We slept in again the next morning. It had reached the point in the trip where getting home and returning to normalcy wasn’t sounding so bad. Worn as we were, Mom and I got out of bed without letting too much of the day pass us by. We showered and dressed and I sent off a message to Peter to see what was on the docket for today. He told us to meet him at the Strausberger-Platz bahnhof in a half hour. Both of us finished getting ready and enjoyed a cup of tea until it was time to leave.
That Saturday was the first real sunny day we had in Berlin. Our visit there seemed to mirror Peter’s visit to Edinburgh. The first couple of days had been gray and overcast but then things brightened up. Mom and I enjoyed the walk down to the bahnhof. We passed by a small park and both admired the ravens strutting through the grass. They looked very distinguished with patches of gray looking like small vests over their black wings.
On our walk, an elderly couple approached us, trying to ask directions. They were speaking in German so of course we could be no help. I told them apologetically that we did not speak German, and they gave an understanding nod and moved on. Mom and I continued on our way, but my brain was still thinking about what the old woman had said to me. I furrowed my brow and looked at Mom. “Did she say Strausberger-Platz?” I asked. Mom gave an unsure ‘ummm’ as I glanced over my shoulder to see where the couple had gone.
They were at the corner still waiting for the light to change. I didn’t wait to hear the rest of Mom’s answer. I raised my hand and shouted, “Excuse me!” as I jogged back down the street towards the man and woman. I caught their attention just as they were about to start crossing the street. I stepped up to the woman and asked “Strausberger-Platz?” She nodded and, as clearly as I could, I pointed down to the opposite corner of the street and nodded that that was the correct direction to go. The woman thanked me, I think, and we parted ways again.
It was complete chance that the couple was making their way to the very same bahnhof Mom and I were going to, but nevertheless I felt very proud of myself for being able to help someone I couldn’t understand in a place I had only been for two days. Back in Edinburgh I had confirmed for someone the presence of the North Bridge, which also made me feel pretty good about myself. It’s the little things, you know?
Peter wasn’t there yet so we positioned ourselves in the sun and waited. I kept panning back and forth like some probe droid. I wasn’t sure exactly which direction Peter would be coming from. Finally we spotted him on the diagonal corner. He was riding his own bike this time. We watched him cross one direction then the other, which brought him to our corner. “Did you see me almost eat shit?” he asked. We said we had but told him he did an expert job at catching himself. It took us a few minutes to decide what to do for breakfast, whether we should go out or make something back at Peter’s. I think what finally clinched it was the fact that Mom had yet to see Peter’s apartment. Though it may be at the top of a shit ton of stairs, it was still something Mom needed to do at least once…hopefully only once.
We descended the stairs to the platform and caught the train to Frankfurter Tor. There was a small organic market a short distance away from Peter’s apartment. Our plan was to stop here, pick up some things for what would be brunch and then walk back to the house. As we walked around a large intersection to the other side of the street, we passed a girl who stopped briefly and said hello to Peter. After the quick exchange, and once the girl was out of earshot, Peter turned around and told us he couldn’t fully remember who that was. I’ve had several instances like this happen, and they are always super weird. Eventually he did remember though. Apparently the new hair just threw him for a bit.
There was a bit of deliberation at the market about what exactly to have to brunch. But once Peter stumbled across some pre-made falafel cakes the creative juices were unlocked. We grabbed carrots and zucchini and tomatoes and hummus to dip them in. Pita bread, a baguette, some jam and some grapes also made there way into our basket. We got the baguette from a small bakery in the shop, and I saw they also had some big fat pretzels for sale. This was exciting for me because the night before, when we were coming home from the bar, still working the beer out of our systems, we had walked by some pretzel place in the bahnhof, and it gave me a craving for a soft pretzel. But at one in the morning the place was closed. When I saw the pretzel the next morning the craving was back. So Peter got us each a pretzel to munch on during the walk back to his place.
Peter pushed open the large front door, and we stepped into the high-ceilinged lobby area. Mom and I started up the stairs while Peter locked up his bike. We needed the head start. Once inside, sweating and panting, we stumbled to the kitchen to dump the bags. Caroline and Ben were sitting at the table when we walked in. Mom was introduced to both while I said hi to Ben and was now introduced to Caroline. Peter took Mom back into the hall to point everything out to her. I joined them once they went into Peter’s room. I wanted to check out the balcony again in the daylight.
