Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Brand New City (Germany #3)

BERLIN--A few words on the food and hotel so far.
My day began with a phenomenal breakfast buffet at the hotel, featuring scrambled eggs, French and other kinds of breads, pastries, sausages, cheeses, and numerous other items I can’t even identify. There was also orange, apple, and grapefruit juice, plus excellent American-style coffee--something you can’t always find in Europe.
          After yesterday’s visit to the Reichstag, I had a wonderful lunch of leek soup and red fish with risotto in the beautiful center courtyard of the Albrechtshof, a former Lutheran hostel. So far, oft-maligned German cuisine has been far better and more imaginative than I've been led to believe. 
          The accommodations have been satisfactory, too. I’m staying at the Hotel Winter, a six-story building whose clean lines and flat-roof reflect the modernist Bauhaus influence.  (Interestingly, the Nazis denounced Bauhaus for its so-called degenerate art and foreign, probably Jewish influences, and pressured the Berlin Bauhaus to close in April 1933.) The lobby is light and airy with arched windows and contemporary easy chairs and glass box coffee tables. The bright yellow bar is chrome with sculpted S-shaped seats. Everything seems new and stylish.
My white-walled room features brick-red doors and bed, and a pop art painting of Check Point Charlie. The marble floor is gray, the carpet and window treatments sage. There’s a flat screen TV with several English language channels available, mostly news. And the plumbing is the most American I’ve yet encountered on this side of the Atlantic.
In many ways, Berlin is a brand-new city, especially East Berlin, rebuilt on the ashes of fifty years of Communist dictatorship. These people have suffered, but are resilient. Berlin considers itself a haven for free-thinking and cutting-edge artistic expression, and you see signs of that everywhere. Still, it’s hard to believe that practically every structure is new because they’ve been built to look old.
Across the street from the hotel stands a seven-story apartment/condo building, each unit with its own balcony garden overflowing with red geraniums and other greenery. Some have festive table umbrellas, many satellite dishes. The German economy is among Europe’s strongest and unemployment is practically nonexistent here. So is street crime; I’ve strolled through the city at night without fear.

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