This and That — European Edition
December 27, 2018
Posted by on
- What Berlin is to cement and history (and it has a lot of history) Prague is to old world charm and history. In a few days in Berlin, we saw Checkpoint Charlie, the Stasi Museum (the Stasi was the East German secret police), the Reichstag, the Brandenburg Gate, the Memorial to Murdered Jews, the Memorial to Murdered Gypsies, the Charlottenburg Palace, the longest stretch of the Berlin Wall that remains standing, and did a lot of walking in the places in between. Just a whole lot of cement and history in that city. But when we moved on to Prague, while the buildings are equally historic, the city center where we were is so much more old world — narrow, cobble-stoned streets that cut this way and that represent architecture of the old world variety, rather than the monolithic gloom of the Communist era.
- Berlin has fast food! But it’s Curry Wurst and Doner — not Taco Bell and McDonalds. Curry Wurst sells bratwurst and other sausages and is known for its sauce — a lightly curried tomato sauce they smother their sausages with. And Doner serves falafel and other Middle Eastern inspired dishes. Curry Wurst and Doner are everywhere in Berlin. Everywhere.
- America’s multiculturalism has nothing on Europe’s. We Americans like to claim we are a melting pot and multicultural and diverse and the rest of the world has nothing on us. We are so wrong. Sitting in the Brussels airport for a couple of hours I saw more cultures, more diversity, just more than I’ll ever seen in America. Berlin is filled with different peoples and cultures. Traveling the trains from Berlin to Prague and Prague to Vienna was similarly multicultural. America may be a melting pot, but Europe’s right there as well.
- European airports. Little did I know that airports are actually supposed to be shopping malls. In Brussels we had to deplane and transfer to another plane to get us to Berlin. We walked through the equivalent of two shopping malls to get from one gate to the other. When we flew out of Vienna to start our journey home, we walked through another shopping mall to get to our gate. It’s also odd that, given everything you hear about terrorist attacks in Europe, airport security there is a fraction of what it is in the United States. They don’t use the body scanners except for random checks of passengers coming to the United States. You don’t have to take off your shoes or your belt or separate your laptop and other electronic devices from your carry on bags. And when you enter Germany and go through the area identified as Passport Check? Nobody is there to check your passport. Who knows? Maybe I was never legally there.
- European bathrooms. I’m sorry … wash closets. Or WCs. First off, while the WC sign seems to be everywhere, the actual WC itself is typically not quite there. Almost always, the WC was either up or down a flight of stairs, down the hallway, around a couple of corners and … then, you had to pay to use it. A friend advised to have pocket change for WC usage. Little did I realize how good that advice would be. The WC highlight of our trip was in a train station in Berlin. The seat included a contraption that cleaned the seat after you flushed. Push the flush button and the seat rotates through a device that sprays something on the seat and then puts it back into its original position. So, yeah, the world is a different place.
- Traveling between California and Europe makes for a very, very long day. Coming back, we left our hotel in Vienna at 9:30. By the time we arrived home in Sacramento, it was three flights and 25 hours later. The monster in the middle was a 12 hour non-stop from Munich to San Francisco. I watched two movies — A Quite Place and Dead Pool — and read quite a bit. I also learned on this trip that, while I can fall asleep while crammed into an economy class, I can’t stay asleep. As a result, I arrived in Berlin with virtually no sleep and got home with virtually no sleep.
- And in the days between, almost never had a normal night’s sleep. Almost every night, I woke somewhere around 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning and was unable to get back to sleep for hours. The only exception was Friday night in Prague, when I slept for ten hours. But there’s a reason for that.
- After 3 1/2 days of non-stop walking and traveling around Berlin, we took the train to Prague. The next morning, I woke up shortly after 4:00 and started coughing. As our group gathered, breakfasted, and began the day, I returned to our hotel room with the hope of getting a little more sleep. And to cough some more. The sleep didn’t happen and I decided I needed to get out and walk Old Prague. It was snowing and I was in Prague. The next couple of hours were the magical moments from this trip. Wandering through the Old Town Square and out on to the Charles Bridge while the snow fell. I had no place I had to be and I was on my own. By 4:00 that afternoon, after a lunch with our group, I was done. I went back to the hotel and didn’t leave it again until we took the train to Vienna three days later. I acquired a chest cold with a low grade fever. I slept a lot, read a lot, slept a lot, read a lot, and saw nothing more of Prague.
- I wasn’t much better in Vienna and saw very little of the city. We had a very enjoyable dinner at Fromme Helene Christmas Eve — traditional Viennese food. Which leads to my final topic. Food in Europe — restaurants are significantly cheaper than in America. There were seven of us and our bill for that Christmas Eve dinner was about 140 Euros, which is about $165 dollars. For seven people, most of us having beer and wine. Speaking of beer, it costs about half what it costs to purchase in an American restaurant. I have no doubt most of our meals cost about half what they would have cost in the United States. One of the dinners I missed while I was sick was $76 — for six people, booze included. And the food was always good. Always good.
- Here are some pictures…
(The radio tower built in East Berlin by the Soviets after WW II and the kind of rooftop seen everywhere. This was our first evening in Berlin.)
(Memorial to Murdered Jews. When you get to this memorial, you see a series of gray squares spread out before you. They look like they are the same size and more or less the same height, but as you walk through them, the ground level goes down and the squares become columns that are taller than you. It begins to feel like you are wandering through canyons, surrounded by these columns. The columns swallow up the noise from outside and you are alone. I would have liked to spend more time wandering in these columns.)
(Up next — some examples of commissioned murals from the remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall.)
Wenceslas Square, Prague…
On the Charles Bridge as the snow fell…
This last picture reminds me of one more bit to tell. This group was out there playing in near freezing temperatures in a beautiful, historic setting. They were having fun and people walking by enjoyed their music. There were a couple of other places where things like this happened. At a Christmas market in Berlin, there were two different groups of carolers singing beautiful Christmas songs. These little events added to the spirit of the year and of these cities we visited.