Saturday, November 14, 2009


Tuesday Nov 11, 2009
Okay! There's so much to say and it's already 11 pm after a busy day. I'm in Berlin. I need to get some writing done.

Recapping events up to now: The flight from Paris was uneventful if I don't count the fact that I almost missed it. I booked a flight on EasyJet and when I checked my bags I thought the clerk said to go to gate B-5. So I'm sitting there for almost 2 hours at gate B-5 and about 20 minutes before take-off they announced that we could start boarding Section A, my section. I got into line but soon realized with a shock that my boarding pass was orange while everyone else's was blue. Oooops! I raced around asking people where my EasyJet flight was but drew only blank stares. I finally spotted a TV that displayed gates and flight numbers and learned that my flight was departing from gate B-15. I raced down there and promptly boarded my flight. All I can say is it's a damn lucky thing the plane at gate B-5 had the same departing time as my flight. What a dufus I am at times! Of course, the German women acting as clerks for EasyJet were stunning creatures. Dressed beautifully and so deeply tanned it appeared as if they had just stepped off a plane from a visit to the tropics. Maybe I wasn't listening carefully enough.

Anyway, I arrived in Berlin at about 9 am. I checked in with Jana, my Couchsurfing host, and told her I would be arriving in about an hour if I didn't screw anything else up.  After a 30 minute train ride and a short bus ride I reached her building and walked up to her flat. She greeted me warmly and asked if I'd care to have a breakfast of bacon and eggs, coffee and toast. Er, sure, I replied. After a fantastic breakfast she said, "I know you must be tired. Let me show you your room and you can catch up on some sleep." I had not slept much all night because I had caught a cab to Orly at 4:00 am. (I wanted plenty of leeway on my 6:30 departure time.) I needed no further convincing. I promptly settled into a blissful three hour slumber.

We went for a walk around her neighborhood after dinner.  I got my first look at the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church (Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche) on the Kurfürstendamm (Berliners shorten that to Ku'damm, and it's one of Berlin's most famous streets), that night. The church was mostly destroyed in an air raid in November of 1943 (about a month after my birth). Its remains were left standing to serve as a memorial of WWII , a war in which 50 million people perished. I was deeply moved at the sight of the bullet holes and bomb damage plainly visible in the stone walls of the building. For many of you World War II is only faintly familiar, recalled from your high school history lessons perhaps, but for a person born in September of 1943 whose father was in France serving in the Army Air Corps, it has an almost palpable presence, a significance that can't be fully comprehended. For me it was a very emotional experience. Below are a few photos of the church along with a few scenes from a short  walk around Jana's neighborhood at night:

The picture directly above shows the dedication by Kaiser Wilhelm of Prussia from when the church was built. The top one shows the damage sustained during the bombing - part of the mosaic is missing. I might post a few more pics as I find time. These were actually taken next day.

Below are a few shots taken that first night during our walk along the Kurfürstendamm. This first is an actual piece of the Wall, covered with graffiti as it was when the wall fell. There isn't much left of the old Berlin Wall. Parts were carried away as souvenirs, parts were probably reused in new construction and basically in the 20 years since, it has all but disappeared from the scene. It's so over. But of course, it will never be forgotten. And I just learned from Jana that there is a section of it still standing a few miles from here. I'll visit it later.

Above is an interesting, all glass faced building and below a shot of a performing arts center, the Theater des Westens, nicely lit up for me. When we got back to Jana's flat she served a delicious meal of schnitzel with mashed potatoes, and cauliflower with cheese sauce, a true German supper.

