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Stendhal in Berlin

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Cristina and I spent a week in remarkably friendly and laid-back Berlin this August of 2013. A woman with young kids even missed her subway train to help us with an uncooperative ticket machine on a platform. This was after we were marooned for 5 hours on the street with our luggage due to laughingly-titled Booking.com completely failing to book our lodgings even though they confirmed the booking. But where better to be marooned while something was sorted out (not by Booking.com) than in company with my genial German translator Bernhard Kempen in his utopian district of alternative lifestyles outside a Rauchenlocal, or smoking pub, run by a witty Iranian?—for Berlin has banned global warming heaters from its pavements in favour of authorised indoor smoking.
By the following midday we were in lodgings elsewhere, near Alexanderplatz (the novel of which I haven’t yet read), so I celebrated suitably. I like a head on my beer.

Head on beer

Cyberborged vendors of currywurst discharge their sweat into fountains,

currywurst

watched austerely by Marx and Engels,

Marx and Engels

for we were in former East Berlin, dominated by the former régime’s communications tower which just had to be higher than West Berlin’s.

Com Tower Berlin

It’s tempting to quip that Berlin will be a lovely city when they finish building it, since high cranes are everywhere,

statue supervising building site Berlin

but in fact it’s lovely already, just so long as you aren’t knocked over by any of the umpteen anarchic bicycles. “We may be poor,” the Mayor has said, “but we are sexy!”
At the cluster of museums on Museum Island, the Caspar David Friedrichs would make great covers for gothic fantasy anthologies, or indeed Arnold Böcklin‘s Isle of the Dead (1883),

Böcklin's Isle of the Dead

and the giant reconstructed archeological megatrophies in the Pergamon Museum are stunning—at last I trod the Processional Way to the Ishtar Gate (click on photo see in full glory)

Processional Way to Ishtar Gate

after writing about this years ago in Whores of Babylon. And, speaking of writing, one evening I performed at very friendly Otherland SF & Fantasy bookshop, which has a huge stock of English language books as well as in German.

Otherland bookshop Berlin

The department store KaDeWe has an outstanding food hall, of which I only show the eels;

KaDeWe Food Hall Berlin

while the Museum of Natural History has 276,000 other fishies, not on dishies, but in alcohol in sometimes giant jars,

Museum für Naturkunde

which has already compelled me to write a short story, called “Faith Without Teeth”. Dangers lurked in that Museum, as I discovered when I turned a corner and encountered a giant spider.

Museum für Naturkunde

And the great taxonomist Carl Linnaeus never realised that human heads would become smaller, certainly than his.

Carl Linnaeus

At the Zoo, a couple of monkeys performed coupling for us,

Berlin Zoo

but I’m not putting those in a story, though I did include the 40 million year old lungfish that lived alone in the Museum.

lungfish
Cristina took many super photos, such as of the grand stairs leading up atmospherically to San Souci Palace;

San Souci PotsdamPotsdamer Platz

and my paparazzo Roberto popped up at rendezvouses such as the Sony Centre in Potsdamer Platz, an architectural wonder quite like, um, a future SF city. Though it was Arno (of Gabi and Arno from Dortmund, staying with Bernhard) who enlightened all of us that Fellini named paparazzi after an actual Signor Paparazzo.
However, just wait till Cristina has her new Zeiss camera-less smart lens, which you can hold around a corner while lurking out of sight watching on your iphone the image to be captured. How the Stasi (we also visited the DDR Museum) would have loved ten thousand of those.
Cristina was able to diagnose the two of us as succumbing repeatedly to Stendhal Syndrome—those celestial fainting sensations, alias overload, accompanied in my case by an urgent need for beer, preferably Dunkel vom Fass—caused by seeing too many fine things; so we needed to leave many places in Berlin half-seen, waiting until our next visit to something rather like utopia, very unforeseen by either Albert Speer or by Stalin, long may this survive.

1 Comment

  1. This was a delightful rendition of he Berlin I know and love and also some of the Berlin which has been built since my last visit.
    Thank you for bringing back such fond memories. . . . .

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