With renewed energy from the very nicest people on earth in Bray, Ireland, we set eastward to the land I have read the most about in history and economics, Germany. What we were going to learn at any of the 200 museums sprawled across the Berlin landscape I had no idea, but I was sure it was going to set the backdrop for this ever-important stage over the last 100 years. What we discovered instead was a series of dichotomies and paradoxes that left me more confused than enlightened.
After landing at the airport and finding our place, our first order of business was to find a laundromat. To our delight, we were able to find one that was open until midnight only two blocks away but when we arrived we were surprised to find the industrial sized machines harbored in the back of a smoke filled bar. Would I like a beer while watching my laundry turn?, sure why not, but not while soiling my current clothes too. Only in Berlin, I guess, is this a good combination.
The next morning we set out to get in a quick workout and then head to the Reichstag (their Parliament building) for a view of the city. The best way to describe the Reichstag is to imagine that Soldier Field had a baby; it has an old traditional building as a base with a spaceship jutting out of the top. (Sidebar, I don’t know why architects think this is cool. Just leave old, cool buildings alone.) The view from the top wasn’t what I expected either. Instead of a big old city, we saw a relatively new flat one. I guess I didn’t realize those 100 years of drama weren’t exactly kind to the landscape. Noted.
The next day, I set out to the DDR Museum on communist East Berlin while Alyssa stayed back to catch up on the Bachelor (seriously). While I’ll let her fill you in on her day, I have to say the DDR Museum was fascinating. For a little bit of context, after WWII, Berlin was divided into four parts where each Allied force (the UK, the US, France and the Soviet Union) was allowed to operate its own sphere of influence. I’ll let you guess which one encouraged the communist spirit. All I knew about the DDR going in was that people were trapped there and were killed trying to escape. Kind of like North Korea. Except the museum didn’t really give that message. On the one hand, yes, people were trapped there but they didn’t suffer for lack of the basic necessities (allegedly). Sure, they appeared to endure a Cuba-like embargo of imported goods and they all spied on each other but apparently they also made some of the finest industrial goods for the rest of the world at the same time. How to square that circle, I have no idea. They also took the family unit seriously and provided jobs for everyone. Oh and they enjoyed public nudity (b/c everyone is equal, see). Like I said, very confusing optics and lacking the ‘we shall not go back’ message I was expecting.
One final thing to note was the public transit system. Like all European systems so far, it was easy to use and extremely timely. Unlike the others, there was no mechanism to ever check your ticket! If you’re not a rule follower (Alyssa), it appears you can hop on and off as much as you’d like. Ticket passes in hand (or not), the oddest part of any trip on the Bahn was still saved for the ride. On each occasion, we saw people drinking any combination of alcohol at any time of the day. Ok, I know, Americans are a little immature about inebriation but that aside, under no circumstances do I want to drink in the morning. It’s just not a pleasant thought to me. I enjoy a nightcap as much as anyone and even the occasional shower beer. I draw the line at breakfast beer. The Germans do not.
It was to get better still! On several occasions we saw dogs on public transit and on one occasion a leash-less dog. The only thing more bizarre was all the kids using the system with no guardians nearby! If Brits are sitting on their parent’s laps until they’re 12, Germans are out of the house as soon as they’re out of diapers! (I see myself as a free-range parent but it remains to be seen.)
So after being someplace old (but not), strict (but not really checking), and moving forward (but not really leaning into it), we’re off to Amsterdam. From what I hear it’s unashamedly itself.