This column was published in the Rapid City Journal on June 7, 2009. There’s a fair amount of repetition in this and the two Berlin musings that follow. Photos can be found in the following ‘Berlin’ posting.
Berlin is 200 miles and several light years away from Prague. Where Prague is twisted streets and baroque architecture, a city untouched by 20th century warfare, Berlin is a city of wide boulevards, expansive platz and a small handful of iconic pre-war buildings thanks to the allied forces and some unremitting, much-needed, bombing. Seeing the reconstructed Reichstag (German Parliament) before you for the very first time is an emotional experience because of its many filmic images – both horrific and peaceable.
The city rings with history while it sheds tears for its many victims. A somber and moving Holocaust memorial is sited near five of the many crosses marking the lives and places of death of those killed while crossing a ‘checkpoint’ to try to live in freedom in the West. In the space of a few acres are the Reichstag, the Brandenburg Gate, the Holocaust Memorial, remains of the Wall, Hitler’s final bunker and a host of other significant markers in Western history (along with (yay!) the American Embassy). It was impossible to remain unmoved by these images and tears came easily as we pondered the appalling capabilities of mankind.
But all is not gravity and sadness in this great city. The weekend we spent there, Berliners turned out in force to celebrate 20 years of reunification and 60 years of the ‘new’ Germany. Mugs of delicious German beer flowed freely, music and song filled every public square, and don’t even get me started about the sausages. Except for this: you would think that after centuries of making and eating sausage, the Germans would have invented something like our hot dog bun for their sausage sandwiches. But, no. We tried not to giggle every time we saw a reveler wrestling with a foot long sausage sticking out of both ends of a small, round bun.
Maybe I just hadn’t paid close enough attention to the tradition of generous quantities of food sticking out of every conveyance and accepted it as German tradition. At dinner, an order of Weinerschnitzel overlapped the dinner plate under it by some 6 inches on each side. An order of spergel (or white asparagus, for it is the season) was mounded 6 inches high and spluttering in a sea of hollandaise.
Food is big in Germany and a favorite Berlin memory involved a purchase made at a movie concession stand the night we saw Star Trek. Looking forward to a tub of popcorn and a mug of soda (yes, just like home – except that you can choose between sweet and salty popcorn), we ordered the ‘medium’ size, to share. We obviously didn’t see the warning on the menu board: “Wheelbarrow NOT provided”. The ‘tub’ was literally that – I bathed in one as a baby. And we could barely lift the cola; the slippery barrel required two hands and the nerve to hold the icy drink close to your chest for additional support – a gallon of liquid in a paper ‘cup’. We sloshed to our reserved seats (German efficiency!) and dove in. Whether or not we finished these treats will be left to your imagination. Live long and prosper!
Note: Did you think for just a second that we spoke fluent German and were seeing the movie in translation? I hate to disappoint, but you can easily and thankfully find American movies in their original English in most major European cities – a blessing if you just can’t endure another opera, concert, ballet or six hour dinner.