottish and trying to speak English!"

“I’m Scottish and trying to speak English!”

9. Drunks are annoying no matter where you go. “Oh, I see, you can drink all the flavored beer you want, but if some Scotsmen get a little too much beer in them…” Okay, first off, I did not drink all that awful beer at once. I spaced the bad beer into different days to keep my precious palate clean. I was having a nice evening in Berlin when this crew began having “too much fun.” How do you know you are having too much fun? You are loud. You are speaking English, but the people who understand English are constantly asking you to repeat what you said because they are not sure if you are still speaking English.

185(365) knees

185(365) knees (Photo credit: JasonTank)

8. Cut-off shorts must be stopped. I remember seeing these pants/shorts things and laughing, now they are everywhere and Berlin is not helping to stop the spread of this fashion disease. I really, really don’t like this. What is next? Bell-bottoms, super bell-bottoms, and open necked shirts with medallions?

7. Gypsies have shifted their begging strategy in Berlin. I could be wrong about this, but I did not see the traditional women asking for money. I was caught off-guard once. I was walking down the Unter den Linden and a young man approached me with a little piece of cardboard and a signature page. He indicated that he could not hear by pointing at his ears and making moaning sounds. I looked at the signature page and thought I was signing a document for legislation for deaf people…until I got to the last box to fill in: Donation. I put a big 0 with a line through it and got a little steamed. It was obviously a scam and felt like tossing his little sign into the street, but just handed it back to him and told him he was getting nothing from me. After this incident, I saw many more of these “deaf” guys all about the same age wandering the tourist areas asking for “donations.” I assume people who are deaf are actually taken care of in Berlin and know SIGN LANGUAGE!

6. Beggars in Berlin, and in many cities I visited, have multiplied. What struck me about the beggars (I am not speaking of homeless people) in Berlin were the physical deformities. I saw one shirtless man with scars covering his back and shoulders from some type of acid or fire burn and I saw other people whose legs had been so badly damaged that they could barely walk. I know that in some countries beggars are physically maimed in order to improve their ability to get more money and after seeing these people I wondered if this “tradition” has moved to Berlin. It is difficult to believe that in a country that provides so much of a social safety net that there are people still falling through the cracks. The cynical part of me thinks that it is a scam, but I also cannot help but carry the guilt of winning the “birth lottery.”

IMG_1625

Jewish Holocaust Memorial.

5. There is no better city in the world for history and moving monuments. I have not been to Cairo, Athens, or Istanbul, but I think Berlin holds more history than any other spot. Of course, this history can not be glamorized and the German people have done a better job than any other place I have been to hold a mirror up to the horrors and learn from them.

Empty underground library located where the Nazis burned books.

Empty underground library located where the Nazis burned books, and little of my finger.

4. Bullet holes in stuff makes it more interesting. I remember being fascinated by a church in London that still had scars from bombs dropped in WWII. I looked and looked at the small dents and chunks missing from the marble of the church and understood that history wasn’t something that just happened in a boring class or books. Berlin has more bullet holes in it than a Quentin Tarantino movie. Even the Victory Tower, which has been fully restored, still has all the bullet holes and dents left in it.

Victory Tower recently restored.

Victory Tower recently restored.

The restoration missed a few spots.

The restoration missed a few spots.

Chunk of marble missing from WWII.

Chunk of marble missing from WWII.

3. The German language mystifies me. I really cannot seem to make my mouth and eyes work at the same time. I see the word, think about what it might sound like, and then completely mispronounce the word. This is shameful, but it is a fact. I cannot order a single food in German besides beer, and the only reason I can pronounce beer is because it sounds the same in English.

2. Eat street food in Berlin. The currywurst is good, the doner is great, and the ethnic food in Berlin is really outstanding. Most of us want to go to Germany and eat “German” food but if you want to eat that stuff do it in Munich where they celebrate that whole beer and brats thing. In Berlin eat ethnic food. It is less expensive and really good.

Currywurst mit pommes.

Currywurst mit pommes.

Rhubarb flavored soda? I'll bet that is good...nope.

Rhubarb flavored soda? I’ll bet that is good…nope.

Doner.

Doner.

1. I can visit Berlin many more times and not get tired of it. (Okay, full disclosure, I do think they need to do something about the smell.)IMG_1818

 

TSOJ: Berlin, like a local (who speaks no German)

East Berlin

East Berlin

When you are in Berlin during the summer you will get a whiff of something unpleasant, something that smells like a sewer and that is because it is the sewer. I don’t know why the sewer smells like it does, but it is one of those distinctive aspects of Berlin that are inexplicable. In a country with the infrastructure like Germany one would think that moving human waste without having the odor escape from the sewer might be a priority, but apparently it is not, but after a few days in Berlin I did not notice the smell any longer. The only thing I did smell was on a particularly hot day I got on a subway and smelled what can only be described as Atomic B O. I wondered who on the subway needed a shower, the good news was that the person in need of a shower was the dude wearing my shirt. The best part of me stinking up the subway car was that I really didn’t care. Yep, I should have put on more deodorant, but I didn’t and now it is too late. I was trying to conserve a little travel sized deodorant for the whole month-long trip, but I was now running low and in my effort to conserve I probably went a little too far. (I have since come to my senses and purchased another lump of deodorant.)

