Three Days of Berlin

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After seeing my parents for Christmas 2001, I decided to spend 3 days of vacation in Berlin, a city I hadn't seen in a long time. I booked three days for the first week of January 2002, in the renowned Hotel Adlon. While the hotel choice may seem to be on the expensive side, the current dollar/euro exchange rate actually makes it a good deal that I couldn't pass up---when else do you get to stay at one of the finest hotels, if not when you can afford it?

Hotel Adlon, Blick vom Brandenburger Tor

I arrived on Wednesday. The first thing I did after checking in was to find my way to the new Potsdamer Platz. It combines shopping, working, and living in one rather incoherent whole. The architecture is interesting, but not really fascinating. If you thought like me that you need to see Berlin because of the new Potsdamer Platz, forget it. It's not worth it. In the evening, I watched the German version of Lord of the Rings in a movie theater at Potsdamer Platz. To my surprise, the dubbing wasn't as bad as I remembered it from years back.

Back in the hotel, I decided to go to bed. For cooling down and maintaining fresh air, I tried to switch on the fan. However, it didn't seem to work, even though the controls were straightforward. After a second I noticed that the fan was actually switched on and working properly. I had forgotten that we Germans hate everything that is noisy, smelly, or can't be aligned to a proper tune. Hence, German companies build quiet fans.

The next morning, I went to the hotel spa and had a relaxing swim. For breakfast, I tried a Bircher Muesli, which turned out to be an oat, cream, and berry combination, but no Bircher Muesli. Unfortunately, this appears to be a pattern: the Bircher Muesli they serve in Boston's old Ritz Carlton doesn't have much to do with a Bircher Muesli either. I guess I'll have to return to Zurich for a decent experience.

I spent much of Thursday in one of Berlin's main shopping districts, the Ku' Damm. Amusingly, if you want to dispose of some garbage these days in Germany, you have the choice of four differently colored garbage containers: a red, green, blue, and yellow one, for paper, glass, container, and miscellaneous garbage.

Of course, I went to see the KaDeWe, mainly for its food court. Whoa, I didn't want to leave. Well, I finally left after buying six different bars of chocolate that I had never tasted before, and after fighting off the chocolate bar woman who tried to force-feed me with more chocolate. According to this one expert, Valrhona is the brand of choice. (Valrhona is a French brand.) I remain unconvinced, but she easily out-bluffed me when she started talking about the differences between cacao beans stemming from different Caribbean islands, and what they mean to Valrhona chocolates.

In the evening, I went to see Martin Buchholz in the Traenenpalast. Buchholz is a left-wing political satirist. His trademark are amusing word combinations with plenty of ambiguity and double meaning. Very enjoyable, even though I felt his word-wit had become more basic since I last had seen him. But then, I may have missed his points. I bought his new book "Stille Tage im Klischee" (quiet days in the cliché) and had him sign it. I tried to get into a conversation with him about this "Ablass-Handel", since he had referred to himself as fulfilling a social hygiene function, but he was just too busy selling his books. Looks like he has come a long way since his first appearances in the eighties, where he had left it to the audience to pay whatever it could afford to see him. Here is one goody that took a moment until I got it: he talked about "sex on stage, fiktiv." (Sorry, doesn't translate.) Hehe.

Back in the hotel I marveled about the little details that this five star etablissement worries about. For example, whenever they did my room, service folded up the tip of the toilet paper roll and used an Adlon-labeled sticker to hold the folding together. I'm not sure what this means: they hardly want me to associate their name with something I wipe my butt with. On this note, I was happy to be back in Germany: toilet paper actually does its job. In contrast to most other toilet paper, it doesn't rip easily, and makes sure that your middle finger stays where it belongs.

The next morning, I got up at around 8:30am. From my balcony, I checked the Reichstags-Kuppel and saw people already running up there. I had hoped to be there early to skip the multi-hour waiting lines, but I just couldn't get my act together. Originally, I intended to line up in front of the Reichstag early in the morning to get a head start, but it was just too cold. So I just went down to the spa again, had a swim and got a 1-hour aroma therapy massage. Sigh.

On Friday, I spent most of my time wandering the classical parts of Berlin Mitte, walking down Unter den Linden, seeing the Museumsinsel (museum island) and the Palast der Republik (seat of power of the former GDR), touring the Hackeschen Höfe and the Alexanderplatz. I saw the Haus des Lehrers (house of the teacher) with its blinkenlights installation (

In the evening, I went to the Konzerthaus to listen to the Staatskapelle play Shostakovitch's symphony no. 8, a symphony of protest and mourning over the victims of war. I'm not sure, but I think the brother of a friend, a soon-to-be trumpeter-turned-conductor, was playing in the orchestra this evening. At least one guy looked similar to the groom on the wedding photos I had seen at Wolf's place a few days earlier.

Back in the hotel, I decided to go dancing this still very young night. I picked Tresor, a place near Potsdamer Platz, that I could easily walk to. They mainly play Detroit Techno, which is fine with me. I went there at about 11:30pm, which was a mistake, because they were just opening the doors to a crowd of about 5 people violently demanding relief from the cold. In Boston, public life officially ends at 2am, which was the time when things got rolling at Tresor.

Tresor derives its name from being the safe ("tresor") of the former Wertheim department store. The location was ok, the dance floors rather small, but not too crowed. I started the evening listening to an Italian techno fan who talked at me without interruptions (if anyone knows an idiomatic translation of "quatschte mir eine Frikadelle ans Ohr", I would be glad to hear about it). I finally went to dance, but it was rather slow and I got bored. Eventually, I went down to pick up my coat, only to see that a second dance floor had opened while I had been one floor higher.

This second dance floor was the actual safe, and it was all smoke-filled (well, dry-ice or the like) so that you couldn't see farther than three feet. In addition, the stroboscopic light provided an atmosphere of lightning. Wondering whether I should enter this foggy soup of thunder and lightning, I watched some guys come out, with one of them running straight into a metal bar that separated the dance floor from the preceding bar. Talk about sensory overload. This finally made me overcome my hesitation and I went in.

Boom boom chacha tschehehesch, boom boom chacha tschehehesch. It was a most pristine experience, thoroughly enjoyable. The room was small, but again not too crowded. I quickly settled into the groove and kept going for quite some time. When I felt something running down inside my ear, I took a break. Nothing happened, my earplugs protected me well that evening. (Don't laugh, I have enough friends with Tinitus problems.) I went back in after some time. But eventually, I got tired and decided I should actually get some sleep before the hotel kicks me out, and so I walked back to my hotel.

Nothing exciting the next morning: I simply got up in time, had a long and extended bath, and got on my way back to Hamburg.

Dirk Riehle, January 2002.

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