Saturday, October 02, 2004

Photo--Part of the Berlin Wall, Berlin

Photo--Nina and Elizabeth with the Brandenburger Tor in background, Berlin

Berlin, Germany—Day 245

Perhaps I spoke too soon about not appreciating the morning hang over. Today we woke at the very satisfying hour of noon (perhaps a record on my part—maybe the hangover helped a little) and spent the entire day touring Berlin. We met at Nina’s apartment and after her amazing lunch that she prepared us (rivaling yesterday’s lunch at the Italian place) we headed out on a grand walking tour of Berlin.

We started in Friedrichstrasse, walked along the river “Spree” and headed to the Reichstag, where the government resides. Near there is the Brandenburger tor (the gate to the city which was completely closed for decades—representing the division between the East and the West parts of Berlin—now a symbol for the reunification of Germany) which we passed on the way to the Potsdamer Platz, an area that was left basically deserted before the Wall came down and is now a pretty glitzy, up-and-coming area. The great thing about this weekend is that it is the 15th anniversary of the reunification of Germany (October 3rd is the actual day) so all weekend Germans are celebrating, which meant that there were bands playing near the tor and lots of wonderful stalls selling crepes and other goodies.

We then walked back to look at the new Holocaust monument that is being constructed near the Brandenburger tor and then headed to Fridrichstrasse to get take a café break after almost four hours of straight walking!

After resting our feet, we were off again and headed to Bebelplatz (the famous square where Nazi students burned almost 20,000 books in 1933), saw the old Staatsbibiliothek and walked over to Museuminsel (Museum Island) and saw the Berliner Dom which had quite, er, interesting scenery (we saw a man with no pants—is that common here Nina?!?)

We then walked through Hackesher Markt and went all the way to Prenzelaerberg to meet up with Katharina for dinner at her apartment, which was excellent, and then headed to see her friend play in a band at this tiny crazy little club which was great. Nothing like 20 somethings with Euro-chic comb-overs smoking and playing the guitar, that is for sure. We then said goodbye to Katharina for the night and met up again with Nina to dance the night away.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Berlin, Germany—Day 244

Today we woke up and headed upstairs to the breakfast area of the hotel (a novelty—usually you find the reception and restaurant on the bottom floor but in this case we had to head upstairs). We had breakfast (really should be considered “brunch” based on the hour that we usually get up to eat) and amused ourselves by commenting on the blatantly hung over group that followed us into breakfast.

We then got our things and checked out of the hotel and dragged our stuff to the U-Bahn to head over to our apartment. When I say dragged, I really do mean it. My stuff has, by some force beyond nature, seemed to become heavier and heavier as this trip goes on. While one might assume that it is because I have been adding more things to my suitcase (which I won’t necessarily deny, but at this point there is no more room for anything else), I am having a hard time walking long distances without switching my luggage from one hand to the next—a move that Elizabeth finds most amusing. Every several hundred feet or so I have to do a quick stop, arm shake and resume pulling my load with the other hand.

Then there are stairs! Dragging my luggage up and down stairs is definitely a workout. I go between feeling really tough at the bottom of the stairs, confident that carrying everything up 50 stairs is a piece of cake to feeling like I am the biggest weakling on earth when I get to the top.

Anyways, we made it to the apartment, dropped off our stuff, and headed back towards the zoo (and the hotel we just left). We stopped at an AMAZING Italian café on the way and had just about the best raviolis you could ever imagine outside of Italy. The guy who owned the shop was quite enthusiastic to talk to us and we asked him if he had any sons we could marry so that they could cook for us, but he didn’t really get our joke. 

We knew from the Berlin zoo’s website that the hippos are fed at 2:15 and when we showed up, we found that to be just the case.

We found Bulette, Kathi, Nino, Ede and Nicole in the indoor enclosure, awaiting being fed. The baby Nino was standing up a concrete platform along side Bulette (who is quite an old lady for a hippos, born in 1952) who was lying on the platform making quite the photo. I was happy and clicked away while Elizabeth commented on how cute the baby was. She was pretty excited to see a baby hippo.

Soon the feeding time began but started off with a big jet of water coming on above our heads, spraying into the hippos. Almost like someone was putting out a fire, but spraying the hippos with the water. The stream moved back and forth and was washing all of the hippo dung off of the platform. The hippos clearly enjoyed the water and would open their mouths to drink it up. It was quite the site, especially when Nino opened up his little mouth.

Needless to say, there was much oohhing and ahhing from the spectators. After the water was turned off, the keeper above us (we could not see them) began chucking loaves of bread into the water which of course the hippos swam after. Ede, the huge male, sat there with his mouth open and eagerly awaited being tossed the food, which would often land either in his mouth or land on his nose which was very funny. I snapped away and had to push several people out of my way.

