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

Jared in Berlin

Guten Tag, can you please pass the Weinerschnitzel?

So, I spent another day in Prague after I last wrote. If I can encourage ya´ll to go to one place in Eastern Europe, I would say go to Prague! It is certainly one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen, and all the buildings are older than America…it´s all for real, right there for your gawking pleasure. Take the trip, you won’t regret it. No one paid me to say that.

So on to my current whereabouts…..I am in Berlin! Yet another city I never thought I would make it to on this trip, but you know how life has a funny way of taking you places you never would have expected. Elyse decided to extend her stay with me by one week, so we had some additional time to kill somewhere between Prague and Amsterdam, and we decided to go to Berlin! I mean, it is a pretty historically significant city and stuff, so I am glad that I made it up here.

We hopped on the train in Prague and six hours later we arrived back in Germany….and let me say a word or two about some of the trains here. The whole operation is RETARDED! We sat in first class, as our rail passes entitled us to do, and discovered that the smoking section and the non-smoking section are in the same freaking car! I mean, one row is smoking and the next row is non-smoking, and there are no dividers separating the two sections! So, the smoke floats right on over. How stupid. I asked the conductor who spoke a little English, “Uhh, why are the smoking and non-smoking sections in the same car?” He gave me some cock and bull story about how the air conditioning somehow keeps the smoke from circulating. I said, “That´s a bullshitta. Why then, do I see and smell smoke?” He then smiled blankly as if he did not understand, and moved along. And another thing…we had to move seats three times, because it turns out they were reserved by people who got on at different stops along the way….no one told us we were in reserved seats! Ugh!!!

OK, on to Berlin…I know you are all dying to hear about this place. We arrived in the early evening, before dark, and set out yet again on the arduous quest of finding a place to stay. This is something I am getting very sick of, and as we get more into the high season, it is becoming very difficult to just show up and find a place. So, we called each hotel listed in Let’s Go, but all of them were booked.

We were getting very worried that we would not be able to find a place…but finally we were referred to one hotel that had a room available, so we jumped on it. We had to take the train to the area, which turned out to be in the most extreme east section of Berlin, and as we got closer and closer, the area looked incrementally more sketchy….so when we arrived at the station, which looked like it was in post war Berlin, we said a fond “screw this” and got back on the train in the opposite direction, determined to find a place in west Berlin.

We headed for an area called Charlottenburg, which was supposed to have a lot of pensions. We called all the ones listed in the book in the area, but all were booked. What to do? Finally, we got lucky and found a decent place, but the woman who runs it is a nosey, blabbermouth who noticed my middle name was “Moshe” on my passport, obviously Jewish, and began asking a lot of probing questions about whether we eat pork or not, and then made a comment on how she is sure we will be wanting to find a CHEAP restaurant (cuz Jews are cheap, of course)….we ignored her as best we could and went to bed.

By the way, this is the second version of this update, because the first one was lost when the piece of CRAP computer in this overpriced Internet cafe CRASHED just as I attempted to send it. What a tragedy…really….I was crushed. Well, I will try to recreate as best I can.

OK, so a little bit about Berlin. As many of you may know, Berlin was once a divided city, East and West. After World War II, when the Soviets occupied East Germany, they divided Berlin and set up the infamous Berlin Wall. So, after the war, the city really became two separate cities, with two different centers. Now, after the fall of the Berlin wall, and the reunification of the city, there are efforts underway to create a more cohesive metropolis, but at the moment this place is rather chaotic.

First of all, the city is eight times the size of Paris, and nothing is in walking distance of anything else. You have to make use of the trains quite a bit. Second of all, I feel like the city is still under construction. There are cranes everywhere, littering the skyline, particularly in East Berlin. So as we walked around, I felt like I was walking around one giant construction site. The fact that there is so much building going on sort of takes away from any serenity factor that may have once existed, and provides a disorienting, chaotic feeling to the visitor.

