Monday, June 03, 2019

Thunder and Lightning

The humidity woke me up this morning at 6:45. I just needed a cold shower to cool down.  It turns out that I should count my blessings that my room faces the morning sun; the west side of the hotel is above the courtyard where people smoke and drink and party until 4:30 in the morning.  Many of my students were unhappy about how long the noise lasted. 

This was the second day we had a relatively late start, as I’m trying to help the students adjust to the new time zone.  If yesterday took us through Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg, today was going to be Kreuzberg.  Even though the temperature was hotter than yesterday, we spent most of that time inside where it was either cool or air conditioned (miracle of miracles!).

Our first stop was the Topography of Terror, the former site of the headquarters of the SS and the Reich Security Main Office, which oversaw the concentration camps, the extermination camps, and the mass murder of the Jews of Europe.  We spent about two hours there, including some time to talk about it at the end.

Around 1 pm, we headed down to Check Point Charlie, so they could photograph the actors pretending to be American and Soviet soldiers.  Then, we hopped back on the U-Bahn for Mehringdamm and Mustafa’s Gemüse Kebap.  Two students had sandwiches, but three students tried Mustafa’s, which has, in my opinion, the best street food in Berlin. Thank God!  They liked it.  German, and central European food in general, tends to be meat and potatoes.  I miss vegetables and Mustafa’s has a ton.  For vegetarians, it’s the closest they get to tasting what a Berlin kebap tastes like, since Mustafa’s also has vegetarian versions (it’s everything but the chicken). I was worried about eating on the street given how hot it was, but it wasn’t too bad.

Our next stop was Daniel Libeskind’s Jewish Museum.  I usually spend most of my time in the part of the museum that he designed, but I had no choice today since the permanent collection is closed until 2020.  We talked about the museum’s “process architecture” and how parts of it were designed to discomfort the visitor. 

We had some extra time, so I took the students to visit the two chocolate stores near Gendarmenmarkt.  First, we visited the flagship store for Ritter, where I bought them a 100g chocolate bar of their choice.  Then we visited Rausch, three blocks away, and they were blown away, but the various bonbons, the chocolate bears, and the Berlin landmarks rendered in chocolate.  Then I took them up to see the chocolate café on the second floor above ground. 

From here the students went to the four winds (which is what I hoped would happen); it’s important that they feel secure about going off on their own and have adventures.  Two went off to see the Olympic Stadium Hitler built; one had errands to run; and two followed me back to the hostel to nap or shop.  As we came out of Rausch, one of the students said “it smells like a brush fire.”  It was even stronger when we got to the hostel.  Turns out she was right.  Here’s the headline I saw displayed later:

A fire had broken out in Berlin's Grunewald. The fire department announced on Monday, 50 emergency services and the volunteer fire department had extinguished 40,000 square meters [9 and a half acres] at the Havelchaussee. The operation continues: the flames still smolder one meter deep in the ground.

I decided to use my time wisely to buy the extension tickets for the metro that we will need tomorrow.  I bought us all one-week cards good for Zones A and B, but tomorrow, we will visit Zone C.  That meant I needed extension tickets to and from Zone C, but I couldn’t use the machines, because I wanted to pay with my card and I needed a receipt, neither of which the machine could do. The only problem was that since was the first business day of the month, everyone who needed to renew their monthly pass was there, filling out the forms and bringing their documentation to prove their eligibility.  I ended up waiting 45 minutes, but it was worth it.

One of the t-shirts I brought should have stayed in California.  I just noticed a small wear hole in the front of the shirt.  I saw a C & A store on Alexanderplatz and decided to check out their prices.  I ended up buying one t-shirt for 1.8 euros and another for 4.5 euros.  Even if they are so flimsy that they only last until the end of the trip, it’ll be worth it.

I tried several of the shirts on first to make sure they fit, but every shirt made me look fat. Then I realized that the problem wasn’t the shirt.

For dinner, I went back to Zum Schusterjungen, and “old Berlin” style restaurant I usually visit once a trip.  I sat outside and ordered the asparagus soup, beef goulasch, and red cabbage, along with ½ liter of beer.  As I was sitting I could feel the humidity rising again.  Suddenly, I heard thunder.  The waitress who brought me the soup commented how it was surely coming.  A few minutes later, I saw several bolts of lightning.  When she took away the soup, I asked if I could move inside the restaurant.  “Certainly,” she told me.  Two minutes later, it started to pour.

The rain didn’t last long, but the humidity became almost unbearable.  It has cooled off, and there’s a breeze, but the humidity is now at 61%,

Back at the hostel, we saw a very large student group arrive.  They’re staying on the first and second floors; we’re on the third.  I’m hoping they don’t stay up partying too late on the west side of the hotel. I’m on the patio on the east and the hotel staff just told us that they close the east patio at 10 pm because the neighbors complain about the noise. 

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