Paul's Northern Europe 2002: Berlin

After Paul's Countdown

May 23-26, 2002

Thursday, May 23, 2002

I've always enjoyed watching the "airplane channel" on flights. You know, the video coverage that provides a map showing where the airplane is and where it's going. SAS's new Airbus offers this service. In addition, though, it also has two other channels which offer forward- and downward-looking cameras. Taxiing down the runway, the screen looks just like a video game. In fact, it's a bit eerie to realize that it's real.

As we flew closer to Copenhagen, we passed directly over Norway. It was very unfortunate that the skies were so cloudy, because we went right over Bergen (discussed previously in this journal) and right over Telemark (original home of the Fjelstads). I chatted about my Norwegian connections with my row 23 neighbor, a gastroenterologist from the University of Oslo. He did a pretty polite job of feigning interest. We proceeded south of Oslo and eventually landed in Denmark. A somewhat late departure from Sea-Tac combined with head winds to make us a little late: Only about 35 minutes were available for the transfer in Copenhagen.

As fate would have it, my connecting flight was at the opposite end of the terminal. I have been through this airport a few times before, but this was my first chance to see how big it really is. I was able to make it to the gate with a few minutes to spare, however.

The second leg of the trip was very short: only about 45 scheduled flight minutes. Nevertheless, SAS offered a full lunch and beverage service. Since I had just been served breakfast on the prior flight, I forewent it ... although the smoked salmon sandwiches did look very good. On this flight, I was seated across from a young burgundy-haired sculptress from New York who was visiting Berlin (along with four colleagues) for an extended exhibit.

Upon boarding in Copenhagen, I was able to pick up a copy of the International Herald Tribune. It always contains some interesting stories, and today was no exception.

First, it reported that the Bush protests in Berlin, while quite rowdy and even a bit violent on Tuesday, had toned down on Wednesday:

A few of the slogans on the demonstrators' posters, in German and English, were stern: "Stop Bush's global war," and "War is terror." But more seemed to be playful, such as the "Austin Powers"-inspired banner proclaiming "Behave!" and the one declaring "Berlin welcomes Bill Clinton.".

Another interesting and informative storyette explained that Monaco had made a change in its constitution that would preserve its royal dynasty. There were a few little tidbits here that were news to me:

The Grimaldies are determined not to lose their grip on the rocks in Monte Carlo. Amid reports of Prince Rainier's failing health, the palace quietly made constitutional provisions allowing one of his daughters to claim the throne if necessary. Rainier, 80 this month, had three children with Grace Kelly: the increasingly regal Caroline, the bachelor playboy Albert and the turbulent Stephanie. Albert, 43, crown prince, has been effectively barred from taking over because he is childless. Until last month's quiet legal changes, if the monarch died childless, Monaco was to revert to France. Now the way is cleared for an unmarrying Albert to take the throne since his sisters have been recognized as successors.

Finally, a commentary regarding a new book has some memorable moments. The book is Richard Blow's American Son: A Portrait of John F. Kennedy, Jr. Some people have referred to it breathlessly (or, perhaps more accurately, hopefully) as a "tell-all"; many have been critical of Blow's apparent betrayal of his former employer at George Magazine, and his attempt to make a quick buck. Although the book is currently on the New York Times Bestseller List, the IHT notes that "reviews have run the gamut from merely scathing to truly vicious."

"No reputations are eviscerated; no choice muck is flung," said Entertainment Weekly. "American Son is exactly as interesting as listening to someone else's office gossip."

"To call Richard Blow a low-rent opportunist would be unfair," said the Hartford Courant. "To low-rent opportunists, that is."

"Blow's efforts to sound like a member of Kennedy's inner circle are so strained," wrote The Chicago Sun-Times, "that they come across like excerpts from a parody in the Onion."

The IHT continues:

Actually, Blow's book may prove valuable for historians and scholars of the future. For instance, it will be very helpful for graduate students researching dissertations on "Arcane Office Politics at Mediocre Magazines in the 1990s." And it will be absolutely essential for scholars working on biographies of Richard Blow. Blow provides a wealth of information on the career of Richard Blow, the innermost thoughts of Richard Blow and the love life of Richard Blow.

