Read parts one and two, if you haven't.
When I last left off, we had just discovered that there is an Ampelmann restaurant in Berlin. Oh, and since I neglected to mention it previously, I had called a friend of ours from the bus to Berlin and asked him to tell our roommates where we were, and told him what we were doing. He called us crazy, but we were a little sane in that we actually did tell someone where we were. And that is behavior I am condoning, unlike a lot of the stuff I or my friends have done!
Anyway, Ampelmann. The postcard had a map drawn on it, so after finding street signs (never easy in European cities, because generally they are nailed to the side of a building in some obscure place) and orienting ourselves, we set off. First, we passed people selling Russian/Communist souvenirs on tables on the sidewalk. Fur hats, those nesting dolls, you get the idea. And chunks of concrete that theoretically came from the Berlin wall, but if you gathered up all the pieces of the "Berlin Wall" that have been sold in the past twenty years, you'd end up with five walls. Apparently, though, judging from the souvenir business, Communism has become in some way retro-cool.
We then went down by the river, whatever river that is, I don't know, and passed the DDR museum--DDR as in Deutsche Demokratische Republik, or German Democratic Republic as we say in English, not as in Dance Dance Revolution. That explained the location of the Soviet souvenirs, I suppose, though I still find it a little bit weird. Then, we passed a bunch of guys, late teens or early twenties, who had obviously been and still were drinking heavily (no open container laws in Germany), one of them peeing on a wall. "Entschuldigen, madchen!" Excuse me, girls! he yelled, as they all laughed. That is most definitely against the law in Germany, and I'm pretty sure you can be fined. Anyway, we continued on our way.
After doubling back a few times, we finally managed to find the Ampelmann restaurant. Sadly, it was less kitschy than we'd hoped; the signs on the bathroom doors, the umbrellas on the patio, and the names of the children's meals appeared to be some of the only Ampelmann-esque things in the place. They could most definitely have done a better job. It was otherwise a typical semi-Italian restaurant, and thus very disappointing. It was also located directly underneath the tracks of some train, the S-bahn I think, and as such rattled every time a train passed overhead.
Our food took forever and ever to come, and we entertained ourselves by creating a wax sculpture out of a partially melted, dripping candle on our table. We apparently have the maturity of five-year-olds, and no responsible adult to stop us from what we were doing.
When we finally left, Ampelmann promotional matchbooks in our bags (one of the more exciting features of the restaurant), we discovered something very interesting about public toilets in Berlin.
We cut through a riverside park to get back to the U-bahn station, and for some reason, I decided to stop and read the sign on the side of a coin-operated public bathroom. If you've ever been to pretty much any European city, you know the type: just a little box by the street that you put some coins into. I think it sprays some sort of antiseptic after each person, so it's pretty clean, I guess, most of the time, and a decent idea because you don't have to close them after a certain hour, like the public restrooms in an actual building downtown in the city I'm from.
Anyway, it was pretty typical, instructions on how where to put the money, etc., until I reached the part about a time limit.
Yes, a time limit, enforced on a bathroom.
Apparently, you get twenty minutes. If your business takes any longer than that, your naked butt is going to be exposed to passers-by. A warning sounds after nineteen minutes, and then the door automatically opens. If you're handicapped, and have whatever is used for validation of that (some sort of magnetic card, I think), you can extend that time to forty-five minutes. And then, no matter what, the door still opens and shows your ass to the street.
Isn't that exciting?
I'm posting this as a warning to you all: if you ever need to use a public bathroom in Berlin, watch your time! If it's going to take you longer than twenty minutes, I suggest finding a restaurant or something. Buying a sandwich to use the bathroom is worth it, if the alternative is having the door of the bathroom open up on to the street.
While wandering and people-watching, we remembered that the Holocaust memorial had some lights in the ground, and thought it might look cool with some of the rows lit from below at night. We headed back that way. The memorial, in case you don't know, looks like this:
You can wander in between the stone blocks, all varying heights, on paths that go up and down. It's pretty cool. Contemplative, and it makes for some neat pictures from within.
Anyway, we got to the memorial, and realized there were fewer lights that we'd realized. It was empty, as far as we could see, except for some people sitting and drinking on some of the shorter stones at the edges, but we ventured a little ways down a lighted row.
And then heard horrible screaming. And ran. As far out of the endless dark paths as we could.
After that, we just wandered the streets a bit, people-watching, and then went back to the hostel, where I had to sit in the lobby to charge my phone because I couldn't find an outlet in the dorm, and because we were sharing it with a girl who was asleep every time I saw her.
On our second and last day in Berlin, Sunday, we had to catch our bus back to Bremen around 3pm, I think. So we got up early to do what we could with that half-day.
It was nearing election time in Germany, and the various political parties were campaigning all around Potsdamer Platz. There was even a stage with live music going on, that I'm assuming had something to do with the various campaigns, but, as I don't speak German, I don't really know. We also saw parts of the Berlin wall in Potsdamer Platz, which was really interesting, a piece of history out on the street like that. There's so much more history in all of Europe than in the US, and it's so much more commonplace; the best example I've seen is the command center of D-Day, in London. It's now used as storage for some company, and there's not even a plaque explaining what it is. You just have to know. The only homage to its history is the name of the building; it's named after General Eisenhower.
I also gave in to a donut craving that day. I got a donut from a Dunkin Donuts. There is sadly no such thing as Krispy Kreme in Germany, and all the Dunkin Donuts I have ever seen there would be serious health code violations in the US. I picked the type of donut whose tray seemed to have the fewest bugs. It was one of those chocolate-iced, custard-filled ones, sadly mislabeled as creme filled, which I much prefer. It wasn't that good, either; Dunkin Donuts is always a disappointment to someone who knows the joy of Krispy Kreme! My Massachusetts-born best friend says my Krispy Kreme loyalty is due to my being a Southerner, but I say it's just good taste in donuts.
Anyway, after wandering the streets for awhile, we decided to visit the Berlin train station, the central station (the Hauptbahnhof). I like train stations, anywhere that has a lot of people coming and going, actually. Airports, too. They're nice for people-watching.
The Berlin Hauptbahnhof is not just a train station, though. Like all train stations, it has stores and restaurants in it, but in this case, it's like putting the Mall of America (where I've never been, but the point is, LOTS of stores and restaurants and stuff and it's just humongous) inside of a train station.
It's pretty enormous.
But the best part is, there's a Pizza Hut!
I'm not all that excited about Pizza Hut in the US, but it's definitely pretty amazing to find the stuff you love from home when you're thousands of miles away on another continent. In Germany, they mostly serve the crispy-crusted, probably way more authentic and Italian type of pizza. Nothing even attempting to be deep-dish Chicago or oily New York pizza, both of which, while of course less authentically Italian, are a thousand times better than any pizza in Germany.
And, okay, Pizza Hut's only just maybe a hundred times better than German pizza, rather than a thousand, but it was pretty amazing at that particular moment in time.
Sadly, after enjoying non-crispy pizza, it was time to head back to the outskirts of Berlin, to the bus station. There was a lot of the city we hadn't seen, but I'll see it someday; my second trip to Berlin, which you'll learn about in a future post, didn't really include any sightseeing. It was under much different circumstances than this spontaneous adventure.
But that's for part four of the stories of the times I went to Berlin.
To be continued....