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Propositions, Prayers, Plätze, and Protests (A Germany Trip Report)

Propositions

It was the last night of a solo 8-day trip to Germany, and I was happy to be in my favorite city, Berlin. I had been storing a restaurant recommendation from sla019 in my head since June 2018, and this was the night to pull the trigger. My lovely B&B owner, Sabine, had made a reservation for me at the early hour of 17:00 so I would have plenty of time to make it to Brandenburg Gate by 19:00 to see part of the MarkK-recommended Berlin Festival of Lights.

It was a beautiful afternoon, so I decided to arrive at the restaurant by foot, taking a 30-minute walk. The jaunt took me down a street in Berlin I had previously taken in the morning a couple of years ago, and it seemed like a pretty typical street. As I walked down the street this day, a lady made eye contact and started talking.

Lady: [German, German, German]

Me: Ich spreche kein Deutsch.

Lady (calling my bluff a bit): Sie sprechen kein Deutsch? Welche Sprache sprechen Sie?

Me: Ich spreche Englisch

Lady: I speak English, too! (Pause). Would you like me make you very, very happy?

Well… I guess she didn’t say she spoke English well. Also… I suppose the short, bright red hair should have tipped me off, but, in my defense, I’m pretty naïve with respect to such things.

Me (smiling brightly because I wasn’t sure what else to do): No, thank you.

She walked away, and I started walking toward my destination again. In about 100 feet, another woman makes eye contact, smiles, and starts speaking in German. I throw a good solid “Nein!” her way and keep walking. A lady who watched that interaction and who, frankly, was much more attractive than the other two women, smiled and started moving toward me while saying something in German (apparently feeling she would be more successful?). I gave another curt “Nein!” and kept walking. In 50 feet, I saw a woman who was leaning against a building catch sight of me and start moving in my direction. I picked up my pace, deviated my path to move away from her, avoided eye contact, and ignored the German that came from her mouth. I reach the end of the street, passing a sex shop on the right (Figures!). I turn left onto Potsdamer Straße, leaving the Street o’ Propositions behind me.

Later reflection on this series of events left me with one big question… Was that one of those highly-regarded “local experiences” that everybody says they want to have?

Prayers

The primary impetus for the trip was to catch the 30th anniversary of the Oct 9, 1989 Monday Demonstration in Leipzig. That demonstration drew 70,000 people and was secretly videotaped from the bell tower of Leipzig’s Reformed Church. The video was smuggled to West Berlin, where it was broadcast to East and West Germany, prompting additional Monday Demonstrations to pop up throughout East Germany. The Demonstration was preceded by Monday Prayers for Peace at Nikolaikirche, which had been happening since 1984.

The remembrance of the event included a Prayers for Peace service at Nikolaikirche. Dignitaries filled the church; chumps like me joined the crowd outside the church and watched the service on a screen. The streets around the church were jam-packed for the service. One guy tried to walk through the crowd holding an old DDR flag above his head; he was turned away by police. The service was excellent; it was moving to be a part of it. A light ceremony that I did not completely understand followed the prayer service; it was on Augustplatz. The ceremony involved real candles. A kid dropped one and started a significant fire that had to be stomped out by bystanders.

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2017 posts

I enjoyed Leipzig. It was nice to walk around the city. I also headed out to the colossal Völkerschlachtdenkmal, the memorial to the Battle of Leipzig (aka the Battle of the Nations), in which the Prussians and their allies defeated Napoleon. It is impressive and well worth seeing. There is a pleasant park near the monument through which I walked. While in the area, I also made a stop at the Alte Messe, the Old Trade Fair grounds, which includes the Soviet Pavilion with its golden spire and an interesting small mural arching above its main entrance that melds 1950 technology icons (e.g., power line towers) with old communist icons (wheat). It was a pretty nifty find… at least for this Cold War history buff. Finally, the train station at Leipzig is almost a destination in itself; it’s gorgeous.

Plätze

The next destination was Erfurt, a town with several delightful squares (Plätze) and quite nice architecture. The Rick Steves self-guided walk took me to a number of these Plätze, along with a variety of other stops. Domplatz was home to the city’s enjoyable Oktoberfest, which was a lot of fun. I planned a day trip to Eisenach to visit Wartburg Castle, but ended up not doing it because I enjoyed Erfurt and decided to take a lazy day wandering around it instead of doing the Eisenach trip.

The somber activity in Erfurt was a visit to the Erinnerungsort Topf und Söhne, a place of remembrance in the former Administration Building for Topf and Sons, a company that made the ovens for Auschwitz and several other concentration camps. The museum has an excellent exhibition that explores how a “perfectly normal company” with “normal” owners and engineers became involved in genocide. A highly recommend stop. I also recommend a stop at the Alte Synagogue, whose oldest parts date back to the late 11th century. It was converted into a warehouse in the 14th century, so the Nazis did not know to destroy it during their reign. There is a nice audio guide for the synagogue.

