Saturday, May 22, 2010

August 9, 2008

At 6am we got a text message from my wife’s cousin. She had successfully met up with her friends and was going to crash with them. All was well. We slept in until about 8:30am, and got up to prepare for our last day in Germany. It was good to know that she was okay.

The hotel breakfast was good and very comprehensive. By this point we had gotten accustomed to the giant continental breakfasts. My wife and I checked out, leaving our bags with the attendant.

Our primary objectives for the day were The Ramones museum and the Berlin Wall. In two short free subway trips we made our way to the Ramones musem. We found it easily, though unfortunately it was closed. There was a hair salon next door. The door was open and the stylist woman saw us poking around dejectedly. She said, “Sorry, they closed back in January.” We were crushed. Fortunately we had seen quite a few cool record stores on the way there, so we just went back to them.

It wasn’t difficult getting to the Berlin Wall. It was a cool thing to see. Since the wall has come down, they’ve erected a facsimile of Checkpoint Charlie. There were two actors, playing the parts of American and Soviet, soldiers standing in front of it. The checkpoint was in the middle of the street like it would have been during the Cold War. Even though it wasn’t the real checkpoint, it was an intense thing to see. We walked down an adjoining street to see a section of the wall that had been put back up for tourists. We walked around and saw all that there was to see.

At one point my wife had to pee. We found another museum nearby that had free public restrooms. She went in while I stood out front and took more pictures of statues and other things that looked historically relevant. A young Middle Eastern-looking man came up to me and asked me something in German. I laughed and said, “Sorry man, I only speak English.” He laughed and said, “You’re an American?” I confirmed with a smile and a nod. He said, “I’m from Iraq.” The United States had been forcibly occupying Iraq since March 20, 2003. I winced and exclaimed, “Jesus! Sorry about that! How do you feel about...” I paused to think of a polite word for “rape,” and he mercifully finished my thought for me by replying, “…the situation?” I was grateful. I said, “Yes.” To my surprise, he said, “It’s good. Much better. Things were very bad up until 2006, but since then things have improved. There are many fewer explosions and bombings. Things are much more stable. I’ve been going to medical school here in Berlin for a good portion of the occupation, but I’ve stayed in touch with my family and visited a few times. Things are definitely improving.” I said that I was glad to hear it. It was one of those rare occasions upon which I have no words. I really didn’t know what to say, and I’m sure he could sense that. I wanted badly to apologize. It was the only time on the trip that I had honestly wanted to apologize for being an American. I wanted to clarify that I hadn’t voted for George W. Bush either time. I was glad that the war in Iraq seemed to sit well with him, but I wanted to make clear that I understood that we Americans had no right or even a good reason to invade and occupy his country. I was sorry that it had happened that way, but I had nothing to do with it. It seemed like it could be the beginning of a long, heavy conversation, and I don’t think that either one of us wanted that. He was incredibly friendly and good-natured. My wife emerged from the museum, so I shook his hand and said that it had been a pleasure to meet him, but I had to be going. We wished each other well, and went our separate ways. I felt terrible and great all at once. I hadn’t had any plans of experiencing anything that heavy when I’d gotten up that morning.

After a pleasant lunch, we headed back towards the main Berlin train station.

My wife’s cousin hijacked our plans to make a swift, safe return however. She talked us into a brief stop at a Vietnamese café to have some cocktails with some friends of hers. She had talked about wanting to see them, which she could have easily done on her own time. It’s not that we didn’t want to meet them. We just had other priorities. We conceded to meet them, and they were great. They were a married couple. She was very pregnant and German. He was a tall lanky Italian from a small town just outside of Venice. We made small talk, and my wife and I began to get nervous about making the train back to Düsseldorf. They re-assured us that they’d give us a ride, which they did. We all piled into their BMW 3 series convertible and took off like a rocket across Berlin. It was late afternoon, and everything was beautiful. We made it to the train station, raced for our platform, and boarded our train with two minutes to spare before it pulled away. My wife, her cousin and I spent the first two hours of the return trip in the dining car, drinking beers. We spend the second half of the ride in first class. My wife slept, and I read. Expecting that I would finish Crime and Punishment before the trip ended, I had also packed a book of Leonard Cohen’s lyrics and poetry. I read that with my headphones on, occasionally looking up to watch the sun descend over the German countryside. It was beautiful. We weren’t home yet, but the adventure was over.That evening back at my wife’s cousin’s apartment, we packed up all of our things. We went to sleep early so that we’d be ready for our early morning trip back to the airport. My wife had the foresight to leave room in her luggage for the things that she knew we’d buy. Her one oversight was that she failed to account for the weight of the things that we’d buy. Our souvenirs primarily consisted of beer. Beer is heavy.

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