The Berlin Blow

October 5 – 7 –

Thursday, October 5 we set out to visit my niece, Lee, in her east-city neighborhood and to have a quick look in her new apartment (new to us, anyway — I think she’s been there for 5 or so years).

Ini had to work that afternoon into the evening, and was not expected to get back until around 7P. When we set out, we were sure there would be plenty of time upon our return to fix up some grub and I could do some catching up on blog posts before Ini got home from work. Ini checked the weather forecast before we departed (well-armed with umbrellas and rain gear) and there were some very high winds expected to hit the country including Berlin later that evening and night. But how bad could it be? We were in a big city, after all — not a seaside resort or anything.

Many of the S-Bahn (surface trains within the city) cars have special places for commuters with bicycles to sit.

Best laid plans, and all that . . .

After quickly seeing Lee’s very comfortable and interesting apartment (she has some furniture from her German grandparents, from Ini’s early years, from my mother, and other inventive and attractive space-saving items) we went to a local African-Italian fusion restaurant, decorated with beautiful textiles and bright colors, to have a very enjoyable lunch. Apparently, the proprietors are a couple of which one is African and one Italian, and the meld of those traditions delivered very interesting food combinations. 

Outside of our lunch-spot was this bird house. Just like our Roomba, including the rounded door and circular window! Jack posted the pic to our trailer group’s FB page noting what a great “boondocking” spot we found in Berlin, but that you have to watch that first step in the morning.

Next, we had a very nice (although off-and-on wet) stroll through Lee’s neighborhood, which is artsy and young, full of baby strollers and young creatives, but as with most previously run-down and “re-discovered” neighborhoods in many cities, was becoming “gentrified.” There was one building, however, that remained as-was during the DDR years—full of squatters and anti-capitalists—so we could see what the area was like before the artists moved in and began making the area popular.

Bookmobile.

This was a former-East water tower that’s been converted into living and commercial spaces, with a hollow core where the water used to be.

Sign outside a “natural food” store for dogs. Barf? Srsly? I know. Right?
We enjoyed a quick exterior tour of an enormous ex-brewery repurposed as a multi-cultural space, with dance, theater, art, sculpture, museum, and more taking up the many aspects of the brewery.

I believe Lee translated this for us as the Bottled Beer Department.
Not sure what these creepy sculptures represented, flanking a garage area — possibly the original cask house of the brewery?

This was the stableyard of the brewery. “Heuboden” = hayloft. And Lagerhaus speaks for itself.
Above the actual stables where the beer delivery wagon draft horses lived, was a “wash & changing room” for the brewery workers.

The weather seriously deteriorated after we left the brewery and began our trek to “Mitte” or central city. The wind definitely picked up and the rain returned.

These were the final photos I was able to take along our walk, due to the ever-worsening weather. By the time I took the final photo below, it was in the 3 to 4:30 range.

These chairs are made of strips and pieces from recycled tires.

I hope the construction workers got off their scaffolding safely, because by this time the wind was gusting and swirling and knocking things asunder to a truly frightening degree.

The hurricane-force winds and horizontal rains descended and were intensified through the urban “canyons.” At one narrow spot along the sidewalk, there was a panel truck parked on one side of us and a wall on the other, and Little Lee, who is tall and thin, was nearly upended on the ground due to a gust. Luckily, Page and Jack were flanking her and caught her before she left her feet.

It was so bad, that umbrellas would not work, so we had to just hang onto our hats and plow forward, keeping our faces averted as much as possible from the pelting rain and leaf shreds, pieces of paper, sand, construction bits, and such, that were airborne and flying into our faces. At one moment, you were leaning into the wind, and the next, it whipped around to your backside and you nearly fell flat on your face before you could shift your weight to lean backwards.

Chairs, signs, large branches, and city detritus began flying everywhere. Outside cafes are popular, but their tables, chairs, umbrellas were all moving with gusts that scooted everything around if it didn’t turn it over. We saw several of these temporary parking signs along construction zones (with heavy weights on their bottoms) just toppled over and crashed on the vehicles parked nearby.

When Lee was nearly blown off her feet we headed for the S-bahn. We’d just boarded our train when the announcement was made that all public train transport was stopping because of the winds and downed trees. Lee’s situation was similar, although she was nearer home. We shared our goodbyes and good-lucks and headed different directions.

