MJH in Berlin

MJH in Berlin

Matt made it to Berlin! And despite flying for 6 hours and arriving at 1am his time, fielding a new country, currency and language and making his way to downtown Berlin to find my apartment, he had a less eventful morning than I did.

It’s been so dry here that I woke up with a bloody nose and then spilled coffee all over… well, all over something white that doesn’t belong to me. Given that this whole apartment is white, that gives me a lot of options. So my morning consisted of a lot of bad language and frantic attempts to clean blood off my face and coffee out of things for which it was never intended. And all this before 8am.

Despite that, I think the matter is solved – certainly my nose has stopped bleeding – and Matt arrived to be a witness to my insanity and patiently endured my endless “can you see the coffee here? how about here? here? Can you see it here?” questions when really he just wanted to drink some coffee and perhaps take a nap.

MJH in Berlin

Coffee first while we waited for Berlin to wake up and start serving breakfast. But somehow my favorite place never opened – Factory Girl! Why why?? – so we went to another coffee house where we had breakfast sandwiches and Matt posted this picture on Facebook exclaiming “first meal in Berlin!”

MJH breakfast

My favorite comment on that picture was “and you ordered a bagel???” Even in Europe, bagels win out occasionally.

I then had my almost last German lesson where I suffered through instructions on how to tell time on a 12 hour clock. If you don’t think that’s complicated, read this post because he explains it more lucidly than I ever could. Then I came home with my head positively stuffed with knowledge to roust Matt from his slumbers and drag him out to enjoy Berlin.

We started with food. BBQ in fact.

Markthalle Neun

I know! This is Berlin! Bagels and BBQ? What are we even doing?? But you know what? it was bad-assedly delicious so I’m not even sorry.

I took him through Kreuzberg, my favorite street art neighborhood where I always find something new. Here are a few finds from this trip:

These painted lovers

Oberbaum Bridge

And this sprawling epic depicting the fall of the Berlin wall and the rise of the almighty Euro.


We ended up at East Side Gallery, for my third visit. And I found new sights there as well, of which this was one of my favorites.

Berlin wall

And this tagged tagger tagging “sic semper tyrannis”

Sic semper tyrannis

A few silly photos because these faces demand it

MJH in Berlin

And a final sobering reminder of the reason for this wall

Berlin Wall

I love this gallery. It remains one of my favorite things in Berlin.

We finished the day on the other side of town at KaDaWe, Berlin’s fanciest department store. Berliners love these whirling cyclone-like installations apparently. This one reminds me a lot of the cyclone in the Reichstag Dome.


KaDaWe’s 6th floor is all gourmet food. Dinner? As if you had to ask. How about currywurst? (and an Asian salute)

MJH and Currywurst

An upscale shi-shi department store version of Berliner street food, Kaitlyn.? For real? I know. Our food has been all kinds of backwards today. But it was damn good and I’d do it again. And this rhubarb, raspberry, white chocolate dessert too.


Ok, that’s a quick and dirty first day. Tomorrow, more Berlin.

Berlin Wall

The Remains of the Berlin Wall

East Side Gallery

Woke up at 5am today. That’s progress.

I’ve also found my internet router and reset it. Thanks to everyone who was concerned with my health and wellbeing… :) With my newly restored internet I spent my early morning trawling my way through a heap of Berlin expat blogs hoping to find some interesting people in town and/or get a sense of where to go and what to do. Instead, I came to realization that no matter what I do here, I’m truly not an expat.

Practically speaking I’m not an expat because I have no intention of actually expatriating. I go back to the US in 6 weeks. I already know that. However, I’m also not an expat because real expats have worries like finding jobs, establishing residency, buying cars and paying utilities. I’m not doing any of those things. Which begs the question, what am I doing?

In the movie Sheltering Sky, Kit and Port decide that the difference between travelers and tourists is that a tourist is “someone who thinks about going home the moment they arrive” and a traveler “might not come back at all.”

