Berlin… blendend


Sunday, August 19, 2018

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The West yet glimmers

With some streaks of day;

Now spurs the lated traveller apace

To gain the timely inn.

— Shakespeare, Macbeth II, 3

Travellers do need that timely inn after spending long hours or even days getting from one point to another. In my case it was by air, as I made my way to Berlin. Last week I regaled you with my tale of getting to that wonderful city in Germany to attend my daughter's wedding. It took me four flights to get there after being re-routed through Amsterdam.

Berlin is wonderful, or as they say in German, wunderbar. It's also “blendend”, which means brilliant, dazzling, blinding, splendid, sparkling. The city is this and much more. Did I mention hot?

Yes, Berlin and most of Europe at this time is experiencing a heatwave of epic proportions, so when I finally got there it was like I was stepping out of the frying pan and right into the fire. I mean temperature as high as 39 degrees celsius, which is a far cry hotter than 96 degrees in the shade. But I come from Jamaica, so what can a little heat from blendend Berlin do?

Berlin is the capital and the largest city in Germany, and has a steadily growing population of over 3.7 million people. It's actually quite green, with one-third of the city area comprised of forest, parks, gardens, rivers, canals and lakes.

I've been to other cities in Germany before, but somehow Berlin is different, it has a life and soul of its own. It's actually an amazing place to be, as it's a meld, a blend, a confluence of old world charm and modern-day living.

Over 60 per cent of the city was destroyed by bombs dropped from the allies during World War 2, and as I walked around the city there was evidence of this. Remember the infamous Berlin Wall that divided the east from west? Many buildings were refurbished or rebuilt completely, with most still managing to retain the old world charm. But there are also many fantastic modern buildings that are marvels of architectural design.

It's by no means an expensive city like London or Tokyo, but when you leave Jamaica and have to buy euros with our feeble dollars, you feel it in your pocket. When I left, our dollar was about J$134 to US$1. The euro was about 155 to one, so it costs so much more to buy euros which are basically Berlin's dollar.

In Berlin US dollars are not used, only the euro, so you have to convert at a bank or cambio. Plus, credit cards are not accepted at many places, with some restaurants having signs posted, “Cash only please.” When we went out to dinner we had to enquire at the restaurants if they accepted credit cards. That was an eye opener for me, as I only travelled with US dollars and credit cards. Interestingly, the taxis accept credit cards. What's great too is that most restaurants and clubs offer free Wi-Fi. Remember, Wi-Fi is king when you travel because WhatsApp keeps you in touch.

Walking around the city was great, as Berlin caters to people who love the outdoors. Sidewalk cafes are everywhere, and if you need to, you can take the subway, bus, train, or tramcars that are quite numerous and come every three minutes or so. I can safely say that a car is not essential in Berlin as their public transport system is so efficient.

You can just hop on and off a tramcar at any hour of the day or night, as they run so frequently, and are cheap too. My daughter owns a car but rarely uses it, as parking is too much of a hassle in the city and the trams are omnipresent. She has a one-year season ticket that costs under 60 euros and allows unlimited travel on the tram, bus and subway. She can also take one guest on that ticket after 8:00 pm and on the weekends. You can also buy a ticket, while riding, from the onboard vending machines. There are no conductors or loader men.

If you need a car, there are those little smart cars parked at various locations around the city. All you need to do is download the app, get in the car which is started by your phone, and drive wherever you wish to go. After you're through using it, you just leave it at a location and someone else will use it. They also have bikes for the same purpose.

If you wish, you can ride a bicycle to your heart's content as Berlin is very bicycle-friendly. Many people ride around the city — young people, men in their business suits, women with their babies strapped on behind them in carrier seats, older folks who just want to get around. Bicycles are everywhere and they have designated bicycle lanes, but they are not exempt from the law.

My daughter was riding one day, broke the red light (alledgedly) and was stopped by a cop and fined 80 euros. Do the math, that's about $12,000. Ah bwoy, she was not amused.

As I strolled through the streets I encountered an open-air mall that had almost every conceivable bric-a-brac on sale — clothes, food, art-work and more stuff than you can imagine. The stalls and restaurants were run by folks of various nationalities, and I detected a strong Turkish presence. In fact, I visited a Turkish sector of the city that was akin to Chinatown in other big cities in the world. The food there was great.

My next adventure was a boat ride down the river Spree which was quite an experience. This ride lasted about two and a half hours, but the time went by so quickly due to the extraordinary sights and sounds along the river.

That river Spree, pronounced Shpee, is a very central and important factor of Berlin and is extremely busy, with hundreds of open-air boats carrying sightseeing tourists up and down its meandering course. There are over 1,200 bridges in Berlin, more than in Venice, Italy.

The riverbanks were lined with sunbathers, many in impy skimpy bathing suits, as they made use of the hot weather and brilliant sun. People were just hanging out, reading, playing board games, children frolicking, ducks swimming, beautiful white swans that are so tame they eat from the hands of anyone who cares to feed them.

The tour guide kept us informed about the history of Berlin, its travails and triumphs, its great leaders such as Otto Von Bismarck and others, plus leaders from the Prussian era. Yes, Germany was not always Germany as we now know it, but was once Prussia and other Germanic states, brought together by Bismarck..

There were also huge electric power plants along the banks, some run by natural gas that supply the city with power, and we even saw the offices of Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The city is alive at night as restaurants and clubs are extremely popular. Walking back to the hotel at 2:00 am was a treat, as the streets were still busy with people who were just out for a stroll or making their way home.

But lest I forget my mission to Berlin, the wedding of my daughter. As I mentioned last week, the cake that my wife baked made it intact after four flights from Kingston to Berlin, via Amsterdam, so that was a big relief.

The wedding went fabulously well, with the rings being placed over a long piece of string and slid around for all the guests to bless in turn. My mission was accomplished, my daughter — after living for three years in Rome and eight years in Berlin — was married. I shed a tear.

It always gives me a kick to hear her speak German then switch to Italian, then Jamaican, depending on who she's talking to. My new son, her husband, speaks six languages, but the most important words that they both said were “I do”, in English.

Yes, Berlin is brilliant in any language and is a city that everyone loves. It's truly an amazing place. Ich bin Berliner. Auf wiedersehen.

More time.

Footnote: My odyssey to and from Berlin was quite an adventure. Travelling by Delta Airlines was most pleasurable as I took a total of seven different aircraft, starting from Kingston to Atlanta, and on to New York where I had to overnight, as I missed the Berlin connection due to bad weather. Then went through Amsterdam from New York, then on to Tegel airport in Berlin.

The return trip was more relaxed, from Berlin to Amsterdam then on to Atlanta and ultimately home. That's seven different flights to and fro, 14 take-offs and landings, covering thousands of miles. I put in more flying hours in six days than my pilot friends, watched eight in-flight movies, but it was worth it. Delta is a great airline and was helpful throughout my entire adventure, re-routing me because of the bad weather and getting me to the wedding on time.

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