As you may or may not know, I recently returned from a weeklong conference in Berlin. I was pretty busy with work most of the time, but did get a couple nights and one day to see some of the city. Some observrations:
1. Beer was good - well, you probably knew that
2. City was expensive - kind of reminded me of New York City. The area I was staying in, around the Unter Den Linden - means something like "street of lime trees" - was all lit up and had a lot of upscale stores. Plus, the dollar is at an all-time low vs. the Euro. I gave the exchange guy $200 at the airport and got back 130 Euro or something. That sucked.
3. Berliners are not afraid of the cold - It was in the '40s in the evenings (sun went down around 4:30 p.m.), but there were still a ton of people in these outdoor markets they had set up all over town. Many of these were speciality XMas gift setups, but one of them, called the Gendermenmarkt, is apparently a year 'round thing. On Friday evening, I stopped in there, drank a couple Gluweins - this hot sweet wine - and watched some dancers perform on an outdoor stage. You could see their breath, but they were still wearing tights and dancing dresses, and it was quite entertaining. Earlier that evening, at another outdoor market, I wolfed down a big plate of steaming pork and sauerkraut. Good stuff. I also saw a rock band performing outdoors in front of one of the big department stores - reminded me of like a Boston Store-type place, and it was packed. Did I mention that people in Berlin seem to like to shop.
4. Rembrandt and Boticelli are awesome artists - On Saturday I had some time to hit the Gemaldegalerie, this wonderful gallery with something like 900 paintings in 70 rooms. These paintings are from European artists from the 1200s through the 1700s. The Rembrandt works struck me first. I found myself fascinated by one of them, the facial expression really drawing me in, and then I looked down to see who it was by - and I realized why he has such a great reputation. Quickly, it seems to me Rebrandt best captures the ambiguity of human life in his facial expressions. His people seem very complex - they are not one dimensional happy or sad, but have very complex expressions, which draws you in, makes them seem real. The version of the Joseph and the Wife of Potiphar that hangs there (there's also one in Washington, DC, apparently) particularly drew me in and held my interest for a long time. Boticelli's facial expressions had an equal complexity about them, but they were all these sleepy eyed Italians, which really captivated me, based on the make-up of my own face. I really wanted to know what his portaits were thinking and felt very comfortable staring at them and trying to figure this out.
5. Prostitution is legal - Didn't know this. For some reason my tour book didn't seem to mention it. But once I got out of the posh neighborhood I was staying in and spent a bit of time on the Oranienburger Strasse, man, were they ever open for busienss. As a single guy walking down the street, I must have looked like any easy mark - and was approached by someone every half block it seemed. It was starting to wig me out, as I kept picturing myself getting robbed, my wallet and passport stolen - of course, I was kind of hung over and pretty far from home, so I was being paranoid. Now that I also know these women were just trying to make an honest buck, I feel bad that I may have been rude to them.
Hope you find this info useful if someday you travel to Berlin, or just interesting if not. By the way, a round trip airfare, because I returned to Erie on Sunday, was like $530 dollars, including tax.