Berlin Day 2

Here are some things I wrote that day, but due to spotty internet, couldn’t post:

Written that morning

Getting off to a bit of a late start today. Had a nice breakfast in the hotel, while browsing the web, reading and writing a few emails, and booking my train and hotel for München (Munich).

My plan today is to eat some lunch around 1pm, then take a walking tour of Berlin, which starts at 3pm and goes for 4 hours. When it gets over, I figure I might quickly check out the Jüdisches Museum, which is open till 8pm.

Hmm, or maybe I’ll go to the Jüdisches Museum first, and eat lunch there. Probably a little pricey to eat in the museum cafe, but might save some walking-around time. Also, would be nice if I could find a cheap watch someplace, hmm… alternatively, I could take my DS with me, that has a clock in it. Or my iPod, that has a clock too. Guess even without a watch, I have several timepieces.

My throat’s been a little sore since sitting for an hour in the smoking area on the train, and my feet have a few blisters… I noticed a store around the corner, maybe I’ll pick up some cough drops and foot pads (especially if I’m going to be walking all day.

Written that afternoon in my notebook

I spent too long at the Jüdisches Museum and ran hopelessly to try and go 15 blocks in 8 minutes.

Instead of arriving 15 minutes early, as I had planned, I arrived 15 minutes late, and on top of that, couldn’t find the meeting place mentioned. After a few minutes of walking around looking for the Mama Cafe, I gave up and sat down in the park by the river to rest my feet.

It’s probably just as well I missed out on 4 hours of walking, since my feet have taken quite a beating in the past few days, and my blisters have blisters, in a Dr. Seuss-like manner.

I spread my towel on the grass (of course, a good traveler always has his towel with him), and take a little rest and drink some water.

relaxing by the river

A kid wandered around the park, bashing out some kind of tune on accordion in the hopes of getting some coins. He’s currently hovering over my head as I write this. What seemed melodic from a distance seems much more discordant from up close. He continues to play until I give him a coin to make him go away. It’s entertainment in reverse, where you pay for the music to stop playing.

Nearby a man who looks like a heavy from “Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels” is rather appropriately describing, in a British accent, the meaning of “double-barreled shotgun” to his two German blokes.

All three are bald-headed and tough-looking. One is in military fatigues, and his arms are lined with tattoos. His rough appearance is ruined, however, by his golden retriever puppy, who keeps jumping up on his lap and licking his face, causing the man to laugh and rub the puppy’s head.

After a while they get up and walk off, the puppy trotting along behind them on a leash.

I wonder what my next move should be. I check my iPod, it’s 5 minutes to 4pm. Most stuff closes at 6pm, though I could try another shot at the Holocaust Museum, which should be open till 8.

I watch tour boats go by on the river, and wonder if I should take one. It’s nice and relaxing here on the grass, though. I just want to rest awhile. I am on vacation, after all.

Is a moment savored
a wasted one
if nothing is accomplished?

After a while of resting, I check my iPodwatch. 4:17pm. Probably time I should leave Monbijou Park and visit something. Food maybe. My large breakfast is starting to wear off. I ate a small bag of chips while sitting here, but I could do with a proper meal.

My Lonely Planet guide book says there is a good falafel stand down the street a bit, by Oranienburger Tor. There’s also a subway station there if I want to go someplace after.

Ok, up and at ’em.

Around Berlin

Oof. Long day. I’m currently sipping a French beer Marco introduced me to called Desperados (heh, drinking a Mexican-themed French beer purchased in Germany – how international!). It has a hint of tequila flavoring in it. It’s not as cold as it should be, but still refreshing. Once I’m done typing this I will go downstairs and post what I’ve typed, since I can only get internet access on the ground floor.

My day started out late. I woke up at around 9:30am, showered, and took my laptop downstairs for internet. They were still sorta serving breakfast, I think I just hit the cutoff, because they were packing up. They brought me out a pot of coffee and a ceramic server with a dairy product of some sort in it. I’m guessing cream. I drank some coffee, checked my email, sent a couple, and watched a couple videos of Starcraft 2, which Blizzard just announced. Looks good. Gameplay reminds me a bit of Bungie’s Myth games.

Then it was back upstairs for some quick planning. I didn’t know what to go to, so I figured I’d head for a cluster of museums on the map and wing it from there.

I walked over to the subway, and bought an all-day subway pass for 6,20€. Funny thing about the German subway and train systems – they are mostly the honor system. You get on the train or subway, and *should* have a ticket. In theory, you could be randomly asked to show your ticket, and if you can’t produce it, you are fined 40€. But I’ve never seen it happen. Sure, on the ICE train they check tickets, but on the commuter rails and subways it seems to be a very infrequent occurrence.

