So, it has been awhile since we posted about the road trip. We actually have the post for Moab drafted and half of the Lightning Field post done, but never got around to putting everything together. It's not that we wanted to stop the blog with an entire month of the roadtrip left to write about. We got behind and then hit the ground running when we got back to Virginia. And mark my words, we will finish blogging this trip. Sometimes life has to come first, though.
After the trip my sister, Mary, got married to her awesome husband, Eric. We went to Virginia Beach with the Lyle side of my family and Sam's older sister Elisa joined us there with her family. Then we had a few weeks to get everything organized, sort through plans, emotions, money, possessions, celebrate a big win for our favorite sports team (World Cup Victory for the DFB!) and suddenly we were on a bus with our stuff in suitcases headed up to New York. We went to one last wedding, for Sam's cousin Nate and his bride, Audry. And then we checked into our transatlantic flight with tears in our eyes. The lady who checked us in at JFK took pity on us and put us in seats with extra legroom, which was actually very nice.
We have been in Berlin for a month now, and I can definitely say I really love this city. My friend Julia gave me the idea to take a photo every day and send it to my mom (via google hangouts!), so I've been trying to do that. I haven't taken one every single day, but have definitely done it for most. I decided that to celebrate our first month here I want to share those photos here as well! This will be a long post. The photos are all cell phone pictures that I've taken so the quality isn't comparable to what Sam can do, but they still give a nice impression of our lives here so far. I am only going to apologize for the poor quality of these photos once though!
My first few days (weeks?) here I was a bit numb and overwhelmed. I saw this while Sam and I were on the way to the bakery on our first full day in Berlin. I'll call it a call to action.
We have been staying at Sam's brother (Leo) and almost-sister-in-law's (Franzi) place since we arrived. It's an awesome apartment in the neighborhood of Friedrichshain. We have our own room and they are really nice hosts. When we got here they already had a bed, couch, desk, and clothes racks in our room for us. On our second full day we went to ikea and bought a shelf for 36€ (in wood behind me there!) and that is where we store our clothes for now. It's actually much more accessible than a dresser and I'm considering keeping it as clothes storage even if we get to ship our stuff over. Dressers aren't that common here for clothes anyway.
Above is from a walk we took to Prenzlaur Berg on our third day, a neighborhood north of Friedrichshain. I like color. Can you tell? I think that's why Berlin and I can be friends.
This is Mauer Park. We visited the massive flea market that happens there every Sunday (flea markets here are nothing to eff with). I'd love to print a series of cards or postcards and set-up at table there sometime. We will see how that materializes. The rest of the park was full of musicians, including a full orchestra and opera singer. They are down there in the photo, though it's really hard to see them. Look for the bass in the middle of the photo. The crowd was so big we couldn't get a better view, but the sound was great. They had just finished a cover of The Monster by Eminem, with Rihanna's part sung by the opera singer.
I love the contrast of old and new that you can see everywhere here. Buildings that survived the war, buildings that were created while the city was divided, and the rush of new buildings now. That layered with murals, grafiti, plants, signs, architectural elements, and color everywhere make this city feel so lively.
Bonus photo from the same day.
And another. This is a building on our street where people (including kids!) create chalk graffiti instead of the real deal stuff.
In former East Berlin the crossing signals are these little dudes. Cute, eh? They are different in former West Berlin. This photo is looking down our block. If you examine it closely you can see a small crowd on the corner in the distance. More on that later.
One thing Sam and I have been doing a lot of is walking. We're getting a clear map in our heads of the area around us, we get the blood flowing, and our minds get to work on whatever we're thinking about. We've always done our best thinking on walks. Walks in Berlin are New! and Improved! Now With Beer™! We went to a reddit meetup in the neighborhood of Neukölln one night and decided to walk home over the Oberbaumbrücke. It was a fantastic time.
Another low-quality photo, but NOT low-quality food. Everyone here loves Döners. Everyone but me. Luckily, many Döner places also offer roasted chicken. This place is one of my favorites. Their roasted chickens are spectacular. We got a Döner, that half-a-chicken mit pommes (fries), and that beer you see there for a little less than 9€ ($11.65). That's a tasty dinner for two and then some. Take that McDonalds!
