Tuesday morning in Berlin and the snow is falling. Our good host, Mike, while chopping potatoes for a hearty noontime breakfast, asks, “What if we get a good snow cover that lasts for the next couple of months? Then, in early spring, when it melts, we’ll have to face all the litter from New Year’s Eve.” If the streets right now look anything like they did at 4:00 am when we wandered home, that would indeed be a sight: waterlogged firework wrappers and damp clumps of orange gunpowder, which would most likely stain the sidewalks and cobblestones.

I have never seen so many fireworks as New Year’s Eve in Berlin last night. Berlin offers a 3-day respite from a year-round fireworks ban, so that since the second day of our stay, the sounds of gunfire have colored the landscape, and we have to pause our walks around the city to avoid bottle rockets aimed innocently at our heads.

For the midnight moment, we stood on the balcony of a penthouse apartment in Prenzlauerberg (which Cindy and Mike refer to as Pramlauerberg for its new yuppie family approach to life). Across the city, the haze of fog and smoke obscured the Fernsehturm (television tower) in Alexanderplatz, which we had glimpsed earlier in the evening. But, all around, gunfire-like shots and flashes of light, people standing on roofs and surrounding balconies and in clumps on the street, made us feel that we were in the middle of it all. I hoisted myself up on the ledge for a moment of gleeful vertigo (apparently giving Mike a near panic attack, which I am still trying to make amends for).

Thousands of miles from home, but we still seem surrounded by enough particles of Chicago. Our New Years was spent with Cindy and Mike (former Chicagoans moved to Berlin), Thomas (former Chicagoan gone San Francisco), Daniel, Dirk, and Martina (all Germans who have visited Chicago for lengthy stays). It also helps the home-like feeling that practically every German we have so far encountered (right down to the Turkish shopkeepers of Neukolln) speaks enough English to help Dave and I get around barely using our five German phrases.

Eastside Gallery BerlinHighlights of the stay so far (New Years’ already included) have been our walk along the Eastside Gallery (a graffiti-covered chunk of the Berlin Wall maintained along the bank of the River Spree in old East Berlin), a Chicago-style dinner complete with a long game of “fictionary” at the apartment of Mike and Cindy two nights ago, and some gleeful dancing later last night at a benefit for undocumented immigrants in Berlin thrown by some of Cindy’s activist friends.

Coming up this week: dinner with Cindy’s Cameroonian friend (who we will no doubt pester with too many questions), explorations of the city’s many museums (which we have so far been too relaxed to attack with gusto and which are closed today), and a trip to the long-fabled Leipzig. Happy 2008 and best wishes to all!

Many Little People

“Many little people who do many little things in many little places can change the face of the world.” (Translation from the German above)