Week 7, part 2

This is the sunset we saw on our first night in Berlin.

When we arrived at Berlin Ostbahnhof (East Station), we had a hard time grappling with the layout of the place. Many European train stations - including this one - are much like American shopping malls. The corridors that link the dozens of platforms are lined with shops of all kinds; and mixed in with them are ticket agents, banks, money changers, hotel reservation agencies, and other train station stuff. But these sprawling complexes do not come with the kiosk-mounted maps familiar to American shopping malls. This makes it hard to find what you're looking for or to figure out where you are.

Eventually we got a local street map from an information counter and started studying it to figure out east from west (train travel can disorient your sense of direction), and how to get to the hostel where we'd planned on staying. A young man in a blue jacket approached and asked if we needed help. His jacket bore a logo that read "Bahnhof Mission." As he guided us to the platform for the S-bahn that would take us to our hostel, he explained that it was his job to help disoriented and confused travellers (Bahnhof Mission is part of Travellers' Aid). We completely matched the profile he'd been trained to watch for: rucksacks, looking at a map, etc. He taught us how to buy tickets and use the S-bahn before we thanked him kindly and went on our way.

The Sunflower Hostel was close enough to the Bahnhof that we could have walked there had we been a bit more stingy, but one's willingness to spend money on transport increases with the weight of the load on the back. We booked a private room with a double bed for about $50/night including breakfast. This is a place that goes out of its way to cater to English-speaking clientele. Most of the in-house signage is in English and the staff are reasonably fluent. They have plenty of those glossy little brochures on the local sights and club scene, and they were all in English. Sometimes we were amused at things that were mildly messed up in the translation, but the intended message always got through.

Tuesday was a night to hunker down and rest, which included a badly-needed round of laundry. Laundry in Europe is slow and expensive. It typically takes about $5 and two or more hours to convert a load of dirty laundry into a pile of clean, dry clothes. Most of the machines seem to be built to sacrifice speed for conservation of water and energy. As long as you're prepared for laundry to take three hours instead of one, this is no big deal. What WAS a big deal was that our room was in a wing where the heat was on the fritz, so we had to move up a floor if we wanted to stay warm overnight. Before we moved, our cold room gave us a great vantage point to watch a very colorful sunset to the clatter of S-bahns and InterCity trains moving back and forth.

After many years of repression, the pendulum in Berlin appears to have swung the other way. Having shed its chains, this city is still dancing and celebrating twelve years later. The literature we read on some of the local clubs showed that many of our single twenty-something hedonistic friends would have a great time here. For instance, one club advertised that on the last Saturday of the month clothing is verboten (not optional, but verboten). All that is allowed are undies or ver-r-ry short skirts. Appropriate "clothing" is provided for those who have too much.

Berlin is also an international city once again, especially judging by the types of food available. We had some great Indian food at a place called Yogi Snack, and Lebanese from a place called Babylon. And of course there was all of the standard American crap that seems to be everywhere (why is it that the only American food that gets exported is the junk food?). The best places are well-ventilated, but don't expect to find non-smoking sections. On Wednesday morning, we wore our newly-cleaned clothes to breakfast. Even though the hostel has three rooms for people to sit in and eat, there was no escaping the smoke, and the clothes we'd put so much time and energy into cleaning the night before came out reeking of cigarettes.

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