One of the best things about going to Berlin was seeing someone I knew. Aristea was a Berliner and had been a student at my school this past year. My first words to her when I met her in the summer were, “Your city smells.” (I’m all class, all the time.) Despite this first encounter, she agreed to meet with me while I was in Berlin. We met at the Jewish Museum (after I found it, I got lost twice thanks to 70/30% rule of German signage) and I met Aristea’s friend Chloe who was visiting from France. We wandered through the museum for a little while trying to understand what was going on, but I was struck immediately by the use of one word in all of the descriptions of the Jewish people in the exhibits: murdered. Almost all of the Holocaust/Jewish museums I have been to say things like, “Issac perished in Auschwitz, or Issac was executed in Auschwitz, or Issac died in Auschwitz.” Murdered is a personal word, it is not a word used to describing mass killings. I am certain that this word was used purposefully, to personalize the deaths of these innocent people, but also to hammer home the deaths were intentional and not accidental or part of the machine of time.

The modern wing of the Jewish Museum.

The modern wing of the Jewish Museum.

Another beautiful day in Berlin.

Another beautiful day in Berlin.

Several of the exhibits were just experiences. I stood in a large room looking up at a shaft of light, there was no explanation, but to me it seemed like the hope of the Jewish people during the Holocaust. They could see something in the distance but were surrounded by darkness and the light was very far away.

That light was way, way up there.

That light was way, way up there.

The next spot was a little courtyard with large rectangular blocks of cement. At first everything seemed normal, until you stood in the courtyard. The blocks provided a visual illusion that you were standing upright, but the ground was actually on a slope and it was difficult to walk because the visual cues were telling you one thing, but the reality was different.

Looks straight up, but it isn't.

Looks straight up, but it isn’t.

We eventually got upstairs and began the history part of the museum. I thought I knew a little about Jewish life and beliefs, but it did not take long for me learn about five times as much as I had ever known. I learned about traditions, about Jewish beliefs, about Jewish history, and about stuff I hadn’t ever considered. We were there for two and a half hours and we could have stayed there twice as long.

Aristea standing in front of a sound wall. The headphones picked up different voices as you moved around. No one spoke English, but a few times I recognized a name and age from the voices.

Aristea standing in front of a sound wall. The headphones picked up different voices as you moved around. No one spoke English, but a few times I recognized a name and age from the voices.

The Tree of Wishes. Grab a paper apple, write a wish, hang it in the tree. I put, "I hope the Cubs win the World Series." That is a lie, I put up a little hippie note about love and peace.

The Tree of Wishes. Grab a paper apple, write a wish, hang it in the tree. I put, “I hope the Cubs win the World Series.” That is a lie, I put up a little hippie note about love and peace.

Large glass courtyard set aside for eating and thinking after the visit.

Large glass courtyard set aside for eating and thinking after the visit.

After the Jewish museum we were off to eat Thai food. I love Thai food, but I also suffer from the idea that the best ethnic food can be found in America. Why did I believe this? Primarily ignorance, but a little of it was buying into the idea that America is a melting pot of many cultures and everywhere else in the world is pretty much a collection of mono-ethnic cultures where people don’t mix. This is not the case, the world is incredibly diverse and while America has good Thai food, so does Berlin, really good Thai food.

We met Aristea’s mom at the restaurant and got seats outside along the street. I really love the relaxed attitude of eating outside in Europe, it is one of the great pleasures of life. At our table to eat Thai food, we had a French woman, two Berliners and an American, it was very international, the best news was that everyone spoke excellent English. It was so nice to be able to be taken care of by my German-speaking hosts. They ordered, picked up the food, and picked up the bill. I had some duck and curry. It was very good, and I got to try a mango drink that was also very nice. I spent a lot of time talking to Aristea’s mom about the United States about her travels. After I told her about my harrowing experience climbing the tower in Copenhagen, she told me that it was possible to climb up into the tower in the center of the Tiergarten. I hadn’t planned on climbing anymore towers, but this one looked pretty safe compared to the one in Copenhagen. After dinner, we walked to a coffee shop and had some caffeine and cake to top the evening off. It was one of those leisurely evenings that seem so hard to accomplish in America. Culturally we could learn a lot from the Europeans when it comes to eating and relaxing. Imagine eating a meal for two hours in America, it just doesn’t happen, but it should.

At the end of the evening, Aristea’s mom drove me back to my hotel by way of all of the places I should visit on my last day. I managed to make it to all of the locations on my final day in Berlin, but nothing was better than the evening that I got to pretend I was a local.

TSOJ: Berlin for Museum Nerds

imageFirst off, if you are going to visit the museums of Berlin, get a three-day Berlin Museum card. It is 24 Euros and will save you time, money, and it will make you feel like a winner. Even if you use it for two days it is worth it. I like the museum passes in most cities because it allows me to see what I want to see and then move on. I don’t feel like I have to stay in one museum because I paid 16 Euros to get in. With a pass I can zip around, see what I want to and be on to my next museum before the paint is dry. It also allows you to skip lines. Lines for the Pergamon can be long, but with a museum pass, walk around the line and find the dude with the ticket reader and cut right on through like you are an Italian. My advice for getting the pass is to find the museum that will have the shortest line (the museums out at the Kulturforum are usually lightly attended because the bus tourists don’t go there) and buy your pass early in your first day, you can easily knock out several museums each day if you don’t have to wait in line and you don’t have to walk through each room of the museum like a dutiful museum visitor. I follow the creed that if I don’t like it, I don’t have to spend time looking at it.

