Alexanderplatz, Thimble Hunting, and the Berlin HauptBahnof

This is post #12 of our Dublin-Berlin trip in September 2018.

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Lollygagging around in bed Taking a slower start  this morning, I heard this squeaky noise.  Dave had already gone and I was reading all the horrifying news about the Kavenaugh hearings from the US, when the room darkened.

Somehow, somewhere, someone had flipped a switch and all the blinds on the front of the Movenpick Hotel were going down.  The video shows the lower arm arching down into place, the whole assembly having been lowered.

Several days later, I discovered that the switches on the side of the bed make the blinds go up and down (video of blind going up).  It’s discoveries like these that make travel so satisfying, so educational.

That was the signal to get going.  I dressed, gathered my things (backpack, water bottle, Wifi hotspot, guidebook, etc.) but Yusuf, the concierge, directed me to a different train station today.  As I walked through the lobby, I would say hello every morning, and he’d ask where I was off to today.  When I said Alexanderplatz, he told me to walk out the hotel door, turn right, walk to the end of the street, turn right again at the canal to take the U2, which was a direct train to where I wanted to go.

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We had many conversations, Yusuf and I, primarily about things in Berlin.  Then I found out he’d spent a week in California two weeks prior, so I asked him about that.  He mentioned that his family was Turkish, his last name Erdogan, which didn’t mean much to me (as I live in multi-cultural California) until the last few days of our trip, when, on the day when Erdogan, the President of Turkey, came to visit Berlin, Yusuf stayed home.  Maybe it was related, and maybe it wasn’t, but there were massive demonstrations planned and perhaps it was a good time to lay low.

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I never tired of watching the trains arrive (video here).

All the things you can’t bring on the trains, but you can bring dogs (click on the picture on the right to see the man in the aqua underground carrying his dog).

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I was always amazed at the amount of commerce on station platforms, like this sandwich place, Le Crobag, in Alexanderplatz. (It took me a while to realize that the C-shaped thing was a croissant, not a shrimp.)  It turned out to be my second favorite sandwich place.  I also learned that if you didn’t get your sandwich by about 11:00 a.m., the lunch hordes descended and you were out of luck, with only liver or tuna as your choices (ick).

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Emerging from the underground train station, I saw the Alexa building, which I found out later was a shopping mall.  (next trip)

I’d read about Alexanderplatz in the guidebook, the fact that it was part of East Berlin when it was subdivided for all those years, but I was surprised by how much it still felt like East Berlin.  The buildings around it are blocky, cement, slablike, and the Berliner Fernsehturm (what everyone calls the “TV Tower”) was next door, on the other side of the Alexanderplatz Bahnhof (train station).  There has been some recent construction on one edge, and that’s where the Uniqlo store was, but the Grand Opening was tomorrow.  Looks like I’ll be coming back then.

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This mural, built on the communist-era Ministry of Education building, celebrates the accomplishments of the DDR’s education system.  Rick Steves’ guidebook tells the story that “on October 7, 1989, the DDR celebrated its 40th anniversary with a massive military parade that came along this street” and boasting that it would last another hundred years.  The Wall fell in November.

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But today Alexanderplatz was being transformed in a Bavarian village (video) in order to celebrate Oktoberfest, complete with food booths and booths selling wares and offering games of chance.

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The Galeria Kaufhof used to be the Kaufhof, with its austere DDR-like building.

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This is the World Time Clock.  Three different days I was here when it was 1 a.m. in Los Angeles (which I tried really hard not to think about); I thought the clock was broken.

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The well-known Alexanderplatz hot dog salesmen are equipped: grill on the front for the brats, burger and buns and a shield to protect the patrons, but also a shelf to set them on; an umbrella (rain or shine); and a trash (on the back).

Remembering the food section of the store in Geneva, where our last JMPR Science Meeting was, I headed into the Galeria Kaufhof to see if they had any food.  They did, and many interesting treats, too, such as the milk chocolate licorice, which I never tasted.

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I loaded up with groceries, a few chocolate bars, and headed back home for lunch.

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Signs: walls of Alexanderplatz station (top); subway train (below)  That’s going to be my new motto: to not let the concurrence drive my wannabe product.

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When I told Yusuf that morning that I couldn’t figure out which exit of our subway to come out of, he said to instead look for the elevator in the middle of the platform, which would bring me up to the field outside our hotel.  That was the closest.  He was a wealth of tips for travellers.

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The Galeria haul: salad, dressing, yogurt and dessert for Dave, rolls.

