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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Berlin: Day 2

We got a late start considering our late night the evening before, and by the time we got out of bed, showered and out of the hotel it was close to 11:00am. The plan for the day was to see Berlin historical/tourist sites that we both hadn't seen before. Therefore, the two things on the list were the man-made waterfalls in Kreuzberg in Victoria Park, or the Oberbaumbruecke which is located near the Warschauerstrasse S-Bahn stop heading east from Alexanderplatz.

Because it was such a damp and windy winter day out, and also because our sneakers were still soaked from the adventurous romp through puddle-filled streets the night before, we opted for the bridge instead of the park.

The bridge is a really interesting piece of Berlin architecture that is something which is very unlike the majority of architecture in the rest of Berlin (that I have seen thus far, anyway). I am not very sure about the history, so I am providing this link to the wikipedia article HERE. Our trip to the bridge was uneventful, we took the S-Bahn and then took the U-Bahn to Schlesisches Tor because we had decided to walk over the bridge on our return trip to the S-Bahn stop (we made a small circuit because it was too cold to walk the entire way). It took possibly all of 30 minutes to see the bridge and walk over it, but the thing we stumbled upon after the bridge exploration was really the place we spent most of our afternoon.



The East Side Gallery is home to many famous works of art relating to the Berlin Wall, its fall and its reception around the world. The website can be found HERE with more information historically about its intended purpose, but I would like to post a few pictures to give you, Dear Reader, a sense of what it was like for me and the boyfriend. The immediate observation that struck me were that the size of the wall was immense beyond my imagining. After seeing that much of a complete section of the wall still standing, it gave me a more accurate sense of what divided Berlin must have been like. It struck fear into my heart just looking at the wall now that it is a non-issue; I can't imagine how powerful a symbol it was for those who lived with it day-to-day. It was also really moving to see what sort of pain a division like the wall caused on a global scale (as attested to by the art on the wall in the Gallery which was contributed by international artists). It just all goes to show that what this photo says is true (for good deeds and for bad deeds).



I also had to take this picture, even though this is an ironic juxtaposition of the more sobering images from the wall.



At any rate, after we walked around at the East Side Gallery for a few hours, we had worked up quite an appetite, and we were excited for dinner. We were meeting a fellow Opera singer friend of mine who had been in Berlin for auditions, and like us, longed for sushi (since she too lived in NYC for a while). Another friend of mine who lives in Berlin had recommended this place to me near Jannowitzbruecke called “Don Sushi” with the stipulation that “it wasn't the best d├ęcor, but the food was great”, so I instructed the NYC Opera singer friend to meet us there. We took the S-Bahn to Jannowitzbruecke and began our sushi quest. It was nearly ended prematurely too, when we found a place called “Don Sushi” on the west side of the street that was closed and undergoing renovations, but I had a hunch that my Berlin friend wouldn't have steered us wrong, plus, I know the somehow very asian pattern of owning two restaurants on the same street (or in the same area) with the same name (learned this in NYC with the restaurants Wondee Siam 1 & 2....need I say more?) and so we pressed on down the street in hopes of finding another “Don Sushi”. Lo and behold, it appeared across the street after about another block and a half. Jackpot!! So, we go inside, order a coke and a Mango Lassi (can't believe they had them, but they were delicious!) and look over the menu. Not only did my Berlin friend bring us to a great restaurant but also someplace where we wouldn't break the bank! It was our lucky day. So, we ordered the normal stuff: Eel, Salmon, Tuna, and Spicy Salmon and decide to wait for my NYC friend to show up. After about a half an hour she arrives, but looking frazzled. Turns out she couldn't find a cab and had trekked nearly halfway across the public transit map because of a construction project going on around the area where she had just rented a room (Hohenzollernplatz). Yikes! Well, at least we were able to console her with reasonable prices and great food.

Also luckily, during our dinner at the Sushi place Janet called to reschedule my voice lesson for the next morning to Wednesday morning at 10am, so that was great- it gave me a little more time the morning of the audition to prepare. I was convinced that the audition tomorrow morning would be great.