The Pergamon:
If there is one museum in the world that just took my breath away, it is this one. It is the one museum I would require everyone visit. Not because the museum is masterfully put together, or has an astounding collection of beaded work from Mesopotamia, but because it has three of the largest structures I have ever seen inside a building. There isn’t anything I can really say that will over hype this place, it is simply amazing. There are always lines here, and there is an unending construction project that makes it difficult to find the entrance; last time I was here, five years ago, they were doing construction on Museum Island and the entrance was on the west side of the building, this time the entrance was from the south. My advice is to come from the direction of the Berliner Dom and cut about 10 minutes of walking out of your day.

The Pergamon Altar. I found a secret room to the left and behind the stairs.

The Pergamon Altar. I found a secret room to the left and behind the stairs.

Walk around all the saps in line and head into the building. Do you need a audio-tour? I get these little devices sometimes, but most of the time by the time I get to exhibit #5 on my audio tour I am tired of all the history and my brain hurts, so unless I am going to spend a bunch of time in a museum I usually pass on the audio tour. Anything I have questions about I can always look up on the interwebs afterwards.

Sit down, relax and...

Sit down, relax and…

...let your ugly shoes dominate all the tourists' photos.

…let your ugly shoes dominate all the tourists’ photos.

When you turn the corner into the main room of the Pergamon you will see the biggest stairway and altar ever taken from one place and moved to another place. Stealing stuff from the ancient world was a crime, but come on, when I can go to Berlin and see this my ethical compass has problems recalibrating. Take some time, so and sit on the stairs look around, take some pictures, and then move to the east and through the doorway to the next big thing. This room has a marketplace from Rome or something, it is cool and everything, but after seeing the Pergamon Altar it looses some of its wonder. If I saw this marketplace in a Seattle museum I would have been blown away, but in the Pergamon it barely registers. The last room that is a must visit is through the southern door on the other side is…the Gates of Ishtar from the ancient city of Babylonian. The first time I saw this I really could not believe it existed. The color, the detail, the size, all of it rivals the Pergamon Altar. The rest of the museum is lots of really old stuff and I looked at some of it, but if you really want to keep my attention you need to make it big and old, little and old is okay, but big and old is always a winner.

Yawn, oh I suppose this is impressive if you like that kind of thing. This exhibit is suffering from the Jan Brady syndrome.

Yawn, oh I suppose this is impressive if you like that kind of thing. This exhibit is suffering from the Jan Brady syndrome.

BAMMMMMM!!!! Don't let your eyes pop out because they will want to.

BAMMMMMM!!!! Don’t let your eyes pop out because they will want to.

Something for math nerds.

Something for math nerds.

More banners for math nerds.

More banners for math nerds.

Imagine how impressive this was in the olden days.

Imagine how impressive this was in the olden days.

Walls towering above your head, blue tiles, and the power of an empire on display.

Walls towering above your head, blue tiles, and the power of an empire on display.

Neues Museum:
While on Museum Island make sure you drop in to see this museum of old Egyptian stuff. I wasn’t going to visit the museum initially, but Doctor Phillip advised me that I must see it while we were drinking beer along KuDam on my first night in Berlin. Phillip told me that it was beautiful, he even did the Italian thing where he put his fingers up to his mouth and made a kissing sound indicating that is was extra-lovely. He was right, this museum was pretty good. The worst part of the museum was that each room seemed to have a different rule about taking pictures and I wasn’t sure if this was just to confuse me or if it was done so that the German museum guards can yell at people. Either way, there were a lot of great hieroglyphics and the bust of Nefertiti was amazing like Dr. Phillip told me. (Imagine me putting my fingers to my lips and making kissing noises.)

Some old fashioned graffiti. Take that Banksy.

Some old fashioned graffiti. Take that Banksy.

Let me translate: Dad, pick up some cow, duck, and wheat at the store before you come home from work.

Let me translate: Dad, pick up some cow, duck, and wheat at the store before you come home from work.

Nefertiti bust

I had a caption here about allowing Wikipedia to take photos but not me, where’d it go?

The Gemäldegalerie:
I wanted to go to this museum to see the two Vermeer paintings and that was about it, but I was pleasantly surprised by the collection of really interesting old paintings. I arrived early at the museum, actually I arrived 24 hours early to find out that the museum is closed on Monday, but I did not let that hold me back and returned 24 hours later and jumped passed the line and was off into the many rooms. I had a little guide that was supposed to take me through all the rooms, but I abandoned that thing in about 10 minutes since I can walk and chew gum at the same time I figured I would not get lost and I was right. The rooms I jogged through were the portrait rooms but the rest of the rooms had some pretty cool paintings. What I liked most was the humor found in the paintings.

Vermeer at his best. Girl drinking, man pouring, symbolic stained glass window...there's some interesting stuff going on here.

Vermeer at his best. Girl drinking, man pouring, symbolic stained glass window…there’s some interesting stuff going on here.

Drunken card players. The guys in the background are priceless.

Drunken card players. The guys in the background are priceless.

Drunken card game #2. Things haven't changed much over time.

Drunken card game #2. Things haven’t changed much over time.

Venus without her shell, and without a few other things like clothing.

Venus without her shell, and without a few other things like clothing.

The best picture ever. I want to visit this place.

The best picture ever. I want to visit this place.