Next day, Wednesday, November 12, I visited  Potsdam with the intention to visit the several historic buildings, palaces actually, that are now museums. I strolled through the charming old town along the Brandenburger Strasse stopping in stores and as usual, checking out the eating places. Eventually I made my way to the Park Sanssouci and had a grand time enjoying the grounds, especially the beech and maple trees some of which were still exhibiting vibrant fall colors, skipping along kicking up dead leaves off the ground like I used to do when I lived in Buffalo and New England. That's one thing I really miss in Alaska.
When I reached the first museum, the Neues Palais, I learned  that the only way to see it is to go on a guided tour and that the next tour was almost an hour off. Furthermore, all the museums nearby were only accessible through the guided tour scenario. I decided to skip the museums. I like to see things at my own pace, stop and take photos, and skip things that don't appeal to me. So I wandered the park's many trails instead. Again I wished I had my bike along. Fantastic riding possibilities abound in Europe. I'm sure Amsterdam will delight in the same way. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

Majestic beech trees
Here's one of the featured buildings in the park, the Chinese House, which was unfortunately closed for the season.
Chinesisches Haus

And I spotted this boldly colored little duck in the small pond just in front of the Chinese House. He's a beauty but without my trusty bird book I don't have a clue as to his common name or species. (Jana posted a comment in March 2010 in which she identified them as Mandarin ducks.)
Mandarin drake and hens

I headed back to town to get a coffee and lunch. Spotted these crazy kids fooling around on a bike. Wild hair on the (male) driver....

After coffee (an espresso macchiato for about 2 euros)  of course it was time for lunch. I checked out a bunch of places before finally settling on Maximilian's right on the Brandenburger Strasse. Of course I started out with a big old beer, a Berliner Kindl, and then gave the menu a good look. A goal on this trip is to eat foods I wouldn't see in the states so when I came to the Turkey livers in apple gravy with mashed potatoes (Putenleber mit Kartoffelpüree), I said, Oh yeah, that's the one. Uncommonly good, and served in an appealing presentation don't you think? A couple of beers and 9.20 euros for the putenleber came to €14.4, or about 20 bucks. Berlin is definitely more affordable than Paris, where I paid $15 for frickin' beer in Montmartre.

I've been a little surprised at the beer situation here. The Berliner brands, Berliner Kindl and Berliner Pilsner, are both fairly good but nothing I've had yet in Europe can compare to those tasty IPAs from Oregon that I've been drinking this summer in little old Homer, Alaska. The DesChutes Inversion, Widmer's Broken Halo, and Sierra Nevada's Torpedo, are fantastic IPAs. There are plenty of "light" beers, Hefeweizen, available here but I love the hoppy bite of those ales. Then too there are some weird mixtures available either in bottles or mixed at the bar: diesel (beer and coke), radler, which is beer mixed with orange or lemon Fanta or Sprite (ugh!), and Berliner Weisse,  a raspberry liqueur-beer mix that Jana told me about. These drinks are quite popular here. You know how athletes will drink Powerade or Gatorade in the states - here runners and bicyclists will often drink a tall glass of radler as a refreshing and electrolyte restoring drink after a workout.

And, while I'm doing comparisons, I might as well talk about coffee, more particularly espresso. I was expecting to find good espresso in Europe. When I visited New Zealand in 2004 I was pleasantly surprised to learn that almost everywhere except in the tiniest towns excellent espressos and lattes were readily available. My buddy Kirk had toured NZ twice before that trip and had told me to expect terrible coffee. Apparently hings have changed for the better in NZ.

Now that I've had espressos in Paris and Berlin I am here to tell you that nothing I've had yet can begin to compare to what Michael McGuire serves out at KBay Caffe in Homer. Restaurants here use semi-automatic machines to brew the coffee and heat the milk. I think most of them grind the beans on site but the coffee is weaker and decidedly less flavorful than what I've come to expect every day at KBay. I'll admit to being very fussy about coffee, spoiled as I have been since I quit drinking Folgers or Maxwell House 40 odd years ago and started buying custom roasted beans at the Coffee Connection in Harvard Square, so many of you would not be as critical as I am (Mako, are you listening?), but I must call a spade a spade. So there you have it--KBay Caffe rules!