Berlin CathedralIt’s our last day in Germany, and I think that I can now safely pronounce Dave and myself the laziest tourists in Berlin. We’ve been here for eleven days and we have seen a record low of 4 museums, not counting the outdoor Eastside Gallery, which I did manage to see twice. Not that I have regrets. For me, this has been the perfect stay: it has been a vacation in the truest sense of the word, with long nights of sleep, lazy mornings, and time to bake more than a few batches of bread. Most tourism (if we should call it that) has been social rather than sightseeing.

Through our hosts (who have been most patient with Dave’s and my ubiquitous presence in the apartment), we have met and gotten to know better a wide collection of volk. For example, last week, we dined with a marvelous Spanish couple (from the city of Zaragoza, where we will pass through on this coming Friday) who before moving to Berlin, had lived for three years in Chicago. Among other topics, Sylvia and Juan (who happen to have the same names as the lead dog couple in the foreign language learning video Muzzy) regaled Cindy and me with uproarious if not a little sad tales of European teachers lost in the Chicago Public Schools. Culture clash seems a mild word for the frontier between their pedagogical approach and the middle schools of Hyde Park.

We have, however, managed to leave and return to Berlin. This last weekend, we took the train to Leipzig, apparently one of the most East German of (former) East German cities. Leipzig is also the former home of our dear hostess Cindy and the current home of many German friends who have visited us in Chicago, including Daniel, Antje, Lilli, and Mathias. Luckily for us, all these Leipzigians live under one roof and that roof has a guest room, so we had a most cozy homecoming.

The Giro Coop was a treat to visit. It was started in 2000 by a group of social activists – including Antje and another woman who still live there. The building dates to 1905, very Prussian in style, and was previously made up of three separate apartments to the floor. In Cindy’s days in the coop, and until recently, each room was heated separately with coal scuttled up from the basement. This is probably more romantic to my imagination than in it is in lived reality. I hear it used to be very cold and nighttime trips to the bathroom were a dreaded experience.David in the belly of the beast…or vice versa? However, the 14 inhabitants have been hard at work with renovations and the place gleams of home improvement – freshly tiled bathrooms, new built-in kitchen cabinets, etc. Most impressive was the new heating system in the basement, which uses wood pellets for fuel (apparently ordered in 10-ton batches), which we were able to inspect ever so closely. See right.

The comforts of the coop and afternoon rain did not stop us from exploring the DIY (do-it-yourself) bests of Leipzig, from the Conne Island dance club and café to a series industrial spaces turned art galleries. My favorite site in the neighborhood was the video store down the block known for its collection of meerschweinchien (guinea pigs).

Now, for our final afternoon, Dave and I will tackle the German History Museum – see if we can handle so much official tourism. Next stop, Barcelona. Auf wiedersehen.

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