After years of wondering what this city was all about, here I am. I arrived yesterday in the early afternoon after a less-than-two hour, 200 km/hr train ride from Hamburg. The weather was just as mid-winter-miserable as in Hamburg the day before, but that didn't stop me from doing a bit of walk-around. And on the positive side, the drizzle and fog in the air made for some very dramatic lighting conditions, as with the opening shot of the iconic Berliner Fernsehturm in Alexanderplatz. It's funny to look at that picture and imagine that the base of that tower houses a Starbucks, and around the whole of Alexanderplatz, one can find all the favorite flavors of shopping and chain stores desired — about 50 paces behind me was a Dunkin Donuts. And I thought only America ran on...
I'm staying in an apartment in the northern reaches of Kreuzberg by the Spree, just far enough north to be in what seems to be former East Berlin from my best estimate. * It certainly has the feel of what I would expect the former east to be like, something reminiscent of what I saw in parts of Leipzig... monolithic, expressionless apartment buildings, some brightly graffiti-ed in an effort to bring about something of a pulse. And of course, a drab gray day doesn't exactly bring out the shine in a place. I've posted a few pictures from the neighborhood on my Flickr page, along with a couple others of the Fernsehturm.
It's especially satisfying for me to be here not just because of my long-held curiosity, but also because I've made gestures towards the idea of living here soemday based on the rumors of a lively art scene and the opportunity to gain fluency in German. Back in the summer of 2003 when I knew I wanted to leave Ann Arbor, there were three plans of flight at three different levels of difficulty: Chicago was the green circle, New York the blue square, and Berlin the black diamond. Obviously, I chose the middle road — as was probably wise. But now I'm here. Not living, but checking it out, practicing my Germany, soaking it all in. I can finally marry the reality with the fantasy.
One of the most exciting individual reasons for being here: the opportunity to finally experience the Jewish Museum Berlin, the first built building of my former employer, architect Daniel Libeskind. For 15 months, I lived with the images, drawings, and stories of this building, and felt like I almost knew it. Yesterday, I did a short drive-by at dusk. Now, it will be the third Libeskind building I have seen up close, the second I have seen completed, but the first I actually get to walk through. Stay tuned for impressions.
And with that, it's a wonder I'm still sitting inside, because it appears that we actually have a little bit of sun today. So I'm outa here. More to come...
* I've been trying to find a satisfactory map of the Berlin Wall's former location superimposed on an accurate and useful street map of the city, say a quality Google Earth hack or something, but haven't found what I really want quite yet. This is the best I've been able to do. Anyone have some better leads?