Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Berlin to Basel...The Next Leg Begins!

The best year of my life to date (until I moved to New York City two years ago) was my year spent abroad in Madrid, Spain. Eternal friendships, a true sense of independence and experience, immersion in another culture and exposure to a plethora of destinations, languages, and traditions were just a few of the souvenirs of that year. Eleven years later, heading to the East Side Gallery in Berlin, an older couple stopped me to ask for directions. Attempting in German, I shook my head knowing we would get nowhere with my Deutsche. As they walked away, I heard the unmistakable accent of Spaniards and quickly replied, “Pero si hablo espanol!” So there we were, in the middle of Berlin chatting in Spanish and discussing directions to Alexanderplatz. I swear Rand McNally is a distant relative. But that brief moment of Spanish brought back so many great memories of why I love Europe – the constant crisscross of societies, the merger of varied landscapes, mélange of cuisine, and profound history.

Walking through the Charlottenburg neighborhood of northwestern Berlin yesterday morning, I was reminded of the neighborhoods around where I lived in Madrid. It was a Monday morning so the streets were occupied mostly by elderly ladies and a few scant tourists like myself. I was headed up to Schloss Charlottenburg, the palace built by Frederick the Great in the 1700’s. En route, I stopped at BackWerk, a small bakery I’d read about in a Berlin food blog. After some gesturing and pointing, the baker suggested a scrumptious apple pastry for my breakfast. I continued my meandering north to the palace, admiring the beautiful parks, wide avenues, and apartment buildings. This area was occupied by the British during the occupied years, yet the architecture seemed more reminiscent of urban neighborhoods in Paris.
Schloss Charlottenburg
Only the New Wing of the Palace was open as it was Monday so I took the tour of that and then wandered around the beautiful gardens and grounds of the Palace complex. The Palace was severely damaged during the bombing of Berlin but most of the furnishings were saved and they have painstakingly recreated many of the Palace rooms to their original design. It was a quite an impressive reproduction and I would highly recommend a visit here.

Apparently Berlin is the home of the largest Turkish population outside of Turkey. That fact becomes quite apparent when you stroll around town and are affronted with an array of Falafel and Kebab shops and Turkish restaurants. This is among the gamut of other cuisines you can select from – French, Italian, Spanish, Thai, Vietnamese, Sushi, etc. I chose to test the Turkish kebabs and stopped for a quick bite in Schoneburg before heading to the East Side Gallery. Maybe my selection was poor, but my lamb kebab was a sad little row of lamb niblets smothered in tomato and yogurt and pieces of fried bread. Meh. I'll take a bratwurst or currywurst over that any day.
East Side Gallery
Departing my lackluster lunch, I headed to what I hoped would be a much more intriguing spot – the East Side Gallery. This is a section of the Berlin Wall that has been converted into a canvas for artists from around the world to re-birth the wall as a declaration of independence and presence from one of oppression and domination. The expressions ranged from straight graffiti to intricate labyrinthine pieces incorporating social and political references, quotations, and caricatures of the communist regime.  As the wall is exposed to the natural elements, many of these artists have been known to return and “touch up” their work to keep it in good order and underscore its relevance.

My affair with Berlin abruptly ended this morning when I caught an early morning flight to Basel to meet up with my travel companions. While sad, I knew the adventure had to continue and that I would return to Berlin again!
Picasso at the Kunstmuseum
As is second nature to the Swiss and Germans, transportation to and from the airport is swift and expeditious. If you have a hotel booked in Basel, you only need to demonstrate your hotel confirmation to secure free travel on the buses and trams during your stay. Considering the cost of things in Switzerland, this is a grand scheme and one I am happy to embrace. Basel has a tough uphill battle for one who has just spent three days in Berlin. There are charming streets to wander and quaint timber homes to adore, chocolate to foster any chocoholic’s urge and the riverside location to appreciate. A visit here demands a several hour stop at The Kunstmuseum, which offers a grand array of masterpieces by Leger, Giacometti, Picasso (rooms dedicated to him), Degas, Gauguin, Renoir, Matisse, Manet, Van Gogh (only a few), Kandinsky, name it. And unique pieces at that, especially the Munch's and several of the Leger pieces. 

But it’s no Berlin. That being said, on my quaint walk back from the tram this evening (I MIGHT have gotten off on the wrong stop…Rand McNally fail #1), I admired the silence that prevailed at 9 PM on at Tuesday night. It seemed singular for a city this size and was doubly appreciated for that same reason. Strolling along the damp streets (it rained all afternoon), it was just me, my umbrella/walking stick, and my sandals, clomping along enjoying the post-rain cool air and looking forward to more escapades tomorrow when I depart for the Burgundy region of France. Bon nuit mes chers!
Streets of Basel
PS – Staying in a former Prison tonight in Basel. Slits for windows and slightly close quarters, but this 20-room boutique hotel has reinvigorated a place that must have some intense stories. The door to my room is picture enough. No one will be breaking in to my bedroom tonight!

The Prison my room.
PPS – If I return to Basel, I’m staying at Le Trois Rois. No question.

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