Another thing that is eye-catchingly different here are the playgrounds. The are usually enormous, have super steep slides, the obligatory wooden "Pirate ship", crazy swings, and climbing walls. This photo only shows about half of the playground at Hasenheide Park. Just to the right of this photo were some 7 year old kids playing "throw the dart at the balloons tied to a tree" for someone's birthday. It's like pin-the tail on the donkey with less accuracy and a shorter reaction time. I like that Germans seem to trust their kids not to break their necks because I never liked the all-plastic playgrounds that took over schools as I was growing up. But the fact that I see rear-facing infant carseats strapped into the front passenger seat more often than not here bums me out. It's definitely interesting to see the cultural differences though. When it's all said and done the playgrounds here are really cool.
From another one of our walks. This is a view over the River Spree. The modern green building on the right is an office that does fashion design. Beyond that is Viacom Germany (for MTV and Nickelodeon). The sculpture is called Molecule Man. In the distance is the Fernseheturn (television tower). If you look closely there is a dark brown brick bridge in the distance with two little towers, the Oberbaumbrücke. The masonry on that thing is exquisite.
I was suffering from a little creative block and lack of direction when I got here. Oftentimes I try to find little projects to keep the juices flowing. Leo and Franzi have a great big kitchen so I spent a lot of the first month hanging out there cooking. I went to the store almost daily and have started to adjust to the differences between groceries here and there. Produce is pretty seasonal. I couldn't find asparagus if I had to, for example, but the variety of mushrooms are great. The lettuce and tomatoes have been so incredibly fresh here. The store sells at least 100 kinds of jarred and pickled vegetables, but only one kind of black beans (canned or dried). Canned goods just aren't common. The sausage here is spectacular and freshly made. The fish is always frozen. The dairy section is enormous. I can get a half pound chunk of good quality camembert for less than 2 euros (there are hundreds of types of cheese and salami). They have at least six different dairy products that are similar to sour cream, and an entire aisle full of different of kinds of yogurt. None of it is Greek style. Tortillas are only available in burrito size and only in flour. The American section of the international foods aisle has Ranch dressing, popcorn, Swiss Miss, barbecue sauce, sundae toppings, and a few other junk food type things. A decent bottle of wine is 4 euros.
I made a big batch of my grandma's sugar cookies, which are basically crack. I've attempted Shepherd's Pie, succeeded with roasted tomato soup, made spätzle mit linsen, and Sam has done several dishes as well, including Swabian Pfannkuchen (different from Berliner Pfannkuchen that I'll talk about later!). One night when it was just Sam and I, i decided to get experimental with dinner. Above on the left we have a salad with grapefruit, cucumbers, red onion, walnuts, and feta, with a honey vinaigrette. The dish on the right is salmon with pan-roasted tomatoes, shallots, and olives, with polenta. The sauce is "Balsamic crema" that you can just stroll into the store and buy for 4 euros. The salad was killer. The salmon had great potential.
The image above is Sam holding our scanner. My mom performed a huge love service to us and shipped our iMac and scanner to Germany ahead of the rest of our stuff (which is hanging out in storage). That way I can get some heavy duty design work going without having to wait for months. The iMac got held up at customs for a few days, but just this morning Sam set it up and it's ready to roll!
On the 26th of August a group of refugees who are also activists posted themselves up on the roof of a hostel around the corner from our apartment. We came home that day and weren't quite sure what was going on, aside from the fact that Police had blocked off a street on our corner and there were some left-wing student types hanging out. By nightfall there was a march around the neighborhood with at least 200 people. It turns out this protest was just another chapter in a bigger story that has been happening in Berlin this year. The men on the roof were refugees who are being threatened with deportation despite Germany's reputation for having pretty open borders for refugees. The Berlin senate had offered a deal in order to bring them down from a different roof they had been occupying earlier this year and then reneged on their end of the deal. That protest went on so long that the police themselves quit trying to control the hundreds of protesters that turned out. This time the police strategy was to block off the area in hopes of starving the refugees down from the roof.
