Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Ich bin ein Berliner
Three times in the last few days Sara has accused me of "turning my back on Aachen." She's totally right. After about 4 hours in Berlin, I was in love. This city of about 3 million people has so much history and so much to offer (and SO many good restaurants), I couldn't get enough of it. Sara loved it too, but she can tell you about what she saw without me while I was working (cf. Greece).
We arrived in Berlin on the fast train from Aachen on Friday evening. Our friend and my former colleague Leif, who was our awesome host/tour guide for four days, met us at the Hauptbahnhof (main station) and took us around to drop our stuff off at his downtown apartment, then to eat at a Chinese fusion place around the corner, then to a bar where we had orange-thyme coolers (AWESOME, by the way). The next day, we got up to take a tour of the large dome atop the Reichstag building (the equivalent of the US Capitol). The day was cold but clear and the views, as you can see, were excellent.
After our tour of the Reichstag, Leif took us around to several places in downtown Berlin, including the line marking where the Berlin Wall was, dividing the city into two halves for nearly 30 years.
We also saw the Brandenburg Gate, the last standing gate that was part of the former city wall (not the Berlin Wall of the 20th century), and managed to NOT get our passports stamped by crazy tourist-trap guys posing as immigration officials.
We spent a few minutes at a World War II Genocide Memorial. It was many concrete blocks set into the ground at varying heights. You could get lost in it quite quickly, which, I think, was the idea.
After lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant, we went to the Konzertsaal, a gorgeous building (surrounded in the picture below by tents for the upcoming Christmas market) located in the old city center of Berlin where we enjoyed an organ concert for about an hour. The organist was really fancy, doing some quite technical works and really blowing out the candles with the organ.
That evening we went to our fanciest dinner yet in Germany at "Das Speisezimmer" (The Meal Room), where Sara had a squid salad (another seafood triumph), we both had braised rooster, and for dessert--a cherry mousse (Sara) and walnuts three ways (Tyler). We ate for three hours and loved every minute.
On Sunday we finally met our friends Heidi and Paul, currently in Rostock (about three hours north of Berlin). We went to breakfast with them and Leif, then took a trip out to Potsdam to see the parks with palaces from the era of Frederick the Great (Freddy G, as I like to call him) and the building in which the conference between the US, Britain, France, and Russia was held in 1945 to split up Berlin. As he is credited with bringing potatoes to Germany, Freddy's grave was adorned with the tubers, and his palaces were adorned with, well, everything. Including lots of naked (statue) men--there are plenty of historians who think he was gay. We also went on a brief tour of the Marble Palace, a beautifully decorated building that has only recently been restored after so much damage in the war (a common theme with many German cities, as you've noticed).
Monday marked the beginning of "work" for me, including a trip to Leif's lab to give a talk on some work I finished in Berkeley, and a day-and-a-half of measurements at the Landeskriminalamt (the LKA, the equivalent of the FBI but just for Berlin) looking at forged paintings by a guy who is currently in jail awaiting trial in Köln for his (multi-million euro) forgery scheme. His art, though impersonating other artists, is gorgeous. I hope our results can match. (And I'll post pictures of some of the stuff I'm analyzing once I'm sure that it's okay for it to be publicly available.)
As I'm writing this, we're on an express train out of Berlin back home to Aachen. I really am sad to leave Berlin--it was urban, yet small (at least, smaller than, say, New York), the food was great, and we have a friend (Leif!) there who helped us feel really at home. Also, Berlin has not only buses and trains, but U-Bahns, S-Bahns, Trams, Metros, and Ferries, so there are places to go and ways to get there. I'll certainly miss Berlin, but am happy to have plenty of reasons to go back--scientific or otherwise. And a huge Dankeschön to Leif for his hosting and guiding for the weekend--you're a great friend and I'm glad that, even though when you left Berkeley I thought we wouldn't see much more of one another, we're still close enough to come by for a weekend. We'll be sure to do it again soon.