I told Eckhart that our tour of Berlin couldn’t start until noon. I’m having folks over for games on Monday night, I said, and I need the morning to sweep the floors, wash laundry and otherwise get the apartment in order.
I spent it, instead, simply goofing off. A little reading here. Some music there.
Eckhart arrived on schedule, and bearing a little present. Pumpkin seed oil. He travels quite a bit for work, and he’s recently been to an area of Austria made famous for it. We’d talked about it briefly when we were together just a few days ago, but I am still surprised that he’d remembered. The oil has a strong nutty scent.
The day is not as cold as I had expected but I am nonetheless happy to skip the U-Bahn for a tour in his car. He points out landmarks as we speed down the city streets. Even in English it’s too much for my brain to absorb. It makes no sense to say it, but I feel it: there’s so much history here.
We pull over just past the Tiergarten station on Straße de 17 Juni. The street is the date of a significant uprising in East Germany that was quickly and brutally suppressed by Soviet troops. Other than the street’s name, there are no other monuments to mark the event. Instead, despite the gray day, there’s another street bazaar of sellers hawking books, art, antiques, jewelry, Soviet-themed pins…and food.
We have a tea scheduled in the afternoon, but I decide on a pretzel while Eckhart chooses a thing he calls “Schmaltz.” Is it really called that, I ask with a laugh. I try to explain the typical English usage of the term, while he tries to explain what it is. It’s a wide slice of German bread with fat smeared on it. Fat, I ask. Do you mean butter? No, fat. Duck fat. It’s very popular, he says. The seller generously salts it, folds it in half and hands it to him. Eckhart offers a bite. It’s disgusting. I take another bite anyway. He gobbles up the rest.
We drive back up the street a bit to see the Siegessäule, a towering monument topped by a golden winged angel of Victory. The Nazis had relocated the monument to this central place in the Tiergarten and, as Seán tells me later on the phone, one of their last battles was fought on either side of its base. Didn’t you see the bullet holes, Seán asks.
No. Instead, I focus my camera on the graffiti that covers nearly every inch of the grey-walled climb to the top. Someone plaintively scrawls “is it a kind of weakness to miss someone so much?”
It’s a steep climb, and it doesn’t have nearly the charming reward of the Völkerschlachtdenkmal of Leipzig. (Seán says it’s especially unpleasant in summer, when the heat of the day and suitably worn tourists merge into one overpowering stench.) Still, it is a beautiful view of Berlin. We encircle the angel’s feet, Eckhart pointing along the broad avenues that spike away from this center to Postdam, Mitte, and more.
I dutifully snap photos.
Our next stop is at the restaurant at the top of the Reichstag/Bundestag. That’s the parliament building, so being on time for our tea reservation means factoring in a security screening. We get back in the car, find parking within a reasonable distance, and slip-slide our way across the ice to the building. With the tea reservation, we bypass the larger tourist queue, thankfully. And the security checkpoint is surprisingly quick.
I learn a new word: Käfer. It’s the name of the restaurant and of the class of insects that includes the ladybug (or Mariankäfer), with which the napkins are appropriately dotted. Eckhart explains that Käfer is a well-known, family-owned restaurant out of Munich/München. And it’s either Jörn or Irene who fills in later that the place caters to the Stars. I can imagine it. The simple onion and fennel soup is outstanding with a capital O. Even Eckhart who had said he wanted nothing more than dessert couldn’t stop himself from first sampling then spooning up the rest.
It’s much better than Schmaltz, so I don’t stop him.
My apple strudel is certainly much better than the one I shared with John in Leipzig, but it does have just the slightest hint of “refrigerator.” LOL, I am no food critic.
We take our time there in the quiet. We’re seated in the enclosed glass verandah and the view of Berlin all around is just beautiful.
When we finally do leave, it’s to walk through the much more stunning glass dome that sits atop the Reichstag. (Seán is quick to point out later that it’s the work of a famous British architect.) Well, kudos to the designer. It captures the light just perfectly. I learn another word. Sonnenuntergang. Sunset.
The light. The view. I laugh aloud, and Eckhart asks why.
Life is good, I reply.