Jared in Berlin and Amsterdam

Hi all….I have been in Berlin havin’ a blast. Actually…not quite true. I should say I have been in Berlin, held up in my hotel room, clinging to a bucket for three days. I got a little sick, shall we say….I guess I had something bad to eat somewhere along the line….I think it was this chicken sandwich, called a Doner Kebab…in Berlin. There are all kinds of stands that sell these things…they look pretty good (a huge spit of chicken meat, piled on top of more chicken meat, roasting upright in front of a flame…) and I have eaten them before….but I guess my number was up to get a bad apple….I’ll get to all of that.

But First!

Let me tell you about my second full day in Berlin. Lemme see, since I was in a delirious feverish state for most of that time, but I shall try to recall. I think at that point I was getting bummed out by Berlin…I wasn’t very into it to be honest. This has nothing to do with any of my crazy emotions….I just wasn’t very into the city itself, its layout, or the architecture…remember I said it felt like it was under construction….well, I think that fact, plus the fact that there really is no central area, made me feel like it was difficult to get a lay of the land and get to know that city systematically.  But I think in the end, I can point to most of the significant things on a map of Berlin. Let’s hope all my mental maps don’t merge, and I start confusing cities!

So, for some reason that I can’t recall, we got a pretty late start in the day and decided we wanted to see one thing specifically, a place called Check Point Charlie. This was a border check point located at a point along the infamous Berlin Wall, which, to East Germans, symbolized the daily plight of their occupation. Cars passing through this checkpoint were searched thoroughly for stowaways trying to escape East Berlin and defect to the west. It has become a tourist attraction, since the fall of the wall, so being the tourists we are, we had to go.

At the site of Check Point Charlie, there is a brick path laid into the road showing where the Berlin Wall once stood. I had to do a little East/West jumping back and forth, just to be cool and stuff….just how much cooler could one get? Once I had passed back and forth from east to west a bunch of times, I noticed that there were some police pulling cars over and searching them right near the checkpoint site. I was confused. Was the checkpoint still in operation? There is no wall. There is no war. What gives?

Turns out that day was May Day, not sure what it’s all about, but apparently there was going to be some demonstrations in the area between Neo Nazis and Anti-Fascists, and the cops were vigorously searching cars for bombs and weapons. I didn’t feel so bad about the searches after I found that out. Someone actually warned us not to go a few streets over, because we might get caught in the action…we took the hint and stayed away.

Later we learned there was violence in that area and clashes between these two groups….lucky us to avoid it. Anyway, it was interesting to see such an inspection by the police at Checkpoint Charlie, because that’s probably what it used to be like. Near the site is a museum about the checkpoint and about the Berlin Wall and what it was like to live in such a division. I perused around there for a bit, saw some pieces of the wall, and a lot of pictures of Berlin before it came down. It was interesting to see the Reichstag and the Brandenburg gate with the wall running in front of them, in contrast to its current, open state. The pieces of the wall are remarkable, because they have beautiful paintings on them. Most of the wall was painted by people on both sides, visions of peace and reunion, brotherhood, as well as hatred, slogans of nationalism, who is right, who is wrong.

After the museum, we walked to nearby Bebelplatz, the square where the infamous Nazi book burning rallies took place. It is a wide open plaza surrounded by ornate, pre-war Roman buildings and a domed church. In the center of the square is a plaque embedded into the ground with a quote by an author whose name escapes me, “Where they begin burning books, soon they will be burning people”. It was from the 1800s, this quote. An eerie prophecy.

We decided that ice cream was needed, as well as a place to chill for a bit, because I was feeling strangely tired. We walked around for a bit and found a place that sold gelato with tables outside….ordered up the goods and parked it for a whole hour. As we sat, I began to feel more tired and wondered why. I had a full night’s sleep…I had eaten…we hadn’t walked all that much….hmmmm. When we got up to go, I felt a wave of dizziness overcome me. Sat down……got up again and turned my head, felt it again. I knew something was up. The last time I felt that way, I ended up having Mono, sick in bed for a whole month.

I said to Elyse, “I think we had better head back to the hotel…I’m not feeling well”.  The sky was gray for a storm, and it began to rain heavily, as a fever descended on me which would set us back three whole days and keep us in Berlin far longer than we intended to be there. Oh well, guess it’s all part of the adventure, eh?