What is going on under that roof? Is that a donkey?

What is going on under that roof? Is that a donkey?

Pies on the roof, lovers in the attic, and fighting.

Pies on the roof, lovers in the attic, and fighting.

The drunk guy with face plastered to the table still makes me laugh.

The drunk guy with face plastered to the table still makes me laugh.

A guy falling through a basket? What in the world is going on here?

A guy falling through a basket? What in the world is going on here?

Portraits are usually boring, but this one has plenty to wonder about. His notepad really interested me.

Portraits are usually boring, but this one has plenty to wonder about. His notepad really interested me.

A note for historical accuracy: I do not recall weasel being served at the last supper (it certainly would make Communion messier these days), and I am pretty sure Judas did not bring his coins to the dinner.

A note for historical accuracy: I do not recall weasel being served at the last supper (it certainly would make Communion messier these days), and I am pretty sure Judas did not bring his coins to the dinner.

And while I'm nit picking, I assume this beautiful painting is of Jesus and Mary. Then, Mr. Artist, why is there a Jesus on the cross in the background?

And while I’m nit picking, I assume this beautiful painting is of Jesus and Mary. Then, Mr. Artist, why is there a Jesus on the cross in the background?

The Neue Nationalgalerie:
The best part of this museum was the old statutes upstairs. The paintings downstairs were okay, but a lot of the modern art movement is lost on me. Mark Rothko is the guy I always think of when I think of art that I just don’t get and here is a fine example of his work. It is better in real life, but skeptics of modern art aren’t going to buy too many of his paintings because “my kid could paint that.” Most of the art in this collection I would classify as “protest art” which is interesting but not always beautiful. I would say that the only reason to drop in here is to do it because it is close to the Gemäldegalerie and if you have a museum pass it doesn’t hurt.

The detail in this sculpture was amazing.

The detail in this sculpture was amazing.

This is marble...how do you do that?

This is marble…how do you do that?

Mark Rothko...I call this one red and red.

Mark Rothko…I call this one red and red.

The Birth of Hitler. This was a large painting that caught my lazy eye.

The Birth of Hitler. This was a large painting that caught my lazy eye.

The lady did not stop this assault and I just took pictures.

The lady did not stop this assault and I just took pictures.

 

TSOJ: Bike Tour of Potsdam

In my humble and important opinion, bike tours are one of the best ways to see most European cities, and my favorite bike tour company (Fat Tire Bike Tours) always manages to do all the things that make a bike tour great. I have taken three tours based in Paris (day tour, night tour, Versailles) and I have taken one of the many Berlin tours, so when I saw that there was a tour of Potsdam offered by Fat Tire I did not hesitate to sign up. When solo traveling these tours are great for meeting people and seeing the sights.

The Crew, ready to rule the mean streets of Potsdam.

The Crew, ready to rule the mean streets of Potsdam.

When I decided that Potsdam was on my itinerary I knew very little about the history of Potsdam other than the end of WWII and Potsdam had some distant connection in my brain. By the end of the day I knew as much as someone with a PhD in German history. (This is a lie, but I could pass a two question test on German history written in English.)

We kicked off our tour by informally introducing ourselves and it wasn’t long before we all agreed that it was a small world as we made connections from our pasts. (For example, one of the ladies on the tour had grown up in the mighty PNW and had spent many summers at a family cabin in Grayland, WA where I worked for 16 years.) We all hopped on a train to Potsdam and picked up our bikes. The bikes all have names printed on their frames and I ended up with The Alman Brothers, I really wanted Anna Kornikova but I didn’t think my wife would approve of me riding Anna all day. Off we went, it was a cooler than usual day and I was prepared by having hairy legs and arms. The people from California and Arizona in our group were cold, but I was comfortable the whole day.

Doing my job as "ass man." Blocking a car, a horse-drawn carriage, and taking an ill-advised picture while riding downhill.

Doing my job as “ass man.” Blocking a car, a horse drawn carriage, and taking an ill advised picture while riding downhill.

Our guide, Craig, was from Australia and brought that Aussie relaxed attitude the entire day. One of the first things to decide on the tour is who gets to ride in the very back. In France they called this the derrière, but in Germany the last person is referred to as the “ass man.” The payment to be the “ass man” is one beer back at the shop, I had been the derriere before and quickly volunteered to take care of business as the “ass man.” The “ass man’s” job is to make sure no one gets left behind and at times is the person who blocks traffic. The nice thing about the Potsdam tour is that there was not any need to block traffic since most of the day we were riding through the huge parks in Potsdam.

I will now sum up everything you need to know about Potsdam in a paragraph. (If you need to check any of the historical accuracy of this section please use Wikipedia.) The Germans wanted to have a Versailles like place for their royalty to hang out, so they built a bunch of castles. It got a bit out of control. Many of the buildings were like Hollywood stage sets and did not have much substance. The different kings all had their own ideas about what to build and pretty soon there was a mess of different styles of architecture. Eventually the kings lost power after WWI and the place was kind of ignored for a few years, until the Big Three (not LeBron, D Wade, and Chris Bosh, but America, England, and Russia) were looking for a place to divide up Germany after WWII. The Big Three met in Potsdam because the rest of the country only had about three buildings left standing. (This bombing is described in Germany as inhumane, in the US it is described as necessary.) After the Potsdam Accord was signed the Cold War started and we got to move our hatred from Germans to Russians. After that Potsdam was controlled by the East Germans and the castles were used by the Communist Party leaders as summer retreats. There was some other important stuff along the way, but that is the condensed version.