With the tour over, we all marched back into the kitchen to start cooking. Ben and Caroline respectfully cleared out, though we wouldn’t have had a problem if they’d stayed. One of us cut veggies while the other washed the grapes and tomatoes and cooked falafel on the stove. Peter cleared the table and got out dishes and glasses for water. When everything was prepared it was practically a buffet.
We sat down to eat while Peter’s Berlin Dance Party playlist played quietly in the background. All of us must have been hungrier than we’d realized because we somehow managed to eat nearly everything on the table in front of us. With everything ingested that could be ingested we cleared the table and cleaned up the kitchen. Nearly half the day was gone and we had things to do! A quick and much less exhaustive trot down the stairs put us back on the street and back in motion.
Berlin, like a lot of major cities nowadays, has a fantastic bike rental program. Peter had signed up for some kind of yearly pass that allowed him to check two bikes out at once. He brought his and rented two for Mom and me. Now maybe it’s just because I bike a decent amount and have become accustomed to my bike but it is suuuper weird to ride a completely new bike. For one, the city bikes were a lot heavier. The handlebars were higher than I was used to, and I couldn’t get the seat in the right place. But I forged ahead regardless.
With our bikes adjusted to the greatest comfort level, we began another anxiety-inducing activity: biking in a new city. Once we got into it some of the stress went away. It also helped that eventually we left the crowded sidewalks and busy streets behind. Our first stop wasn’t far away from where we had gotten the bikes. East Side Gallery was a pretty straight shot from where we had started. If you’re not familiar, the East Side Gallery is a segment of the Berlin Wall that has been transformed into an international memorial for freedom.
The first thing anyone could notice about Berlin is that there is graffiti everywhere. It is part of the city’s charm and personality. East Side Gallery is more of the same but at a much higher level. Actual artistic ability is displayed here much more than just hastily drawn scribbles. It is an immense display of color and emotion, transforming the gray strip of wall into something beautiful.
Some pieces were small, simple. Others were large, intricate and greatly detailed. It was a fascinating piece of artwork to behold, and I wish I could’ve read all the messages inscribed there and known all of the stories behind the pictures. Some things would remain mysteries to me but I enjoyed it nonetheless. The gallery runs parallel to the river, and it was a very peaceful stretch to walk down. Light danced on the gently rippling surface of the water and the red bricks of the Oberbaum Bridge shone brightly against the soft blue of the sky.
We walked down the wall on one side and back on the other. Then Mom and I decided it would be a good idea to run across a five-lane road with high curbs on either side so we could get a marginally better look at the Molecule Man statue that was down river. Believe me, it was totally worth it (this is one of those times you must insert sarcasm). After our could-have-been near-death experience, we got back on the bikes and rode into more residential areas of the city. There were no bike lanes to speak of like I’m accustomed to, but the streets were wide enough and quiet enough that I wasn’t fearing for my life every two seconds. There was only once where we made a crossing that was a little dicey.
After a few more minutes of riding down streets lined with multicolored apartment buildings, we crossed from the road into what I’ve since referred to as the Sketchy Park. Peter had warned us about the park before we ventured in, which in retrospect might have just made the ride through that much more unsettling. No one standing along the path made a move to sell me drugs or ask for drugs or anything like that, but the whole time my gaze was shifting nervously from one person to the next, watching for the slightest motion I may have to deflect.
The park itself seemed nice enough. It was lush and green with concrete walkways forming intersections that branched off in several directions deeper into the park. We left the park to bike through a bit more of the neighborhood before coming upon another, much nicer, park complete with a petting zoo. It was here that Mom and I realized just how spoiled we were by our bikes back home. The bikes we had rented were not nearly as light as ours are, and this became all too apparent when we reached the first big hill.
Peter, riding his own bike, had no problem. I just barely made it to the top still on my bike, my legs burning like I hadn’t experienced in a while. Mom had dismounted three quarters of the way to the top and walked the rest of the way. The wide slab of pavement was teeming with people that day. The three of us stood to the side to catch our breath and deliberate on whether we wanted to stop by the petting zoo for a moment. We were in no hurry so we decided we would make a quick pass along the enclosures to see if there was any animals we wanted to stop and see.
