Saturday, June 12, 2010

Go West!

Last night we tried to find a restaurant that Annie and Cherie noticed as we biked to the Oranienburgerstraße Synagogue. The neighborhood has lots of art galeries and stores. Along the way we passed Koppenplatz, a small square with a very understated memorial. It shows a bronze table and chairs, with one overturned, as if someone had just been dragged away by the police. Along the sides was a text by Nelly Sachs. Here´s how google translate puts it ""... Oh, the mansions of death, / Inviting prepared / for the landlord of the house, he was once a guest - / O fingers / The input threshold of legend / Like a knife between life and death - / / O you chimneys, / O you fingers, / And Israel's body in the smoke through the air!" Koppenplatz, however, is a local dog park, and as we watched, one of the pooches pissed on the overturned chair.

I tried to retrace our steps but we couldn´t find the one they remember ("on the left, in a bombed out space between two buildings, with lots of trees"), so we went to an Italian place on Tucholsky Straße recommended by my guide book. The minestrone soup and the pasta was ok (too mild and slightly too bland for my tastes), and the mezzalunas did not look like half moons, but rather ravioli. At the various tables, people were watching the opening games of the World Cup.

On the way to and from the restaurant we noticed several prostitutes in the area around the synagogue. Apparently, this area is well known for that. Not surprisingly we also found a large British stag party in the area at an outdoor bar getting drunk and watching the game, including one lad who looked as if he was wearing Borat´s notorious florescent green g-string under his partially unbuttoned pants. I heard a drunk guy muttering behind me and so I told Cherie and Annie to walk quicker. Annie glanced behind and immediately agreed. We made it to the u-bahn without difficulty.

This morning we had a leisurely breakfast, and Annie and I talked about the museums we saw yesterday. The DDR Museum very much engages in ostalgia, with only some discussion of the terrors of communist rule. I compared it to the Museum of Communism in Prague. That too, has a very light touch but the film really packs a punch. When I tried to describe the end of the film, which features the song "Děkuji" ("Thank You"), I started to cry. The scene shows how individuals engaged in nonviolent protests were beaten and attacked by the police, while the juxtaposition with the music emphasizes their martyrdom. The effect is very powerful and I found the memory of it overwhelming.

I think also I cried because I wasn´t able to at the Holocaust memorial. In order to teach the subject, I build up walls around it to protect myself from the pain, and after a while I get inured to it. While this is my psyche protecting itself, it isn´t good for my teaching to be so jaded. I think this memory of Czech suffering provided an outlet for me that I needed.

After breakfast, we headed over to West Berlin. Annie and Cherie really wanted to get a sense of how the two sides of the city are different. We started off in Nollendorfplatz, in order to visit Christopher Isherwood´s old neighborhood. As we got off at the station we saw a big rainbow ballon arch with a banner "Willkommen zur lesbische und schwule Stadtfest" ("welcome to the lesbian and gay city festival"). The big pride parade (which I saw in 2006) is next Sunday, but this is a street festival that happens the week before the big event.

We walked for about a block down Motzstraße, as far as where the Eldorado night club stood before it was closed by the Nazis in 1933 (this was Berlin´s gay and lesbian neighborhood back then too). We stopped at some shops, and I chatted with some people in the German Radical Faerie booth. They had some sharp words for what they called the "mainstream" and "commercial" event the following week, instead preferring their alternative, rather hippy event scheduled for later this summer.

From there we took the u-bahn one stop to KaDeWe, the largest department store in continental Europe. We took the escalators up to the top floor to the Wintergarten cafe (the fanciest cafeteria you will ever visit). I found an empty table and sent in Annie and Cherie first, since I knew it would take them a while and I wanted to make sure they had a place to eat when they got out (it was very crowded, even though it was 1:30 pm). They eventually got the hang of it and when they came out with their food, I went in. I decided to try a traditional German meal of rinderroulade (a beef roulade), with red cabbage and potato gratin, along with a white pinot grigio and a fancy dessert. The roulade was interesting, but not enough so that I would order it again (a little greyer in flavor than my taste), but I very much enjoyed the sour cabbage and the gratined potatoes.

Of course, the dessert had my heart. Normally I try new things, but I think I had this the last time I ate here. It was constructed in layers: at the bottome was a thin slice of biscuit cake, followed by a thiner layer of raspberry cream, followed by another layer of cake. On top was a thick layer of tart raspberries in gelatin (about the same height as the lower levels of the cake). The cake was then garnished with star fruit, kumquat, and red currants. The kumquat, the currants, and the raspberries are all quite tart, so the dessert is almost more sour than sweet. I loved it. The piece was huge: two inches thick, two inches high, by three inches long. I shared it with Cherie and Annie.

After such a big lunch we moseyed our way down to the sixth floor: the food courts. We started with the chocolate section, where I stocked up on some Neuhaus chocolates for my trip. I think Cherie was overwhelmed by the choices, but I helped her find some that she liked. Waiting in line to buy some hard licorice buttons for Annie, we got into conversation with a couple in front of us buying stacks of biscuits and animal crackers. I feared I might of made a faux pas when I asked if she was buying them for her grandchild (never ask a woman if she´s pregnant or a grandmother!), but luckily she wasn´t offended (she had three grandkids). I asked where they were from and they said Mexico City.

We spent some time window shopping and then headed down to the Ku´damm. This is the Rodeo Drive of West Berlin. It has a real different feel than East Berlin: it´s fancier, more commercial, calmer in a way, less casual than in the east. I stopped at an Ahava store on Fasenstraße, near the Jewish community building, and bought some shower gel. Then we headed back to Prenzlauer Berg. I think we´re going to have a light dinner tonight in the neighborhood. I´m hoping we can go to the Pergamon Museum in the morning, and maybe hang out in Kreuzberg in the afternoon at Checkpoint Charlie and the Eastside Gallery. That would leave Wannsee, the Max Liebermann Villa, and the Brücke Museum for Monday, our last full day in Berlin.

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