On our bikes we saw some awesomely weird buildings and rode around the whole city. I must say, when people have unlimited funds to build things they go a bit nutty. The worst building was this Chinese Pagoda building. There were Germans who had been to China to trade opium and they returned with some great stories about the buildings, so instead of having the architect visit China or bringing in a Chinese builder, they just kind of winged it. The result is a building that is either blatantly racist, or just plain ugly. I believe the traders were smoking their product instead of just trading it.

This is a real building. This building exists.

This is a real building. This building exists.

What's worse, the hats or the mustache?

What’s worse, the hats or the mustache?

That's a lot of gold leaf.

That’s a lot of gold leaf.

Shocked, but certainly amused.

Shocked, but certainly amused.

One of the kings, Frederick The Great (aka Frederick II), had an exciting life. He tried to run away from his father and leave the royal thing in the rearview mirror, but one of his friends ratted him out. (Most historians agree he was homosexual and trying to escape with his lover.) The king executed Fredrick’s lover; forcing Fred to watch. Freddy then decided to behave himself and even got married (kind of, no kids and he is buried next to his dogs, his wife’s grave is nowhere to be seen). The best thing King Freddy did was bring potatoes to Germany. At first Germans did not want to eat potatoes, so the King Freddy made a law that said that only the royals could eat potatoes. This changed everyone’s attitude about potatoes and soon people were trying to steal potatoes from the royal potato patch. After a year king Freddy lifted the ban on potatoes and everyone was making potato salad, mashed potatoes, and eating potatoes like crazy. Germans are still potato crazy.

The Potato King's grave, with potatoes and his dogs, you can not make up history this awesome.

The Potato King’s grave, with potatoes and his dogs, you can not make up history this awesome.

Around noon, we stopped to have a little lunch in a beer garden. This beer garden overlooked a lake and offered traditional German food: Beer, sausages, lentil soup, potatoes of various types, and pretzels. I decided that a liter of seasonal beer was needed to wash down my brat, potato salad, and kraut. It was a great break in the middle of the day and allowed all of us to sit around a table and find a little more about each other. Craig, the tour guide, said the most surprising thing of all; he wanted to travel to America and see the southern states: Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Texas. All of the Americans were shocked by this information. Most often, these are not the locations that tourists want to visit, but Craig said that he heard that people there were crazy and he wanted to see them with his own eyes. This view is even more odd when one considers that Craig is from Australia and seeing crazy people is easy enough in his homeland. This is not an opinion, it is a fact.

They needed Dutch builders, so they built Dutch style houses to entice them to come to Potsdam.

They needed Dutch builders, so they built Dutch style houses to entice them to come to Potsdam.

Sanssouci from the gardens below: The Summer Palace.

Sanssouci from the gardens below: The Summer Palace.

This was the servant housing...really, they had the servants stay here so they could show the other rulers where the servants stayed.

This was the servant housing…really, they had the servants stay here so they could show the other rulers where the servants stayed.

Need a windmill to make it look like Holland? Then build a windmill.

Need a windmill to make it look like Holland? Then build a windmill.

Roman ruins built in the distance to look like Roman ruins. If you want to see real Roman ruins you will have to go to Disneyland.

Roman ruins built in the distance to look like Roman ruins. If you want to see real Roman ruins you will have to go to Disneyland.

What do you do when you are at war with England (WWI)? Well, you build a really big English Tudor style mansion. Makes perfect sense in Potsdam.

What do you do when you are at war with England (WWI)? Well, you build a really big English Tudor style mansion. Makes perfect sense in Potsdam.

We finished the tour at the building where the Potsdam Accord was signed. I did not pay the extra fee to take photographs inside the building. There were three rooms for the three leaders: Churchill, Stalin, and Eisenhower; and one big room with a big round table for the actual meetings. It is strange to sit in a room where the course of history was changed, or at least to know that many of my childhood fears of the USSR were formed by the decisions made in this room. We hopped back on our bikes and cruised back to the train station, just barely made our train, and then headed back into Berlin. Once we made it to the bike shop I collected my beer and was given a chunk of the wall. I don’t know if the chuck was because I did a passable job as “ass man,” but it doesn’t matter why I was awarded the fist sized piece of cement because to me the fall of the wall is more about the potential for change than anything else. I never thought I would see the day when Germany was combined and I never thought we would live in a world where the Communist Bloc did not exist any longer. It gives me hope for the future and for all the challenges the human race will face.

TSOJ: Berlin–Ugly Shoes, Horrible Hotels, and How Germany Won the War of Breakfast

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Jesus in Berlin. I’m not sure if he is doing a swan dive, or is using the Crane technic (Karate Kid allusion) to fight off evil in Germany.

Let’s be honest, most Americans have a singular view of German history: Hitler. I don’t want to minimize Hitler’s impact on Germany, but reducing German history to the years around 1930-1945 is a little like reducing American history to the Reagan years.

Berlin has seen it all and for any traveler interested in history, Berlin is a must stop.

