Friday, June 8, 2012

Where to take Your Texan Nephew in Berlin

Do you know what 18-year-olds like? I've got no idea. And I've got one coming to our house in Berlin tomorrow, straight off the plane from Texas.

My sister, Brandy, is almost exactly 10 years older than me. My elder nephew is 10 years younger. We're like those Russian nesting dolls. Brandy has trusted us to guide her first-born, Kyle, on his first trip to Europe before he enrolls in the Navy. This kind of trust - I simply don't know what to do with myself/him/etc. I am hoping my Berlin favs will stand up to test and we will have an amazing time. Press your thumbs for all of us....

To document how it all goes down, I am going to track our progress. I am expecting a lot of "okays" and mumbles in response from Kyle. That's how teens communicate, right?  We pick him up tomorrow.

Day 1
After picking him up right on time (just barely - classic porterhaus move) we were off! Ian had to go in to work for a few hours, but Kyle & I took to the streets between Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain. Getting off at Warschauer, we ducked the punks and headed to my favorite bridge in Berlin - Oberbaumbrücke.

On the way, we walked by the longest remaining section of the Berlin wall...

...and found a new eatery parked just under Warschauer U-Bahnhof. 5 euro bought us a schnitzel, fries, and a salad at Scheers Schnitzel. Perfect! Schnitzel off the list & hunger abated.


Wandered Kreuzberg & stopped by Badeschiff, but the area was quiet, probably in preparation of tonight's full on madness for Europameister. A walk through Görlitzer park had us aggressively propositioned to buy drugs, and the audience for an older German man who farted - loudly.  Ah, Berlin!

Görlitzer Park

Wilkommen in Berlin!

We'll be heading to a friend's for a grill/poker/Europameister party this evening. Party on.

Berlin streetlight
Berlin Hates You

Day 2

What happened? An easy night with some friends turned into a marathon poker tournament with us not making it home until the sun rose. How Berlin.

After trying to drag ourselves back into human form, we made to the Berliner Unterwelten tour (10 euro, 8 for students). We can see the flakturm from the apartment, it was time to get to know her better. (We filmed part of the house hunters international episode here).

U Bahnhof Gesundbrunnen
Meeting at Gesudnbrunnen, we hiked up one of Berlin's few hills, which is actually a Teufelsberg, a rubble mountain. We entered the tour with our Danish guide and donned the mandatory hard hat. 90  minutes later we re-emerged from the chilly depths with a better knowledge of our kiez (neighborhood), the development of the flakturm, Berlin, and WWII. Some highlights:
  • Flak towers (German: Flaktürme) were large, above-ground, anti-aircraft gun blockhouse towers constructed in the cities of Berlin (3), Hamburg (2), and Vienna (3) from 1940 onwards.
  • They were used by the Luftwaffe to defend against Allied air raids on these cities during World War II. They also served as air-raid shelters for tens of thousands of people and to coordinate air defense.
  • As the German army was depleted, teens as young as 14 were called in to man the flaktürme. To continue there studies, teachers educated them at the tower. The boys were called (Luftwaffe Helfer - LH) or more colloquially, "letzte Hoffnung" (last hope). The girls were called Blitzmädels (lightening girls).
  • G-Tower was partially demolished after the war; one side remains visible. L-Tower was partially demolished after the war; some walls remain visible. The most impressive part of the tour was the huge, partly demolished room.

My overall impression is that the tour was well worth it. The only negatives were that our Danish guide could be a bit difficult to understand and there is a lot of standing around in desolate cement rooms looking at pictures. Also note that you must wear sturdy shoes to be allowed on the tour and the terrain is uneven. Tours are in English and German (more limited options for English) and the Flakturm is only available in the summer months as it is a haven for bats in the winter.

Berliner Unterwelten Flakturm Humboldthain

We followed this up with a trip to the grocery - always one of my favorite things to do in another country, this both for pleasure and for business. We had no food in the house and the boy needs to eat! We were able to check out the growing fervor for Germany's first game in the Europameister championship. Flags were out in force and the energy of the city - always high - seemed to be buzzing.

We were preparing for the game as well, heading to the Kulturbrauerei for some open viewing and dancing. But first - Kyle's first döner. A sacred moment for every visitor to Berlin, I don't know if caught the gravity of the situation. His first döner at our favorite place, conveniently located at the bottom of our building, only elicited an "It's good". We will have to school him in the ways of the döner.