Ironically, we ended up stopping to see a Highland cow in Germany, when we had just come from Scotland and had no more than glanced a Highland cow from the bus window. As backwards as that was, we had fun standing and watching the massive orange beast strut slowly around his enclosure. He was kept company by another cow, this one black and a bit smaller. I think the sheer magnitude of these animals, and most large ungulates, is often lost on us. Most of the time when we see them they are a good distance away from us and we don’t get the full impact of their bulk and size.
It was a little easier to realize there in the zoo. The enclosure wasn’t that large and the cows had positioned themselves roughly in the center. The orange cow’s horns were each at least two feet long. He had thick stocky legs and grey cloven hooves. I watched him scratch his belly with one of the horns and was amazed he didn’t disembowel himself in the process. After we (okay, I) had snapped something like 50 photos, we turned and said hello to the wee donkey in the next paddock over. I reached out to rub his nose and his velvety lips flapped and tried to nibble my fingers.
When we’d spent more than enough time with our furry friends, we got back on our bikes and rode the last stretch of path to our destination. We passed a wide swatch of green field just after leaving the zoo. There were people throwing frisbees and some laying out on blankets enjoying a drink. It looked so nice I was tempted to pull my bike over and insert myself into one of the groups. Figuring that would be too bold, and highly uncomfortable for all involved, I kept peddling.
The trees and the green belt soon came to an end, and the pathway intersected with a street that veered off to the left, and to the right was our destination. Tempelhofer Park used to be an airport. But once it closed down in 2008 the city reclaimed the area of 368 hectares for public use. That’s right: it was a park made from an old airport.
When I think about it, it seems a little silly to be so excited and awestruck by a park that used to be an airfield. I’ve seen big open fields before; I’ve seen large stretches of black pavement with various markings on them before. And I’ve seen large crowds of people doing things you would in a park. But something about all those things being put together smack dab in the middle of a major city made it that much more impressive. We took a moment to gaze out at the park before locking our bikes to the fence and walking a short ways to Peter’s favorite gelato place.
It’s called Mos Eisley; yes just like the, “You’ll never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy” Mos Eisley. Only these guys make really tasty gelato, not those crazy space cocktails. The place isn’t that big. We stepped in and to the back of the shop while a few other people got their gelato. They had an array of all kinds of flavors, cookies and cream, spicy mango, cheesecake, baileys cream, and many more. We had Peter help us decipher some of the more difficult German names, however we had enough of a grasp on the language to know ‘vanille’ was vanilla.
I have to give extra props to Mos Eisley because they had several vegan options available. However, back in September I was not as strict a vegan as I am now. This will come into pay in a little while. Anyway, we got our gelato and returned to the park. The day was steadily coming to an end, and by the time we were walking back through the gate, the sun was hanging low in the sky. The whole place seemed made up of green and orange and shadows. A strip of clouds blocked the sun as it sunk lower, and its light was fractured into dusty rays of gold.
The park would be closing soon, its hours being from sunrise to sundown. This made a lot of sense because there was no lighting in the park, and it would be a terrible idea to try and windsurf in the dark. But there were lots of people taking advantage of the last moments of sunlight. People were skateboarding, windsurfing, flying kites, lounging on the grass, enjoying a nice stroll down the runway. There was a community garden not far from the entrance and we took a minute to walk through and see what people were growing.
A few minutes after we had entered the park, out gelato cups (or in German, der becher) were empty, and Mom and I were left wanting more. We finished our viewing of the garden, tossed our cups in a bin, and returned to Mos Eisley for another scoop. This time, I forewent my pseudo-vegan diet and got the pistachio gelato that Peter had gotten the first time we went. Totally worth it, though the retroactive guilt I feel still lingers.
Savoring our last cup of gelato for the day, we strolled down the runways of the park, squinting against the sun as we looked over the expansive grounds of the park. It felt good to take a moment to just enjoy the outside. It’s small moments like that that keep you sane while you travel. The long days are filled with constant motion and sometimes you forget to breath. That being said, once we had finished our second helping of gelato and taken a minute to inspect some wooden posts topped with soaring falcons we hurried back to the bikes so we wouldn’t be late for dinner. At least, any later than we were already going to be.