Travel inside Berlin has some challenges for a non-German speaker, but people are generally helpful and most speak excellent English. For me the public transportation is a challenge. Whereas London, and Paris have systems that I find easy to use, Berlin is a complicated mess. Now, I am certain that the locals all know how everything works, but to me the S system and U system need a bit of work. I was told that the S system is above ground and the U system in underground, but that isn’t always the truth. Coming off a U train and having to find an S train is a sometimes difficult. Couple that with Germany’s directional signage problems and you have a lot of lost tourists. (I found that almost all the signs got you 70% of the way, the last 30% is supposed to be intuition.) The number of times I started one direction, came back, and then finally figured it out are too many to mention. I don’t believe that Germans care that you get lost, and frankly who can blame them a lost tourist is a comical person to watch: The map flapping in the wind, the confused look, the orientation of map to streets, and the joy of knowing where you are going is a great example of Schadenfreude. I’m not saying that Germans are purposely being mean, they just seem to get a little more joy from your discomfort than other people.

Warning! Germans making signs! Beware of exclamation points!

Warning! Germans making signs! Beware of exclamation points!

Berlin is also the best place that I know of to see chunks of ancient history, WWI and WWII history, Cold War history, and European reunification. London has a lot of this same history, but it is seen from a longer lens, in Berlin it happened in the streets beneath your feet. The greatest example is the brick line that cuts through the street in front of Brandenburg Gate.

It is much easier to cross from East Berlin to West Berlin these days.

It is much easier to cross from East Berlin to West Berlin these days.

These shoes were made for running and that's not what they'll do, instead they'll walk, and walk all over you ex-Berlin Wall.

These shoes were made for running and that’s not what they’ll do, instead they’ll walk, and walk all over you ex-Berlin Wall.

Today cars drive across this little brick path, but just twenty-five years ago there was a wall separating East and West Berlin and a large chunk of ground between the two cities called the dead zone. This is now completely gone and the two cities are now one large metroplex of a city. Most cities grow around a center (I like to think of it like the yolk of a fried egg), but since Berlin had two centers for so many years it is like one of those two yolked eggs. There is the Western center of museums and culture, and then there is the Eastern chunk. When it comes to Berlin’s museums I will admit that I like the stuff the East had stolen better than the stuff the West had.

I think one of the most important aspects of Germany’s history is that they do not hide from their mistakes. It is not difficult to spend your whole day visiting Hitler sites and reviewing the horror of the Holocaust and WWII. Much of this history could have been revised, but Germans have done the more difficult thing, and that is to brush off the dust of history and show people how a country can take the small steps that eventually lead to inhumane acts of genocide.

Just one of the hundreds of reminders of the horrors of WWII.

Just one of the hundreds of reminders of the horrors of WWII.

Jewish Holocaust Memorial in Berlin.

Jewish Holocaust Memorial in Berlin.

The square where they burned books has this reminder. The quote translates roughly into, "When you begin by burning books, you end by burning people."

The square where they burned books has this reminder. The quote translates roughly into, “When you begin by burning books, you end by burning people.”

How did I end up buying the ugliest shoes in Berlin? Well, my blister problems have been well documented during The Summer of Jon, but I finally decided that I would do whatever was needed to find shoes that did not cause me blisters, so as soon as I arrived in Berlin I struck out to find a shoe store. The good news is that my hotel was near one of the major shopping areas in Western Berlin, Ku Dam. So, I hobbled up along Ku Dam until I reached a shoe store and looked for a cheap pair of running shoes. I found some that met my requirements: not too loud, on sale, and in my size. I bought the shoes, asked where I could put them on, and then found out that the shoes I bought were too small. I took the shoes back to the register and talked to the salesman. He said they normally don’t carry shoes bigger than 45, which is close to an American 12. I normally wear a 12.5 so I asked if there were any shoes in my size, the salesman said that they don’t get many shoes that size but he would look. He came back with one pair of bright yellow shoes. “These are the only ones we have in your size,” he said. These shoes only met one of my three requirement–they fit. Everything else was wrong. Florescent yellow is not a shoe color in my opinion, and the shoes were not on sale. My desperation forced me into buying some epically ugly shoes and these shoes have not gone unnoticed. Germans are probably better at making disapproving faces at strangers than any other culture. I got a lot of looks. I know that I am probably just a trend setter, and that everyone is jealous of my cool shoes.

Berlin's man-hole covers are world-class, but they have never seen shoes this ugly.

Berlin’s man hole covers are world class, but they have never seen shoes this ugly.

When booking hotel I take into consideration many things, location, ratings on TripAdvisor, cost, and whether breakfast is offered. Sometimes I make a mistake. The biggest mistake would be the first time my family visited Iceland. There were not many hotels to choose from and prices were high for a family of four. We ended up in a place called the Flying Viking (pronounced Flying Wiking.) It was a little like a garage, a little like a hostel, and a lot like a place that my family universally hated. I was less concerned about the ratings of a hotel on this trip as saving money was the primary priority and because of that I didn’t mind staying in riskier hotels that were centrally located. Berlin has lots of hotels that do not cost a ton and I found one called Hotel Pension Kima just off Ku Dam and surrounded by expensive shops. It sounded like a no brainer to me. I booked it. My hopes were pretty high until I stepped into the elevator. The elevator resembled a painted wooden box that moved up and down the shaft by means of a hamster powered engine. It was the type of elevator that when you step into it, it sinks three inches. This did not make me feel safe, the sign next to the elevator did not reassure me. What does this sign mean? Be careful when passing the flame? Hell is located close by? Stand with your arms straight when the box catches fire?

