In every city we’ve visited, on nearly every street corner ticket sellers for the Hop On, Hop Off buses call out their product and force pamphlets in our faces. We’ve learned to say “no, thank you” in Dutch, Flemish, German, Czech, Hungarian and Polish. Today we followed Rick Steves advice and bought Hop On, Hop Off tickets but not without some trouble.
We took the tram to Alexanderplatz, one of the busiest squares in the city. There were no ticket sellers to be found. Finally, we located a Mexican fellow with the usual red coat and bundle of brochures tucked under his arm. From the corner of my eye, I saw another seller approach us from the left. The second seller jumped in with his cockney sales spiel, adding that the LGBT parade will close down buses this afternoon, just so we know. Then he remarked to his colleague, “For some reason these people (referring to us) don’t want to talk to me. I don’t know why.” He threw his hands in the air and walked away.
We bought tickets for the B line through the first fellow and waited almost 30 minutes for the bus to arrive. The driver seemed to be in training and failed the first attempt at parking the double-decker bus. Reverse, forward, reverse, forward and finally the bus was close enough to the curb for the horde of tourists to board. Apparently, the lurching is included free of charge.
We had been on the bus for 20 minutes when the driver pulled up to the East Side Hotel, famous for catering to the gay community, and the guide ordered everyone off so the staff could have a half hour break. He indicated that the hotel had toilette facilities, which I was a little hesitant about using due to the seedy neighbourhood, but Gord reassured me that the women’s bathroom would be fine. And it was.
Break was over and we were back on the bus.
This particular company promises live commentary rather than canned and that’s why we chose it. They didn’t mention that 90% of the commentary is in German. When one English speaking tourist asked for more English, the guide simple remarked, “I’m not a robot” and carried on in German. Throughout his commentary, he rolled his wrist in front of him and I soon saw why. He kept a large beetle sprinting like an Olympian over the back of his hand, then the front, then up his arm and back down again as he repeatedly narrated, in English, the story of the meat-eating Berliner who lived on the eastside capturing, raping, killing and eating young women — 9 to be exact. Needless to say, we hopped off asap! An annoying waste of 20 euros.
Whenever I need comfort on the Continent I head for Starbucks. We hopped off at Berlin’s Hauptbahnhof — its most impressive train station with 5 floors of trains at nearly every level and a Starbucks. I stepped up to order my Soy Chai Latte and met the eyes of a man, 6′ tall, who looked as if he had just made bail. I know it sounds girlish and I don’t know why it happened but I started to laugh — that giddy kind of laugh teenage girls are famous for. I couldn’t stop and this guy never broke a smile.
I took my drink and we headed for MacDonald’s so Gord could find something familiar to eat. As I waited for him to order, I sat down and looked at my cup, aware that I was committing a restaurant faux pas by bringing a foreign cup into another eating establishment. I looked down to find a rainbow sticker in celebration of the LGBT parade in Berlin today. I thought about peeling it off but left it because it perfectly covered the Starbucks logo and disguised my disloyalty.
As I reflected on my agitation with the people we encountered today, I remembered Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Workers Union, and her wisdom, “I only love God as much as I love the person I love the least.” We left the train station and I turned to Gord, “I guess I don’t love God very much today.” He laughed.
The photos are sites around Berlin, an edgy, young, energetic city. You’ll recognize the Freedom Wall, postmodern art and get a sense of the sexually expressive culture here — a challenge for my modest sensibilities.