Berlin's Somber Zeitgeist

One always begins to forgive a place as soon as it’s left behind.
—Charles Dickens


German people are kind of fascists. They have so many rules and are dead serious about every one. "Wear your bag on the front." "You can't bring that bottle in here." "That bag is too big." "You can't carry your coat in here. Put it back on." "You have to ask before you use that sink." "You can't lean against that wall." "You can't drink that beer in my Millennium Bar."

They yell at you, and then if they ever catch sight of you again, they glare at you. And this is in Berlin. To be fair, it's really only the security guards and bartenders that are part-time Gestapo. Everyone else is really nice, although they will not ever cross the street until the light says it's okay, no matter how empty the street is. One of my professors once told me, "Before they protest, the Germans ask the police if it's not too much trouble."

Everything in the city is so nice and new, with space age modern architecture alongside old buildings rebuilt after the war. There's a vibrant art scene, high-tech industry, and a lot going on. It's dead quiet though. Everyone but the tourists keep their heads down, and even on weekend nights things stay pretty well sedated -- except on Saint Patrick's day, now as riotous everywhere as it is in America. FACT: Ireland used to prohibit drinking on Saint Patty's holy day, only letting up when they saw how much fun the Americans were having.

I walked around the Tiergarten, saw the Reichstag and the Brandenburg Tor. The Berlin Wall still stands along the winding River Spree alongside industrial streets and disheveled construction yards. Graffiti murals cover each side of every concrete segment. On a cloudy day I visited the Pergamon Museum. The huge collection of transplanted Greek and Babylonian architecture, including the Pergamon altar and the Ishtar Gate, miraculously escaped bombing during the war.

On Wednesday I went to the Berlin Zoo, famous for panda porn and baby polar bears. For a while, the sun was out. The elephants were wrestling, the wolves howling, the rhinos rolling in the wet top soil, the tiger and Knut the polar bear pacing back and forth on the rocks, the lion growling at tourists, and the monkeys shaking their branches. Then the clouds came back and everything went and hid in the corner like you'd expect them to do in wintry Germany. The sagely bison, as tall as I am and ten times as heavy, didn't move a muscle even when birds started pulling out his hair for a nest.

Food in Berlin is the best. Beer is cheap, and so is the döner. This Turkish import is the Mexican food of Germany, and little restaurants mark every corner. They shave chicken or lamb off a huge kebab roast rotating in front of an oven, and put that in a pita with sauce and salad. It's kind of like a gyro, kind of like shawarma, and really, really good.

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