Saturday, October 05, 2002

Berlin, Germany

On October 3 I flew from Ulaan Baatar to Berlin, Germany, with a 90 minute layover in Moscow. Left Ulaan Baatar at 9:00 am and arrived in Berlin at 1:30 pm. Cloud cover most of the way, so I did not see much. Fortuitously, the clouds did clear just over Kizil, the capital of Tuva, and I could see where the Ka Khem and Biy Khem rivers meet to form the main branch of the Yenisei, the fifth longest river system on the world. I had once stood at the source of the Biy Khem, in the extremely remote East Sayan Mountains of eastern Tuva . . .

The layover in Moscow was uneventful. A school group of musicians from some school in Moscow came on board for the hop to Berlin. From the Berlin airport I took a cab to my hotel which I had booked sight unseen over the internet. It turned out to be a typically anonymous tourist but quick luckily located right next to the train station where the trains left for Vienna.

Berlin, Old and New, just across the street from my hotel. The church was partly destroyed during WW II but has been restored.

When I arrived the lobby was full of huge American black guys, all over six feet six, perhaps a basketball team, and about a half dozen tiny black guys, all under five feet tall, who were apparenty their mascots. Then there were swarms of Japanese tourists . . . My room was not ready yet so I took a stroll around the train station and the nearby zoo. The sidewalks were packed with pedestrians and there were big lines to get into the zoo. It was a warm, sunny afternoon and the outdoor cafes were jammed with people drinking beer or coffee, all of which seemed kind of strange for 2:30 on a Thursday afternoon. Only when I tried to find a travel agent to get train schedules did I discover that October 3 is a big holiday in Germany - Reunification Day, this being the 12th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. So that is what everyone was celebrating. Although a half dozen people told me about the holiday not one mentioned that a newly refurbished Brandenburg Gate was being unveiled that very evening and that Bill Clinton - yes, our very own Bill Clinton, was giving the opening speech. I found this out much later that night when in my hotel room and tuned in CNN to find out what was going on in the world. So I missed Clinton's speech . . .

But the next morning I got up early and went over the the Brandenburg Gate.

Brandenburg Gate from the West Side

On the west side workmen were just tearing down all the tents and concession stands. From the big piles of litter, much of it empty beer cans and bottles, it looks as if the citizens of Berlin had a huge blowout. The Gate itself was actually much smaller than it appears in photos. I crossed over to the square on the other side, where on one side of the Adlon Hotel, featured in many a spy novel and now considerably spiffed up. Just across the street is a Starbucks, for those who need a quick latte fix. I walked the whole way down the street to the museum complex and spent most of the rest of the day in the huge National Art Museum (Alte Nationalgalerie Staatliche ze Berlin) - some nice Caspar David Friedrich landscapes, Manets, Cezannes Manets, marbles and much, much else.

Elvis Rules in front of the Alte Nationalgalerie Staatliche ze Berlin

It would take a week to really get a good luck at everything. I had opened to visit the Museum of Indian Art, which has numerous frescos removed from the famous Bezaklik Caves near Turpan, in Xinjiang, China, which I had visited two years ago but I soon discovered that this museum was in some God-forsaken suburb in old East Berlin and a 40 minute ride by cab. Since I have heard that many of the frescos were in in fact destroyed during World War II bombing I decided to skip this visit until the next time I am in Berlin and have more time.