Anyway, I bought my subway ticket, transfered to another line, and popped out in the middle of Berlin. Now I’m not known for my sense of direction, but I had chosen a subway stop close to the museums, so it was easy to find my way to the “museum island”.

There, I went to the Pergamon Museum, which has exhibits of Greek, Roman, Babylonian, Islamic, and Middle Eastern art. They have a couple full-size reproductions of Roman and Babylonian structures. There was lots to see.

At this point, I wondered what time it was, I had spent quite a while in the Pergamon. I don’t have a watch, but had the cellphone Marco lent me. It seemed to have turned off for some reason, and when I turned it back on, it asked me for the PIN for the SIM card. Lacking that, I couldn’t even tell what time it was. The cellphone had suddenly become useless. Weird.

Undeterred, I then went to the Altes Museum nearby, which has a great collection of Roman and Egyptian art.

After that, I stopped at a snack stand and had a CurryBraut, a sort of German-Indian cuisine that was both terribly unhealthy and very tasty. The epitome of fast food.

Refueled, I went to the Berliner Dom. From there, you can climb to the top and get a great view of the surrounding area. I then climbed to the bottom, and walked through the crypt. It’s not a catacomb like I expected, but a large dimly-lit marble hall, filled with caskets. It looks like a vampire convention. All sorts of dead well-to-dos down there.

At this point it must have been after 6, because the cafe and gift shop were closed. I knew the Jewish Holocaust museum was open till 8, so I headed over there.

It was a bit of a walk, and I kinda zig-zagged through the streets, but I found it ok. It’s an interesting sight – lots of stone blocks, mostly the same height but slightly offset, arranged in a grid. The ground beneath them is of different heights, though, so as you walk through them, you get lower and lower until they dwarf you. Like some kind of walk-in 3D bar graph of despair. I was disappointed to find that the museum was inexplicably closed. Even without a watch, I was pretty sure it was before 8pm, I estimated around 7, based on the last time I asked someone for the time.

From there, I walked in the Tiergarden a bit, which is a big park in Berlin sort of like Central Park in NYC. Like the park in Frankfurt, it also has bunnies. After a short stroll in the park, I walked over to the Brandenburger Tor, the famous big gate of Berlin, which is the monument mentioned in my pinball game “Attack From Mars” when Germany is under attack (“The Brandenburger Tor is in danger!”).

There was a guy dressed in old-fashioned military garb, who walked towards me when I took a picture. He explained that his livelyhood was posing for pictures as Friedrich the Great, and that I would have to pay 1€ to take his picture. It seemed a reasonable price, so I gave him the euro, and he posed for another shot and gave me a couple postcards.

I stopped at a Dunkin Donuts (yes, in the heart of Berlin, right next to a Starbucks, no less) and got a “Mezzo Mix” soda, which is an orange/cola mix.

By this time I was getting pretty tired, so I began walking back towards the subway. I saw a sushi place on the way that I figured I would stop and eat at. However, I was unable to exactly reproduce my zig-zagging path, so it eluded me. I did find myself by a supermarket, so figured I’d buy some snacks, drinks and water, since water at tourist spots is quite pricey (2€ for a small bottle!). I browsed around, almost bought a boxed salad, but figured I’d grab water and beer first. I picked up some of the beers I had had at Marco’s and liked. While I was doing so, I heard an announcement over the intercom. Not knowing any German, I guessed the meaning was “we are closing soon, please check out now.” I hurried back towards the salads, but a store employee was ushering people towards the checkout registers, so I got in line. The woman in front of me was paying with what looked like airport food vouchers, and took a while to check out. I got my beer and water and quickly checked out. Apparently they don’t give you bags here, so I hurriedly stuffed it all into my backpack as they turned the lights off in the supermarket.

My bag was very heavy as I walked, and I was worried about the bottles crushing some of the items in my bag, but I hurried along because I was very tired. It seemed to take forever zig-zagging through street to get to one of the subway stations on the line I needed, but finally I found one. I hopped on the subway, transferred at a stop, and got to my stop. A couple blocks’ walk, and I was back in my hotel room again.

I put some of the beers in the mini-bar fridge (rather than drink the beer already in there, at mini-bar prices) and ate some toaster waffles Marco gave me. I flipped through German TV stations for a bit, hoping for something illicit and European, but instead getting mostly American things dubbed into German. BBC was in english, so I watched that for a little, then watched an episode of the American cartoon “Cat Scratch” in German on German Nickelodeon.

