How would you like your Bratwurst?

7 Mar

The first thing that comes to one’s mind when thinking of Berlin isn’t usually Mel Brooks.  The wall…yes.  Sausages and beer…of course.  A long list of historical events in the last 70 years alone…undoubtedly.  But Mel Brooks?  Not so much.  I, however, couldn’t seem to get him out of my head from the moment I landed at the Berlin airport.  Riding the metro in the bitter cold, boarding the trolley en route to the hotel in Alexanderplatz, picking the concierge’s brain for dinner recommendations, trudging through the snow and enjoying dinner in a warm and cozy respite of a restaurant…Mel might as well have been right next to me, his presence was that prevalent.  As Claire tried to plan out the next 3 days and fill up our itinerary, my brain, which should have been filled to the brim with the excitement I had been feeling about visiting Berlin for the past few months leading up to this trip, was too busy being preoccupied with Springtime for Hitler.

I’m not sure that Germans appreciate an ignorant American singing “Heil myself!  Heil to me!  I’m the kraut who’s out to change our history!” (direct quote from Hitler himself) out loud on public transportation.  But I had no control over it.  “Heil myself!  Raise your hand!  There’s no greater dictator in the land!”  It couldn’t be stopped.  It was musical theater word vomit.  In my defense, Hitler deserves to get made fun of, the modern-day German should understand this, and most of them don’t like Hitler anyway.  Many museums conveniently glaze over 1933-1945 in their national history, and those that do cover the events make it clear that Hitler was not welcomed by the German people, and that his government was never considered legitimate.  The tour of the Reichstag (the seat of the German Parliament) makes a special note that Hitler never set foot in this building.

The Reichstag

Today, attached to the original building, the Reichstag has an impressive glass dome overtop the meeting room for the country’s decision-makers, offering a 360° view of the city and representative of the transparency of the modern German government.  Throughout my 3-day visit to Berlin, I learned over and over again that the majority of Germans did not support the Nazi party and that it basically was not the country’s fault that Hitler took over.  Now, while I want to believe these claims (and for the most part, do believe them), I’ve seen the footage from WWII, with the masses holding up their arms in support of this “non-supported” leader.  And so, while the city may still be trying, 70 years later, to restore their global reputation and make up for past mistakes, I have no qualms humming “Heil myself, raise your beer!  Every hotsy-totsy Nazi stand and cheer,” as I walk through the streets.  If this culture can idolize David Hasselhoff, I’m pretty sure they can see the humor in a little Hitler mockery.

I didn’t reenact The Producers’ soundtrack the entire weekend I was in Berlin.  It basically played on repeat in my mind (and out my lips) until 9:30am Saturday morning.  Up until this point, Mel Brooks, a gay Hitler, and I enjoyed a fondue dinner, an early-morning tour of the Reichstag (To avoid the impossibly long lines at this tourist hotspot, get there at 7am, when it opens.  Not only will you waltz right in, but you’ll have the entire building almost to yourself.), and a nice breakfast of cherry streusel and Dunkin’ Donuts.  Once 9:30am hit, Mel went to sleep, homo-Hitler escaped into his pink velvet bunker, and I mounted a multi-colored children’s bicycle named Hufflepuff and embarked on a 4-hour tour of snow-blanketed Berlin in freezing temps.

Hufflepuff, my preferred form of transportation

This bike tour was, hands down, the absolute top highlight of my trip and, even considering the weather conditions and the bone-chilling cold that seeped through my tights, spandex, jeans, two pairs of socks, Uggs, tank top, short sleeved shirt, long sleeved shirt, sweatshirt, winter coat, scarf, head band (for my ears), hat, hood, and 2 pairs of gloves, I honestly believe that this bike tour was the ultimate way to see and experience the city.  Not only did we see everything, but we also stopped at many points to take pictures and get a little history lesson about the locations.  It would be impossible to fully understand the city, as a tourist, without this type of experience.  Walking on a random street corner wedged between apartment buildings, I wouldn’t have realized I was standing on top of Hilter’s bunker, where he lived out his final days.  Sure, if you have enough time to thoroughly read every sign, leaf through every guide book, and visit every museum, you’ll learn these things, but for the weekend traveler, this bike tour is the best way to get a firm grasp on Berlin.  Not to mention you get to ring your little bell at pedestrians as you ride by.  As the tour rolled on and I learned more and more about the city and its history, Springtime for Hitler floated out of my mind.  Not because it was being filled with more useful information, mind you, but because…well…you try steering a children’s bike through a crowded city in wind and snow, and then tell me if you have time to think about the Nazi’s can-can.

