Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Last Nice Day

Around about noon today, the phone rang and it was the guy at the repair shop telling me my iBook was ready, so after I'd done some stuff around the house I headed for the U-Bahn and went down there. It was about 2 when I got out, and, checking my change, I saw I didn't have enough to take the U-Bahn back. This is one of the more annoying innovations of recent years: it used to be that your (slightly more expensive) ticket bought you two hours of riding the public transportation system. Now, it only goes for two hours in one direction, although if you keep going and make creative use of the Ringbahn, you can likely make it home from the opposite direction from which you left.

Still, although I also had a €20 bill in my pocket, I figured that, with the weather in the mid-60s, no clouds in sight, and the sun warming you further when you stood in it, it might be a good day for a slow walk home. Not that I had nothing else to do, but it's almost inevitable that within a week or so our usual winter weather's going to start closing in, not to lift until at least May. Gather ye rosebuds and all that good stuff.

The repair place is in a rather nondescript section of Kreuzberg below Oranienstr., so I headed up towards it and then headed north on Heinrich-Heine-Str. This was to be what the Germans call a Bummel, a stroll without any particular urgency, and one of my Bummel-rules is always to investigate placards and historical markers. That's how I found the marker for what had been the Heinrich-Heine-Str. Checkpoint, a German-German checkpoint in the Wall. Several people had been shot trying to escape, and a truckdriver had rammed himself into the West, only to die as soon as he got there from his injuries. There's a photo of his wrecked truck on the glass placard.

The last time I'd walked back from the place (and then I really didn't have €2.10 for the ticket) I'd headed down Köpenicker Str., but this time I just kept heading straight ahead as the street turned into Brückestr. Sure enough, as I'd thought, it ended at a bridge right by the Chinese Embassy. I decided to walk west along the water instead, because this was the neighborhood I'd worked in when I'd helped put on the music conference here in 1993, after I'd moved -- the event had been held at the Haus am Köllnischen Park, a ratty little convention center.

Pretty soon the bulk of the Märkisches Museum rose in front of me, and I decided to take a look at it again, my first in about 13 years. They'd added some slices of the Wall to the mix of miscellaneous bits of stone on the grounds, as well as an audio stand where you could hear important excerpts from radio programs about the Wall, as well as speeches in the Bundestag and the like. Another thing I hadn't noticed back then was a statue of Heinrich Zille, the famous Berlin caricaturist, cartoonist, and photographer, standing with cigar stub firmly clenched in his jaws, drawing something, while a kid looked over his shoulder. The Märkisches Museum I remember as a dark, disorganized place filled with badly sourced and badly selected exhibits. I remember one, about iron works in early Berlin, showing some iron tools and hinges and the like with a caption that said something like "The products of the early Berlin iron works probably looked like these," and going on to say they were from a whole other part of the country. Didn't make me want to go back.

Anyway, as long as I was there, I figured I'd go pay my respects to the official Berlin bears. I used to be able to look out the window of the Haus and see Tilo and Maxi pacing around, but today there was only one bear, not distinguished by name. A drunk came by, making odd noises and yelling things I couldn't understand, and the bear looked at him with disdain. "But it's true!" the guy said, before lurching off in the direction of the museum. By now, I was beginning to regret not taking my camera, but I had no idea I was going to end up at the bear pit, or, indeed, taking this walk.

At any rate, I turned the corner and there was the seafood restaurant I'd noticed when I'd first come here. The fish they offered back then was all fresh-water fish, not much to my liking, and today I didn't investigate the menu so much as a freshly-cleaned bronze plaque which proclaimed the house which contained the restaurant to have been the headquarters of some Prussian maritime union which held the fort against the forces of counterrevolution after the First World War and always took the side of the proletariat. No points for guessing the vintage of that plaque.

I crossed a bridge and found myself on Fischerinsel, the smaller of the two islands on which the city was founded. Here there's the Historic Harbor of Berlin, an institution I've never figured out, but which seems to be a collection of old boats, some of which are available for rent, some of which are just sitting there. There's apparently a museum on one of them, but I've never seen any sign that it's ever open (although the website indicates otherwise). At any rate, it was nice to see the old boats sitting in the algae-choked water.

Fischerinsel leads to Museumsinsel, the larger of the two founding islands, and one which, while very central, still holds some secrets. Approaching it from the south, as I did, by the Gertraudenbrücke with its mysterious statue of St. Gertrude, the gooseherd, and the mice (again, I have to photograph this bizarre statue), if you walk along the east side of the river (as you have to, thanks to construction these days), you find remnants of an 18th Century neighborhood that's worth roaming around if you have the time. There's another obscure museum in here, in a former wealthy doctor's house, but I'm not sure what's in it. These houses have yet to be fully restored, but once they are, I bet they'll go for a ton of money. You'll also come to Berlin's oldest intact bridge, the Jungfernbrücke, with its four wheels attached (once upon a time) to the chains which can raise and lower it for boat traffic. Nearby, there's a small metal placard with a photo on it taken around the turn of the century, showing the neighborhood as it was, complete with vanished streets and a lock in the Spree River where the Schleussbrücke, Berlin's oldest bridge, but bombed and rebuilt dozens of times since the 1650s, stands. The photo reminded me that this was one of the neighborhoods the great Willy Römer had documented.

I walked the Spree all the way to Tucholskystr., and noticed a lot of fishermen, which brought up two questions: what were they fishing for, and, you're not going to eat it, are you? One guy hauled in a three-incher as I walked past, and a woman gave him a horrified expression. I didn't stop to see if he threw it back. And as I got to Tucholskystr. I saw that the ship which has been anchored there, the MS Marie, was from the Historic Harbor. They play bad Shakespeare there and give salsa-dancing lessons, although my guess is it's going to shut down pretty soon.

After all, the nice days are just about over.


BiB said...

God/the weathermen/the forces of evil forgot to make today (well, yesterday now) horrible, so I took advantage of it for a good, hefty walk, though only through utterly familiar neighbourhoods where I never see anything new or surprising. I need to take a leaf out of your book. Thanks for some good tips.

Ed Ward said...

I ought to do my famous walking tour for the Berlin bloggerati. I figure most people know the stuff on it, but then, maybe not. But I bet the weather will be awful by the time I get back from New York.