There is, however, considerably less information on Kennedy. Blow describes Kennedy's handshake: "His grip was firm but not self-consciously so." He describes his body: "Broad shoulders and a V-shaped torso tapering to a slender waist." He describes what Kennedy and his wife looked like after kissing: "Smiles danced around their faces like little waves lapping at the edges of a pool."

Our landing at Tegel Airport in Berlin was delayed by half an hour: As I had expected, we were arriving just as President Bush was departing. According to our pilot, Air Force One had the right of way, and so we circled for a while until it was on its way.

I was a little worried about my luggage, due to the short connecting time in Copenhagen, but eventually, after almost every bag was claimed, my large suitcase appeared on the belt. I headed out through customs1 and immediately saw Ashley and Dan ... veteran Bombard crew members who had been sent to escort me to the Adlon.

We procured a cab and entered the molasses stream of traffic into the city. I suppose that at least some of the congestion was due to the lingering effects of Bush's visit.

Mike was waiting in the lobby of the hotel, sipping on a cup of tea and looking dapper as ever. I checked in and was given a brief tour of the hotel's facilities (and ultimately my room) by a lovely Adlon employee who had a very slight but totally charming difficulty with some of her extended English vocabulary.

At 7:30 pm I went down to the lobby to meet Alf and Watcharee. Joined by Mike and later the crew, we all went to the Sony Center IMAX theater for a showing of Star Wars: Attack of the Clones. It was spectacularly awful.

We returned to the Adlon just as the restaurant was closing, but we managed to pry some delicious salmon sandwiches from its kitchen, followed by some ice cream. Then it was time for us to head up to bed with an eye toward adjusting ourselves to the new time zone: five hours back for Alf and Watcharee, nine hours forward for me.

1 Although I appear harmless and passed through the "nothing to declare" portal without incident, German customs agents signaled for the five funky young sculptors from New York to move to a separate line where they no doubt had to answer some questions and display some of their luggage. I guess some advantages accompany getting old.

Friday, May 24, 2002

I know that I had my 'Do Not Disturb' light turned on at some point before I went to bed last night, but somehow it was unlit when the staff arrived with my International Herald Tribune this morning. Thus, they rang the doorbell and woke me up at about 8:20. Normally this would be fine, but I had stayed up until 2:45 last night, and I really could have used another couple hours of sleep. Once awakened, however, further sleep was not a realistic possibility, and so up I got.

Cindy arrived this morning. After a wonderful continental breakfast from the room service people, I went down to the lobby and there she was with her balloon crew entourage. As alway, it was great to see her; she is so much fun.

After some coffee and chatter, Cindy and Watcharee headed out on a shoe shopping expedition. I am no shoe expert, but apparently "Think" shoes are the things to have, and their price and availability in Europe are much improved over the United States. I lingered in the lobby with some tomato juice and completed my Thursday journal.

In the afternoon, it was Annie's turn to arrive: She was on SAS flight 938, the same Airbus that delivered me on Thursday. Alf and I went to the airport to meet her. After standing around outside the Customs area waiting for her to appear, however, Mike arrived and told us that she had missed her connection in Copenhagen.1 We headed back to the Adlon.

Our fruitless trip to the airport consumed a substantial portion of the afternoon. The traffic in Berlin really crawls. I don't know if it's always like this or if we've just chosen the wrong times to go places, but the congestion has been severe wherever we've gone so far. As we were stuck in traffic, though, we did catch a glimpse of the Zeppelin flying over the city.

We gathered downstairs at 8:30 for dinner in one of the hotel restaurants. Alf gave me a couple of floppy disks containing some Sony photos he shot before my arrival on Thursday. Among these: arrival at the Adlon; the police presence around the hotel (with regular armored trucks and an armored "people plow"); and the Brandenburg Gate, draped in a shroud depicting the White House, in honor of George XLIII's visit.

As we were sitting around in the lobby, Annie showed up! She dashed upstairs to check in and drop off her luggage, and then she came down to join us. I love the way our group is gathering for this trip, with a new character added every twelve hours or so:

This provides each of us with a little moment of our own in the spotlight.

Time slipped away as we got chatted with Annie, and suddenly 10:00 was approaching. Our dinner reservation had been set for 8:30, and 10:00 was pretty much "the witching hour" for the restaurant's kitchen, and so we quickly skedaddled to our table.

The restaurant has a lovely Etruscan look, and because it was so late, we had the room pretty much to ourselves. Our waiter snapped a photo of us, and we proceeded to order. I shot some of the appetizers, and then we dug into various delicious menu items.

