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First thing this morning, before dawn, I drive over to my property in Eggersdorf for my first eyeball look in 8 years. I’m still getting used to one major difference in German intersection design. In the US, traffic lights are typically hung in the center of the intersection or on its far side, so the light is visible anywhere you stop the car. In Germany, the lights are almost always placed on the near side of the intersection. Drivers must be careful to stop far enough back to see those lights. A little too far and they’re all out of easy sight and you won’t be able to see them change. Easily avoidable, but the first week or so, I’m constantly overshooting and either craning my neck to look straight up out of the very top of the windshield to glimpse the red light or being “advised” by the driver behind that it has changed and I’m blocking traffic.
I was sure I had left keys for the property gate with the erstwhile real estate agent in 2014 but he insists I did not. Susan is bringing the second set from NY but that does me no good now. I have a vague memory of talking to a neighboring business. Perhaps I left the keys with them so they could park a vehicle in the driveway rather than leave it completely unused. Which business? I don’t know.
On my arrival, I find a completely unexpected situation. In 2014, there was a wall between me and my neighbor and their backyard was occupied by a garage. Now, I find the wall and garage demolished, my gate broken through, and my lot used as driveway and construction yard for a new house nearing completion in that backyard. This despite that the neighbor’s existing driveway on the other side of their property provides equal access.
By German standards this is outrageous behavior but since I have no lawyer, it’s almost Christmas, I’m leaving town in 4 days, and it seems like more of a civil issue than a police matter, there’s nothing I can do right now. I take photographs of the damage and the extensive debris covering my property and head home.
Karl-Heinz and Edelgard are leaving for a holiday road trip to Copenhagen tomorrow, so a few days ago I arranged to leave Biesdorf Saturday morning to stay with another host over Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Dec 26 until I drive through the night to meet Susan’s arriving flight in Frankfurt at 6 AM on Dec 27. When I report my plan to Karl-Heinz I run into an unexpected obstacle. He is very worried about break-ins to his unoccupied house and asks me to stay through Dec 26. I can hardly say no to a generous old friend so I reluctantly adjust my plans to assuage his worries. Instead of spending the nights of Dec 24th and 25th with hosts, I’ll spend those days with them and come back to Biesdorf at night to stand “guard duty”.
At any rate, since my remaining days are spoken for; I have to spend this morning and afternoon cleaning up the apartment so as not to leave work for Edelgard next week. I gather up the bedding and my dirty clothes and head down the steep, cement cellar stairs to the laundry room. Now, after my two falls on the ice last week, I’m moving around much more carefully. With a sack of laundry in my right hand, I’m carefully descending the stairs in my bare feet holding the banister firmly with my left. It seems uneventful, but about 6 steps from the bottom my right foot loses traction and shoots off the step, followed immediately by the left. I end up riding the step edges on my right ribs before coming to rest at the bottom. Thanks to my grip on the handrail, the fall isn’t as bad as the earlier ones, but the pain is acute and the stream of cursing continuous. I don’t understand how it could have happened — perhaps some moisture on a step or the lack of a friction coating on the painted cement — but it did. For the third miraculous time, I realize I’m still mobile so I pull myself painfully to my feet and continue with laundering.
Although I’m sore as hell, I pursue my plan to meet Servas host Sabine for a long walk through the Christmas decorations of downtown Berlin. About 5:30 pm I drag myself to the Biesdorf train station for the hour ride to our Savignyplatz rendezvous.
Sabine is an engaging host who grew up in East Berlin until the wall fell when she was 20. Our conversation is nonstop as we walk first past the Gedächtniskirche (Memorial Church). In 1943, this prominent church in the center of Berlin was severely damaged in a bombing raid, yet remained standing. 12 years later, its ghostly profile made a deep impression on my 5 year old self as I visited the site with my mother and aunt. Today, the church has been replaced but the core of the damaged steeple preserved in the new design.
Sabine and I continue along Kurfürstendamm, Berlin’s version of Fifth Avenue, where all the big name stores have elaborate Christmas window displays.
Leaving the shopping area, still talking away, we walk through dark streets to the Bundesrat, the German legislature with it’s famous glass dome tourist attraction. Due to the building’s heavy security, there’s no way to enter without advance booking, so we proceed to nearby Brandenburger Tor, the famous city gate that for decades sat inaccessibly on the boundary between East and West Berlin. It re-opened to foot traffic when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 and is a stop for virtually every tour and tourist in Berlin. As we walk through at about 8 PM it’s relatively uncrowded — that is, not thronged — and we can appreciate the Christmas lighting and a large menorah.
Since Sabine grew up in East Germany (which dissolved 33 years ago), I remark that some older, former East Germans that I talk to sort of dismiss life in East Germany as a bygone not worth discussing. She points out this may be because such people played roles that do not go over well today. For example, they may have been Communist party members with foreign travel or other privileges, or cooperated with the Stasi police to report on activities of their neighbors or even family (if you’ve never seen the movie “The Lives of Others, I highly recommend it). Nebbish that I am, this idea never occurred to me but it is thought provoking. Certainly, in a comparable system, after Germany lost World War II, “nobody” admitted to being a Nazi.
Continuing east along Unter den Linden, a famous [East] Berlin street that has been completely transformed by new construction since reunification, we end up at the Einstein restaurant for a late dinner of Austrian (i,e, to my crude palate, very similar to German) food. Traditional cuisine is surprisingly hard to find as Germany has become home to myriad ethnic restaurants operated by waves of immigrants. You’re far more likely to find Middle Eastern, Italian, Chinese, Thai, Indian, Vietnamese, and of course fast food.
After dinner, we say our goodbyes and I haul my aching body home on the subway to a long, recuperative sleep.