I considered going out to get some food, but by then I was really tired, it was already close to 11 and I didn’t know how long the subways ran, or how late places nearby might be open. So I cracked open a not-very-chilled beer, and typed out the day’s meanderings, which you just read. Now I’m going to put my socks and shoes back on, and walk down to the ground floor with my laptop. If the dining room is unlocked, I’ll set up there for a bit, otherwise I’ll, I dunno, sit in the hallway with my laptop, I guess.

I need to book a hotel in Munich, since I’ll be traveling there on Wednesday.

Traveling to Berlin

My travels to Berlin started in the Morning at Marco’s.
I packed up my stuff, made a few sandwiches, and dashed out the door, coffee in hand, since we were running late.

We got to the train station just in time, only to find that the train was delayed 10 minutes. Since I was originally scheduled to only have 13 minutes to switch trains, it might be tight.

The train pulled up, I thanked Marco and was on my way.

The trip to Frankfurt went smoothly, and since I’d been at the Frankfurt station before, finding the right track was easy. The ICE train to Berlin was also delayed, so I was there with plenty of time.

Once the ICE train arrived, things went less smoothly. Marco had been unable to get me a non-smoking seat, but said that there were sometimes free seats on the train. I got in, found an empty seat, and plopped down for a nap. Shortly however, the conductors booted me, because I had plopped down in a 1st class seat, and my railpass is only for second class.

I travelled down the cars, searching for an empty seat. I had my large luggage in tow, which barely cleared the isles, so there were plenty of annoyed glances as I thumped my way down the train. Three times I thought I had found an empty seat, and three times I was booted. I finally found myself (gagging) in the smoking section, but was unable to locate the seat I actually had a ticket for, due to the odd numbering system (there are three numbers: car, area, seat. I could get car and seat to match, but couldn’t find the right area).

Finally I gave up and did what I had seen many others doing, I sat down in the space between cars. It was noisier and bumpier than in the cars, but there was room, so I sat down on the floor, surrounded by my luggage.

I soon discovered that since this hallway was adjacent to the smoking section, people from the non-smoking section would come here to smoke. So I was essentially in a smoking area, without a seat.

At this point I started to get very depressed. I was too stupid to figure out the seat numbering, and too embarrassed to drag my luggage back down the train to at least sit in a non-smoking piece of floor. The fact that I couldn’t figure out a simple rail system had me nearly in tears, either that, or it was all the smoke I was breathing in. What the hell was I doing, I thought. What the fuck was I doing in Germany, all by myself? How stupid was I?

But lately, I’m not very good at being depressed, so a couple stops later, I tried again, and grabbed an open seat in the non-smoking area. I couldn’t really sleep much, since each new stop was like a game of russian roulette – would someone with this seat number get on the train and make me homeless again? Every time the train stopped, I would crane my neck looking at the people getting on, cursing them as potential seat thieves, and praying to the god of trains to let me keep my seat. My luck held, and I made it the rest of the way to Berlin.

From Berlin, getting to the subway was a quick walk next door, and it was a straight shot to my stop, though it was almost the full length of the line, so took awhile. I got off on my stop and then realized something.

I had somehow forgotten to write down the name or address of my hotel. I had a vague idea in my head of what the name was like and what the street felt like, but nothing concrete. I saw a street that felt correct, and began walking down it.

After a block, I wasn’t so sure anymore, so doubled back and tried another street, one that felt less right but seemed in the realm of possibility. I saw a hotel there, not mine, and went inside to ask for directions. A note at the desk said the clerk would be back in a few minutes, so I waited in the lobby. It was nice and cool.

I remembered I had the cellphone Marco lent me, so I tried calling him. No answer. I tried Alice. Again, no answer. I put the cellphone back in my bag.

The clerk appeared, and I suddenly remembered the name of the hotel and got directions to it. Turns out I had been on the right street before, I just needed to walk one block down.

I got to my hotel, and the lady at the front desk, who it seemed likely was also the owner, was very nice. I checked in, and carried my bags up to my room. As it turns out, 3rd floor meant I had to walk up 3 flights of stairs, since here the ground floor is floor 0.

Once in my room, I set my bags down and flopped on the bed for a moment. Then I got out my laptop… and discovered that I couldn’t connect to the internet. I could connect to a kind of weak access point marked “Hotel2” but I couldn’t get to the web from there. I called the front desk, and the woman related a story of woe, which the long and short of was that the access point in the dining room worked, but not the upstairs one.

So I carried my laptop down to the dining room, the desk lady brought me some sparkling water, and I briefly browsed the web and fired off a few emails.

I went upstairs, intending to go through my guidebooks and plan my day out, but what happened instead was that I passed out in bed, and slept from around 9pm until about 9:30am. Guess I needed it – I’d only slept 3 hours the night before (turns out coffee at midnight is a bad idea) and hadn’t really slept at all on the train.