Crisscrossing lasers, fire, death in a box...

Crisscrossing lasers, fire, death in a box…

After I got my key and headed up to my room, I was confronted by the uncomfortable fact that I was staying in a dive. The bed looked clean and that was really the only important thing, but I wondered how many people had died in this very room. Berlin is an old city and I estimated there were probably at least five people who took their last breath here. There was also the possibility that no one had died here because it was actually a broom closet until it was converted into my room. I dealt with the situation like most travelers, I spent as little time in the room as possible. I slept there and then spent the day out and about. This might be the best reason to stay in a dive, it forces you to get out of the hotel.

Don't get turned around in here, you could get lost.

Don’t get turned around in here, you could get lost.

This room was used to store horse brushes during the Hapsburg dynasty.

This room was used to store horse brushes during the Hapsburg dynasty.

The other part of the hotel was the morning breakfast. I looked forward to it since German baked goods are very good. Apparently my hotel did not get the memo about feeding me German baked goods. We had coffee, orange juice, a couple cereal choices, cheese, meat, hardboiled eggs, and very bad breads. I tried to eat my usual 5,000 calories on the first day, but it was forced, and on day two and three I was eating a small breakfast and then paying for a large lunch. The good news was that I was able to eat cheaply since Berlin is a reasonably priced town, and beer is certainly not frowned upon for lunch.

Getting ready to take out my "breakfast anger" on some brats and beer.

Getting ready to take out my “breakfast anger” on some brats and beer.

Let The Summer of Jon Begin: Top Ten

 

Top Ten things I am looking forward to during The Summer of Jon 

 

 

10. Eating three hotdogs each day while in Iceland at Bæjarins beztu pylsur.

 

 

English: Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, known as the b...

English: Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, known as the best hot dog stand in Reykjavik.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

9. A full day at the Blue Lagoon. (Slippers and robe included.)

 

 

Blue Lagoon

Blue Lagoon (Photo credit: Arian Zwegers)

8. Seeing Munch’s The Scream.

 

 

Munch The Scream lithography

Munch The Scream lithography (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

7. Spending some time in the Danish Design Museum

 

 

English: Table and chairs designed by Kaare Kl...

English: Table and chairs designed by Kaare Klint at the Danish Design Museum in Copenhagen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

6. Visiting the Carlsberg Brewery

 

 

English: The "Elephant Gate" at the ...

English: The “Elephant Gate” at the Carlsberg Brewery, Copenhagen, Denmark. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

5. Taking the Norway in a Nutshell tour.

 

 

Norway in a Nutshell: Flåm

Norway in a Nutshell: Flåm (Photo credit: TXMagpie)

4. Touring Potsdam on bike

 

 

Potsdam, Germany: Sanssouci Palace with vineya...

Potsdam, Germany: Sanssouci Palace with vineyard (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

3. Walking though Vigeland Park (Froger Park) in Oslo.

 

 

Vigeland Children

Vigeland Children (Photo credit: Will Cyr)

2. Vienna’s outdoor evening concerts/movies at city hall.

 

Vienna's Town hall (4)

Vienna’s Town hall (4) (Photo credit: Elena Romera)

1. A full day bike tour of Prague.

 

English: A panoramic view of Prague as viewed ...

English: A panoramic view of Prague as viewed from Petřín Lookout Tower. The view is approximately 180 degrees, from north on the left to south on the right.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Top Ten Concerns/Fears/Obsessive thoughts

 

 

10. The exchange rate. There is going to be some weird money on this trip. The Icelandic Kroner’s current exchange rate is about 125 to 1. This sounds good, but I don’t want to have to use skills from my Algebra 1 class in 1850.

 

 

9. Angry German bakers. I could avoid German bakers altogether but then I would have to avoid German baked goods…not gonna happen.

 

 

8. Being on time. I will show up to the airport three hours before my flight just like I am told, but once I am on the road I don’t want to spend time waiting.

 

 

7. Italians walking slowly.

 

 

6. Italians cutting in line. Okay this can be anyone cutting in line. Getting off the ferry in Victoria last week I purposely stepped in between a family that was cutting in line knowing that they couldn’t pass through customs as two groups. There is a line people! Get in the line or I will get all Clint Eastwoody on you. (Not the talking to a chair Clint Eastwood, but the Clint that stares into the sun and spits on stuff.)

 

 

5. Heat. I am a delicate flower and heat will make me wilt.

 

 

4. Not being able to speak the primary language of any country I am visiting. Yes, I am going to assume everyone will speak to me in English. My multiple years of Spanish class will probably not pay off in Iceland. Actually, my Spanish is only good for laughs these days.

 

 

3. Being stuck someplace where they play Techno music.

 

 

2. Being stuck on the plane next to someone who wants to talk too much.

 

 

1. Gypsies!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angry German Bakers: The Redemption

Pfullendorf, Ladenschild der Bäckerei Allgaier

The inevitable question arises, “If you were abused by German bakers, why did you keep going back?” While that is a fair question, it is a question asked by someone who has not been to a German bakery. German bakeries have very good pastries. While I was staying in Hamburg I found two friendly bakeries close to the our exchange home: there was a Dat Backhus and a small family run bakery within walking distance. So each morning I would get up, walk to one of the bakeries and order/point at a few of the pastries and then bring them back to the house for my family.

