Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Random(ly) House(d) Observations, Berliner Edition

Sometimes even I am amazed by my own recall. I just knew "Travel Is So Broadening" is the title of a work by the too-often-ignored Sinclair Lewis, but I had not read it in decades. I further recall this work (was it an essay or a short story? Sinclair Lewis experts are invited to chime in) was scathingly ironic, lampooning the small-mindedness of American provincials. It is an oft-repeated phrase, and it turns out travel typically broadens in ways we least expect it. So, here are some observations posted by a jet-lagged chronicler of the sundry and the not-quite-sun-dried (it was often cloudy and rainy in Berlin):
  • If you are at a crosswalk in Berlin and the light for pedestrians is red, you wait. You wait until it is green. You might even do this if it is 1:30 a.m. (0130 hours) and there are no cars, trams, or other people passing by.
  • Berlin is awash in, or littered by, or trashed by, or enlivened by graffiti. Take your pick as to how you describe it. The kindly and intelligent man who drove me in a taxi to Tegel airport attributed such wall writings to "the Americans." I doubt it. I'll take the blame for my countrymen for some of it, but there must be lots of copycats galore. Plus, I believe the Berlin Wall had graffiti on it almost from the start.
  • I have a balancing act going on in my brain. Berlin the orderly versus Berlin the anarchic. And maybe both elements need each other.
  • In Berlin there is no east or west. Isn't there an Easter hymn that goes something like that? (The link gives you a sample of the tune.)
  • At rush hour people do not rush nearly as madly as they do in New York; they barely rush at all. In fact, during my taxi from the airport to Friedrichschain I wanted to scream, "Step on it, mach shnell, fraulein!"
  • Smoking cigarettes is in, nearly everywhere. It didn't bother me nearly as much as I felt it might. I wanted to smoke a Cuban cigar. Never got around to it.
  • It was hard for me to measure the weight of history or how it was viewed by those around me. For example, when I related to the taxi driver how I remembered when the Wall when up, and how I was afraid, and thought it was World War III, he glibly said something like, "That's what the Russians said." Hmmm. He might've been my age. He said he had lived in Berlin since 1960, I recall; born maybe 100 meters north of Berlin. I do not know how to read these verbal tea leaves. I liked him and shook his hand with both my hands when I departed. Yes, I tipped him.
  • The unemployment rate there, he said, is 18%; my research supports him. It did not strike me as a depressed city economically but rather as a vibrant and creative hub.
  • The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is compelling: blocky, harsh, somber, engaging, textural. At first, I was alarmed and rather horrified to see young people (ostensibly tourists in their teens or twenties) playing what resembled a casual game of "hide and seek" among its gravestone-like pillars. Were they being disrespectful? My gut feeling was, yes. I was tempted to lecture them, but how, and exactly why? Besides, maybe they would've declared that their response demonstrated a triumph of life. (Most likely, they hadn't thought that far.) To be honest, I don't know what they thought or felt. It was not a place of total silence or solemnity, but it was an eerie refuge amidst an urban din. You were drawn to it. A dark sense of place is evoked.
  • Passing through the Brandenburg Gate was like passing through a time warp, though a Times Square atmosphere prevailed. It was cool.
  • On the plane, in the toilet, a sign said "Toilet Paper Only." Man, I had to keep my legs crossed for nine hours! That was rough. I guess I took that "following the rules" bit a bit too literally for my own good.
"Lost in Translation" was one of the movies for the flight back. Perfect.

Laugh. Or....

p.s. As the day ends, my search of a fellow blogger's site summons me to find the luminous amidst the gore on this feast day of John the Baptist.


Dafath said...

its morning here in atlanta
not quite as cool a city as berlin
surrounded though by battle grounds and burial grounds from the cruelest war here where there are signs all over:
no kite flying, no picnicking, no.... if one played hide N seek, it would be amongst the trees and one would be punished with poison ivy. I from time to time run the trail through one up to the illinois monument and back. this is permitted. and rather than toilet paper there are dispensers that issue degradable bags to pick up doggie stuff.

welcome home freunde

Natalie said...

Last year, while working with wards of the state, we took a trip to Gettysburg. Upon arrival they had very different reactions. One walked around alone looking at the memorials and sitting in the woods. One began to draw. A third turned the hip-hop up loud in the van, open the doors, and started jukeing (a type of dance). All of them knew where we were and understood the impact of the battle on their lives (they were all African-Americans). They just worked with their thoughts in different ways. I don't know if it really has much to do with the hide and seek at the memorial but maybe.

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