The day ended at about midnight, and then we all headed upstairs to our various rooms on our various floors.2

1 This was entirely plausible, from my perspective. After all, I had barely made that connection myself. It turned out that Annie's flight from Seattle departed an hour and a half late; with the narrow "connect time" allotted in Copenhagen, it is no wonder she was stranded and forced to wait around a few hours for a later Lufthansa flight.

2 For some reason, Mike is on the first floor, Alf and Watcharee on the second, I am on the fifth, and Annie and Cindy are on the sixth. I'm wondering if Stephani and Robin are going to be placed on the third or fourth floor.

Saturday, May 25, 2002

Holy cow, I have no idea what Gabriele Thiers-Bense is up to with her ad in this morning's International Herald Tribune.1 I am really a bit concerned about her; has she "snapped"? Instead of her usual detailed offering of a particular mate, she has created a dramatic colloquy between herself and an imaginary customer ...


... and thank God they talk so much. Have you ever listened to them? They are never, never interested in your money - NO NO - it's just such an embarrassing coincidence, that a man of your qualities and status happens to have it. - "The way he describes himself, it's just like me ..." - Madame, they don't describe themselves, I DO. - "Never mind, whatever stands there, it could be me ..." Hm. I am tempted to mention a fact. But I never do. I think of those countless men during almost 3 decades, who became my clients because of pretentious women. Lucky, if they were not married to them - worse, if they were. MY WOMEN/clients share your attitude, which clearly says, "What I want, I am able to offer." FOR MARRIAGE ONLY!"

[from the International Herald Tribune]
1902: Immortal Pensioners

ROME: A curious discovery has been made in connection with the veterans of the Italian War of Independence. Instead of dying off gradually, as might be expected, they are actually increasing! Forty-two years ago Garibaldi sailed with 1,000 men from Querto. Of this gallant band there are to-day [May 24] 1,200 survivors. Again, Italy is paying 1,500,000 lire a year to 18,421 pensioners of the 1848 campaign. According to the average rates of mortality, four-fifths of them ought to be dead.

Stephani and Robin arrived this morning. Unfortunately, their plane was a bit late out of Miami. While they were able to dash through the Frankfurt airport for their connecting flight, their luggage was not able to run quite fast enough, and it watched forlornly from the ground as their plane left for Berlin.

When the plane touched down in Berlin, the efficient Bombard crew whisked Stephani and Robin, sans luggage, to the Adlon. Their luggage had been booked on a subsequent flight, so there were no worries in that regard. We met them in the lobby and, over coffee and tomato juice, got caught up with developments that had intervened since we last saw them.

I decided to join our new arrivals for a walk around town. We walked out of the hotel and took a right down Wilhelmstrasse. We passed a couple of cute soldiers with semi-automatic weapons and handcuffs and continued on our way.

Our primary destination was the site of "Checkpoint Charlie," at the border between the old American and Soviet sectors of Berlin. Checkpoint CharlieWhile the original structures are no longer present, an American sentry booth has been reconstructed in its original location. There are lots of shops with various souvenir items, including "pieces of the Berlin wall." These chunks of concrete are available in little plastic bags, in chunks of lucite, and even in the middle of post cards. (I wonder how well they survive postal process equipment.)

As we continued to walk around the city, we saw many, many additional vendors who offered chunks of the wall. The Berlin wall consisted of tons and tons of concrete, and so there is no reason why all of these chunks could not be authentic. But frankly, one piece of concrete looks pretty much like another. As we walked through town, there were also lots of demolished buildings and lots of construction sites; chunks of concrete having no connection to the wall were everywhere. Is there any reason why somebody couldn't pick up these chunks and sell them as "pieces of the wall"? I guess a purchaser must simply have faith.2

Twice during our walk we saw the Zeppelin above us: First when we were near Checkpoint Charlie, and then again when we were near the Sony Center (where the movie theater showing Attack of the Clones is located). By the way, there is a huge amount of transformation taking place in Berlin these days: In addition to demolition, there is a lot of construction; this is especially true in the area of the Sony Center, where the construction cranes are densely packed.

Back at the hotel in the mid-afternoon, I had a sandwich and took a nap. Since I'd only been getting about a few hours of sleep during each of the past few nights, it was about time to get back on schedule.