I haven’t quite learned what “sorry, its my job” is in German, but the whole smiling and then pushing with my elbows effect seems to work universally.

Once the feeding was done the crowds dispersed and after a while, Elizabeth and I left too. WE checked around back to see if the hippos made it outside (they all headed to the back of the enclosure sort of out of sight which made us think there was an outdoor area that they went to) but we were unable to find them outside.

We then headed out of the zoo and headed to the Hackescher Markt area of Berlin where we did some shopping and sat in a café, then walked over to Friedrichstrasse where we found an English language bookstore and I was able to get another guidebook as I lost mine a few days ago in Hamburg. We then met up with Elizabeth’s friend Nina who lives in the Shöenberg area of Berlin, along with my friend Katharina (who also lives in Berlin whom I met in Toledo, Ohio this summer) and along with Nina’s friends Charlotta and Fabi, we headed out to a party, only finding out when we got there that none of us really knew whose party is was, and the whole time we were there we never figured out who really lived there.

The party was fun of course and we had quite a discussion about locusts…

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Hamburg, Germany—Berlin, Germany—Day 243

Today we took the train to Berlin, arriving in Elizabeth’s “favorite European city” with just enough time to scope out the hotel (located right in Kufürsendamm near the zoo) and to drop off our stuff. We parted ways—Elizabeth went off to meet with her former project leader from when she lived here in 2002 for lunch and I to the “Checkpoint Charlie” museum, which is a fascinating (albeit somewhat disorganized) museum regarding post-World War II Berlin up until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

The museum is just amazing—you could spend hours there reading all about how people attempted to flee the Eastern parts of the city for the West—from hiding people in suitcases to making homemade hot air balloons to fly across the border. Their experiences are truly unique and remarkable.

I met Elizabeth afterwards and we set off to find some great Indian food and to walk around the city a bit. Tomorrow we will relocate to the apartment of Elizabeth’s program director (who will be out of town starting tomorrow) and will spend our time staying at the apartment which we are both really looking forward to. Hitting up the zoo is also a big plan for tomorrow, but of course, that really just goes without saying.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Hamburg, Germany--Day 242

This morning in 5 sentences--

Woke up.
Ate breakfast.
Checked out of the hotel.
On train to Hamburg.
Arrived in Hamburg.

Elizabeth and I made it into Hamburg and checked into our hostel and grabbed a bite to eat at its adjacent cafe. We are staying in a great funky area of town and had a great funky veggie lunch to go with the whole vibe. Again, very Euro-chic. :)

While Elizabeth went to an eco.meeting of some sort, I spent the afternoon walking around Hamburg taking in the sites--the Rathaus (city hall--I find it amusing to be called Rat-haus) and wandered along the shopping streets and visited the beautiful St. Nikolaus Church memorial to the War (another church left bombed out) and then sat in St. Michael´s church resting my feet after I had ridden to the top and enjoying the view with several loud Italian men. It was not the men that made it enjoyable, but the amazing view and the fact that the sun was finally breaking through the clouds. Finally I was going to get the sun in Germany that we have been hoping for!

I walked to the St. Pauli U-Bahn stop and went back to the hostel where I met up with Elizabeth. We then walked a bit, had an amazing dinner at this great Asian place (which served no less than 800 items on the menu--I am not kidding) and made it back to the hostel where we found our Brazilian friend getting ready for bed. Haven´t mentioned him yet, but our roommate for the night was this sort of older guy (mid thirties) who was visiting from Brazil. Did not talk to us much and spent much of his time cleaning up things in the spotless room, locking the door every time he went in and out of it. His habits bordered on the bizarre (as opposed to strange or quirky as one might call it) but he was harmless of course.

Tomorrow we are off to Berlin--Elizabeth´s favorite German city. I am excited to get there and to see the hippos...

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Hanover, Germany--Day 241

Today Elizabeth and I went back to the Hanover Zoo, already knowing of course where and who the hippos were. We found them much in the same state as yesterday--lounging in the water and Habari swimming back and forth. Over and over again. We actually timed it.

One lap= 20 seconds

That meant that she swam approximately 3 laps in one minute, which makes 180 laps per hour and given a say, ten hour swim time in the outside pool (before they are brought in at night) that is 1,800 laps per day. That is a lot of laps! We were getting dizzy just watching her go back and forth. I will give her credit though, she is one dedicated hippo.

We photographed the hippos while we waiting for the noon feeding time, which came and went much like yesterday. We were sure that the keeper would come out again for questions like she did before but no luck. She never showed up which was fine (lucky that we got the hippos names yesterday) and were also able to get a whole series of photos after the crowds dispersed of several of the hippos getting out of the water, walking around, stopping near some ducks (providing the perfect picture of course) and getting back into the water again. Three of the hippos did this much to mine and Elizabeth´s delight.

