I completely overslept this morning, crawling out of bed at 10:30 and feeling so absolutely guilt-stricken that I compulsively cleaned the room and myself before skulking into the lounge for a double espresso and some advice from the Yahoo hostesses on how to best punish myself with a march around Berlin. They handed me a better map than the one I had, told me my aspiration of making it to the Brandenberg Gate was insane, and suggested I secure the services of a tour bus instead.
Bah, real men walk. So I packed a couple bottles of Evian (naive backwards) in my backpack and trooped out into the sunshine looking for Berlin.
I found it.
This is a sad city I think, the first I’ve been to that was the scene of so much misery such a relatively short time ago. The Kaiser Wilhelm Gedachtniskirche on Kurfurstenstrasse is a shocker — preserved in its bombed sadness, steeple truncated — in the midst of so many wurst and beer tent and partying World Cuppers.
I tried to get into the Tiergarten, the “Central Park” of Berlin through the Zoologischer Garden, but balked at the 12 euro admission, being down on caged animals as a matter of principle. I walked into the park off of a canal and crossed into a dark, dank forest that was all the danker from last night’s and this morning’s thunderstorms. I expected to get relieved of my wallet at every bush, the canals were brown and stagnant, the squirrels surly and red. I nearly wiped out in a mud puddle, but recovered nicely and continued marching through the amazonian glades and glens until I came out on a massive boulevard that had been blocked off to traffic. Down that I walked, thinking thoughts of Nazi rallies that doubtlessly once rolled down the same massive avenue in some show of force (I do wish I had Thomas Wolfe’s “You Can’t Go Home Again” so I could quote his excellent descriptions of pre-war Berlin). That avenue lead to an impressive monument, the Siegessaule, which I rounded to find another blocked off avenue filled with people, bier gardens, ferris wheels, and all sorts of branded fun — Fan Fest.
After being patted down and having my knapsack searched I walked through the Germanic equivalent of the parking lot outside of a Grateful Dead show, only substitute half-meter sausages for falafel and steins of beer for nitrous oxide balloons. Tons and tons of souveniers — it seems the big thing in soccer is a scarf. Nevermind the temperatures were around 95 degrees today — scarves and national flags worn as sarongs are the fashion statement to make.
At the end of Fan Fest was the Brandenberg Gate, obscured by a gigantic Jumbotron and doubtlessly the place to be on Sunday night during the finals if one doesn’t have a ticket to the real deal. The place was lightly crowded at 1 in the afternoon — the only language I overheard was German, and there were some good scenes of quasi-hooliganism consisting of packs of drunks dressed in German flags singing that weird soccer song that all soccer fans like to sing, a song I think has no lyrics, but is a guttural bellowing noise.
The music system was blaring what seemed to be Bob Marley’s “Jammin'” (I won’t attempt to quote the lyrics, but the version I head today seemed to say, in Deutsch “We’re German. We’re German. We hope you like Germans too …” This was bad craziness, so I ducked behind the gate and crossed into the former East Belin, and immediately felt all cold-warlike and wondered where Checkpoint Charlie and the Freedom Bridge and all those relics of my youthful fears of imminent nuclear annihilation had gone.
I made it to the banks of the river Spree and strolled back, feeling starved and in need of fluid. Back into the park, past some hunting statues and to a biergarten off of Lichtenstein Allee where I realized I spoke my first words of the day, in German, which were, in translation:
“Excuse me. My german isn’t very good. Do you speak English?”
“Ein bier, bitte.”
So I drank a beer, on an empty stomach, which turned me into an utter noodle in even more need of a sausage. So out of the park, back to the city, and I walk by a beer stand showing the Tour de France time trial to Rennes on a big flat panel. “Must watch cycling,” so I bought another beer and watched the time trial for half an hour before deciding I truly must eat or suffer the consequences. I found a Germanic looking cafe, ordered Berliner soup — potato soup with bacon — and the kase/cheese platter, revived myself, and came back to the hotel for the end of the TdF time trial, some photo uploading to Flickr (Berlin collection here ) and a little blogging.
More tomorrow. And as for soccer, what I know about soccer comes from playing goalie in high school — an adventure that ended when I dove headlong into a goal post, rendering me silly. I strongly recommend Luca Penati’s World Cup Blog (I know Luca from Ogilvy PR), Fuorigioco.