I will offer special thanks to CWsocial for messaging me after her stop in Erfurt (which preceded mine by about a week) and for giving me a heads up on a great park near the train station that I lingered in a couple of times during my stay in Erfurt.

Protests

Protests were the theme in Berlin, my final stop. They formed book ends for my trip. I flew in and out of Tegel. On arrival, I had a few hours between the arrival of my plane and the departure of my train from the main train station (Hbf), so I stored my carry on in the lockers at Berlin Hbf and caught the U55 to Brandenburg Gate to wander around. There was a protest, but not a major one when I visited the area. The attack at Halle occurred during my trip, prompting more significant protests at the end of my trip. The protestors apparently were fairly disruptive to the city on my day of arrival, as those staying at my B&B told me of their disrupted plans to see the city. On my final night in the city, there was a protest/rally near Brandenburg Gate; the protest was surrounded by many police officers holding riot masks with reserve officers sitting in several vans. I chuckled when a guy stepped up to the microphone, started strumming his guitar, and launched into “Give Peace a Chance.” It was a bizarre scene, but I figured no trouble was going to break out.

I had planned a day trip to Seelow Heights, the site of the largest battle between German and Russian troops during WWII, while in Berlin but once again chose a lazy day in the city over a travel day. I had also planned to hit the Berlin Festival of Lights my first night in Berlin but met a retired Canadian central bank economist and his wife at the B&B shortly after arrival. We hit it off and had a great (long) conversation. And I earned an invitation to stay with them if I’m ever in Ottawa. This is why I like staying at small, family-owned places.

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2017 posts

Practicalities

Transportation: I arrived in and departed from Germany via Berlin‘s Tegel Airport. Travel from city to city was done by train with tickets bought well in advance to get cheap seats. I purposely had 4 hours between my arrival at Tegel and my departure from Berlin’s main train station, just in case the plane was delayed.

Leipzig Hotel: Motel One Nikolaikirche. 2 nights. I really like the Motel One chain for short stays (despite my statement above). It has provided a consistent, good experience in several cities. This location was no exception.

Leipzig German Restaurant: Restaurant Johann S. The restaurant has a nice vibe, but I wasn’t crazy about my entrée (Königsberger Klopse, a meatball dish). Maybe I should have gone with the entrée that had the unfortunate translation on the English menu that said it came with cancer.

Erfurt Hotel: Hotel Domizil. 3 nights. Despite RS saying there is a dearth of family-owned lodging in Erfurt, I found a spectacular 11-room establishment operated by a mother-son team that is located adjacent to Domplatz. Reasonable rates. Spectacular location. Excellent breakfast. After my nightly visit to Oktoberfest, I sat in my room with the window open and listened to the band/singing emanating from the beer tent.

Erfurt German Restaurant: Feurkugel. I went for the Rinderroulade with red cabbage and.a Knödel (gigantic dumpling). It was okay. What I learn every time I eat at a nice German restaurant is that I’m just not that crazy about German food. (EAT provided a nice curry chicken/turkey wrap another night).

Berlin Hotel: mittendrin. 2 nights. My favorite place to stay in the world. This lovely 4-bedroom B&B is located in an early 20th century flat that has been renovated with respect for its history. Sabine is a delightful hostess who makes an amazing breakfast every morning that is enjoyed by all the guests around a single table. My one breakfast was shared with the Canadian couple and a family of four from Denmark.

Berlin German Restaurant: Joseph-Roth-Diele. I went for the Spätzle with bacon/ham and cheese. It was great! I followed it up with a Kalter Hund (cold dog), a dessert that consists of thin cookies suspended in chocolate that apparently was popular during DDR (East Germany) days. I love a good Kalter Hund. I think that means I have lowbrow tastes. Price was reasonable, and the atmosphere was quintessential Weimar Era Berlin. For non-German food, I always enjoy a stop at Dolores Burrito, despite a recent warning on the forum to avoid all Mexican in Germany. I think Dolores is the exception that proves the rule.

I am home for a few weeks. Next trip: 30th anniversary of the opening of the Berlin Wall + visiting old Soviet rocket launch pads and nuclear warhead storage facilities around Berlin. Yeah, I got carried away buying plane tickets to Europe when I stumbled on a good sale in the spring.

Posted by
2984 posts

Thanks , Dave , very enjoyable post , looking forward to more .

Posted by
1530 posts

Dave, I chuckled reading about your gauntlet of German women. And I thought solo women travelers had interesting "local interactions"!

