Sunday in Berlin

Sunday, July 17, 2011

(Some of this was written contemporaneously, other parts reconstructed from notes, which explains the changes in tense from present to past.)

Yesterday was good but today was better, although I left my brand new hat in a Lutheran church which I was visiting by chance (beim Zufall). Fortunately I took a weekly service guide on my way out, and plan to write them to mention that I left it. The church sanctuary was incredible.  I took some photos, but they do not begin to do the interior justice.  The conversation started with a woman wanting to know if I planned to post the photos on the Internet for any questionable purpose.  I understood in German, said no, and was then allowed to take as many as I wanted.  It was all very friendly after that, and a member of the congregation explained to me that their church organ was salvaged from a Lutheran church in Massachusetts which was shutting down, and then sent to Hamburg by boat and trucked to Berlin.

The people I spoke with told me the church was about 100 years old, newer than our church in Philadelphia. It is obvious that northern Germany was the center of Lutheran influence, because within one kilometer of this church is another, even larger church and the two come within the same leadership. I saw at least ten other red brick Lutheran churches while riding across the city, each so tall it could barely fit in my camera viewfinder. I had never read “A mighty fortress” in German, and in the original language carved over the church entrance it conveys a more pragmatic message, which goes like this: Ein feste Berg ist unser Gott, ein gute Wehr und Waffen. (in my translation – a tight/tough fortress is our God, a useful shield and weapon).  This is more along the lines of what I need when I get back to the US, better than a “stronghold sure.”

Thanks to my bicycle, I was able to explore the entire city, and the southern part of it, especially Bergmanstrasse, is what I was looking for yesterday.  Bergmanstr. is lined with practical shops – grocery, bicycle, bread, coffee, and of course bier.  The east end of the street goes by a nice park, clean, leafy and no homeless, which today is filled with a flea market selling things you might actually want to buy.  I saw several suits and shirts for very low prices which would be worth getting if I was not getting on a plane tomorrow.  At one end of the park is a combination hotel-restaurant-biergarten.  The location is Marheinecke am Bergmanstr und Friesenstr.  A good place to stay on the next visit.

I wrote most of this while having lunch outside the Biergarten, wondering if there was any chance that the women I spoke with in the Church might pass by so I could ask for my hat back.  Amazingly, they did, and explaining the quandary in German, to them and to my waitress, was a good test of my language abilities.  They knew after a few grammatical blunders (in, not im, etc.) that I was not a native speaker, but my abilities and probably evident determination kept the entire conversations in German.  I told the server that I needed to leave my table for a bit because I had left my hat in the church down the street (that must have sounded a bit off), followed one of the deacon(esses) back to the church, reclaimed my hat, and then had an interesting conversation about the role of women in the Evangelische Kirche.  When I asked if women were Pastors here, she answered emphatically yes, with an expression of mild but friendly insult.

It’s a residential area, far from the huge-scale government buildings and monuments which fill the north part of the City near the Hauptbahnhof.  Bergmanstr. runs east-west, and above the shops at ground level are what seem to be apartments or condos.  The buildings are big, about eight storeys tall, masonry, painted white or pale yellow, grey, or green and in very good condition.  No graffiti.  Several have exterior-facing niches occupied by sculptures of nude (except for their spear) Greek goddesses with German features, suggesting origin in the Wilhelmine era, so maybe these buildings escaped destruction in the war. To me, the sculptures reflect German pragmatism.  Yes, they are incredibly voluptuous and totally exposed, but they preside over a quiet street of people behaving and having an enjoyable day.  The omnipresent bier of Berlin also did not lead to any bad behavior that I saw in two days of almost constant walking and riding on the street.  It all makes me wonder if US puritanism, which would ban or frown on these things, has any efficacy whatsover given the prevailing behavior levels in Philadelphia.

A bicycle is essential to get around this city.  Berlin is huge and walking seems almost hopeless unless one is willing to walk very quickly and for a long time.  Characteristically, I walked a huge distance yesterday, including a jaunt through the entire Tiergarten, starting beyond Technisches Universitat to Winged Victory to the edge of the Reichstag, but I would not recommend this for most.  My hotel is near several Straende, which seem to be the fad of this summer.  Start with a normal outdoor biergarten, truck in several tons of sand, bring in Tiki-torches and umbrellas, and you have a ready made “beach” far from the ocean for beer enjoyment.  I described these to my German tutor, and she had never seen one despite living in Berlin for a few years.  Evidently, they are new.  I went to a Strand late Saturday night after my epic walk, and a half-liter of beer was 6 euros (about $7.50), which is certainly not guenstig.  On my way back to the hotel after one beer, I picked up two large bottles of Berliner Pils for 2 euros each, which was far more to my liking.

Upon returning to the hotel, I watched a fun family movie, a German version of National Treasure which told the story of an unlikely threesome searching for the spear which pierced Christ’s side through many famous destinations of the German-speaking world.  The villian who burns up at the end in an underground sanctuary of the Knights Templar was Juergen Prochnow, and he was an even better Boesemann in his native language.  The film was smarter, historically more challenging than NT, and quite a bit longer.  The subject matter reminded me that Germany was always a center of Christianity, and it remains a big influence on local culture.

I was not surprised, but still pleased to see that after two days in Berlin, my brain started adjusting to German.  I would look at billboards and suddenly understand words which I did not know before, from context and just being there.  I guess this comes from really liking the language and the place.  It was obvious to me that a wakeup call was a “weckruf,” which I asked for and received on my last morning in Berlin.  I would like to come back regularly, and I think my family will enjoy it also.


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