So Berlin is about three times bigger than any city I’ve ever been to. There are about a kajillion things to do and I did about twelve of them. And it was super amazingly fun and I already want to go back and do some of those other fantastic things I didn’t get to do. So let me try and and answer some of the no doubt burning questions in your mind about this incomparable European capital of everything cool and German (two things that do not usually go together but which can produce very positive results).
Q. How many times did I hear the opening score of “Game of Thrones” being blasted out of a BMW window?
Several. The Germans looooove their GoT and like to play the soundtrack loudly out of windows in general. I was more than okay with this. Also, one of the best character in GoT (Jaqen H’ghar) is played by German actor Tom Wlaschilha, which I think they’re pretty pumped about.
Q. What is curry wurst and why is it so awesome?
Curry wurst is a sausage, grilled and sliced up, covered in ketchup and curry powder, usually served with fries. The streets in Frankfurt and Berlin are dotted with little shops where you can pop in for a quick wurst. Generally you regret it the next day, but nothing goes better with beer.
Q. How giant was the used clothing store in Kreutzberg?
Very. Half of it was curated vintage with tagged prices and the other half was by-the-kilo secondhand — albeit arranged nicely by color and type. I spent about two hours in there and gladly would have spent much more if I’d had more time and didn’t have to pee so badly.
Q. What is the Ampelmännchen and why is he on everything?
The Ampelmännchen is the figure on East German crosswalk lights — a little man in a hat that indicates either stop or walk. Most pedestrian crossing in former East Berlin still have these old signal lights, and every souvenir shop is full of merchandise — mugs, keychains ice cube trays, cookie cutters — that feature this very typical East German icon. It’s pretty unexpected in a place like Germany, with its rigid design rules, to see such a fanciful little character on every street corner, but that makes the Ampelmännchen all the more charming.
Q. How many people were using the Holocaust Memorial as a picnic table?
More than you would think. It is a very interesting memorial in that it compels you to interact with it, and experiencing it provoked me enough to feel kind of weird that people were putting their lunches on the smooth tops of the stone pedestals. The memorial has always been quite controversial since its inception in the 1990s to its construction in 2005 — a subsidiary of the company that provided the anti-graffiti coating for the stones was also the manufacturer of Zyklon B, the deadly gas used in Nazi concentration camps.
Q. How many Euros does it cost to shower in the Friedrichstraße U-bahn station?
€7. But only €1 to take a dump. I chose option #2 (har har).
Q. How many times did I see my name on a Trabi registration form at the DDR museum?
Twice. The Trabi (Trabant) was a car manufactured in East Germany, as a Soviet version of the Volkswagon. It had a proto-fibreglass body and simple mechanical insides that could easily be fixed at home — if you happened to have the good luck to get parts. It was notoriously unreliable and the waiting list to get one was years long, but the Trabi was an integral part of East German culture and you can still see them banging around Berlin’s Mitte, offering rides to tourists.
Q. How many elaborate caskets with my mother’s name on them did I see in the crypt of the Berliner Dom?
Lots. Dorothea was apparently a very popular name for princesses at the height of the Prussian empire. Just like Christel was a popular name for Trabi owners in the mid 20th century.
Q. Have you received your Ostpacket yet?
This question is a rhetorical segue for me to talk about how Ostalgie is still alive and well in Berlin. I think I probably could (and sort of would like to) spend my whole life collecting and curating vintage DDR objects. There is a shop called Ostpacket (use your Google Translate — they only ship to the EU, unfortunately) that stocks classic DDR brands that are still in production. It also has an infinitely interesting display of collected vintage objects that were not for sale (or at least not when I was there). My only disappointment is that there do not seem to be replicas of DDR-manufactured stationery items available for sale. Maybe this is a future career path…
Q. How did I get away with snapping a picture of the bust of Nefertiti even after the museum guard yelled “Keine photo!” at me?
Quite easily. Cameras can still take pictures when you’re not holding them up to your face.
Q. How much gold is in the Protestant Berliner Dom cathedral?
A. Nearly a Catholic amount, actually. The cathedral was built to rival St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, and boy did they give the RCs a run for their money. The Berliner Dom is so huge it veritably put the fear of God in me. Well played, Protestants. Well played.