Finding our Bearings in Berlin

Cuvrystraße Street Art

Cuvrystraße Street Art

Last week Nick and I were in Berlin for a pan-European conference hosted by the German Fulbright commission.  It was a heady series of events where 300 or so Fulbright grantees (and spouses like myself) mingled and discussed their widespread research—from Turkish slow food to the neuroscience of premature babies.

We stayed in Kreuzberg.  The hipster eclecticism was a welcome reminder of our SF Mission District neighborhood.  But our unfortunate choice of a drab Airbnb flat and difficulty finding restaurant cuteness left us unsettled.

The reunified Berlin is a sprawl with no real center where nomadic youth socialize their artistic ideals over currywurst and Bravarian beer.  Conceptually, this fascinates me, but the dislocation of our expat experience has us craving aesthetic order and cross-cultural touchstones.

Markt Halle Neun: Street Food Thursday

Markt Halle Neun: Street Food Thursday

On the third day, we hit our groove.  We found a Berlin-meets-Paris cafe for our morning ritual, drank Mr. Susan‘s bloody marys at an artesian pop-up “liquor fair,” and had dinner at an adorable Italian tapas bistro advertising a menu where “everything is homemade by two lazy Italians”—our kind of place.

As for cross-cultural touchstones, we chose a Bikram yoga class and a fantastic BKA production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch.  Both were uniquely German.  Hedwig was performed mostly in Deutsch, and the only English the Bikram instructor spoke was when we arrived (five minutes before the class started): “You are late!”   German namaste.   But these were also intimately familiar experiences, given that Bikram’s sequence of poses are the same the world over and Hedwig’s our favorite musical.

Berlin TV Tower

Berlin TV Tower

On our last night, after a quick tour of the Berlin TV Tower, there was a closing party at the Frannz, a funky mixed-use place where a ballroom dancers tango one room over from a dance club.  It was a blast.

On November 9, Germany will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.  We hope to return to Berlin grounded by our newfound bearings in the city.

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