Friday, June 3, 2011
Getting to Sandra's is easy with Olga's help. We drive autobahns (like our Interstate highways) most of the way. The trucks are back on the road again - the rest areas are empty and the right lane of the highway is full of one truck after another. But most of the highway we drive is 3 lanes which is helpful. Driving in Germany is different than driving in France. They too have a top "recommended" speed of 130 (about 85) unless otherwise posted. However, German Autobahns allow you to travel as fast as you want and so you see Mercedes and BMWs flying down the highway at 150 miles per hour or more. So you must be constantly aware of traffic behind you. Like the French, they typically drive on the right after passing, but unlike the French the differences in the speed cars are going is really variable, from trucks going 90 km/h to the speed demons burning up the road. Drivers who want you to move out of their way flash their lights as they pull up behind you, riding your bumper until you move over. It's best to try to stay out of the way. However, in areas where there are only two lanes either from construction or road design, the speed limit is only 80-100 (less than the French roads). And surprisingly, the Germans, even the speedsters, pay attention and slow down to the speed limit. We wonder if the penalties for speeding in marked areas are high. For the most part, traffic is light and the day bright and sunny with mild temperatures again.
We drive through really pretty countryside of green rolling hills. There are lots of pine forests along the way and small towns dotted amidst the green fields. Everything seems orderly and purposeful and in its place. There are not the fields of wild flowers like we saw in France, although we do see occasional profusions of poppies. If there are other wildflowers, its not obvious from the highway drive. We stop for lunch at a rest stop that has restaurant-like options for food in a cafeteria setting. We buy some kind of bread with baked ham and cheese and take it outside to eat on the picnic tables along with chips, clementines, and water from the remains of our lunch bag that we have been carrying with us.
We arrive at Sandra's just after 2 PM. Sandra and Wiley (who have just celebrated their 2 year anniversary) live in a 3rd floor walkup in what could be a beautiful old building in central Berlin. The building is being renovated by the owner who will eventually move into the top two floors, so that will perhaps help improve the esthetics of the shared halls and stairs. This building has a lot of character and Sandra and Wiley's apartment includes two rooms with turrets. Both rooms are large with 12 foot ceilings and white painted walls. In between these rooms (which run front to back along one side of the building) is a wide hallway off of which are the kitchen and bathroom, both of which are also large rooms flooded with light from big windows. The floors throughout (except in the tiled bathroom) are either wide pine planks or modern wood laminate. One of the turret rooms is set up as Wiley's studio and the other is their bedroom.
The area around here is reasonable for rent, Sandra tells us, as it's not a hip, young area but more of a family area. There's a large park (Kreuzeberg?) just two blocks from here and when we walk out later to get coffee, we see plenty of neighborhood shops for groceries as well as a large market building housing all sorts of small shops selling meats, cheeses, fruits and vegetables, as well as a variety of places selling coffee and other drinks and meals which can be eaten outside at the sidewalk cafes.
It's important to pay attention to where you're walking on the sidewalks because part of them is bike lanes and bikers expect you to stay out of their way. While there is plenty of car traffic in this bustling city, there are more bikes than I've ever seen anywhere. For Sandra, it is her mode of transportation to most places, although she also has the option of the subway which has a stop just a few blocks from her apartment. It would seem to be faster as well if we can judge by our travels home from her art exhibition. We had driven and Sandra had her bike and she beat us home by a good 10 minutes. (Although in fairness, she knows her city and we don't.)
Sandra, whose field is art history, has been working and free-lancing in the art world organizing shows for galleries and developing projects involving art and artists. Tonight, she is responsible for setting up a monthly event where one artist is featured at a place called Beta??? This is a building which houses a simple café on the first floor and then offers inexpensive rental of work space for creative endeavors of all sorts. It provides a meeting space and professional space for artists that encourages networking and camaraderie. Judging by the people attending, this is a successful event.
We meet Sandra's parents at the show and decide to go somewhere for dinner. We stop at a restaurant called Max und Moritz (named after a children's book) which offers a German menu. We are seated in the back hall of what seems to be a typical German style restaurant. There are two large groups of people (one of 20 and one of 30) already in the room and the acoustics make this room rather noisy. We order drinks and eventually food. However, after one hour and 15 minutes, our food still hasn't come and the waitress tells us it will be another hour before it is read y (it's already 9:45). The kitchen, she tells us, is behind due to the large number of people in the two parties (in fact we notice a few minutes later that the smaller of the two groups is just beginning to get their food and they had been here and ordered before we even arrived.) We are comped our drinks and Jens goes looking for another restaurant where we might get faster service. We decide to try somewhere else and as we are walking out, we notice that no one in the restaurant has food except for one table in the very front. Everyone is waiting for their food. Unbelievable. We leave and walk a block up the street to an Italian restaurant where we order pizzas and pasta and are served in a reasonable time.
But it's not all a bust. We have a wonderful time with Sandra's parents who speak excellent English and also love to travel a lot. We catch up on what's going on with each family - they had come to visit us at the end of Sandra's stay at our house 12 years ago. We will see them again on Monday when we celebrate Sandra's sister Juliana's 30th birthday.
Home at midnight and a quick catch up with Wiley whom we hadn't seen earlier as he was working at an art gallery. We tumble into bed after 1 and sleep quickly despite the street noises from people and cars below us.