Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Tales of the road: part 8

Thursday February 3, 2011
In Berlin

That date up there - took me a little time to figure out what day of the week it was. Thirteen densely packed days on the road, a few thousand miles traveled, and I have lost track of time. I consider that a vacation success but at the same time I now see the end of the trip and the return to "reality."

Berlin is unlike any city I have visited. An architectural mish-mash of the old that survived and post-war modern, in parts as gritty as Times Square in the 1970s, as sleek in parts as Fifth Avenue or the Champs Elysses today. The uber-subculture of Tacheles feels like a cross between Mendocino County, a rave at robot wars and a spook house when the horrors are real, all under the blanket of an orderly city when pedestrians always, always wait for the green The streets fill with sober faces in a land that reveres beer.

After seven hours on the train from Amsterdam I went straight to an office building to meet my friend who teaches English in Berlin. I sat in on the class as he instructed five women, secretaries. Two of the women, each around 40, giggled like teens throughout. Both had grown up in the former East Berlin and would have been 20 or so when the wall came down. One of them repeatedly leaned over to her friend, looking at me, and speaking to her in German. Now and then she blushed as she giggled. My friend the teacher said, I'm going to have to separate you two.

Dozens of square miles of Berlin look wrecked, abandoned. Miles of graffiti and squatters taking over grand, ignored buildings, sometimes for art, sometimes for impromptu parties. The trash and chain link and broken things cast off remind me of bad sections of Chicago or Detroit. The city sprawls as I walk, festering in its past, fallow, but in all a promise of a flowering to come.

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