Writings about Some Trips in W. Europe
Travels--Intro Berlin, Germany Scotland In Ireland Kiev, Ukraine Barcelona Seville

I got here about a week ago. The trip has been uneventful in terms of odd occurrences and funny travel stories, as I've been visiting with my mother's family, which numbers about 8 people in Berlin, and so far my time has been about connecting with them for the first time in about 20 years. Some of that has been family talk, and some about Germany, America, and politics. My cousins boyfriend spends his spare time creating outrageous anti-Bush artwork, you know, a mutated preying mantis with a scorpions tail and Bush's face, about to eat the Earth held in its hands. He gets a lot of pleasure out of making these and sharing them with friends.

Berlin is a very large city, much larger than I expected. Like Buenos Aires, it is very inviting to the pedestrian--apart from street crossings, as drivers are aggressive--because of the flat topography, wide sidewalks (10 ft or more in many places), street-level stores, and trees. One interesting difference between the former west and eastern sections of Berlin is that the west has trees all over, spaced evenly on both sides of the street, as well as a large park in the city called Tiergarten. The east is largely devoid of greenery. I was told this was because, under Soviet times, West Berlin was an island in the middle of East Germany (remember the flights to supply W Berlin in 61, when blockaded), and the Berliners had nowhere to go for green things without taking a plane--hence they made their city more green. It is very welcome, actually.

It is green in other ways as well. You probably know that European gas is more expensive, high taxes on it, but this means not only that there are fewer drivers (relative to a large city in the US) but also that compact and ultra-compact cars are the norm. I have seen no SUVs here, not a one. Some of the cars look so small you'd think they were guillotined through the back seat.

So many people walk, and the public transport system is used widely, although it isn't cheap. I just got a one-month pass that covers a large part of the systems (except for outlying areas) for about $60--but a two-hour pass for example, is $2.50 or so, which is pretty pricey. One the other hand, the subway trains run very often, there are signs telling you how long you'll wait (and they are accurate), the connections are clear and in general it is very convenient.

There are bicyclists, not as many as in SF, but still noticeable. There are bike paths on the street in some places, but more often they are on the sidewalk, marked by red tile or stone instead of the normal grey. You are not supposed to walk on these. I almost got dinged a couple of times walking in these areas, because I thought it was sidewalk--sometimes the red is quite faded and you have to have your eyes open.

The city is really beautiful, this very odd mix of older style apartment buildings, baroque architecture, and ultra-modern. When I say ultra-modern: some of these buildings would not look out of place in a sci-fi movie, and to my eye they are very elegant, its not abrasive or purposefully shocking. There is tremendous construction going on, so in many places its hard to get a sense of what the area really looks like; it will be interesting to return in 5 years or so and get a sense of the city. By the way, graffiti is everywhere, even in small amounts in the upscale neighborhoods.

There are something like 50 museums in the city! Oh, and for those who care, I got to see the cemetery, and gravestones, for Brecht, Fichte, and good old Hegel.

Last point--there are few reminders, even in conversation, of the East-West Berlin split. One of the happening neighborhoods right now is in the former eastern sector, and generally, people talk about the city as one whole place. There is much reconstruction in the east, so older Soviet-era architecture is being replaced or renovated.

It is fun to be back on the Continent, and to have proper Continental Breakfasts. They really know how to do that over here. Oh, and yes, there is a Starbucks over here. Its around the corner from the MacDonalds.