Peter had arranged for us to meet up with Emma and Jakob again, as well as his friend Anna, at some Mexican fusion place. We arrived and found it to be almost as tight a fit as Burrito Baby had been (there seems to be a trend here…). The three of us carefully, squeezed, slid, or climbed into seats at the already occupied table and began searching the menu for our dinner. I ordered a sort of flatbread pizza that turned out to be surprisingly difficult to eat with a fork and knife, but that had seemed like a better, less messy way to do it than eating it by hand. Oh well. Eventually I got it all down, before we dashed out of the restaurant to find a cab.
We were wrapping up the day with a visit to the Reichstag Dome. The dome was designed by architect Norman Foster and built to symbolize German reunification. This fixture has made the German parliament the most visited in the world (according to the Bundestag website). The dome is made entirely of glass and sits directly over the room in which the parliament gathers. Our cab let us out on the side of the building opposite the entrance. So we speed-walked to the other side and made it to the security check place just as a few other stragglers to the group were arriving.
The guards made us put our jackets and bags in tubs and walk through a metal detector, airport style, you know, before they got those full body scan things. We joined a medium-size group of other visitors to the dome and followed a guard from the small security building across a courtyard area to the front of the Reichstag Building. Another security guard buzzed us from the foyer into the lobby of the building. From there we all shuffled into an elevator that took us to the top floor.
The doors opened on a long hallway. At the far end was a doorway that lead to another long room with a long desk where you could pick up the self-guided audio tour, and behind that was the inside of the dome. Peter, Mom and I each got a pair of headphones and the audio device and stepped inside the glass dome. It’s a fairly large space, with a circular display of images and history at its center. Just inside the ring of displays is the window that looks down into the parliament room. Extending down from the top of the dome is a cone constructed complete of mirrors.
The dome was built to be energy efficient, and the cone of mirrors helps to reduce the carbon emissions of the building by directing sunlight into the parliament chamber below. The top of the dome was also left open so that rainwater could be collected and directed into the pipelines of the building. As for the domes position above the parliament chamber, this was done to symbolize that people are above the government. Someone also told me while I was there that the opening had been made so that members of parliament, if ever they were having trouble making a decision, could look up and remember the people they were serving. A nice idea, I thought.
Peter had hoped to get us here during the daytime. Many of the stops on the audio tour were a bit useless since they referred to buildings viewable from the dome, but in the dark we couldn’t make many out. However, the dome had its own kind of beauty in the dark as well. I’m not a fan of light pollution but some cities do just dazzle you in the dark with all their lights. Berlin’s night skyline boasted a sprawling, color changing tent sort of thing (I don’t remember what Peter said it was called but it looked cool in the dark), a majestically light Brandenburg Gate and several buildings that were just large blocks of light, beacons in a comparatively dim surrounding.
Steadily, the three of us wound our way around the dome, enjoying brief periods of silence before our audio tours were activated again and we came to a halt to look and listen (mostly listen since we couldn’t see most of what the man was talking about). Even though the dome was filled with people it was pretty quiet inside. The whole walk up the dome was rather relaxing. I had the sensation of floating above the entire city as I spiraled higher and higher.
When we reached the top, we saw up close the large hole in the dome. Directly below it is a large steel drum to collect the water. We all took a seat and had a quick rest before we headed back down the opposite side. At the bottom we left the dome and stepped outside for an…outside view. Obviously. Watching all the people move around inside the dome felt a bit like watching TV. All these people moving around in this big, lit up glass structure. I was just there watching life happen.
We snapped a few pictures and Peter and I unsuccessfully jump-photo bombed Mom’s pictures before we returned our audio tours and left the building. It was getting later and later and we were all tired, Mom and I especially, after biking and running around town all day. Peter put us on the correct U-Bahn home, but not before we had figured out how tomorrow morning was going to go. It would be our last day in Berlin and we had to be checked out of the flat by 12. Before we left the bahnhof, Mom and I stopped into a shop to get a few things to eat before returning to the flat and going to bed.