Jack, Page, and I tried to find a taxi. We headed to a bus stop near the Bundestag. Waiting there (with trees swaying alarmingly and the flags over the parliament building shredding before our eyes) for 25 or so minutes, we became aware that the far lane of traffic was backed up as far as we could see, and we realized that the near lane was empty. So there was an accident or downed tree or such somewhere along the route, the near lane, that the bus would have to take to pick us up. Meanwhile, the tours of the Bundestag dome were shut down, and the bus shelter was crammed with people.

Finally saw a bus that stopped at the shelter before ours, but everyone got off and no one got on. The bus did not move. A person from that bus informed us that all busses were stopping because it was unsafe. Our final options were to find a free taxi, head to the underground trains, which (our informant reported) were still running, or walk across Berlin to get home. At this point, it was 5:30 or 6PM. 

We headed to the U-station and got to sit down for two brief stops to the end of the line, at the The Hauptbahnhof, hoping for a taxi, but the lines for taxis were enormous. Somewhere along this time, we understood that the majority of the tracks above ground were blocked, but the U-trains were still running, at least to the extent that they could stay underground (some pop up for parts of their routes).

Page thought that if we could get ourselves to the huge intersection surrounding the Winged Victory monument near the Tiergarten, we might be able to find a taxi (this was the opposite direction we’d just ridden, but we walked this time). Another 20 or so minutes hike got us there, and as we arrived, the sun peeked below the clouds, low on the horizon, and lit up the Winged Victory statue. We took this as a hopeful sign, but alas. No taxis.


Page stood at the side of the road facing backward, trying to even see a taxi to hale. No dice. We walked along that road in the direction of home for a very long time, with Page watching behind. Limbs and debris impeded our walk. Everyone, it seemed was walking somewhere.

In the end, we walked the 8-ish miles home—most of it seemingly into the 120kph winds and rain. It was well after dark as we trudged the last few blocks to Heilbronner Str. After our 2-3 miles of fun strolling earlier that day, we totaled about 10 or 11 miles of walking nearly the length of the city during The Berlin Blow. We were some tired and miserable folk when we dragged into the apartment around 7:30/8:00. Ini, luckily, had gotten a ride home from work from her boss.

The next day, the trains were still only spottily mobile. I’ve found that one cannot do much of anything but local shopping without the Bahns. We heard on the radio that 4 people had been killed, mostly from trees falling on cars. The great heartbreak was that one of those 4 was a young journalist that Ini said was one of Berlin’s best political reporters. Page remarked that the day reminded him of when snow falls in the deep southern US — everything shuts down and no one can get anywhere.

Jack and I (and Page) were still exhausted on Friday the 6, although we did get outside to stretch our legs a bit, to get whatever ingredients we could find for me to make a Petie casserole (family comfort food) from memory, for us to share Friday night. Many limbs in a nearby park, plus a nearly-uprooted tree, caused the city to cordon-off the area until they could get in and clear up the threatening mess (they had to cut down the leaning tree). 

Happily, it was a quiet, restful day, recuperating from our exertions of The Blow.

On Saturday, we all felt we needed another walk-about to limber our sore muscles and joints, and the weather was at least marginal, so we all four headed to the Turkish market to wander and see what we could see. It was crowded, and after one full recon of the offered wares, we decided to grab lunch at the falafel stand in the market. Jack and I fell back, looking at some nuts we thought we might get for snacking (but didn’t) and we lost Ini and Page in the crush. A quick cell call later, we were reunited and had a very nice falafel pita with good veggies and sauce.

Ini and Page (and niece Lee) were expected over at Ini’s sister’s apartment to see Celina (Ini’s niece, Maria’s daughter, Lee’s cousin) who has a not-quite-two-year-old, and is expecting another baby in the very near future. Jack and I, in consideration of his cold, stayed back so as not to give the extended family any unwanted germs. We re-heated the Petie casserole and hit the hay early. 

Berlin Part One

Sep. 30 – Oct. 2 –

While the cycling group had a free day in Dresden on the last day of September, Jack and I mostly stayed in and packed for our Berlin adventure. We caught a few pix from the fire-bombed city’s rebirth as a tourist destination, but just didn’t get inspired to click the shutter much.

