(Note: The following post describes details from a previous trip, NOT a current trip.)
Sunday, September 9th.
First order of business: cleaning some of my smelly clothes. Not so glamourous, I know. But it would be nice not to constantly smell my own sweat.
The desk staff at the hostel direct me to a laundromat (waschsalon) around the corner – filled with retro-looking front-loading washers.
As I sidle up to one of the washing machines and intently concentrate on the fine-printed instructions on how to use it, this little man appears – seemingly out of nowhere – with an overly cheery, “Hallo!” and startles the shit out of me.
So Herr Waschsalon helps me with my laundry, speaking mostly in German with a smattering of English. And despite my misgivings (and assumption my clothes will end up shrunken and/or tie-dyed), I’m done in about 90 minutes!
The speedy service means I actually have time to walk around and explore. But what?
I decide to check out one of the Sunday markets suggested by the hostel’s “welcome brochure, following that up with a walking tour suggested by one of my work colleagues from back home.
The Sunday market is more like a flea market of sorts – tables of knick-knacks, used objects and the most random items placed next to the odd local merchant selling their wares. I stroll around, but don’t stay for very long.
I make my way down to the walking tour near the Brandenburg Gate – arriving a bit late, since I’m directionally challenged (and got turned around a bit), but I manage to get there during the guide’s introductory spiel.
The group is standing near a building close on Pariser Platz, just adjacent to what turns out to be the Hotel Adlon (a.k.a. where the late Michael Jackson dangled his youngest child – as an infant – over the hotel balcony).
The guide’s name is David, and he’s a British ex-pat living and working in Berlin (as a writer, I believe). During the four-hour tour, he is at once a source of fascinating facts, and a man with strong political views, which he doesn’t hesitate to share at a couple of points during the tour.
We start away from Pariser Platz, walking through the Monument to the Murdered Jews of Europe … through a housing complex where, at another point in time, evil once stood … along points where the Berlin Wall used to separate people from their families … and past buildings that at one point in time had been either completely riddled with bullets or completely levelled by shelling.
While moving from site to site, I get to talking with a woman named Jennifer – who, as it turns out, is also American, like Jennifer from Croatia.
The group stops for a 20-minute break; Jennifer and I head to a cafe for some drinks and baked goods. Jennifer has been in Berlin about several days more than I have, and is really helpful in recommending a number of things to do, see and eat.
Of course, in the process of getting acquainted – and waiting for our dessert – we lose track of our tour. It takes a bit of walking around – and Jennifer’s keen senses of direction, deduction and her super-detailed map – to determine where the group has gone, but we eventually find them.
After the tour, Jennifer and I decide to head to dinner at a Cuban-themed restaurant along Friedrichstrasse. (Turns out this Jennifer is also a picky eater.)
Stuffed from the volume of food, we part ways, making plans to meet tomorrow and check out the contemporary art museum.
Later at the hostel, I try to exercise my social muscle, chatting briefly with a couple of people. But not much more comes of the day. I feel as if I’ve missed that “window” for meeting and establishing friendly ties with fellow travellers. Plus, it doesn’t seem to come as easily as it did five years ago.
I retire to my room and go straight to bed, before that faint pang of loneliness has a chance to ferment.