CROSSROADS AT BERLIN, GERMANY
The train to Berlin was direct and not very memorable, but getting out of the station was. When I got out it was night and I quite quickly got the feeling of how much more urban Berlin is than Munich. Taking a couple escalators up, I went to a Kebab place within the train station and ordered a falafel wrap as well as a bottle of water. I found it quite good and cheap, but the water was a bit expensive. The cashier asked me whether I’m Turkish and I said no, and I asked him if he is Turkish and he said yes. I gave him my background. I told him the falafel is pretty good and it was — had a little too much radish though. I like being mistaken for Turkish because Turkish people are so good looking; this very rarely happens though because I do not look Turkish at all. I usually get Pakistani or Indian.
I took the metro to Ostkreuz. When I head out of the metro station it became apparent how graffiti’d up and rough Berlin is. I walked the few blocks to the Schlafmeile hostel which like Berlin was pleasantly cheap, only $9.99 per night. The person who ran the hostel had a very interesting personality. He was a plump man with a very thick German accent. He laid out the rules very clearly and mentioned that the wifi only works in the café and the café is only open until 12am after which he has to go home. You can work outside in the cold though he mentioned. The rooms and café were both in a sketch urban area. After checking me in, he showed me to the room of bunks and quite inconsiderately turned on the light which didn’t please any of the people in the room. A boy and girl were cuddling in one of the lower bunks and they covered up a bit when the lights turned on. I usually don’t like the top bunk because I like sleeping near my big Osprey but this time there were huge cupboards whose tops perfectly aligned with the upper bunks so I could put my big Osprey and shoes on them and have them be level with my bed. I snoozed off quickly.
The next day, I took the metro to the Brandenburg gate. I was quite impressed that right when I walked up the metro steps, the Brandenburg gate was right in front of me. The following selfie is certainly not flattering but it’s the only one I have, so I’ve made it really small:
I was very skeptical of the Brandenburg Gate’s authenticity because it looked so new. It apparently suffered lots of damage in WW2 and was completely restored in the 21st century.
I then met up with friends I knew from a stay with my cousin in a youth hostel in Goa. They asked about my cousin and I said he’s still in California. They actually had planned on coming to California and meeting us but their trip got cancelled. We went to Vapiano, which is casual Italian. It’s actually a German company which is interesting to note.
The couple from Switzerland had gone to an Indian restaurant so we met them there for gulab jamun, which was unfortunately cold and strange in taste due to the addition of a difficult to discern spice. We exchange details about our work and that’s when I also revealed my cousin and I had lied about our age the last time we met.
I’m actually 21, not 25 and he’s actually 22 not 26. Well after that spiel and the corresponding reactions and ID/passport/StudentID verification, I discussed my software consulting business. The guy from Switzerland said he’s also involved in IT and so I gave him my card with my site govindadasu.com (now learningdollars.com). He said it wasn’t responsive on his mobile device but I wasn’t able to reproduce the error on mine as of yet.
We then headed over to Checkpoint Charlie, the border of the American and British sectors of Berlin. This visit reminded me of the fascinating history of the division of Berlin by the US, UK, France, and USSR.
I was pleased to find an Einstein Kaffé in the premises.
While my friends sat down for a rest, I read through walls describing the history of Berlin’s division after WW2 and began to appreciate how much of an influence the United States had on Europe and Germany after the war.
Then we saw some wall fragments.
Imbibing all the history, my friend told me how much I’ll cry when I visit Auschwitz. He helped me pronounce Reichstag correctly, we conversed about economics and politics. He was a big fan of Willy Brandt and his apology in Israel. He talked about the differences between East and West Germany and also about Turkish immigration and his Turkish friends.
In the bus, we talked about arranged marriage proposals, life, and the like. We then headed over to the Mall where the guys helped me buy an Android charger and where the girls went shopping. We said our goodbyes and I headed back to Schlafmeile where I spent the rest of the night doing good work on the fast 38 mbps café internet. There was this grad student from India staying there because his university didn’t get him housing yet. Schalfmeile was such a contrast to Schusterhausl because people were going to bed early and studying instead of drinking into the late hours. That night I had to leave the café after 12am and attempted to attend consultancy (now learningdollars.com) meetings in the cold. The problem was that the internet was really bad outdoors and I was missing half of what the other party had said which made it very difficult to communicate. I think we lost a potential client that night because of my stumbles but I’m not entirely sure if that person was a potential client in the first place. I also was a bit creeped out by the sketch neighborhood. I was worried whether one of the street prowlers would put a gun to my head and steal my laptop.