As far as architectural beauty, there really isn’t that much happening here. I mean, there are several historical landmarks, and older buildings predating the war, but this city was, for the most part, destroyed by allied bombing. So 95% of the buildings here were constructed after the war, and while they are nice, they are not particularly interesting. The buildings in East Berlin are ugly-ass communist square block looking structures….I don’t know what they were thinking. I guess that’s what all the construction is about…to beautify and modernize the city in a unified way.

So, on our first full day in Berlin, we set out to explore as best we could. We decided to start in the West and make our way East. The western portion of the city is centered around a region called the Tiergarten, a giant, long park in the middle of the city, containing a zoo. I guess it´s the Central Park of Berlin, in a way.

We began at the western section and walked down the main boulevard cutting through the park. In the center is a structure called the Victory Tower, erected in the late 1800s as a memorial of Germany’s humiliating defeat of France. It´s about half the size of the Statue of Liberty (I have to draw some comparisons for you New Yorkers) and has a golden angelic figure perched on top. We decided to make the climb to its tower and check out the panoramic view of Berlin.

We made our way up the narrow spiral staircase, amidst a wave of BO infested tourists. It was quite hot and the inside of the tower was graffitied all the way with stupid things like, “I love the Back street Boys”. Coming out on top, we entered a crowded platform and could barely move around. From what I could see of the city, it wasn’t very impressive at all. There are some notable buildings, but I mostly saw the park and cranes all over the place. Like I said, it feels like it´s still under construction.

We left the tower and continued through the Tiergarten to the east end, where the Brandenburg Gate it located. This structure was symbol of division between the east and west for a very long time, because the Wall ran along its eastern edge. In 1989, when the wall came down, East and West Berliners danced together on top of this gate. Now, it´s surrounded by construction sites and cars passing through it without reservation.

In 1987, President Ronald Reagan stood in front of this gate and in a speech to the crowd, addressed Gorbechev and said, “Mr. Gorbechev, open this gate”. Two years later, the people themselves tore the wall down and embraced each other. OK, so I read the sign at the gate and that´s how I know all this. I am giving you a little history here!  The Brandenburg Gate can be likened as the Arc De Triumph of Berlin, standing at the end of the long boulevard through the Tiergarten, where Nazi marchers once took place. It is made of Roman looking columns with a big statue on top….

Next we went to the Reichstag, very near the gate. The Reichstag is the former parliamentary building used by the early German governments and served at the seat of the Nazi Reich. In front of the Reichstag, there is a plaza, currently full of cranes and feverish building, but once served as the place for Nazi rallies. Eerie. The Reichstag is a mammoth building of Roman type with ornamental facades on all sides, home to statues of soldiers in their glory.  It´s an impressive building outright, but compared too much of what I have seen on this trip, it isn’t very notable. It’s the history of the building that is more impressive….to know that it is where Hitler ran the war from, and all his evil doings were conceived of there.

There was a surprising lack of stores and street vendors near these very important sites…and that was too bad for us, because we were very hungry but couldn’t find a place to eat! You would think they’d want to cash in on all the tourist flow at these places, but nooooo. Where is the McDonald’s when ya need one?

We walked around the old Jewish quarter after that and visited a rebuilt synagogue which was wrecked by the Nazis. We walked all around the same streets that notable Jews, such as Albert Einstein and Menachem Schneerson, once walked. There were 160,000 Jews in Berlin before the war, and only 7,000 afterward. Horrible to know that they were all sent to the camps.

The evening was spent in the Ku´damm, the main boulevard going through west Berlin with all kinds of shops and restaurants…sort of the Park Avenue of Berlin….another comparison for you New Yorkers. We spent some time calling Amsterdam and trying to reserve a hotel. Good thing we called ahead, because most things were already booked! We found a place, but for $80 a night! Guess you have to pay premium prices to pah-tay legally…..but me, I am just interested in the canals….ahem.

Thanks for reading….any questions, fire them my way. I’d like to hear from all of you, so please send me email! On to Amsterdam tomorrow!

Jared