Friday, October 4, 2013

A Tale of Two Cities

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times....."  Sums up the trip pretty nicely only for me it was the worst of times THEN it was the best of times.  The two cities in Germany were complete polar opposites in every way.  We saw many examples of this along the way.  The people, the buildings, the vibe, the atmosphere, etc.  Berlin - Booooo, Munich - YAY!

So, let me start at the beginning, that's always a good place to start, unless you are watching that weird Seinfeld episode that started at the end and backtracked to the beginning.  We arrived in Berlin Friday morning, super excited and still not totally aware of the fact that we were in a foreign country about to run a marathon in a few days.  It was kind of surreal.  I had only looked up points of interest and information about each city we were planning to visit, mostly the beer tents at Oktoberfest.  Patty had researched a few restaurants and booked both hotels.  Thankfully, Milady balanced the group out and researched the critical missing piece, how to get from the airport to our hotel and how to get around the city.

We got on a bus to go to the hotel and try to check in before getting lunch and heading to the expo.  The bus was very crowded and made a lot of sudden stops.  We were standing with our luggage, as were most people on the bus, and it was a pretty intense core work out maintaining some sort of stability and not falling like dominos.  This is where we observed the first sign of the behavior of the local people.  There was a small group near us on the bus, a man and two women, one older elderly woman and one younger most likely their daughter.  The bus made a sudden stop and the elderly woman fell to the ground stumbling over some of the luggage that was on the bus.  The man made no effort at all to assist her, in fact he barely batted an eye and almost gave her a look of disgust.

We made it to the hotel and were able to check in early and leave our things in the room as we ventured out to find lunch and go to the expo.  Milady had found this amazing lunch spot near the hotel and on the way to the U-bahn (subway) stop we needed to take to get to the expo.  It was called "Super Good" and was supposed to have delicious healthy options.  We found the street and the intersection where it should have been and could not find it so we went into a nearby hotel to ask directions.  The guy at the desk was very helpful, but he had never even heard of "Super Good".  He looked it up on his computer and indeed it was supposed to be at that very location according to the website, but we were standing in a hotel not a lunch spot.  SUPER FAIL!  We laughed it off and went on our way to find something else to eat.

After making our way through the Expo, which was the biggest most chaotic and crowded cluster of an expo that I have ever been to, we decided to try and see the Berlin wall on our way to a grocery store before returning to the hotel.  More walking around and riding on crazy crowded trains.  We found it and were not really sure what ot make of it.  It was a reconstructed section of the wall with a few informative plaques about people that were killed attempting to cross the border.  We took a few pictures, but again, we weren't really sure how to react.  Should we smile in the photos or just stand there without expression at all.  Very strange feeling, but in hindsight it was very appropriate for the city. 
 On the way back to the hotel we tried to find a grocery store to get some water and snacks.  Milady had researched a store called "BioCompany", Germany's version of Whole Foods.  We had an approximate location marked on the map and walked around and around the same few streets for what seemed like hours and couldn't find it.  We asked for directions and the guy told us to just keep going left.  We walked in a circle and still couldn't find it.  The street names on the map were all abreviated because the German street names are all like 30 letters long.  That made it really difficult to decipher where we were and where we needed to be.  We decided to give up and get water at the next corner store and just go back to the hotel.  We stocked up and headed back and wouldn't you know it right on the way back to the hotel we passed BioCompany!

It was getting late and we were all exhausted and hungry so we dropped our things at the hotel room and went out for dinner.  The only place we found with non-German (sausage and sauerkraut) food was a little italian place with a lot of people waiting.  We got in the line and figured since we were a small group we might get seated before the larger groups.  We DID get seated pretty quickly, BUT they put us at a 'special' table in the back.  I assume it's the table for dumb Americans and a total joke to them.  It was basically in the storage closet next to the kitchen.  We joked that it was the chef's table.  The food was decent and it was close to the hotel so we didn't really care.

The next day we picked a few things we wanted to see and went exploring.  First on the list was the Pergamon Museum, definitely the highlight of the weekend.  Absolutely amazing.  We spent a few hours there walking around and listening to the audio tour.  By then it was lunch time and we were all hungry.  On our way to the next attraction we stopped at a street art fair and bought some small handmade souvenirs.  I got a really nice painting of the Brandenburger Gate.  Next to the street art fair was a small cafe, perfect! We got lunch and then walked to the middle of the city, saw the Brandenburger Gate and happened to get there just in time to watch the finish of the inline skating race along the marathon course.

On our way we stopped at a Dunkin Donuts for Patty.  She really really wanted to get an iced coffee and whenever she asked for one in any other coffee shop they looked at her like she had 3 heads.  Strange thing we noticed immediately upon entering the establishment that apparently didn't phase the locals at all......BEES.  There were hundreds of bees all over the place and mostly all over the donuts, to the point that there were indents in the frosting on some of the donuts frmo the bees feasting on the sugary color coatings.  It was so disgusting, but no one seemed to care.

From there we went to the Holocaust Memorial.  Another example of strange behavior observed there.  In a place meant to evoke very strong emotions of saddness and pain felt by millions of people that perished in the mass genocide of WWII, there were people jumping on the stones, laughing, smoking, drinking, snapping fun photos with the enormous monument behind them, and just being incredibly disrespectful.  We walked through the stones quietly taking in the overwhelming scale of the tragedy that occurred.  the design of the stones and the descent into the middle of the field is meant to make you feel the sense of walking into a trap and going down towards your death like the victims walking into the gas chambers. 