And, to ensure that it would be, I had made an appointment with the Theaterhaus Mitte to rent a practice room from 9-10pm that evening (for 5 Euros per hour- what a steal!) and we proceeded there after finishing our lovely dinner with my NYC friend. It wasn't quite that easy to find in the pitch dark (it is not as popular to put up a streetlight on every corner in Berlin I've noticed as it is in NYC) and once we did find it, it still took us a 5 minute walk through a complex of buildings to get to the brightly rainbow-colored building all the way behind the others. At any rate, the room was huge, had good acoustics and decent pianos, and it was all mine for the next hour! So, the practicing went well, I went over the few problem spots that I knew in my audition pieces for the next day, and then we called it a night and turned our feet towards the hotel and a comfy bed.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Berlin Not A Total Bust

I had an audition in Berlin on the 28th of September for the ZAV there and I will now dutifully report to you, Dear Readers, on what occurred during my time there, and the results of my audition.  (Possibly, not in that order.)

DAY 1:
I arrived in Berlin on Sunday around 12:15pm and did not have my audition scheduled until Tuesday at 1pm, therefore, I was able to fit some other touristy things into my trip, prior to my audition.  So after leaving Dortmund that morning at 8am and arriving in Berlin that Sunday afternoon with my boyfriend aboard the ICE, we decided to stash our luggage in the lockers at the 'Zoologischer Garten' S-Bahn stop, (an S-Bahn is a regional train system that interconnects with the subway station system in Berlin- much like the New Jersey Transit system connects with the Subway at New York Penn Station, for those Readers from New York, or at least familiar with its transit systems) and then we hastily made our way to the Berlin Zoo, which happens to be not only the first zoo built in Germany, but also the largest zoo in the world, with over 14,000 animals living there.  We had a pretty large chunk of time to kill before checking into our hotel (we weren't allowed to check in before 3pm that day) and before meeting my friend Tonia for dinner that night at 6pm, so we were able to spend a really long and nice afternoon at the Zoo. 

And luckily, we were prepared with our umbrellas and warmer clothing for Berlin, because it was remarkably damp and cold the entire time we were there, especially during our walk through the Zoo that first afternoon.  It's actually kind of funny looking back on the fact that we purposely hunted out the different habitats at the Zoo that were located in buildings (the Raubtiere- a.k.a. Tigers, Lions, etc...; the nocturnal animals, the birds....) simply because they were inside where it was warmer.  It was the kind of day where you just wanted to go back to bed; it was that cold and yucky out. 

At any rate, our zoo adventure was certainly interesting.  I saw a practically newborn Hippopotamus which was just ADORABLE.  I mean, Gap better consider featuring this thing in their kids' clothing commercials, otherwise there might be some competitor that comes up with the idea first, that's how cute this thing was!!  I must have stood there 'Oooh-ing' and 'Ahh-ing' for at least 10 minutes until my poor boyfriend could tear me away from it.  And honestly, it never crossed my mind that the baby would some day grow up to weigh as much as a small car; I just wanted to snuggle it now!  Well, needless to say, that part of my day never came to fruition.

We also managed to get a gigantic Bull with humongous horns really really mad at us (actually, that was more my boyfriend's doing) somehow by just looking at it.  It was actually pretty scary!  It actually happened like this: the boyfriend was looking at this bull, and then there was a point where it turned and looked at him (and mind you, this thing was really close to the fence-there might have been one foot separating this thing from us) and then it didn't flinch after it locked eyes with him for at least a minute, after which I started to get this really creepy feeling, and I said twice “Honey! Don't stare at the Bull!” but to no avail.  The next series of thoughts happened quite fast.  I wondered if the fence was electrified.  I had a horrible image pop into my head of this thing charging the fence and the fence losing.  Then, I proceeded to get us the heck out of there by pulling my boyfriend to the next animal pen (while he meekly uttered in a terrified and shocked tone of voice, “I just couldn't look away!”). Talk about bull!

