And so I have come to Berlin. This wasn't planned, but it seems to be a good place to have landed. I am waiting, at a small cafe called Butter, for a potential German language instructor who answered my ad on Craig's List. Somewhere along the line, before I even landed here, I decided that I would stay as long as I could, get to know a great city well, and try to resurrect my high school German. I am staying with my friend John, an old neighbor from Oakland, who lives here half of the year. He has been kind enough to offer me the use of his flat while he is gone for the next three weeks. So I have time and opportunity to settle in, see the sights, and see what it's like to live here. And I can consider what this long, strange trip is about anyway.
One of the first things I have noticed and liked is that a LOT of Berliners ride bicycles here - a fact that is best substantiated by being on a sidewalk around 5 PM when work gets out. The other thing I like is that I have yet to see a single bicyclist wearing anything other than street clothes. No special equipment or clothing is necessary. Makes me a little embarrassed by my biking wardrobe.
Another thing I like is how well-organized the mass transit systems are. In contrast to every other city I have visited on this trip, in Berlin you never have to guess at which stop you are arriving. If it is not announced verbally or on a lightboard on the train or bus, there are large signs at every station. There are also color-coded maps listing every stop and connection for the train system, and the maps of Berlin that are for sale do a good job of showing the same. In short, whether you are a visitor coming here for the first time or a Berliner going to a new part of the city, the uncertainties are kept to a minimum. And if you ARE unsure of something, Berliners are happy - happy! - to be of help if they can.
My only minor complaint is the difficulty in finding a place to log on. My Lonely Planet guide said WiFi is everywhere, but I have not found that to be the case. When I DO find it, it is either not free or requires a code, which means sitting at the coffee shop or restaurant, ordering something, and then asking for the code. That gets expensive, so I am going to investigate the cost of a mini SIM card and a monthlong subscription so my iPad and I are always connected.
The church bell ringing goes on forever here on Sunday morning! The weather has been cool and fresh since I arrived, and I have slept with the window open every night, only reaching for a blanket the last two nights.whether rain or church bells, everything sounds good coming with fresh air through an open window.