I discovered something interesting on these hunting/gathering journeys, Germans are very helpful when other Germans are not around. Now I don’t want to suggest something akin to a “Don’t be nice to tourists” campaign, but when I was in the bakeries by myself, and there were no other people waiting for service, the bakers took the time to explain to me a few of the things I was doing wrong. The first faux pas was the whole counting thing. If you want one Berliner then signal one with your thumb. Using your forefinger is apparently  confusing to Germans who might think you are ordering two of something when using your pointer finger.

At first I was a bit skeptical but after viewing several pictures of my favorite German celebrity, Dirk Nowitzki, I did notice that he does use the thumb when signaling that he just dropped a three-ball from beyond the arc. When an American basketball player gives the three-ball signal they inevitably use their first three fingers. So if Dirk, who has spent a fair number of years living in the US, still cannot break himself of the habit of using his thumb to count three-balls, the whole using your thumb to count as one must be pretty ingrained in the German people.

The next mistake I was making was getting in line before I was ready to order. Americans get in line to save a spot before ordering and may not even know what they want to eat before getting in line. If you would like to experience the German level of frustration go to a McDonalds drive through in the US. How it takes five minutes to order at a McDonalds is a mystery to me. It isn’t like the guy taking your order is going through the wine list or telling you about the specials, it is McDonalds! It is the same stupid menu almost everywhere you go in the world. It isn’t like you are going to pull up to a drive through menu and suddenly be confronted with a choice between carved turkey breast and alder smoked salmon.

My final mistake isn’t one that the bakers explained to me but one I discovered on my own. In the US we have regional differences, but for the most part we have a shared expectation of what is socially acceptable. In Europe these shared expectations are wildly different from country to country. I assumed that France and Germany would be very similar except for the language. When I looked at a map my brain said, “Look how close it is. I should learn how to say two German words so I can survive in Germany.” But once I was in Germany I realized that I was totally unprepared for the cultural differences, or what Ruby Payne would call the “unwritten rules” of the culture. These hidden rules are really at the core of how we view the world. Now prepare yourself for some wide generalizations. I think the German people are very friendly and helpful, but their priority or primary mode of thinking is task oriented. They want to get stuff done. They do not dilly-dally. They get joy from accomplishing tasks and they want everybody following the same rules they have to follow. If you try to do something different Germans are not afraid to let you know. Try walking on a bike path in Germany (the bike paths in Berlin and Hamburg are on the sidewalk and colored red.) If you are walking along and step into the bike path and there is a biker nearby Germans don’t politely ring a bell or say, “On your right.” No they give you the business. Shouting at someone in Germany is not personal or emotional, it is efficient. When Germans are out for a walk, they are walking, don’t try to say, “Hi” or smile, they are walking don’t bother them. Stay out of the damn bike paths unless you are on a bike and for God’s sake, if you step into a bakery know what you want. It is Germany, people have things to do. Tourists should be aware that the unwritten slogan for Germany is, “Welcome to Germany! Now get out of the way!”

Angry German Bakers: Part 1

German Bakery

German Bakery (Photo credit: Alki1)

Where have I had my worst experiences as a monolingual person while traveling? This is an easy question to answer for me: German Bakeries. Now if you haven’t been to a German bakery or seen a German bakery you should visit one, but let me warn you right now that you better know exactly what you want and how to order because if you hesitate or do something wrong you will be in trouble. What kind of trouble? I’m not really sure because most of my German was learned by watching Hogan’s Heroes, but I will describe for you, dear reader, several of my experiences.

Hamburg Hauptbahnhof: The main train station in Hamburg. My family was grabbing a quick breakfast before hopping on a train to Berlin. It was earlyish and there was a German Bakery in the train station that we thought we would hit before jumping on board the ICE train and heading to Berlin. Now in the US (I realize we were in Germany, but in order to explain my plight I thought I would explain the cultural differences in ordering food in Germany verses the United States)  in the US a family orders one at a time. I might say what I want, then my wife and so on, but I don’t think that is the routine in German. I say I don’t think that is the routine because I am not sure about the routine. I just know that every time we ordered like this we got a scolding.

Another mistake I believe we made was not knowing exactly what we wanted before we stepped into the little shop. It seems to be the cultural norm in Germany that you must know what you are going to eat for breakfast a solid hour before you step into the bakery. This might be a bit of an exaggeration, but if you go into a German bakery know what you want before stepping into line and don’t start looking at the baked goods before you get in line or they will think you are an Italian trying to cut.

So, back to the train station, I step up to the counter and begin my ordering routine which has all kinds of problems: 1. I speak zero German and even a “Guten Morgen” doesn’t buy you too much sympathy. 2. Pointing at food in German has all kinds of problems. They really do use their thumbs like in Inglorious Bastards. 3. I am American. The bakery guy gave me about five seconds before he started scolding me. Believe it or not, I was scolded many times in Germany, most frequently in bakeries. I don’t blame the German bakers, it was my fault for not being fully prepared. After the scolding the bakery guy just walked away with his tongs. My family was confused. We really didn’t know what had happened, but the lady in line behind us apologized to us in English as if she were somehow responsible for the angry baker. She then stepped in and helped us get our order taken care of. Once we had our delicious baked goods my son conjectured that the reason the baker was mad was because he had to wear his sister’s pants to work. (The baker was wearing those Capri pants that German men wear.)

Tomorrow: The Lunch Bakery

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