Then we got into another interesting animal encounter (courtesy again of the boyfriend).  It was a rainy day and the boyfriend wants to visit the petting zoo (which undoubtedly will be part of every German zoo- not sure why, but it is).  Okay, so we get the requisite handful of those food pellets that are a must for every petting zoo encounter, and we proceed to enter the two sets of swinging gates that enclose the petting zoo area.  Apparently it was not a very often visited petting zoo, or else those goats hadn't gotten fed in quite some time, because upon the boyfriend's proffering of said pellet-food, he got rushed by several goats all at once, and two of them were even cheeky enough to put their hooves all over his jacket and pants in their haste to reach his now upheld hand.  Therefore, we did an about-face and tried to hastily exit the petting zoo after throwing the food  away in sheer terror of more muddy clothing being created, and wouldn't you know, the boyfriend can't get away from those darn goats!  They practically made a little fence around him with their bodies and they just wouldn't let him go until they were sure he had absolutely no food on his person (and to a goat, that's a pretty wide-open category).  So there he is surrounded by goats, while I'm trying to make a retreat out the gate and some of the goats spot me leaving, decide that it's more exciting to escape their enclosure, and forcefully fling wide the first swinging door about to barrel through the second set when I luckily grab the door and push with all my might against the force of the goats.  Luckily I weigh more than two goats, I guess, because they weren't getting through to the outside.  However, there was still the problem of boyfriend trapped within the goat circle.  Therefore, I go against my better judgment, charge back into the goat pen, grab boyfriend's hand and start dragging him toward the exit through the goat circle and through the first set of swinging gates when two more goats come through behind us.  Therefore, it's us on the outside of the last set of gates, pushing with all our might hoping that someone will come on the inside of the goat pen, and let these goats back through the gates on the other side to their proper home.  Just in the nick of time, the Mom who was on the inside of the enclosure with her three small children sees our plight, and comes to the rescue in her yellow rain coat letting the goats back in on the correct side of the pen, and actually saving us from probably twenty more minutes of goat-centric hysteria.  Thank God for  that woman!

After that, it is safe to say that the zoo trip was pretty uneventful in terms of 'excitement'.  Though we did get to see some great Elephants, Sea Lions and Fur Seals, Rhinos, Parrots, various interesting tropical varieties of Pigeon (who knew?!), a brand new baby Meerkat, the Polar Bear formerly known as the 'Baby Knut' famous round the world for being the first born in captivity- who is now fully grown and virtually indistinguishable from his fellow bears in the enclosure (shouldn't there have been some info on how to tell him apart?), Okapi, and some really cute nocturnal Desert Foxes (with humongous ears and teensy noses).

Then around 5pm after we were quite cold and had had enough of being outside in the damp fog, we went back to the Zoologischer Garten S-Bahn station, picked up our bags and went to the hotel to drop our things off.  We had just enough time to check in and take our things upstairs before we had to meet my friend for dinner at 6pm at this lovely restaurant which I suggested in an earlier Blog post, Transit.  We finished dinner around 7pm and then we had tickets to see the new revue at the Friedrichstadtpalast that night, called Yma, that began at 7:30.  Therefore, we began walking in the rain to the Friedrichstadtpalast, as it looked quite close to our hotel and the restaurant on our map of the city.  However, much to our dismay, after walking for what seemed like an eternity through puddle-filled streets, we made a wrong turn down a street that ran parallel to the street we wanted, and took a 10 minute detour further in the wrong direction before, as a last attempt at finding it before hailing a cab, we went down an alleyway that looked more like a small moat, and somehow came up right next to the Friedrichstadtpalast.  Phew!  Talk about luck.  Although at this point, our pants were both soaked up to our thighs from the driving rain and our shoes were completely water-logged from all the puddles; but we had made it, nonetheless!

We managed to get inside just 3 or so minutes before the show started and we prepared to spend the next 1.5 hours drying out while being entertained by some of the most scantily-clad figures in Berlin performing amazing dance routines, and feats of acrobatic fancy, all while singing covers of recently popular songs reasonably well.  We weren't disappointed.  Well, perhaps with the singing.  But, then again, I'm not usually too tickled by performances of covers, let alone ones that are not superb.  However, the rest of the performance was really wonderful.  The dancing was really great, and the acrobatics were breathtakingly frightening in their degree of difficulty.  All in all, it was really an enjoyable evening.

Then after the show, we wisely took the S-Bahn from Friedrichstrasse to Hackeschermarkt and poured ourselves into bed after a long and physically exhausting day.

(Look for Day Two's Adventures posted above this post!)