Thursday, 18 October 2012

Einheit Tag

Our first full day in Berlin (October 3rd) happened to be a public holiday. It was the celebration of Einheit Tag, or Reunification Day. We knew we’d be fools to miss experiencing the celebrations in Berlin, so the three of us trooped down to the Brandenburg Gate to experience Germans at a festival.

The first step was to figure out how to get from Wedding to Mitte. Easy answer—take the U-&-S-Bahns. Every time I have to use the rail system in a new city I am grateful for my experiences on the London Underground. True, there are much more complicated systems (like the NYC Subway), but I at least don’t faint at the sight of a multi-coloured spiderweb of rail networks. Thus, I got us safely, quickly, and accurately to the Brandenburg Gate and felt quite pleased with myself. 

Crowds at the Brandenburg Gate

The celebrations right at the Brandenburg Gate were disappointing at first glance, as there were just clumps of people milling around, various folks trying to sell things, and a few small artistic displays. It seemed that no one really cared about the holiday. Further exploration, however, showed that something had been lost in translation. We followed a crowd of Germans, all marching the same way, and next thing you know we were in the festival grounds. It didn’t seem like much was going on, so I assumed that since it was near to 15:00hrs we’d missed the celebrations. However we soon saw a large group of men, all in red blazers, standing on a stage. We joined the forming crowd and hung around to listen to an excellent German men’s choir sing various folksy types of German songs. It was great fun and even Walter got into the mood, deigning to let me to dance with him a bit.

German Choir

Walter taking a snooze, or playing dead so as to not be eaten by the fearsome Berlin Bear
After listening to a few songs we decided that it was time for lunch. I’m used to Canadian celebrations, where there is a free-for-all towards the desired food kiosk of choice, followed by joining an orderly queue. We quickly learned that things are different here. Picture a line of ants, marching towards their food and then back again, and you may visualize the hundreds of Germans on quest for beer and sausage. Everyone was walking in the same direction, and people would only break off when they arrived at their desired kiosk. The food stalls formed a U, so people went up one side and down the other, with the center area full of tables for the older folks to sit at. David and I dutifully marched in line, but we aren’t very good at keeping order and kept ending up facing the wrong way ‘round and generally creating chaos. But we gained bratwurst in the end, so it was worth it.

After eating we thought we’d get some beer, but the markup was over 300% from our grocers and we couldn’t stomach that. It’s just as well, as we opted instead for dessert and David found a stall that sold all sorts of edibles dipped in chocolate. We both ordered half a pear, encased in chocolate, and took them into nearby Tiergarten park to eat.  I never imagined that pear & chocolate would be a good combination, but the Germans are onto something. It helps that they have access to excellent quality chocolate, since the smooth sweetness of it balanced perfectly with the tart crispness of the pears.

After our dessert we decided to explore the park. It is strange to think, as David pointed out to Walter, that one of the greatest battles of the last century was fought here and that the area we were walking around was a battleground. As with so much of Berlin, the monuments and buildings have been rebuilt and if you look carefully you may still find a bullet hole or two in the base. It seems so incongruous with a sunny October afternoon. 

One side of a statue of famous German musicians. Note the hole in the base -- we don't know if it's new damage or old, but the Battle of Berlin was fought in this park


A lovely park and a giant needle

Checking out the stone project (there are five stones in Berlin and five around the world and on the solstice, or some day around there, they are all connected with the reflected beams of light from the polished tops)

Walter's "I can't believe you just changed me on a park bench in front of people" face

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