I expect you would have found that park in Erfurt on your own, but I'm glad I could contribute a small element to your overall fabulous trip. Especially after you gave me the heads up on Oktoberfest and Topf & Sons.

Now you're really just being a bad influence, though, with the idea of back to back trips. Here I was, thinking I had to space them apart!! Off to search for flights ;-)

Glad you had a great trip. Hope this next one goes equally well and has its share of "local flair"!

Posted by
5542 posts

Thanks Dave for this interesting trip report. What a moving experience it must have been to be there for that commemorative service!

It sounds like you chose your lodgings very well, those B&Bs sound very charming.

Wonderful that you’ll be back before too long! Hopefully without any “local” experiences this time 😜

Posted by
1608 posts

Ok, Dave, it’s settled, we’re bringing our meeting to you! Your description of the “side” street in Berlin with the entrepreneurial ladies promoting a good time is so funny!
Thanks for the tip about the Topf Company in Erfurt, I’ll be there on my Best of Germany tour next year. In our free time, I will track this down. Amazing! I never thought of the people/companies who manufactured the ovens. As Hannah Arendt said, the Banality of Evil describes how ordinary people can be a tool for evil purposes.
Also, I suggest you email Rick Steves the information about the B&B in Erfurt, Domizil, you discovered.

Thanks again! I look forward to reading about your next trip.

Posted by
1224 posts

Thank you for your entertaining report, including the "practicalities". We recently took our first "proper holiday" in Germany (having only done a couple of city breaks before), which has piqued our interest to see more. Erfurt in particular sounds like the sort of destination we'd enjoy. Thanks, again.

Posted by
701 posts

Love your perspectives. :) This read, with my morning coffee, made a nice start to my day.

Posted by
2017 posts

Thanks for the kind comments, all.

@CWsocial... I'm glad we contributed to each other's trips. The forum becomes more fun as I start to connect a little more with people here. Hopefully, I'll make it to the Atlanta travel group meeting someday and connect with more folks from the forum.

@Judy B... Hopefully, I will soon make it to a meeting!

@Nick... I thought Erfurt was great. It largely escaped WWII bombing, so the architecture is nice. It's apparently a common destination for Germans, but not so much for people of other nationalities. On another thread, someone suggested Weimar as a better place to stay, but I have no experience with that town/city (though it is on my list!).

Posted by
339 posts

Dave, trip reports, setting the gold standard yet again. I'll have my Erfurt and Weimar trip report up soon, btw. Glad you enjoyed Erfurt, I think its a gem.

Posted by
1567 posts

It was crayfish. In German crayfish and cancer are homonyms ("Krebs"), and the English menu was obviously translated using Google or Deepl. Just tested - both translate "Es gibt Krebs als Hauptspeise" into "There's cancer as a main course". Bon appetit!

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1567 posts

As I walked down the street this day, a lady made eye contact and started talking

@Dave
I'm sorry you had such strange encounters. I have walked the street from Potsdamer Platz down to the Josef-Roth-Diele several times in recent years without ever being offered charming ladies' entertainment. Most probably I have a rather apotropaic appearance (in contrast to you) ;).

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2017 posts

@sla019

No reason to be sorry. The things that make me most uncomfortable tend to make for the best stories! Like the drunk guy who kissed me on the main square of Krakow at 4 am a couple of years ago.

Apotropaic... nice word! I had to look it up! I think it's probably less about your look and more about the direction from which you walked to the restaurant. I was walking to Joseph-Roth-Diele from the area around Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. I passed the ladies on the last block or two of Kurfürstenstraße before turning left on Potsdamer Straße. I was not approached by any ladies walking to Potsdamer Platz after dinner.

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2017 posts

@rob... I've much enjoyed your trip report so far! I'm looking forward to reading about Erfurt and Weimar. I agree that Erfurt is a gem.

Posted by
4656 posts

Was that Oranienburgerstrasse with all the prostitution in Berlin?

Posted by
5122 posts

a time for the classic movie retort:

"Want to make me happy? Paint my house."

Posted by
1965 posts

A couple years ago, we searched for a nice inexpensive hotel in Frankfurt am Main. We found a nice hotel, on Moßelstraße. If you've never been to Frankfurt, it's the hot street with the girlie bars ("nothing but top girls here" - if the girls were "top girls", mostly the decade for that would have been the 90s). As I (a guy) was with my wife, I didn't get too many "come-ons from the girls on Moßelstraße Ave" to misquote Simon and Garfunkle. But it was colorful. Except late at night when the illicit drug scene was the main thing.

Posted by
2442 posts

Dave, thanks for adding Erfurt to my bucket list. To me the scary thing about Germany in the 1930's and 40's is that seemingly normal people were involved in genocide. The sobering thought is, would I have done the same thing to protect myself and my loved ones?