I think she is quickly becoming a hippo convert.

After getting the photos, we headed out of the zoo stopping again by the guinea pigs on the way out. Did I mention these before? The Hanover Zoo has this amazing set up for guinea pigs--almost like a circus the display where they have a mini-village and roam around it. Impressive. The rest of the day was spent walking around Hanover, our favorite activities together include lots of eating and drinking lattes. Very Euro-chic if you ask me. Is that even a phrase? We then met up with Björn, a sister of Elizabeth´s friend Nina from Berlin. He lives in Hanover and showed us a great night out on the town. We are off to Hamburg tomorrow on a quick stopover to Berlin, where there are of course hippos to be found at the Berlin Zoo.

I have to admit in this update that I have become sort of, well, a little deprived when I do not go to the zoo everyday. A day in Hamburg NOT seeing hippos! Would my day be complete?

Monday, September 27, 2004

Hanover, Germany--Day 240

After spending one night in a hotel room supremely far away from just about everything, we checked out and got a taxi to our new hotel which was centrally located and on the same U-Bahn line as the zoo. We dropped off our stuff and headed out to catch the U-Bahn. Figuring out and paying for our tickets was quite a feat, especially when the green machines would not accept our money, but soon we had our tickets and were waiting for the train to come.

The Hanover subway system is impressive. Very modern, clean, digital advertisements and train times displayed on large screens. It was very nice, something a little bit more organized than we had seen in Koln and Frankfurt--or I guess easier for us to manage. Well, at least we thought so. Turned out that Hanover decided to mark like half of their lines in the color yellow, the others in red and blue, making it very difficult to determine one line from the next, and one station from the next. What happened to color coding each and every line?

Luckily our line ended at the Zoo, so we just had to make sure that we caught the one that took us there. We got to the zoo and headed in, getting our maps and zoo book to keep us on track. We found the hippos alright--six of them. Four that were separated from the other two, with the four being in an outside enclosure and the two being in an inside viewing area with a glass wall that you could look under and through the water to see the hippos.

To my luck, there was a hippo feeding scheduled for noon and it was about 11 o'clock at this point, so we just had to wait for the keeper to come. I took a few pictures but really wanted to get their names straight and of course see the feeding time.

Noon finally rolled around and out came an older looking blonde woman dressed in khaki and armed with a portable headset and a bucket of goodies for the hippos. She came up to the platform that overlooked the hippos but was directly across from the zoo visitors. It was perfect. Elizabeth jotted down notes from her talk--including their names--while I snapped photos. When she was done she told everyone that she would come around the back to talk to any of us that would have further questions.


The hippos were of course pleased to be fed--we saw just the four being fed since the other two were on the inside. Three of the hippos got up from their lazing around, one of which was clearly the most enthusiastic about being fed and pretty much stayed with its mouth open the entire time waiting to be thrown lettuce. The other two occasionally sought lettuce that was thrown in while the fourth seemed to take no notice for much of the feeding.

That was because she was swimming laps the whole time! Back and forth, back and forth. She would come up to the wall, flip over, kick against it and push off again to the other side, where she would repeat her moves. It was quite funny to watch and she truly seemed to be enjoying it. When we asked the keeper about it, she said that at first they were really worried about her--they thought something must be wrong since she was doing it over and over and over again, all day long, but then they just figured that she liked it since she does not do it when she is in the inside pool.

We talked to the keeper--well, Elizabeth did while I took more pictures and we learned that all six hippos are females because they don't want to breed them and have more baby hippos right now. On top of that, one of the hippos Zora has had TWENTY-TWO children, which is quite a feat!

We talked to the keeper a bit as she showed us each hippo and she left us. I continued to take more pictures until the hippos settled down after all of their eating and eventually Elizabeth and I decided to make another trip tomorrow to get more pictures now that we are able to tell each hippo from one another.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Koln, Germany--Hanover, Germany--Day 239

After spending a few days in Koln, Elizabeth and I headed up to Hanover late last night. Our train left around 7:45 p.m. and we realized as we found our train would take almost three hours to get there. On top of that, the hotel was located just outside Hanover, or so I thought. Turned out that the town the hotel was booked in was over an hour a way and that there was not another train this evening.


So we changed our plans, re-booked the hotels and set off towards Hanover. The train ride was long and we decided to get dinner in the dining car which was interesting--trying to stand up and eat while the train is rocking back and forth. Plus trying to keep your food from sliding off your plate onto the floor, and your plate from falling off of the table onto the floor! We made it in around ten thirty at night and got a taxi to the new hotel (where we have booked for just one night due to availability) and called it a night, planning to go to the zoo in the morning.