Recently we traveled to Berlin for the second time.
Our first visit was a few years ago for New Year’s Eve. Long story short–back then, I didn’t live in Germany and I wasn’t aware that on New Year’s Eve it’s ok for any random person to set off fireworks and other loud explosive type things anywhere they like. Walking around the city was very loud and had me jumping at every corner. Many of the streets were blocked off with fencing because of the festivities, so essentially it reminded me of every scary thing I ever heard about Berlin. Everywhere I looked there was a tribute to some depressing thing that had happened in the past. It was January, it was freezing and the skies were totally gray. As a result, Berlin left me feeling pretty cold and I couldn’t wait to get back to the “warmth” of Bavaria.
Now a little more than two years later, I have moved to Germany and since my last visit to Berlin, I have really been working on living my life in German. It probably helped that we weren’t visiting during New Year’s, so we were able to avoid loud explosions, making the whole experience less reminiscent of a war zone. It was still gray but I guess you can’t really blame a city for its weather.
We stayed in Charlottenburg, a neighborhood near the world famous department store Ka De We. This is a lovely part of town without very many reminders of the difficult times the city has weathered. And don’t get me wrong, it’s important to remember these things and think about them and learn from them, but let me be honest and say that I don’t want to think about them every minute, every day.
We decided to stop in Potsdam on the way to Berlin and that is where today’s story really begins. We got wonderfully lucky with a cold but beautifully sunny afternoon. Potsdam is the capital of the German state of Brandenburg. It was the former seat of the Prussian Kings and is just outside Berlin. There is a famous palace in Potsdam called Sans Souci. It was build by Frederick II the King of Prussia. To our great luck this palace was relatively undamaged during the war and so you can actually see original furnishings and architecture.
To our luck, we arrived 10 minutes before a tour was beginning. The tour guide was wonderfully knowledgeable, funny and insightful. She seemed to love her work. But did I mention that the tour was in German? I found myself being able to laugh along side the other participants while we imagined the lives of the people who lived at Sans Souci. I didn’t spend the whole tour asking Thorsten what she said. I even asked her a question myself. Admittedly after the tour I did need a bit of clarification one or two points, but it was a little like learning to ride a bike. That moment when you take off and you pedal and you shout, “I’m doing it! I’m doing it!” I was able to fully appreciate the value of the tour on my own. This was a first.
The first evening in Berlin I had plans to see the Staatsballett Berlin-on my own. Also a first. A friend of mine dances for the company and was able to wrangle me a ticket last minute. I stopped by the theater to pick up the ticket and was stopped on my way out by a women who worked for the ballet and was interviewing patrons about their theater going habits. To my great surprise, I was able to answer all of her questions in German and only one time did she need to clarify something in English. It was as if my performance happened an hour before curtain in the lobby of the theater. I didn’t have my pointe shoes on and I wasn’t in costume. This time I was playing the role of myself, only in German. This was a wonderful test and a great moment of truth for me. As I exited the theater, I was warm with adrenaline, almost as if I was the one performing in the ballet.
The next day we visited a local knitting shop (always my goal when touring a city). The ladies were nice and helpful. I always say ballet is an international language, but so is knitting. When I find a shop with good yarn, I always buy some even if I don’t have a project going, because I’m so thankful that the shop exists. Doing this often leads to needing to ask questions. On this occasion I wondered how much yarn I should buy for a certain project. I was without a pattern and I was able to ask for the opinion of one of the ladies. The importance of this ability to ask questions and understand the response cannot be under estimated when integrating into a new culture. She helped me with purchasing the correct amount and went onto tell me that I could return the yarn I didn’t use. Again I felt like a million bucks and the 30 or so Euros I spent on yarn seemed well worth it.
The rest of the weekend was laid back with great food, window shopping and visiting. We finally did some sight seeing at the very end. We drove by the American embassy, the Brandenburger Tor, and the New Berlin City Palace and ended our visit by eating a delicious, amazingly affordable brunch at little known gem called Morgenland in the Kreuzberg neighborhood, and then seeing some beautiful murals and a ton of graffiti.
Morgenland is a pretty tiny place with a pretty huge brunch, so the seating is tight. As a result, I noticed myself listening to the conversation of the couple next to us. This was another first. Usually I don’t understand things well enough to eavesdrop.
Kreuzberg reminded me of Brooklyn in New York. So, after all these little language triumphs, the tune to Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York, started playing in my head.
For me I guess it’s Berlin- if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.