I boarded the plane for Berlin with my mind in chaos. There are times in life when alarm bells are going off, and if you don’t change something about your life, then life is about to change it for you. This mental turbulence had knocked me around in a work-induced haze, with the big picture drowned by less significant needs, a continuing struggle with injury, and disappointment in people I trusted.
I hoped Berlin would be the break that my mind needed to sort things out, to see the path clearly, and to make a difficult decision.
Berlin at a glance
After landing, a few of us embarked on a multi-hour walk around the city, to defeat jet lag and to check out Berlin. We walked along the Spree river, and then went to the top of the TV Tower (famously boasted as built by East German communists but secretly completed by Swedes), where we could see all of Berlin. It’s filled with green spaces, and plenty of remnants from Eastern bloc architecture. This walk was one of many long walks to come.
My main reason for being in Berlin was a work conference. One of the problems with any conference is that you can often never leave the venue, and the schedule of meetings I had kept me within a few blocks for three straight days and nights. Thursday evening after we’d wrapped up, many of us ventured farther into East Berlin. While modern East Berlin seems to have a reputation for ultra-cool, it feels a lot like parts of San Francisco, but filled with only straight white hipsters. Yes, it’s that bad at times. There are parts of East Berlin we should trade with Putin for Crimea.
A day in Vienna
I had a customer to visit in Vienna on Friday, so I hopped up for the day and had a chance to experience a taste of the city. The central district is incredible. The opera house, government buildings, etc. are all beautiful and well-preserved. While it was less than twelve hours, and all of the time was either meetings or transportation, Vienna is now on my list to return, and I can say that I have seen the Danube with my own eyes.
The happiness of two wheels
The four weeks preceding this trip were not the best – mostly long nights and weekends of work, not getting on my bike enough, and generally filled with frustration. I knew I had to break the cycle, and what better than an actual cycle with two wheels to do it. So the Saturday after my work conference, I made my way to the bike shop, to find that my bike was not at this location, but a different one. Another 20 minute walk later, and I had my bike. A short bike ride to a train station, then a confusing episode trying to pay for a train ticket (though apparently train tickets are never collected according to what I noticed – perhaps they have the ‘maximum penalty’ approach where if you get caught riding without a ticket, they just cut off your hand and nail it to the ceiling of the train), a train ride to Grunewald, and finally just before Noon the ride had begun.
It started along an incredible green path for cyclists only, and the entire ride was beautiful. There are bike paths up on the sidewalk in so many places, though I chose to mostly stick on the road and have cars honk at me for not obeying the rules.
I stopped for lunch at Fährhaus Caputh, right on the edge of the lake. I had my fourth schnitzel-centered meal for the week, and polished it off in the rapid fashion that only an American cyclist with no table manners can accomplish. Another 30 minutes later, I looked at the ferry crossing in front of me and smiled, thinking of my ride in Amsterdam where I had missed the fact that I needed to take a ferry as well. I managed to communicate in broken German and English to understand that the ferry was coming in 15 minutes. Overall, 93k around Berlin was definitely part of what my mind and body needed.
I woke early on Sunday to get in a swim. Despite the nearest 50m pool being closed when I arrived, my spirits would not be dampened. I hit the gym at the hotel, contorted myself into a few yoga positions, and even hopped in the small, 5 meter pool, and managed a few “laps”, soaking all the casual bathers swimming with their head above water. Das tut mir leid.
I walked about an hour through the 35 C (90ish) heat, unusual for Berlin. Almost no clouds in the sky. I joined on a four-hour walking tour, bringing my total for the day to 7 hours of walking. The tiredness in my legs felt great. I wish I could run, but that’s not possible yet.
I’m not as enthralled as most people by the Eastern part of the city, but Berlin is an amazing historical record despite all attempts to bomb, burn, and bulldoze history out of the way. The Russian Embassy, the Neue Wache (Memorial to the Victims of War and Tyranny), the parade grounds where Nazi rallies were held: the list of the places where the 20th century was shaped goes on and on.
One of my favorite, nearly invisible monuments is a simple plaque, with a quote by Heinrich Heine, on the site where Nazi students burned 20,000 books. “Where they burn books, so too will they in the end burn human beings.”
No answers yet, just more questions
The storm in the back of my mind has calmed, but despite a temporary lull, it is still brewing. Few people ever get the chance to really ask the question, “What do you want?” and then be able to change their life to get it so easily. I return home to Alaska in a couple of weeks for my 25th high school reunion. I’m going back to the place that formed me in both good and bad dimensions – and will hope to find more time for clarity there.