I’m pretty good at navigating my way around foreign countries, but Berlin has me in a state. I find the public transportation system byzantine and so unclear compared to London, and then of course throw in words as long as freight trains, most looking something like Beldungshinfreukenstrasse and you can understand why I am getting us lost at least three times a day. Plus, you have to learn to discern between the S-Bahn, U-Bahn, RE commuter trains, bus, and tram and all are inconveniently laid out on the map they provide in 6 point font that I can barely read even with my glasses on. So forget about running for trains because nothing is clearly marked and it requires a sit down study session to interpret. Add to that the fact that the system seems to be mostly automated and there is never any official person to ask – anywhere other than a mega-station where you can finally go to a ticket seller and they MIGHT speak English. Is it any wonder I’m exhausted?
I’m used to being able to at least get by in a foreign language, but not having a snip of German really does have its drawbacks. I can’t interpret websites of places we want to go or things we want to do and most do not have an English version. Plus I can’t understand any kind of automated voicemail answering service. Several times we have gone to museums or other places only to find them closed, or simply no longer existent (so much for my guidebook), no doubt because I didn’t get my info right before we went.
By way of example of my language failures, today at the supermarket deli counter I ventured to have the deli-lady slice me some bacon. She scared me though. I had encountered her the day before. She was squat, looked like a bulldog and spoke not a jot of English. We were not a good match. But a couple of days earlier I had miraculously managed to navigate 5 slices of bacon which I only paid something like .80 Euro cents for, so I decided to brave her again and this time signaled to her that I wanted 10. There were a lot of words exchanged, none of which I had a clue; I just kept smiling and holding up 10 fingers. When she cut the bacon and went to weigh it and print out the slip the price said €11.50 and I thought, “How did this go so horribly wrong??” I expressed as much and said no, no, I couldn’t possibly take this, etc. She became quite strident with me and I gathered that I had read the price wrong – it was different bacon than I had ordered the day before, though it looked the same to me – and I imagined she was saying, “Now that I cut it, what the fuck am I supposed to do with it?” I smiled and put my hand out to take the bacon as a very deviant thought came over me. I appeased the scary bulldog bacon lady but there was no well in hell I was going to blow my grocery budget for 11.50 worth of bacon. I’m not proud to admit it, but I ditched it in the coke cooler on the way to the cash register. Definitely a low point of the week and I don’t think I’ll be going back to her deli counter again.
Today was one of the days we tried to go to the Museum of Children & Youth only to find a derelict building at the same address. We walked down the road to the Märkisches Museum and bizarrely, walked around the building twice and couldn’t find an open entrance. Being quite fed up at that point I decided we would walk along the Spree and Lucas suggested we walk to the Berlin TV Tower, which we could clearly see across the river in Mitte. I said, “Oh honey, it’s much farther away than it looks”, but he was insistent and I figured I owed him something for all this walking, so I agreed.
He was right of course and it was not as far as I had anticipated. We were held up along the way as a very official motorcade blocked our way as we tried to walk past one of the main government buildings – it was apparently the President of Turkey paying a visit. Once finally there, I granted myself some unabashedly American delight at finding a Starbucks at the foot of the Fernsehturm TV Tower and bought half a pound of coffee to take back to the house. Going up in the over 200 meter high tower and seeing the view of Berlin and beyond was fun and Lucas was thrilled to bits, as he confessed he had not been that interested in the museum we were trying to find in the first place.
We capped the day off with an evening outing to Stadbadt Lankwitz, a public swimming center on the leafy edges of the city which was open till 10pm on Mondays. I swam laps while Lucas played on the huge snakey slide that deposits kids and adults alike in one the many small warm water pools. Plus there were Jacuzzis we were both able to enjoy as it seems here in Germany, there is no age limit or crazy insurance-related restrictions to children enjoying either those or saunas.
All in all it was a great way to relax after a long day of navigating and attempting to communicate. Lucas launched his blog
today too, which will hopefully inspire some writing for him during our travels.