I wonder what Allen might have said if any of us had decorated our bikes like this fellow’s.
In the city, there were a few of these excavations fenced off from the public. If you stood far enough away, the fence material showed what used to stand there, before the firebombing. We never discovered what the excavations were all about: archaeological, clearing way for construction, or exactly what.

Our travel day to Berlin began with our last breakfast with the group, where we said farewell to those not headed to Berlin for the optional part of the tour. We taxied over to the train station with Laura, Craig, and Michael and caught the train from Dresden to Berlin’s central station, the Hauptbahnhof. Actually Michael got off one stop earlier to meet a friend.

We didn’t see Craig and Laura because we ran to catch the S-bhan over to Charlottenburg, and Craig and Laura were taking a taxi to the hotel near Checkpoint Charlie where the group was staying for the Berlin option. 

Then the rain began.

In just five stops, we exited again, but lost our bearings and left the station platforms at the wrong end. While we were sorting ourselves out, Page, Ini, and Lee wee awaiting our arrival at the correct exit . . . But we missed each other. Finally getting ourselves righted, we headed to 11 Heilbronner Strasse and rang the bell. Nothing. The rain came harder.

Another resident exited, so we didn’t have to wait in the rain too long, and once inside Jack phoned Page on his cell number, and we discovered our missed connection. It is not a long walk from the Bahn, however, and they came along shortly.

Had a lovely lunch of hot soup and all the fixins, and caught up with happenings, and then rested a while. My niece, Lee had to leave to get some work done back home, and Ini had an evening out with friends, so Page, Jack and I had a reprise of the lovely lentil soup from earlier.

The next day early, Jack and I set off to join the remains of the group for the tour of the Bundestag dome. We tried to get from the Hauptbahnhof to the Bundestag, but were unlucky with the U-55 (subway train) as the platform was closed off. So we walked over and joined up with the group for our appointment to enter, first the security checkpoint, and then the dome itself.

The dome of the German parliament building serves many functions, and combined with solar panels on the flat roofs of adjacent buildings, makes the structure nearly (but not quite) “off grid.” The dome itself vents warmer air from below, it captures rainwater and extracts both cool and warm from it to assist with climate control, and it focuses and concentrates (and shades when necessary) natural light so the primary meeting area is most lit naturally. Visitors circle along a ramp with an audio guide and see lots of the scenery around the structure and then circle back down, exit the dome and can walk around the flat rooftop to take pictures of the area.
This cone of mirrors plus the “shade” you can see some at the upper left (and rotates around to follow the sun when necessary), are the light-handling system.
Brandenburg Gate from The Bundestag.
The crazy roof of the Pottsdammerplatz, an enormous shopping area.
The Teirgarten with Winged Victory statue above the trees (and at the intersection of a million roads where traffic is insane).
Selfie with mirrors at The Bundestag.

Afterward, I took a photo of an interesting memorial to the 96 elected officials serving in the Reichstag (Parliment) during the Weimar Republic, who were murdered by National Socialists. The memorial is right outside the security checkpoint for the Bundestag.


After that, the group walked around “Mitte” or Central Berlin, and saw some sights that Jack and I had seen before, but it was fun hanging out with the group. We stopped for a coffee/tea/chocolate milk because it was damp and chill. When it began raining in earnest, Jack and I split off from the crowd and said our goodbyes to our cycling adventure “family” for this trip, anyway. We hope we’ll have the opportunity to ride with many of them again.

The statue above the Brandenburg Gate has been stolen and removed a few times throughout its history (notably by Napoleon) because it’s been seen as a symbol of might and strength. Actually, it is a symbol of peace, something we can all pray for in this day and age.
Rooftop gardens and gathering places abound in Berlin.

This cross-stone (“Khachkar” in Armenian) was erected in memory of the innocent victims of the Armenian genocide during World War I in the Ottoman Empire. It was here, in St. Hedwig’s Cathedral, that the first Commemoration Service in Germany to honor the victims was held, at the request of the German-Armenian Society on May 14, 1919.

That night, Page and Jack donned aprons and fixed our dinner of chicken Marsala (after heading to the grocery store to get the ingredients). Silliness (and as usual, excellent food) reigned.