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What I ate instead: the amazing Crobag turkey sandwich.Berlin4_12cBerlin4_12d

Trying to move past just sweet pastries for Dave’s breakfast, I also picked up some seedless dark grapes, washed them and cut them into bunches, as taught to me by my mother.

At this point, I’m beginning to wonder if I’m a tourist or a foreign housewife.  I seem to have fallen in the cracks between the two: always on the hunt for a good thimble for my stitching, worrying about the nutrition of my husband’s breakfast, shopping for a shirt at Uni-Qlo.  It’s like I’ve taken my life and transposed it to a foreign city.  What am I supposed to be doing?  Checking off all the guidebook boxes?  Probably.  Taking a longer view since I’ll be here almost two weeks?  Maybe, but probably that too.  But even these small things are interesting to me: riding on double-decker busses, watching carousels being towed into a communist-era plaza, trying to read the German labels on food in a grocery store.

Because of this dilemma, this blog may then read like a diary of Interesting Small Things, rather than a trip full of Famous Big Things.  You have been warned.

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One reason why I don’t shut down the search for a thimble is because it takes me out of the tourist area into the real life of the city’s residents.  When I asked about thimbles, everyone tries to steer me to those hideous porcelain things in the souvenir shops.  But I want a real, working thimble.  So I looked up Karstadt, figure out the bus and the bus stop and went off again.

I remember on another trip in Munich, heading out to a quilt shop (another device to get me out of the tourist center), finding the most interesting neighborhoods, walking in places where my English was noticed (nicely), where I saw different things.  And so I headed to Karstadt, referred there by the people at Frau Tulip.

Little to no English out here, with the exception of that Patchworkland sign there in the middle of quilt fabrics: these fabrics were on special, cheaper than what I could get at home, but my suitcase is too small to carry a lot home.  I pull out my phone, fire up Google Translate, and show them the word for thimble: Fingerhut.

Perfect name.

When I try to say the word, they don’t understand me, so I just show them my screen.  They take me to the spot where all the notions are gathered, but they only have the cheap-o icky ones that I can buy at home in my Dollar Tree.  I was hoping for some legitimate thimbles like the ones I purchased in Lisbon, when the little grey-haired lady pulled out a small wooden box from underneath her counter showing me the very best kind.  I only purchased two there in that little shop; I wish I’d bought ten.

I picked up a few other things, went downstairs to look for an olive oil stopper (strike-out) in their kitchenware, then got in line.  It wasn’t one line that fed into two cashiers, it was a line for each.  And even though the man in front of me had waited longer than the customers that kept coming up to the quicker cashier line on our right, and even though occasionally there were no customers in front of her that needed attention, that cashier wouldn’t take him next.  It was interesting to watch the Rules in action again.

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Back on the bus, and since it was the beginning of the line, I had the whole upper deck to myself for a few stops (video), until a man and his young daughter got on and sat in the seat to my right, the world at our feet as we looked out the massive front window.Berlin4_13bBerlin4_13cBerlin4_13d

By following the blinking blue ball,  I kept track of where I was: bless that wifi hotspot.

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Guess they feel strongly about hunting.

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It was on this street that I took the video of the woman in a flowing white dress, just ahead of the bus.  I think it’s worth watching.

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I got off at the Checkpoint Charlie stop, stopped for an slushy drink, then walked up Friedrichstraße to this nutcracker shop, checking it out for my husband Dave, who collects them.

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I made a small purchase or two, then walked back down to the bus stop, waiting in front of a lovely building:

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Yes, according to my map, it was just outside the Wall, so it was a Berlin building in the former western section.

Home, visited the Chocolate Hour and picked up a few goodies for Dave, then wrote in my journal until he arrived back at our room.  Not knowing where to go for dinner, and too tired to look it up, I suggested we head to the Haupbahnhof — the main train station.  Don’t they usually have food things there?Berlin4_17

Like Hansel’s and Gretel’s bread crumbs, I took a picture of our exit, hoping we could get back to it.  If you’ve ever traveled abroad, in a city with good transit, you know that exits can drop you as much as four blocks apart, depending on which one you take from below. (That’s why Yusuf’s tip was so valuable to me.)

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We arrived, but now where?

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We walked all around the lower floor, then the upper floor, looking for someplace to eat. We pulled up Yelp, Google, walked across the street, but ended up back here:

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We decided to go with what was in our own neighborhood.

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By the end of our trip, I could have figured out several places for us to eat, and how to get there, but we were early in the process, this being Tuesday (after arriving Saturday night).  We are still young tourists, both in experience in Berlin, and at heart.