Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Berlin 2013: Day 1/Arrival

When last we visited, I opined about the sparse crowd in the waiting area, hoping that it signaled a less than full flight.  To my great delight, that was exactly the signal.  The plane was a 2-4-2 rig, and I had an aisle seat on the starboard set of two.  Who should then put stuff down to sit next to me, but the largest man on the plane.  He was not a fat man, but he was a good six feet five.  It was painful to watch him fold himself into his seat.  As the other passengers filed in, then to a trickle, the flight attendants offered that it was ok to get up and move if we liked.  I said to the fellow that I was going to move, so that he could have more room.  Actually, I wanted to move so that I could get a seat with no one sitting next to me, meaning no one would have to wake me to go to the bathroom.  I found a seat on the aisle, in the group of four, with the only other seat in the row taken the other aisle on the four.  Genius.

The plane took off on time (German efficiency, no doubt) and I settled in.  After a quick drink of water, I donned my sleeping mask, noise cancelling headphones and ear plugs.  Seven hours later I woke up as they were serving breakfast and we were flying over the English Channel.  A perfect flight.

We landed in Munich, and I had an hour before I had to board.  The one bag I checked was checked to Berlin, so I simply had to go through a passport control process and head to the next gate.  Had time for a cuppa joe along the way.  An hour more flying and we landed in Berlin, the airport serving which looks like one of those small midwestern fields that exist in order for there to be a place to fly a Congressman.  I grabbed my bag (which was checked by no one that I could tell) and got a taxi. 

My driver was a Turk named Astan who had been in Germany (West Berlin) for 25 years.  After a bit of German back and forth, he offered (in German) that his English was terrible.  I offered (in German) that my German was terrible, and he assured me it was nothing of the sort.  We had a delightful conversation for the twenty or so minutes it took to get to the hotel, including a discussion of public nudity after passing a few Germans frolicking au natural in a park along the way.  He indicated that there was plenty of public nudity in the summer, and that looking at the topless women was "good for the eyes". 

I arrived at my hotel, which is sort of unimpressive from the outside (Dresden chic), but very nice on the inside.  It is located near the famous Berlin Zoo, which happens not to be in the happening part of town, as I will cover with you in a later paragraph.  It seems to be very residential with nary a coffee shop to be found in the general vicinity--which could be disastrous.

I checked in and immediately headed to the gym/spa to scope things out.  The gym was tiny, with an elliptical, a stationary bike, and a treadmill.  I chatted up the comely Asian woman working the spa desk and swung myself a massage for an hour and a half later.  In the meantime, I went back to the room, changed into athletic attire and headed back down to the gym to burn a few calories.  I am bound and determined not to backslide this week, and I'm going to need to be disciplined if that is to work.

After the workout, I went to take a shower in what is a very standard German shower---a tub with a handheld shower head.  Problem was, I just couldn't get the shower head to work.  Lots of water poured from the faucet into the tub, and I thought I was able to recognize the mechanism for transferring flow, but it just didn't work.  So I took a quick bath and made a note to have someone from housekeeping show me how to work the shower.

Back down to the spa for my massage, when much to my surprise, my massage therapist turned out to be the very same comely Asian woman who checked me in.  Nothing wrong with that.  Her name was Van and she had come to Germany from Viet Nam via Canada.  All of this I was able to ascertain in the few moments we spent prior to her leaving the room while I disrobed.  I'm not chatty during a massage, and I tend to be very tough on massage therapists who are.  She was not, and our hour went by wonderfully and silently.

By the time the massage was over, the clock and my stomach told me it was time to eat, and so I took out my trusty iPad and used one of the geolocation Apps that told me what was around me.  This was the second hint I got that I wasn't in the happening part of town, as I now had backup digital evidence to confirm my eyeball evidence.  I did find what appeared to be a pretty well reviewed "authentic" German restaurant, and so decided to make for it.  First though, and ATM.  Uh....yeah.  Well, it turns out there aren't many ATM's in the area either.  In fact, this may be the lowest density of ATM's in the Western world.  There were two generally in the direction of the German restaurant, so I made for the first.  And it wasn't there.  And I was walking through streets that felt safe enough, but there weren't a lot of people walking on them.  So I made for the location of the second ATM, which brought me into civilization.  But....that ATM wasn't there either.  So I gave up finding an ATM, gave up the German food a cab ride away, and headed across the street from the last known location of the now missing ATM to a little Chinese joint.  Turned out to have the best egg-drop soup I've ever tasted.  Tossed in some random chicken dish, and feeling lucky, made for a third ATM up the street.  YES!  Put the card in, selected the amount I wanted...and then the machine said my bank card wasn't accepted there. 

So I hailed a cab and headed back here to the hotel to write down the fun from my day.  I'm meeting my friend Sebastian tomorrow for general touring of the city.  He's a German PhD student in Kiel, who knows Berlin perhaps only slightly better than I do, which is not at all.  We've got the opening dinner of the conference tomorrow night, and then things get off to a start on Thursday morning.

Enough for now. 


sea-bass said...

I'll be happy to show you the really cranky parts of town if you insist! ;-) Welcome to Germany!

Anonymous said...

So, what did you do for a workout?
Did you really burn some calories or, like many, walk on a treadmill while messing with the smart phone?

The Conservative Wahoo said...

I burned 350 calories in 30 minutes on the elliptical, if you must know. But I was watching an Open Yale Course on Financial Markets given by recent Nobel announcee Robert Shiller, so perhaps I was less serious than you would like. http://oyc.yale.edu/economics/econ-252-11

"The Hammer" said...

What happened to Tempelhof, they shut it down?

Anonymous said...

350 calories - good job.

I was as serious as need be since you routinely post your current weight and weight goal. So many just go through the motions.

Ahh yes - the author of "Irrational Exuberance". Recommended reading for any Boglehead.

Sebastian said...

Yeah, Tempelhof closed in 2006 as part of the plan to consolidate the three international airports of Berlin into one, Berlin International (BER) near Schönefeld. Plans to keep it open as a private jet airfield failed, now it's a big park - worth a visit.

BER was supposed to open in 2012. Now it looks like 2017. With massive cost overruns. Massive. Meanwhile, the airlines had to scramble to keep Tegel and Schönefeld open to serve Berlin (Tegel hasn't been in invested in ---- that's why it looks like Rep. Joe Regional Airport)

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