By the time we started back towards the hotel it was nearly 7:00pm and we joked "remember when we said we wanted to have dinner at 5:00 and be back at the room resting by now??"  Well, we hadn't even had dinner yet.  We looked for a place along the way and then I suggested we just eat in the hotel.  It was close and convenient and we could stumble up to the room right afterwards and prepare for the race.  They actually had a really great pasta buffet set up.  It was perfect.  By now you know (if you read my previous post), the race did not go well and I blame a huge part of that on all the walking around we did. Anyway, that ends the Berlin portion of the tale.  The next morning, after a short flight, we arrived in Munich.

Right away the energy of the area was noticably different and much more positive and happy, less cold and abbrassive.  We had to take a train from the airport to the hotel.  It was a pretty long ride, but we got seats, people on the train were laughing and smiling and obviously a lot happier in general.  There was a younger man that got up and offered his seat to an older woman.  We got off the train and it was only a short walk to the hotel and the crowds of people exiting the train were all heading to Oktoberfest, which happened to be right next to our hotel.  The woman at the front desk said we could literally roll out of bed and go to 'the Weiss'.  

We decided to "take it easy" that first day in Munich and save Oktoberfest for the second day.  We had all just run a marathon afterall and should probably rest a little.  We went to our room and settled in, recharged, and refreshed before heading out to see the city.  Things in Munich were all a lot closer together than in Berlin.  Our first stop was a small dress shop.  We wanted to see if we could find traditional Dirndl dresses to wear to Oktoberfest for a reasonable price.  the woman in the store was very helpful, super funny, and friendly.  She helped us find the right sizes and showed us how to get the dresses on. Believe it or not it was sort of tricky.  The dress is meant to go under your boobs and you really had to hoist 'em up to get it zippered.  Unfortunately the dresses were very well made and hand crafted so, very expensive, between 90-300 Euro. 
 We left the dress shop and ventured into the city center.  The things on our "must see" list for the day were Marianplatz (the city center), the town hall and clock tower (bells toll at 11 and 5 everyday and the clock has moving parts that dance around), St. Peter's Church (the oldest church in the city), Hard Rock Cafe, and Hofbrauhaus (the largest oldest beer haus in Munich).  It was a lot to see, but it was all really close together.   

We got dinner at the Hofbrauhaus and our first few liters of beer.  The intent was to just have dinner and call it a night, rest up and save our energy and money for Oktoberfest, BUT that is not what happened.  Patty the instigator, kept reminding us how early it was and that we would probably only be in Munich together once, we should live it up and stay out later and get just one more beer.  Tap, tap, tap, on her guys it's only blah blah blah o'clock.  So, we ordered another liter and split it 3 ways.  Then another one.  Then the fatal mistake.......I ordered another round of 3 liters one for each of us.  We were having a great time and laughing it up and then we were DRUNK.  We got up to go, and somehow the beer mugs landed in my bag, Patty pounded the last beer and stashed it in my bag.  On the way out, they search your bags and appartently it's a big no-no to take the mugs.  As in being detained and calling the Politzei type no-no.  Thankfully, I was able to plead my way out of the situation, but I learned a very valuable lesson - Don't hassle the Hof....bahahahah.

We found a cab and made it back to the hotel.  We all passed out and woke up late the next morning still tasting regret from the last round of beers.  Today was the day we wanted to go to Oktoberfest, but none of us wanted to drink another beer.  We powered through, got cleaned up, got dressed and rolled out of the hotel ready to experience Oktoberfest. 

It wasn't exactly what I expected it to be.  It was GIANT!  The beer 'tents' were really more like beer halls.  Huge semi-permanent structures that hold thousands of tables and serve gallons and gallons of beer.  There was also a large carnival like atmosphere about it.  Think the biggest state fair you've ever been to times 5.  There were rides, food stands, even a redbull and 'wodka' stand.  Souvenirs all over the place and lots and lots of Lederhosen. 

We survived!  We all nursed a beer and ordered some traditional bavarian food at one of the largest beer tents - Lowenbrau.  We walked around and bought some souvenirs and were back in the hotel resting by early afternoon.  We took a much needed nap for about 2 hours before going out for dinner.  We had a lovely dinner, laughed about some of the events the night before and decided it was probably best we drank so much before going to Oktoberfest because we could actually remember that part of the trip and really enjoy it.  One of our favorite quotes from the whole adventure was from Patty at a small pastry shop, she asked if they had German Chocolate cake and the woman had no idea what she was talking about, Patty quickly and without even skipping a beat responded, "oh it's just something I've heard of". (we later learned via wikipedia that German Chocolate cake has nothing to do with Germany it was invented in the US by a man with the last name "German")

On the last day in Munich we went separate ways, Patty wanted to see the Olympic stadium and Milady and I opted for additional sleep and a relaxed day getting breakfast and last minute gifts before going to the airport.  We were ready to get home after a long time abroad.  A little sad to leave Munich, not so sad about Berlin.  I may someday go back to Munich and spend more time exploring the surrounding countryside and castles, but I am pretty sure I NEVER want to go back to Berlin.

Now only 96 days left until Disney and the Dopey Challenge and I collect all these awesome medals:

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