Ich bin ein Berliner

The famous phrase from Kennedy's speech is surprisingly dead on. After just a few minutes back in Berlin, I felt just as comfortable and at home as I had before. When you are in Berlin you feel home. My cousin embodies this notion. She is a Berliner at heart and always has been. She blends in and seems as though she has always lived there. Like most Berliners she is very fond of her neighborhood and defends it fiercely. Living in the East and attending University in the West, she is an exception to the rule in a place where some still don't go East and some still don't go West. Everyone generally sticks to their own neighborhoods and it is not uncommon for someone who grew up in the West recently to have never visited the East. In many ways, it is still two cities.

Besides being so happy to be able to spend three full days with my cousin, I was pumped to be back in Berlin with no agenda at all. Having done most of the touristy and not so touristy things before I didn't feel the need to run around and do them. We set off each day with a general direction and that is about it. The best way to explore. After having a wonderful day Friday, we had a casual Saturday morning wandering and shopping in the outdoor food market. Another favorite pastime of mine. After we decided to walk the length of the Karl Marx Avenue from her flat to Alexanderplatz, which is no short walk to be sure. It was a wonderful walk though. On either side of the avenue you could see the remnants of the Soviet era construction apartment buildings. Huge looming massive buildings. So large in fact that when you are behind them in the neighborhoods, they completely block the sound from the street so that it is just you and the neighborhood. You cannot believe the quiet. On the bottom floor of most of these buildings art galleries have popped up. Now I'm not talking about a few here and there, there is literally one in each open space that was available. Some buildings even had four.

Alexanderplatz is just how I remembered it. expansive, busy and containing a pink mall that everyone agrees is the ugliest they have ever seen. We continued on down the road from Alexanderplatz through Mitte and onto Unter den Linden. I immediately recognized it and the area where I stayed for a night last time. I felt this kind of bizarre satisfaction at remembering, considering it had only been one night. We crossed over to the Berliner Dom, which I also had seen before, but it was closed last time. We went in and it is just as impressive from the inside. There were two weddings going on, who knew you could still get married there?? The organ is gigantic, and although it is a Protestant church, it has many Catholic characteristics. It is almost like it is having a bit of an identity crisis. It becomes even more confusing when you realize that it was the GDR (DDR) that rebuilt it. A socialist government that was, well, basically atheist.
The war caused significant damage and the rebuilding began in 1981. Quite an impressive reconstruction I have to say.

We headed up to the actual dome, which I didn't know you could do, but made me so happy. One of my favorite things to do in new cities is to get a bird's eye view. It really helps you orient yourself and its usually pretty spectacular. This was no exception. Awesome view!

Museum Island as it is called was a big maybe, and when we got there, the mood had passed. We only made a quick stop at the modern art museum before we moved on and went hunting for food again. There were so many great veggie choices, I was thrilled. A new food for me was a Turkish potato thing that I cannot for the life of me remember the name of. It is basically a baked potato with mashed potato in it as a base that is then filled with mixed fresh veggies, or meat if you desire. The combinations were delicious.

For the most interesting item of the day, I was accosted by a stag party in the underground. They wanted a picture with me and I reluctantly complied. Drunkenly they thought I was German "Will you (hand signals) take a photo (motion to camera) (long and drawn out), my response I'd be happy to (thinking that they wanted me to take a picture of them, not be in a picture), surprised yet amused faces to have found the American on the platform. Pictures must have been part of their to do list. When the Brits found out I was American, the inevitable yelling of "You're a Yank?" came in force. Yes I'm a Yank, but your mate is dressed in a sort leather dress wearing makeup. (Who surprisingly seemed like the soberest one of the bunch, carrying on a conversation with me about where I am from and his family in Cambridge.

Sunday I had the pleasure of seeing the University of Art where she attends and then heading right over to Zoolishergarten to the zoo. I'm not a huge zoo fan, but it was beautiful day and we had a great time. For a zoo in the middle of the city, it is huge and has a serious array of animals. Pretty nice, I have to say. At about 4 in the afternoon I started to think about having to leave which made me very sad. But I also started to think about my re-pack....