In the days that followed, our corner was occupied by lefties who hung banners and camped out in support. The banner above is an example. All-in-all I was impressed by how dedicated protesters were, as well as how civil and fair police seemed to be in contrast to police I've met in the states. They were clearly working but I sensed none of the militaristic air that many police in the states seem to have. They could have been workers at home depot or the post office. The refugees remained on the roof until September 9. During that time the protesters created more banners, the refugees continued to shout slogans and blow whistles from their post on the roof, cars honked their horns in support regularly. There were two more marches and there was even a right-wing counter-demonstration that had a whopping TWO people show up! Very exciting stuff.
Another evening, another walk. This time we were in the neighborhood of Kreuzberg and suddenly heard loud banging noises. It's not uncommon for drunk and or bored kids to shoot off bottle rockets in sewer holes here just to make loud noises, but we came around the corner and realized this was a legit fireworks show for no reason clear to us. Everyone on the street had stopped and people were walking out of restaurants and cafes to watch. The only time one has fireworks here is for New Years and they're always just bottle rockets.
One night our friend Gunner invited us to a party that was in the courtyard of an apartment block in our neighborhood. The hosts had hung origami, streamers, balloons, paper lanterns with LEDs in them. There was a DJ playing electronic music (the Berliner soundscape as far as I can tell), and there were maybe 50-100 people there. When the cops came to ask people to go home everybody cheered as they left peacefully. Gunner explained that parties usually go like this: the cops come the first time around 11 and ask the host to turn the music down; the second time they come around 1 and say "alright, wrap it up." and at 2 they make their final visit and chase everyone out. No searches, no arrests. We got there around 11:30 so we only saw their second visit and decided to stroll slowly home after that.
One mission we had was to go to a bakery in Pankow to try their pfannkuchen. A few years ago when Sam asked, Franzi told us that these pfannkuchen were the best in Berlin. What is a pfannkuchen, you ask? Well remember when JFK said he was a Jelly Donut because a Berliner is a Jelly Donut in Germany ("Ich bin ein Berliner...")? It's not true! People in Berlin don't call jelly-filled fried dough Berliners. They call them pfannkuchen (FAN-koo-hen). Germans in other parts of the country do, indeed call them Berliners though. Across the street from the tasty bakery was this gorgeous mural. The front of the building had architectural elements painted on to match.
Later that day we decided to visit our favorite biergarten across the Spree from the Chancellory. In this photo Sam is sitting closer to the Chancellory that one can get to the White House (without a tour). The weather was probably 70°F and we watched tour boats float by and listened to a pretty talented steel guitarist play some nice music. He opened with "When I'm 64", the song that Sam and I used for our recessional when we got married. We smiled and added money to the hat.
At some point the police made the protestors move back from our corner to a park nearby. By then the protestor's encampment had grown to be about 40 people overnight and over a hundred during the day. I think it was a tactical move by police because the move meant that the protestors couldn't see the refugees on the roof and the refugees couldn't see the protestors who were there to support them. The other effect it had though was that it brought the protestors closer to a big commercial intersection so many more people would see the demonstration. This banner is made from old broken umbrella fabric and it looked great. The black umbrella uses a common chant, "No border, no nation, stop deportation."
Another example of how Berlin layers the new and old. Look at that ironwork. There are so many different great doorways here. And all the tags create extra texture and accent the old world artistry of the door. I think many people would hardly notice this building if it didn't have some of this graffiti.
You know what is awesome here? The weather. That's right. It's been between 85-65°F, but mostly hovering around 70° during the day this month. I think there were only 3 days that didn't have a short rain shower, but maybe just one day that I would call rainy. There's enough sun to get vitamin D but not so much that I have to wear sunscreen to avoid a burn. I like the weather and I love the colors of the sunset. The photo doesn't do justice, but it's a start.
So that's the life in Berlin so far in photos. Additionally, Sam is working tonight (and has 2 more days scheduled!). He made a great resume when we got here and then went on a mission cold-calling gaffers and turned up some work. I am so proud of his determination. For me, I just finished my first week of German class. I'm the only native English speaker, which I think is exciting. The class has people from all over the world. Peru, France, Russia, Syria, Madagascar, Vietnam. And me. Three hours a day, five days a week for five weeks. At it cost 150€ at the Volkshochschule (like a community college). Heck yes.