A little before 19:00, I went downstairs and saw that Hermann had joined us! His arrival completes our little group. Of course, we all had champagne, courtesy of Hermann. Peppermints were also available, for those who wanted them. Alf gave me some Zeppelin photos that he had snapped with his Mavica earlier in the day, including several of the Zeppelin NT Berlin. For comparison's sake, he had also located some postcards with older photos of "classic Zeppelin" flights.

Eventually we went to the hotel restaurant (the same one where we had been last night) for dinner. Even before completing last night's dinner, I had decided what I would order tonight: a starter of yellow fin tuna tartare and asian salad, followed by wild mushroom risotto.3 Both were excellent. Hermann took charge of the wine selections, and of course his choices were superb.

After a very leisurely and wonderfully enjoyable few hours at the table, we found ourselves on the other side of midnight, and we retired to our rooms on our various floors of the Adlon.

1 We have been following Gabriele and her regular "Saturday flea market" in the IHT for several years now, but this is by far the strangest ad I have ever seen her place.

2 A shopkeeper told us the actual story: When the wall came down, people were free to gather up the pieces as souvenirs, and so many people got their "piece of the rock." One clever fellow, however, carted away 50 sections of the wall and placed it all in storage. Years later, when all the rubble had eventually been cleaned up, he began marketing his hoard (complete with "certificates of authenticity") in little chunks. He has essentially cornered the market, and he is apparently doing very well indeed.

3 Last night we had two menus: The primary, extensive listing and a special asparagus and sushi menu. Tonight a third was added to the mix: It described the special "chef's pre-selections" for the day.

Sunday, May 26, 2002

We were scheduled to have our Zeppelin flight over Berlin today, but the weather - which has been changing constantly during our time here - was at its most uncooperative so far.

I slept late this morning, and Mike's phone call shortly before 10:00 could almost have been a wake-up call. (Yesterday I was up at 6:30, but the cumulative effect of 4-hour nights finally caught up with me, and this morning I caught up with it.)

Of course, anticipating potential flight difficulties (we anticipate everything!), a back-up date had already been set: Our new plan is to do the Zeppelin tomorrow.

Our alternative plan for today involved a trip to and lunch at the Fernsehn Tour (TV Tower). In the words of the guide book, this is "a spiky 365-foot monstrosity," built in 1969.

Just below the antenna is a shiny steel sphere which, when hit by sunlight, produces the reflection of a huge cross - once a source of embarrassment to the atheist GDR and of glee in the west where they dubbed this phenomenon "the Pope's revenge." If it's a clear day and the queue isn't too long, it's worth paying to go up. At the 207m level is the Telecafé, which makes a complete revolution every half an hour."

Well, as we've already seen, today was really not a clear day, but we made the trek down Unter den Linden and ascended the tower nonetheless. Despite the clouds and fog,1 the tower did provide some nice views of Berlin. With our usual leisurely means of sharing a meal, we were able to see its 360 degrees a number of times, through several rotations of the restaurant.

After we finally rose from our tables, we headed back up the straße toward the hotel. Along the way, we stopped at a flea market on one of the side streets, although I'm not sure any purchases were made. Stephani, Robin and I did pick up a few postcards in a shop farther up the street, however. I am hopeful that I will have a chance to mail these from Berlin. (My frequent practice is to wait until I get home to mail them.)

By the time we got back to the Adlon, it was 17:30 and almost time to leave again. After a brief retreat to our rooms and a briefer gathering in the hotel lobby, we were on our way to tonight's entertainment: a sophisticated "puppet show."2

Back at the hotel, we once again dined in the house restaurant. My yellow fin tartare appetizer last night was so good I decided to have it again; for the main course, I chose the tagliatelle with wild mushrooms and bunny rabbit that Mike had last night. (It looked good, and Mike said it was wonderful.) Cindy and Hermann had the most impressive meal: a sole Meunier that required the tableside preparation efforts of four waiters. Everything was quite excellent for us all, and we managed to finish with a few minutes left in the day: I walked into my room just as midnight struck.

1 Always ready for discussions of grave importance, we had some debate over whether there is a distinction between clouds and fog.

2 Compared to our previous cultural outing, Attack of the Clones, this show had the primary advantage of being considerably shorter in duration.

Next: More Berlin

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