Wherein DF travels to Mitteleuropa and recounts his merrie adventures to his adoring broad readership.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Impressions of Berlin

It´s with not just a little nostagia that I note that I leave Berlin Saturday morning (the idea that I´ve already spent two weeks here seems insane). It´s been marvelous though, and I´m growing fonder of this city by the day, but ah well--all things must end. So I leave with a series of random impressions that have occurred to me over my two weeks here.

1. Absence of malice. Since coming here, I haven't seen a single road-rage incident or yelly street altercation or any other of the manifold upsetting incidents that one tends to witness on a frequent basis in the US. We all know the Germans have the propensity for anger and worse, but for whatever reason I just don't think they're as quick become incensed over the daily trivia that often sends Americans into rage blackouts.

2. Leisurely restaurant service. Waitstaff take a looooong time to get to you in restaurants here, so much so that on many occasions I thought they were trying to send a message that they'd rather not serve the lone American tourist reading the big textbook about Central Europe (me). But in fact, the (lack of) speed merely reflects an entirely different ethos regarding restaurants than the one that prevails in the States. There, eating can be nice but it's usually an hour (or so) long exercise in efficiency, no more. Here, evening meals last usually twice as long if not more, and much of it is just sitting-around time, waiting for the waitstaff to arrive, lingering after the meal. I usually ask for the check when they come to take away my food and am regarded as kind of a freak for it.

3. Germans love the beer. This is one of those generalizations that isn't just a stereotype, it's the God's truth. There are no open-container laws here and in the evenings the streets are full of people wandering around with big-ass bottles of Beck's and the like, swigging away. And everyone drinks with dinner, even on weeknights. Berlin is, in this respect, like Holland, but there it seemed that the entire populace had a one-drink limit, here there's no such thing. That's not to say that the city is full of raging drunks. I just think that Berliners can hold their liquor better than the rest of us. Note also there is no breakdown of the social order. Unlike in New Orleans, where the outdoor booze tolerance creates a sleazefest, drinking beer has not turned this city into a sin-ravaged brotheltastic scene from a Hieronymous Bosch painting (it would be like that regardless of open-container regulations).

4. Germans love the nudity. The main park in the city is the Tiergarten, and it's sort of a larger, more wild Central Park. Part of the wildness is that many of the denizens of Berlin will strip down to the buck while idling in the Tiergarten. I have no idea if there are public nudity laws in the country (though I kind of doubt it), but considering the physical shape some of these people are in, there really really should be.

5. Not so bad with the B.O. as you might expect. Easily the most hilarious part of the Simpsons ep where Homer turns his house into a youth hostel is the scene where the German backpackers offer a low price for a bunk and Homer says "But how will I pay for all the hot water you all will use with your showering, and cleaning, and washing your clothes?" The Germans look embarrassed and say "Um yeah, zat is ah, zat is not a problem." Yes, the filthy-foreigner motif is humorous indeed, but when you are abroad it can be a damned olfactory nightmare. Yet here in Germany, to be fair (and contrary to the Simpsons ep), the B.O. issue is really not so bad. There are pockets of it, to be sure, where you´ll be walking along or on the subway and all of a sudden your eyes will water and you´ll wish you had a gas mask, but this has been a pleasingly rare occurrence. It´s certainly nothing to rival the Paris metro, whose combo bouquet of gallic B.O., eau de urine, and generic bumstank remain unparalleled in grosstastic odiferousness.

6. Lotta Goths in this city. I don´t know what the peak of the Goth think in the US was, maybe the late 80s, but here it seems to be still going strong. I see Goths more than I do hippies, even. There was a goth double-date at the cinema last night, a dude in a vintage Bauhaus T-shirt on Danzigerstraße just today, and there´s a gothic music store right around the street from my language school in Prenzlburg. And that´s just off the top of my head. And to the credit of the goth kiddies I´ve seen, they´ve stayed true to the old-school--Bauhaus, Sisters of Mercy, Alien Sex Fiend--rather than jumping on the commercialized bandwagon of recent years with the Marilyn Manson and the Evanescence and whatnot. You go, Deutschegoths!