By the time we got back to the hotel, I was feeling miserable and needed to just sleep, so I crashed. I woke up in the middle of the night sweating with chills….I knew I was deep in a fever. Why does this have to happen to me now, I thought. I knew it would get worse before it got better. And it did….I will spare you the details, but allow your imagination to run wild concerning food poisoning and what affect it may have on your digestive system. I’ll leave it at that. We were supposed to go to Amsterdam the next day, but we ended up staying an additional three days. We had to switch hotels, but before we did, we had a run in with the owner again, the one I mentioned in my previous email about being nosey and a blabbermouth.

Her name is Rita Neilsen. What a character. I don’t know if I have ever met anyone quite like her. She was a raving anti-Semite, and that is not a statement made from paranoia. Once she found out we were Jewish, this became the basis on which she dealt with us for the duration of our stay at her hotel. Every comment or remark was underlined with Jewish references. When she found out I was sick, she suggested I leave the hotel and go to the hospital. When I said I preferred to stay she said, “Why, are you afraid of the German doctors? You think they are going to torture you? You Jews are all the same. You come here hating all the Germans, and you think the Germans are the ones who hate, but you are the one who is on a hate tour!” She constantly made references like this and our identity proceeded any reference she would make about us… “The Jews in room 9…..”  “I told those Jews they should go to the hospital….” “Why do you Jews have to be so stubborn?” I felt it very abrasive and difficult to deal with, but she was helpful at times any way, and recommended doctors and other hotels. If you come to Berlin, don’t stay at Hotel Funkturm in Charlottenburg, lest you encounter Rita and her ravings.

So aside from Rita Neilsen, my three extra days in Berlin consisted of sleeping, drinking, taking Tylenol, and various other “details” you may not wish to here and I will therefore omit. Elyse was wonderful and took care of my every need. Thankfully, she extended her trip and was able to be there. Regrettably, her extension was spent running around for me. Worked out well, because I would have been screwed if I were alone. So a big shout of THANKS goes to Elyse, what would I have done without you?

Friday we left for Amsterdam, where I now am.

Ahhhhh, Amsterdam. Let me just say this:  EVERYTHING YOU HAVE HEARD IS TRUE.  From its sordid drug/sex culture to its beautiful facades and canals, Amsterdam is a city of contrasts.

History and Dutch cultures fly in the face of legalized drugs and prostitution, and every hedonistic indulgence known to man. The center of the city is full of streets lined with a myriad of “coffee shops” and Hemp stores, as well as sex shops selling all kinds of crazy things. The coffee shops are really drug dealing establishments where you can purchase anything on the gambit of substance. People are sitting around smoking marijuana everywhere. There are just tons of people sitting around drinking and taking drugs. It’s pretty surreal.

There is an area called the Red Light District where the sex shops and legal prostitution reign even freer. If anyone has ever heard the song “Roxanne” by the Police, you’ll know why it reminds me of this city. “Roxanne, you don’t have to put on a red light, walk the streets for money, you don’t have to sell your body to the night.”  In the Red Light District, up and down the streets, there are windows with these neon red lights above them. In the windows, stand “call girls” on display for potential customers. The women are scantily clad and beckon to passersbys to come on in and have a little fun. In addition to the “displays”, there are also theatres where you can go view a live sex show. Just to stress here folks, I am merely reporting to you what I have seen. I would never partake in this horrid, filthy lifestyle, and I can only say to those who do, “Flee this evil place! Thou art the devil!” (Of course, hissing and spitting is involved.)

But besides all the naughty goings on here in Amsterdam, it is a very beautiful city. Its center is U-shaped, coming out of the central station. There are a lot of shops and restaurants, as well as historical points of interest. For instance, the Anne Frank House. This is perhaps one of the biggest attractions here for those interested in the city and not the drugs and sex. Anne Frank lived in Amsterdam, went into hiding with her family here, wrote her diary and was eventually deported from Amsterdam.

You can go see the warehouse run by her father, Otto Frank, where their family, along with some others, hid from the Nazis for two years. I read her diary as a child, so it was especially fascinating for me to see the “Secret Annex” where they hid. This was a hidden apartment in the back of the building, sealed off from the rest of it. You have to pass through an opening behind a bookcase to get in. It’s very small, and you can see Anne Frank’s room and even the decorations she put on her wall.

We passed through the house and made our way around the connecting museum. I am glad such a place exists where people can go and see the face of a young girl who suffered. Anne Frank has become the face of holocaust suffering, I think, and people need a face to connect to.

So, I am going to end it now. Elyse went home this morning, so I am back on my own. I think tomorrow I will head out to somewhere in France….any suggestions? I really don’t know where to go next, so if I get some good votes, I will go where you want me to 🙂

Feelin’ fine and ready to forge ahead,

Jared