The Jewish Memorial

Walking through the Jewish Memorial

After the bike tour, we hit up all the places we wanted to see more in depth, and then visited a few other places as well.  We wandered through KaDeWe, the largest department store in Europe, and salivated our way through their expansive gourmet food court, if you can even call it a food court.  We visited the Jewish Museum, which covers everything from German Jewry in the 1300’s to the Holocaust to the Cold War and present-day.  We rushed our way through the Contemporary Art Museum with 45 minutes left until closing, stumbling upon some pretty cool exhibits, including a few original Warhol’s.  We revisited Checkpoint Charlie, taking time to read the lengthy (but captivating) history of the Wall mapped out along the streets (on display since the World Cup in Berlin).  One strange thing about present-day Checkpoint Charlie?  I can’t attest to how it truly was back when the Wall was still up, but I have a feeling the guards didn’t yell at you with huge smiles, encouraging you to hug them for a photo op.  Maybe I’m wrong, and all those pat-downs and car-searches were just friendly guards trying to find a viable camera for a memory in the making.  Who knows?

Checkpoint Charlie

Another highlight of the trip, and a reason to see Berlin in the dead of winter?  On our way to finding a pub to grab a beer, we walked along a street filled with prostitutes.  First off, let me just say that I had a strong desire to talk to their pimp and help him construct a better business plan.  Lining them up down one particular street, each a few meters down from the previous one, is not the best business strategy.  If that pimp wants to maximize his profits, he really needs to map out a better geographical system for his “employees.”  Just saying.  Anyway, why, you ask, do I suggest seeing this spectacle in the wintertime?  Never in my life have I seen such bundled-up prostitutes.  These hookers sure did have to work hard at keeping their body temperature up while keeping their outward appearance to an astonishing low.  Neon spandex?  Thigh high patent-leather boots?  Booty shorts over the spandex?  Mini fur-lined parkas, tight enough to still emphasize their curves under that hefty padding?  Layers of caked-on makeup and fake eyelashes, which I can only assume achieves the duel-purpose of warming the face and eyes while maintaining the trashiness necessary in this profession? They had it all.  These whores deserve a reward, especially the two shivering together on a stoop trying to stay warm while shoveling greasy lo mein into their mouths.  Were they on break, or were they targeting the desperate obese male demographic?  Much like with the East German guards at Checkpoint Charlie, who really knows?

The TV Tower at night

A section of the Berlin Wall

All in all, Berlin was a fascinating city, and I would eagerly return if I had the chance.  It truly deserves its spot on my list of favorite travel spots.  A city known for its turbulent past and extremely liberal present, Berlin is the poster child for transformation.  Today, it can be hard to distinguish East from West, even though a mere 20 years ago these two areas were worlds apart.  Every street corner is interesting in its own right, and each story more fascinating than the last.  The people are friendly and helpful, and the city is welcoming and more than willing to apologize for its past with a fresh look toward the future.  It may not be Springtime for Hitler, but it’s definitely Springtime for Germany*.

East Berlin Pedestrian Traffic Lights, now scattered throughout the city

East Berlin Pedestrian Traffic Lights, now scattered throughout the city

(*Springtime notwithstanding the overwhelming threat of the downfall of Germany’s precious Euro caused by careless Greece, or the fact that Berlin is, according to my bike tour guide, basically bankrupt.  Also not including the popularity of the mullet.  Springtime is a relative term.)

Most historically important site in all of Berlin: Hotel where MJ dangled his baby

**For more info about the awesome bike tour, visit http://fattirebiketours.com/berlin.

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