Turned out the viewing was not quite so open. Bag check revealed some chips we were smuggling in. Bummer. But the viewing was awesome, if a bit crowded and hard to see. Somehow we located our friends, and celebrated the German victory over Portugal with dancing at Alte Kantina. As the English say, "Brilliant"! The only disappointment was that the camera battery died before we did and we weren't able to snap the man partially passed out hanging over our U-Bahn stop's wall. You'll just have to take our word for it - it was the perfect end to an evening.

Kulturbrauerei EM
Finally leaving with the sun coming back up
Day 3
As can be expected from such a late night/early morning, we had trouble getting up Sunday morning. Or at least the boys did. Damn them! Made me miss one of my favorite Berlin activities - the Sunday brunch. Not happy.

They made due with burgers and we continued with our plans to head to the flea markets. Markets can be found all over this piece, but Maeurpark Flohmarkt is probably the biggest and a guaranteed chance to find something. And we were on a hunt. Here we come bikey, bikey, bike.

Maeurpark Flohmarkt
disco ball at flohmarkt
We're big fans of biking in Berlin, although I think our goofing off on wheels mostly just irritates the spandax clad locals. We wanted to get Kyle in on the fun and needed a third bike. Plus - our bikes kinda suck and we could use an upgrade.

After perusing the aisles and picking up some randomness, we found one. We named him Neil Diamond. Now to mesh with the populace.

Berlin bikes
Look at those hipsters
For the first time since Kyle arrived, we went to bed before sunrise. Success?

 Day 4

I am so mad at myself. 2 days in a row I had camera issues. It is torture seeing all that makes Berlin beautiful and not being able to capture it in picture form, let alone Kyle's visit. 

Day 4 brought the West Berlin Zoo. We love the Zoo (although a recent trip to the East Berlin Tierpark has us questioning our allegiance). We saw a trio Jaguar babies, a tiger inches from our face, baby warthogs, and swimming hippos. Here are pics from other visits to the Zoo...


Mountain Goats

Greatest foe: MAN!
Beer garden in Berlin Germany
We followed up our Zoo visit with - what else - more Europameister! We went to Cafe am neuen See, one of our favorite beirgartens in the Tiergarten. The English were tense as this was their first match in the tournament. A German observer offered typically blunt commentary, "I hate the English!" A tie score of 1-1 with France keeps ENgland in the game. Whew!

To finish filling our beer-soaked bellies, we headed to our favorite German restaurant in Berlin - Tiergarten Quelle! Hearty German dishes fill platters (and I do mean platters) for under 10 euro. Top that with some Berlin attitude bar wenches and a typical tavern atmosphere under the shaking S-Bahn. We have literally taken every visitor here. It truly is a little bit o' heaven.

Tiergarten Quelle

Day 5

Screeeeeeeeech! A friend complimented me on how well I was keeping up, and like the kiss of death, I knew I was through. I will continue to detail our adventures with young Kyle when we get back from

That's right y'all. Italy! We leave tonight. Arrivederci

Posts about our trip to Naples:

And we're back. Amazing. We're in love with Naples. I would marry pizza if I could. But that is info for another post. On with the kid's trip to Berlin. continuing with Day 5....

This was set to be an epic Berlin tourist day. Until, like a fool, I didn't check my camera before I left and it didn't work. All day. Insanely frustrated with myself. (For a recent visit from another expat, check out Chasing Heartbeats or Travels of Adam).

This was this day that we went to an important site of Berlin history and current head of government: the Reichstag
Fighting took place on it's steps. It was the burning of the dome that allowed Hitler to seize complete control of the German government (which he blamed on the Soviets, but his party probably started). It's unique glass dome is not just pretty, it allows you to watch government at work in a true demonstration of glasnost (openness).

Berlin Reichstag
Berlin Capitol
 This is also the site that we've celebrated multiple New Years. If you haven't done NYE in Berlin, you will totally lose an eye, but it's worth it. 

If you are visiting Berlin or live in Berlin and haven't been to the Reichstag, or haven't bee in a while, GO! Schedule NOW! This is not only one of the most important historical sites in the city, it is an important symbol of how Germany has moved on, and how it will continue to succeed. Plus - the views are awesome. Schedule your  FREE visit

Ian met us after work and we did one of our favorite tourist walks, going by Brandenburger Tor,

Brandenburg Gate

to the Memorial for Murdered Jews of Europe and museum,

Memorial to Murdered Jews of Europe

Unter den Linden,
Bebelplatz (site of  May 10, 1933 book burning by members of the SA, SS, Nazi students and Hitler Youth groups. A memorial by Micha Ullman consisting of a glass plate set into the cobbles, giving a view of empty bookcases, commemorates the book burning. A plaque with a quote from  Heinrich Heine is particularly moving,
"Das war ein vorspiel nur wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen"  "Where they burn books, they ultimately burn people").