The next day I got up, went to the café and worked. I was sitting across this girl from India. We talked a bit. She was a student. I enjoyed the hot chocolate and internet speeds there, waiting for the rain to end.
So, that day was mainly a work day and I remember having a good meeting that day with my client. That night I went to an Indian restaurant where the Bengali waiter loved me. He only charged me for half the stuff I ordered.
We spoke only in Hindi. It was nice although I had a little trouble understanding some things he was saying because he said it in a slightly different way than I was used to hearing. They played some songs very dear to my heart in that restaurant like Jo Tu mera Humdard Hai and Tune Jo Na Kaha. I felt quite emotional that moment.
I headed back to Schlafmeile to work. Going back into the dorms through the kitchen there was a half Vietnamese half German girl, a Polish girl, a German girl, a German guy, and a Turkish guy talking. We had some laughs. I then managed to get the café internet out in the part of the dorm corridor closest to the café. The Polish girl smiled and said good night to me at least thrice. Maybe she was amused by my dedication to the internet — that I’d sit on the floor with my laptop. Or, maybe she was just a little tipsy.
I slept that night. The next morning I got up and coordinated a meeting with my American friend from Munich. She indeed had come back from Poland and was excited to explore Berlin. Again, she adapted to my unfinished itinerary and agreed to visit the Reichstag Building and Holocaust Memorial. First we waited in line for Reichstag tickets. The Germans prefer the name Bundestag because of the connotations that the phrase “German Reich” has. That being said, I believe Hitler never ruled out of the Reichstag. I noticed that the ticket counter was manned by an Asian immigrant and it’s always interesting to me when immigrants from Asia speak a language like German in addition to their native language but not English. We then headed to the Holocaust memorial. It was right next to the Bundestag which is a powerful reminder to the German politicians.
Wikipedia says the following is the interpretation:
The debates over whether to have such a memorial and what form it should take extend back in the late 1980s, when a small group of private German citizens, led by a television journalist, Lea Rosh, and a historian, Eberhard Jäckel, neither of whom is Jewish, first began pressing for Germany to honor the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust. Rosh soon emerged the driving force behind the memorial. In 1989, she founded a group to support its construction and to collect donations. With growing support, the Bundestag passed a resolution in favour of the project.
However, I remember the interpretation that I learned in the museum underneath the the stelae to be different. The interpretation I vaguely remember had to do with the spirits of the deceased rising up to various heights. My friend, being of Jewish ancestry, mentioned a point I have been pondering. People often say that you cannot blame the younger generation for the actions of the older generations. However, the descendants of the victims suffer to this day by not knowing their ancestry in the same way as the descendants of the aggressors do theirs.
That night we went to a restaurant where she ordered Schnitzel and we had German beers. I had some vegetarian German food due to my diet constraints which wasn’t that great. There were some American pop songs playing and we conversed about how everywhere in Europe and much of the world they just play American pop songs for some reason.
Then we were ready for our 7pm tour of the Bundestag. The tour took us up to this giant dome with a spiraling ramp. We first circled the base learning about German political history from placards. Then we took audio guides that transitioned from chapter to chapter as we climbed up the spiral that weaved up the Bundestag dome. The addition of a modern dome to a traditional building makes quite the site. From the dome, looking down one can see the parliament seats. After the Bundestag tour she wanted a picture with the parliament as she said she’s collecting pictures with every country’s capital legislature.
Then we headed to her hostel which was much closer to the city center and exceptionally clean and modern compared to Schlafmeile. You know there are commercial hostels and more mom-and-pop-shop types. I like the commercial ones more although they tend to run $20/night rather than $10/night. However, I would frequent such commercial accommodations in Denmark and Luxembourg. This was my first glimpse at such a hostel. We had beers and discussed our pasts. I told her about my experience of enlightenment back in July after completing B.K. Shivani’s Happiness Unlimited videos and The Indian School of Business’s Happiness Course on Coursera. The beers were the finishing touch on that wonderful conversation.
Then I headed back to Schlafmeile where I discussed learningdollars.com with my mom and worked on some of my clients’ projects. I then slept, woke up and as usual for my train journey days didn’t shower or get ready. In my pajamas I checked out, headed to the train station, and got on the train to Copenhagen.