In Berlin, I’m a traveler and I want to find a community here; but I’m also a tourist, seeing the sights, eating meals out, dealing with my next tour job and staying connected to my friends in the US.

The tricky part is that in my non-Berlin touring life, I do all those same things. I’m literally a continuous full time traveler who lives in hotels, travels for work and for fun and has no home. I’m in a new place every week or two. I spend half my life adjusting to new territory, finding grocery stores, eating out, seeing the sights, packing and unpacking and staying connected to friends and family that I hardly ever see. So whatever it is I do in my life, I’m doing it here in Berlin too.

I’m not sure there’s a name for people like me. I’m a nomad, a gypsy and a world citizen… but not an expat. One has to live somewhere in order to expatriate.

And immediately after that realization, I joined the Berlin Expat facebook group because… why not? Let’s see how people really live.

After all those deep thoughts I went to yoga and yeah… quite the experience. I’ll write about yoga tomorrow.

Then I left my apartment with the intent of going to see the remains of the Berlin Wall. I stopped for a banh mi at Co co’s

Co co Banh Mi Deli Berlin

Because one should always stop for a banh mi if offered the opportunity. Doesn’t that look scrumptious? It was tasty and traditional with pate and pork slices and pickled vegetables. The woman who took my order asked me questions in German, effortlessly switched to English to finish my order and then shouted it back to the kitchen in Vietnamese. You know, trilingual. No biggie.

I took a lovely walk along the River Sperry

River Sperry

And got completely lost. With a map. That was no help at all. Story of my life, really,

I literally couldn’t figure out where I was so I finally got a taxi. At a certain point it’s good to recognize one’s limitations,

The taxi took me to the East Side Gallery, which is where the last remaining portions of the Berlin Wall still stand. Almost a mile of wall was offered up as canvases to artists from all over the world.

Some are famous, like Banksy

Banksy Berlin Wall

Arguably the most famous and yet completely unrecognizable graffiti artist in the world who creates art everywhere and keep from getting photographed. His street tags now have to be protected because his work is in such high demand. In 2003-04 he came to Berlin and created several pieces around the city but they’ve been chiseled away and sold at auction for hundreds of thousands of dollars. I’m not sure how he gets that money since there are probably 2 living people who know who he actually is… but I suspect he works that out.

Then some of the wall art pieces are infamous, like this kiss between Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and East German President Erich Honecker

The Kiss on the Berlin Wall

Taken from an actual 1979 photograph that immediately went viral, even in 1979. That painting is all over Berlin now. No postcard is safe.

The painting styles on the wall range widely

East Side Gallery

East Side Gallery

And after the invited artists were finished, all the uninvited artists took over

East Side Gallery

East Side Gallery

It could be upsetting to see all these pieces get tagged but at the same time, half of these invited artists were street artists! And the entirety of Berlin is one big piece of graffiti. I’ve never seen so much street art in my life as I have here.

In fact the entire back of the wall was tagged

East Side Gallery Berlin

Allowing street artists to flourish makes this city really unique, I think. So colorful and with so much spirit. I love it. And using the wall as a canvas turns a horrific devastating event into a platform for political protest and a tribute to those who didn’t live to see it become art.

East Side Gallery

Berlin’s Checkpoint Charlie

Berlin street artDespite my best efforts I woke up at 3am this morning. While laying there not sleeping I did all the jetlag math – how long have I been asleep, what are the odds I can go back to sleep, can I possibly have gotten enough sleep… etc. and yet still couldn’t sleep. I refused to get up before the sun, but after laying in bed – AWAKE – for 2 more hours, I gave in and got up at 5.

My lovely, albeit incredibly early morning, was diminished by the discovery that my internet router had shut itself down in the middle of the night. It was hiding somewhere I couldn’t find it so I finally gave up on being connected to the outside world and just read and drank tea for a couple of hours before going to yoga.

Wow, Bikram yoga in German. That was something. I’ll devote a post to it this weekend.