Gendarmenmarkt, Chocolate shop, Neue wache, Museum insel,

View from das Konzerthaus in Gendarmenmarkt
Grandpa Ball being goofy at the chocolate shop

and Berliner Dom (cathedral) and Fernsehturm.

cathedral (left) and TV Tower (right)

Hunger called and we booked it over to Gorlitzer to eat some tasty Moroccan felafel platter and roasted chicken while watching the EM. Except for my serious camera malfunction, it was a pretty great day.

Day 6

The day before we flew we wanted to get a little shopping in for the family...and a bike ride. I think we were more excited for this than Kyle was. We love biking in Berlin, but after years off a bike I think just jumping on & going is a bit intimidating, especially with Ian leading. As he whizzed ahead on his fancy new bike from the market, Kyle & I pedaled along. My bike broke down 2 minutes from our destination. Waving them ahead, I walked the rest of the way and met them at Ian's class. He went off to teach, and Kyle and I went to the "mall". This strange collection of stores kept us occupied our time and equipped with the odds & ends we needed, but most importantly offered a play corner. We played.

That night we introduced Kyle to Herr Salama, favorite bartender in all of Berlin. Luckily, viewing for the first game tonight (more EM of course) was outside so he wasn't subjected to the often smoky interior. He did get to meet the man, the myth, the Salama. It had honestly been a while since we had seen him so greetings, hugs, and cheek kisses were exchanged all around.

After Denmark was unceremoniously knocked out, we made our way to the home of the Dutch to watch the "friendly" showdown (after a delicious stop at Pizza XXL). There is always a friendly rivalry between the two countries, and after the Netherlands made it to the finals in the last World Cup, it was sure to be quite a match up. Guess which bike/apartment belonged to the Dutch?

Dutch bike in Berlin

It was a bit of a tense game as every positive move by the Germans elicited a very quiet celebration in light of our hosts. The Germs won! It's looking like a very outlook for our host country. Celebration required leaving our downtrodden Dutch and getting a bite to eat.What better than another venture into Turkish cuisine. This is kofte. One of my favorites.

Turkish Kofte
All in all, a successful night. A successful visit methinks.The next day we hopped the plane to Naples, which is a whole new story, or post.

I know that we entertained, corrupted, enlightened, danced, partied, and met the dawn more than he usually would at home. This trip was a graduation gift from my parents, his grandpa, and it was really a gift for all of us. With Kyle and his brother Gavin growing up in Texas while I was in Washington state, there were family get togethers, but I really knew very little about them as people. Facebook has been a funny insight into what's happening with them, but actually getting to hang out for a week and talk....I feel like I finally know my nephew as a person, at least a little bit. Gavin - you're next.

Ian & Kyle
For the complete "best of" pics,  


fiona said...

what about the computer game museum place? I haven't been, so you can tell us all about it!

Alex, Speaking Denglish said...

Make sure to take him for some awesome Döner and curry wurst!

~ cheryl said...

Sounds like he's getting the whole German experience. Hope you all have a wonderful time getting to know each other again. We love you!
~ Dad & mum
Grandpa & Grandma cheryl

Unknown said...

@Fiona - no way! There's a computer game museum? That sounds all sorts o' amazing.

@Alex natürlich! We already took him to our favorite döner & currywurst is on the schedule.

@the grandparents. Thank you so much for making this trip happen. We've had a great time so far with more awesomeness to follow.

Kyla said...

I have to keep reminding myself that it's not that I'm staying out all night, it's just that the sun comes up extra early this time of year...

~ cheryl said...

Wow - I'm surprised Kyle didn't swoon for the doner!! We definitely like them and I still think you could get rich opening a great doner stand at UW. So - who won at poker? I hope Kyle doesn't get totally exhausted traveling with you two. When do you go to Pompei? Sounds like you're all having a lot of fun. We love you.

~ cheryl said...

Wow - Pompeii and Vesuvius look amazing.

Snooker said...

That's funny, when my nephew came to Berlin he and his friends spent more time at the brothels than any normal tourist trappings.
But then, they did just get back from 6 months in Afghanistan.

Kyle is a lucky one to have you two as guides.

We're Back in Berlin Ja!

We're Back in Berlin Ja!
ebe & ian at Yak-toberfest 2008