august in berlin, week three

in the last full week in berlin, i started to get a little frazzled because we had by that point finally decided when we were going to head back to budejovice – we had to be back by the end of august to temporarily renew our visas, so the end was near, as it were, and there were still (as ever) far too many things on my wish list. there is something about this city that makes me want to be out every day, doing as much as i can, going as far as i can… but i had to learn to let it be and relax a little bit. 

starting off the week with a slow sunday morning of cups of earl grey, cold blackberries, and reading the zeitung for hours at the breakfast table helped get the week on a more relaxing footing than the one prior.

to my delight and utter surprise, i found that (almost near the end of my course) it was actually possible for me to read in german… and i actually liked it. i had avoided all reading and writing (preferring rather to listen, watch, or speak only) for so many years, and if anything, my time studying this summer taught me that not only can i do it, i can do it well. i really got a great taste of why i should stop doubting myself – something easier said than done! 

i have since made it a practice to read a bit of german newspapers per day, as well as one of those “duo reader” books (english on one page, german version on the next) to take home with me in the spirit of continuing my seemingly newfound ability to read in another language. i can’t tell you how proud i was to have sat down and read that entire newspaper, even if it took me hours….as it usually does anyway to read the sunday paper though, right?

(the struggle is real – a cheeky grammar table found on the back of a church in neukölln, below)

this week, i proclaimed a couple special neighborhood-specific days in an effort to tick a lot of places off of my list. for example, one day we had a mitte (most central district of berlin) day – consisting of burritos from our favorite joint (any excuse) followed by a short stroll down unter den linden only long enough to reach the “humboldt forum” box, a temporary exhibition place currently parked next to the reconstruction of berlin’s former grand city palace – called by many names over the years (since prussian rule and the time of the kaiser) and many incarnations (whether stadtschloss or palast der republik during the german democratic republic years). my friend julie, who had studied this site during her own studies in berlin, asked me to update her on the progress of the site.

for those who wish to know, the palace will soon be called the humboldtforum, opening at some point in 2019, and should be sort of germany’s answer to london’s british museum. there was once a museum inside the former palast, but now the building will serve entirely as a museum and public space. an interesting architectural note is that three sides of the museum are being restored to its former pre-war glory, and the fourth side (against the spree river) will have a new, modern facade. (see last photo, below)

for those interested, currently it’s possible to head up to the top of the humboldt box installation for some great views and a cafe – totally free entry. i don’t often find myself doing things like this in berlin, but it was quite a nice little investigation!

we also made it to two separate exhibitions! ’nineties berlin’ housed at mollenmarkt (a stone’s throw from the nikolaiviertel) and ’everyday life in the DDR’ at kulturbrauerei, only blocks from our flat. 

the former was flashy and fun, and the smartphone guide addition was pretty cool, but i felt that it fell short of its entrance price for anyone who knows more than “berlin history for beginners”.
in contrast, i adored the “everyday life” exhibition (which is free, even better) and had to be actually kicked out by a museum guard because we stayed so long! but i wanted to pour through every little book, nook and cranny… phooey. i’d definitely stop in if it’s still on when we head there next.

i have enjoyed so much about these past weeks. my visits with some lovely friends whom i am always happy to meet, both old and new. strolling around neukölln and discovering the charms of rixdorf (which i’ll soon share about, surely). hot days and warm nights. being rained on at the freiluftkino (for the second time this summer!). eating more ice cream that i’ve ever had in a summer since i was a kid. lingering in front of storefronts and taking note of just how many owners were away on urlaub for the month. the berlin wasps of august being at the forefront of a conversation, even before mentions of the weather. beloved “accordion guy” who i heard out playing daily in front of the cafes below in prenzlauer berg, giving the afternoon a breezy, carefree european feel you just can’t help but love.

funny how my feelings changed about my language course from the first week, where i preferred to remain at a distance from my classmates, the second week where i preferred to go on strolls alone in the park, to the third week, where i loved chatting with everyone at the breaks, walking down weichelstrasse together and shoving our face with croissants in between gaps in the conversation. how funny that i had tried not to become very invested and then found myself on my final day all emotional, sitting on a park bench facing the landwehrkanal after leaving. chaotic, not very “german punctual”, and slightly disorganized… and yet productive, worthwhile, and full of humor. the whole language school affair was quite “berlinisch” after all.

i had to theatrically recite this little poem for the class on my last day. i guess it’ll always remind me of that last chaotic and loving week in berlin.

wenn du denskt, es geht nicht mehr
kommt von irgendwo ein lichtlein her
und dann freust du dich so sehr
dass du nicht merkst,
es leuchtet lang schon wieder gar nicht mehr

when you think you can’t go on
from somewhere comes a little light
and then you are so delighted
that you don’t notice
it doesn’t continue to shine anymore

on the day we left, the morning was cool and autumnal, in contrast to the warm nights only days before. i grabbed a few goodies at some favorite market stalls at the saturday kollwitzstrasse market and popped up for some celebratory donuts at brammibal’s, a newer donut company (est 2015) in berlin whose donuts i still had not yet the pleasure of trying. i can only say – good thing too, because they were far too fluffy and addicting to have only a block or two from the flat! they certainly gave my favorite (seattle’s mighty-o donuts) a run for their money.

what better way to say goodbye to berlin this time than with donuts. it seemed fitting for this visit, one of my very favorite stretches of time i’ve spent in this city. it was very good to be in berlin this year.

this may be the last of the three “week in berlin” posts, but fortunately there will still be at least two more berlinisch posts to come, so stay tuned.

tell me: would you ever take a “slow travel” holiday and take a language course? where would you like to study?