I’m hanging out with Marco at Maxon, where he works. Yesterday was a holiday (Ascension Day, which is 39 days after Easter) so most people took today as a vacation day to get a 4-day weekend, leaving the office here mostly empty.

Right now I’m browsing the web, and looking up hotel rates for the next stage of my journey.

Initial Plan

I sat down with Marco and Alice today and sketched out a rough outline of my tour of Germany.

5/17 – Marco’s
Arrive, hang out with Marco.
Acclimate to local time.
Make plans.

5/18 – Maxon and Frankfurt
Go with Marco to work and see what Maxon is like.
Visit Frankfurt in the evening, buy 5-day German Rail Pass (189€ or about $256).

5/19 – Rotenburg
Visit Rotenburg with Marco and family.

5/20 – Berlin
Take train to Berlin.
Look at Berlin.

5/21 – Berline
Continue exploring Berlin.

5/22 – Berlin
More Berlin.

5/23 – Munich
Travel to Munich.
Explore Munich.

5/24 – Munich
More Munich.

5/25 – Stuttgart, Heidelberg
On the way back to Frankfurt, explore places on the way.

5/26 – Cologne
Travel with Marco to his parents’ in Cologne.

5/27 – Cologne
More Cologne.

5/28 – Around
See stuff.

5/29 – Return
Fly back to Boston

5/30 – Work at Staples
If I’m conscious.

Still need to flesh out the details, but that’s the general outline.

Will cost 189€ for rail pass, probably 200€ for hotel rooms (~40€ x 5 nights)
Total travel costs, ~400€ (~$543), not counting plane, food, and shopping.


I’m now officially underway… I’m in JFK now, I have 4 hours until my flight to Germany leaves.

I was stressed yesterday, but now that I’m in the process I’m pretty relaxed. I’ve flown often enough that it’s a familiar, easy process and so far it’s all gone nicely.

In the connector flight from Boston to NY I sat next to a nice guy who, it turns out, also lives in Worcester. He works at Astra-Zenica, inspecting labels on bottles all day to make sure they are correct. He says if he makes a mistake, people could die, so he is under tremendous stress all the time, and often just collapses in bed when he gets home after work. He was going to JFK to get a flight to London, where he will visit a friend there and then continue on to Ghana.

I had lunch at Boston-Logan, a side salad and plain baked potato from Wendy’s. Healthy and cheap food from an airport fast food joint. Who knew? Cost $2, less than bottled water.

Man, my neck hurts. Those little planes are not comfortable.

I just noticed a Nintendo DS demo station. Interesting. Cheap enough for Delta and Nintendo to do, since it’s basically just a DS that’s plugged in and running a custom cartridge. Cool to see one in the wild.

DS download station

Now I’ve got a few more hours to kill. My defective laptop battery will give up soon, and the power plugs here seem to be disabled. Bastards, can’t give a little free power to their customers…

Guess I’ll play some DS and flip though some books on Germany.

Doritos X-13D

I was looking for a snack to bring to a meeting at work, and while reaching for some Quakes (flavored mini ricecakes – yummy) I noticed a solid black bag of Doritos, marked only “X-13D” in big letters, with a white box below with text saying “This is the x-13D Flavor Experiment.”


So of course, their clever marketing ploy was irresistable, so I shelled out a buck and bought the fat-laden bag of mystery.

I went to the meeting and passed the bag around, we all tried one.

*sniff sniff*
“Smells different.”

“Tastes like…”
“A big mac!”

Yes indeed, Doritos has produced a chip that captures the flavor of a Big Mac. Which is exactly what you expect – it tastes pretty good while you’re eating it, but afterwards, you’re like “bleh”.

So, 100 points for marketing, 50 points for amusement factor, 10 points for actual flavor, 10 points for nutritional value, 0 points for “will I buy it again”.
Score out of a possible 500: 170.

Bzzzt. Interesting idea, Doritos, but try again.

Leaving, on a jet plane

I leave tomorrow, so I’m all jittery, unfocused… stressed.

Still have some packing to do, but I’m not too worried about that. I’m more worried about the things I *haven’t* thought of… some regulation or procedure that will make me miss my flight or get stuck at customs…

Plus, I want to bring Marco a present… what to get him that they don’t have in Germany?
Suggestions I’ve gotten so far are Maple Syrup and Fluffernutter…

Also, I’m *still* waffling on travel methods… do I get a rail pass? do I rent a car? do I just buy train tickets as I need them? And now it’s down to the wire… choose! Quick! Now! Schnell! Aaaargh!!!

Carl played the song Lost in Germany for me… hopefully not my anthem there…

Golden Compass

The Golden Compass series of books is being made into a movie, on the website they have a personality test that tells you what your dæmon is. Here’s mine: