So I owe you a few days. Well here's one: the first day here.
First I took a nap. I sent Luise and Andy (who came to visit from Munich) off on their merry way and slept. After a couple hours I was awake enough to go see some German stuff, and it's a good thing I slept because we rode around the entire city. Or so it seemed at the time. I must say I miss riding a bike. In spite of the fact that every time I got on and off I accidentally flashed a few naughty bits to unsuspecting Germans, and in spite of the fact that it turned said naughty bits black and blue after several days, I had a ball. I also think I look very good on a bike. I present as evidence: Luise and myself on bicycles, looking very posh and European.
And a closeup:
Luise gave us a very nice tour of East Berlin, which included:
1. The Cafe Moskau, visible behind Andy, which was THE place to come in the glory days of the GDR and where East Germans came to dance the night away beside their soviet brethren.
2. The Fernsehturm, or television tower, pride of the GDR, visible behind Luise, who can now have a banana any time she wants one.
3. The "World Clock." Luise tells us that it was where her countrymen gathered to travel. "It was like seeing the world!" she says. Except that it's a big clock. We told her to stand in front of it and look deprived, but it was just too ingrained in her to smile at the tourist destination of her childhood. She must have so many happy memories there.
4. The statue of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, deities of the socialist state. That would be Andy peeking out from behind their stately grandeur.
Some things were not as funny. Some things, in fact, were pretty difficult.
Like Brandenburg gate, scene of numerous Nazi rallies and marches. I haven't really gotten into what it feels like to visit Germany in terms of its atrocities, but there's time enough for that. Suffice it to say that I didn't want to ride through that gate. And I would have given it the finger except that I don't want to scandalize my mother on the Internet (though I'm sure she shares my sentiment).
These are memorials to the people who were shot trying to escape from the GDR. The last one was a 21-year-old boy, who was shot to death in February 1989, just nine months before the wall came down.
We must have ridden for several hours, stopping intermittently to drink a beer or eat, if you can believe it, enormous pretzels.
At night, Luise took us to this incredible place, the Ballhaus, a little ways from her apartment. It's been open for a hundred years, and has been used as a restaurant and dance hall for most of that time, barring the war years when Goebbels shut it down as it perpetuated "activities not in line with the ideals of the state" or something, which I suppose meant people having a good time that didn't involve torture of some kind.
Before we went inside, Luise led us up this old staircase where we found this:
You can't see it very well, but it was the old ballroom reserved for the wealthy, while the less fortunate danced downstairs. They left it exactly as it stood after the war, damaged and dessicated.
Downstairs, of course, had been rebuilt, but it's still used as a dance hall. People of all ages (it made me realize how rare it is to see intergenerational social events that aren't weddings or funerals) dance to old time music, and it was a blast. We ate meatballs and schnitzel and drank Riesling, and Luise and I danced until the floor was too hot and smoky for us to stand it.
Andy and Luise looking like they're on a date.
Me and Andy, pre-dancing mania.
The band, playing all the old favorites.
When we could dance no more, we wobbled away on our bikes, bought more beers, and sat on the edge of the river until I was too tired to think straight. It was a wonderful day.