Day 13, 07.06.2009
As my Gastvater [“host father”] was chanting in anticipation of our trip to Berlin with the AATG group, “Berlin! Berlin! Wir fahren nach Berlin!”. Translation: “we’re going to Berlin!!!!!!!!!!!”. Our train was sometime after 10am, so Clara and I still had to go to school before we could head out. With all our luggage. Mine was especially cumbersome to be lugging up and down the 7 floors of the Gymnasium [“high school”]. It was a heavy, large, orange suitcase. Really quite silly in retrospect not to have brought a duffel bag or something collapsible for excursions. A wonderful friend of Clara’s helped carry both of our luggage while we were at school.
I would have hired him for the day’s help if I could. Needless to say, I had my first lesson in weight training heaving this monstrosity all over the streets of Nürnberg. Hungry from all the exercise and with the knowledge that no food would be sold on the train, I bought some fries at McDonald’s. Apparently condiments are sold separately in Europe, so I had to eat my fries dry and without ketchup. Ew.
It was an amazing experience to ride the ICE aka “Intercity Express” aka Germany’s bullet train. Frau Graunke, my high school German teacher, would always be singing praise about the ICE. And we did indeed ride in luxury. Really expensive, but I would do it again for the immense savings in time. It normally takes about 10 hours to travel from Nürnberg to Berlin, but with the ICE it’s only 3-4 hours.
The seats were big and comfy, and it was so clean and so new. The doors and bathroom facilities were automatic, which was simply mind-blowing 6 years ago. There were even tables for you to eat or do work on!First thing my friends and I did was grab a table to play Kemps. I guess my beginner’s luck had run out since we lost miserably to the rest of our group. Our signals were all messed up and I couldn’t tell if she had Kemps and she couldn’t tell when I was signaling Kemps. Eventually we got tired of playing Kemps and our group broke up to do other stuff. I grew up without having played any card game other than “Go fish”: my time in Germany was like a class in card games, on steroids. Besides Kemps and Mao, I also learned “Spit” and “Egyptian Ratscrew”.
Then we started “Palace” and I legitimately had some curse on me for getting really terrible hands. So more losing. Then we started Mao again and I managed to win twice. However, I was unaware that the Chairman was allowed to make up ridiculous rules such as: requiring players to sing “Funkytown” and say “sandpeople eat little children” or “eat your cookies”. Kids are so weird, I know. That game lasted us until Berlin.
After struggling up more flights of stairs to get out of the train station, we finally got on our bus to the hotel. And I realized I had lost my umbrella. Great.
Three of us snagged the triple-bed bedroom, which means none of us had to squeeze together on the same bed. We toasted ourselves with some Mineralwasser [“mineral water”] to a week of awesome that lay ahead. We all met at the lobby around 5pm for dinner. Herr Birkelbach took us to an Indian restaurant, which was…an interesting choice.
I don’t believe I ever had Indian before then and found it odd that they put cheese in curry. I absolutely love Indian food now, but I was not at a point in my life to try exotic things. Unsurprisingly, there was nothing for me to eat since I had cut cheese out of my diet (no paneer! :( ).
The environment was nice and colorful, though. Service was helpful. I sat across from Jon and next to Mariette and Cory, near H. Birkelbach and to the left of the German kiddies. Everyone seemed to enjoy their meal, but I thoroughly did not. Herr Birkelbach ended up helping me finish, which made me feel like I was being too picky. But it was so incredibly salty and thick–like all they used was salt and corn starch.
The salad was good though, so I ate more of that. My dinner buddy and I started arguing about whether being vegetarian was hypocritical (because “plants and bacteria are living things too”), which escalated to politics and it got heated really quickly. We shockingly finished our meal still on good terms, but neither satisfied with the answers we had provided each other. I also desperately needed to use the restroom halfway through our debate. Even worse, everyone finished dinner and I never got the chance to use the restroom. The next 1.5 hours were spent in extreme discomfort. Luckily my experience in China has led me to develop an iron bladder.
We walked along the Spree River [“Fluß” in German] and I absolutely fell in love with the Berliner Dom. The sun was setting and cast a warm glow on its otherwise dramatic features. There was also a DDR [Deutsche Demokratische Republik, the state of East Germany] Museum on the way, which would have been a fascinating stop if we had the time.
What took me most by surprise on our walking tour was how conspicuous bong shops were. One store in particular was selling glow-in-the-dark bongs–which I guess is cool, but literally the most indiscreet accessory you could have for cannabis-smoking habits.
So we finally arrived at the Fernsehturm [“TV tower”: Fernseh + Turm], at which point I was finally able to relieve myself. Possibly TMI, but that is a memory that shaped my first experience in Berlin.
With 20 minutes to kill, it seemed like everyone suddenly had a craving for ice cream. Others of us rode up 207m to the observation tower of the Fernsehturm. I was surprisingly not the one freaking out about heights this time!
We went downstairs after maybe 15 minutes and waited for the others. The guy running the elevator smugly asked one of the guys in our group, “Wollen Sie hier sitzen, eh?” (do you want to sit here?) while patting his knee. Jokingly, of course, and all in good fun.
After we all reconvened, H. Birkelbach treated all 20 of us to two enormous scoops of ice cream!! I got mango and strawberry.