Post-yoga I found free wifi on the street, as a traveler does, and stood on the sidewalk for 20 minutes checking my email and letting my air bnb host know that her internet wasn’t working. She’s in Australia, btw, so that’s a bit far for IT problems but I have no contact info for her or people here.

Went home, still no internet. Started laundry in my pocket sized washer but couldn’t figure out the various cycles because the dial has no text and instead depends on incomprehensible pictures.

Berlin washer

I think that fluff in the corner might indicate cotton? What do I suppose the ball of yarn and the feather mean? Finally I settled on something that looked like a cold water cycle and it told me I had an 1 hour and 49 minutes until my wash was finished. How in the world does a wash cycle take almost 2 hours?? Although it gave me plenty of time to find internet elsewhere.

Found a breakfast spot called Factory Girl! where the motto is “New York is King but Berlin is King Kong!” I don’t even know what that means but it’s a cute quirky place with what looks like denim pant legs laid over the chair seats. I waited forever for the most picturesque breakfast imaginable

Factory Girl! Berlin

How pretty is that! The caprese-ish omelette and café au lait revived me, as did the free wifi, until I found out that for the second day in a row Microsoft has decided my email is hacked and they’ve shut me down. What’s the security solution to that? A phone call or a text to my American phone. And what does my American phone not receive while I’m out of the USA? Phone calls and texts.

There’s probably nothing on earth that makes me want to go home like a lack of internet and email. I suppose that says terrible things about my character but one can deal with only so much after waking up at 3am.

I finished my breakfast, walked home, got my computer, found yet another café with free wifi and spent an hour with Microsoft troubleshooting my email. By this point it was noon, I’d been up for 9 hours and had basically accomplished breakfast and yoga. I’ve had better mornings.

Which probably explains why I decided to be a big ol tourist and go see Checkpoint Charlie. I figured that there are a lot of serious historical landmarks here so I should get the silly one out of the way.

Checkpoint Charlie

To be fair, Checkpoint Charlie is an important part of Berlin’s history as it was a major crossing point through the wall. But now it’s a giant tourist attraction where those actors in uniform will pose for pictures with you and stamp your passport with fake East/West Berlin stamps. Also, McDonalds.

And the remains of important things like signs

Checkpoint Charlie Berlin

And sad remnants of the wall for photo ops

Berlin Wall

I didn’t expect to enjoy the Museum Haus am Checkpoint Charlie

Museum Haus am Checkpoint Charlie

which started as just two rooms in 1962, right after the wall was erected, as a human rights protest. Now it’s a major tourist hub and has expanded to a four floor edifice detailing the entire world history of oppression since 1950 by covering each wall with giant panels of text. That’s a lot of reading my friends…

However, the Berlin Wall is a pretty good example of good guys hanging out while evil flourishes. I mean, I understand why the world was reluctant to strengthen Germany after their part in the world wars but still, 30 years of Soviet oppression? And those 30 years… my God. Just one long dark stretch of demonstrations and riots by the desperate East Germans followed by imprisonment and executions followed by protests and pleading by the West German chancellor to have someone, anyone really, step in and help abolish the Soviet rule.

The madness brought out some real heroes though, like this guy Hasso Herschel who helped over 1000 people escape East Berlin and was better known as a great restauranteur. That’s my kind of guy. Or the diplomats who smuggled people out in the trunks of their cars and the guy who built a zip line with homemade rope “chairs” and got his whole family over the wall. Fantastic stories from a very dreadful time.

I spent a long time in that museum just trying to wrap my head around the sequence of events that led to the building of the wall and then the tearing down. I’m still thinking about it and wondering how many other kinds of oppression are happening right now, the stories of which I might encounter in a museum someday. Sobering.

I bought postcards with alleged pieces of the Berlin Wall attached to them that I’m 99% certain are fake. But still, they stand for a time when the right set of imperfect leaders finally stood up and did something about evil and oppression. And they succeeded.

Checkpoint Charlie Museum