In which I make a grand return to Berlin after many years gone, with grand reunions all around.
Since we are headed to the States in May for my sister’s wedding, we decided this year would be a good year to stay in Europe for the holidays, and after a delightful chat with Mirjam, our foreign exchange student from 2003-04, we made plans to go visit her for Christmas to mark the start of our holidays, which included nearly a month of adventures this year. On December 22, after I took a half-day in the archive, Maki and I caught a flight to Berlin mid-afternoon, excited for quite the adventures ahead.
We landed, went through customs, and headed to Mirjam’s apartment in Schöneberg, where she greeted us with dinner. It had been years nearly four years since our last visit, back in March 2012, and it was high time to catch up in person. Since we last saw each other, Mirjam finished her studies, moved to Berlin, competed student-teaching, started working as a teacher, and got engaged, and Maki and I had gotten engaged and married, not to mention made significant progress in our endless Ph.D. journeys.
The first night, we spoke mostly in English, although I will say, Mirjam is one of few friends I’ve ever had with whom I feel equally comfortable and normal speaking in two different languages — basically the only friend with whom there has been a shift in the set language precedent. However, upon arrival, it had been nearly four years since I had last been in Germany and even longer since I had last spoken German regularly, so we eased into things that first night. After a lovely dinner, we took a nice walk around Schöneberg, complete with beer, before eventually retiring for board games and other adventures. The next morning, we took a slow, leisurely breakfast before Maki and I took off for a walking adventure through the neighborhood. Almost immediately, I remembered the quirkiness that is so quintessentially Berlin.
We wandered generally in the direction of Kreuzberg, stopping first at Viktoria Park, where we got lovely views over the city. I missed this bizarre skyline!
The small park has a monument to some Prussian wars at the very top, but mostly, we were happy to be able to bask in a little sun. I swear, in the five days we were in Berlin, I saw more sun than the entire winter I lived in Berlin in 2008.
We continued on towards Kreuzberg, where we got a bite to eat and did a little shopping.
From there, we hurried back to Schöneberg, so that we could meet up with a friend for coffee. Ulrike was my German “tutor” back in the day — or, more accurately, she was the editor for the 50+ pages of German papers I turned in at the end of my semester. It had been a very long time since I had last seen her, when she paid me a visit when I was living in Bavaria in 2009. Since we’ve always spoken in German, it was good to have a chance to force myself to revive my dormant language skills, and it was so nice to catch up on the last six years, during which she has moved elsewhere in Germany,completed most of a Ph.D., and also gotten engaged (with an upcoming wedding in May!). Plus, this book-themed cafe she picked out for our reunion couldn’t have been more perfect.
After Ulrike headed on to see another friend, Maki and I made a brief stop for supplies, so that he could get dinner together, since it was our night to cook. You can guess what he wanted to show off!
That night, Felix was feeling a little under the weather, but Maki, Mirjam, and I played more boardgames. The next day was Christmas Eve, and given the beautiful weather and the fact that Mirjam and Felix had offered to take care of most of the dinner, Maki and I set off to explore a little of Berlin, since it was our best chance to see something of the city. We started by stopping by a small Christmas market near where we got off the bus, so Maki could get his sausage fix.
Ever since I lived in ear shot of Germany’s most important Christmas market in Nuremberg, and especially after I visited more than 15 different Christmas markets in a single season, I must say, Christmas markets aren’t really my thing, but it was nice and felt pleasantly festive. From there, we continued to head towards the center of town, making our first stop by Berlin’s Holocaust memorial.
I have always found the strange design to be particularly affecting.
From there, we continued on to the Brandenburg Gate.
Our rambling then proceeded along Unter den Linden, with stops to take in the area around Gendamenmarkt and then on towards the Cathedral and Museum Island.
Oh hey there, TV tower!
Walking through Berlin conjured up all sorts of memories, and it was so nice to have a chance to show off the first place that I lived that truly felt like home after leaving for college (college dorm rooms strangely never did that for me). Even though it was years and years since I had last been in the city, it felt really great to be haunting the streets of the city again, if only for a few days. As the sun started to set, we headed back to Mirjam and Felix’s flat to take a quick break. We got back just in time to catch my family for a Skype session, during which we bonded over our shared plans for Brussels sprouts.
It was pretty great to talk to everyone, if only briefly!
We finished the Skype chat just in time to continue on to a church service with Mirjam. When we got home, we all put in a little work to get our wonderful, delicious meal on the table.
With proper table linens, candlelight, a fancy plate of salt-baked fish, free-flowing wine, and great conversation, the meal felt appropriately celebratory for Christmas Eve, as well as distinctly grown up.
Even after our men had gone to bed, both feeling a little under the weather, Mirjam and I talked late into the night, glad to be enjoying this final evening together, before she and Felix took off for a trip to Denmark. The next morning, we reconvened for a final breakfast together, opened up the stockings my mother had lovingly sent, and then, Mirjam and Felix were off!
Maki’s health, however, was taking a distinct turn for the worse, so I did some of the work in cleaning up and catching up on various things (including some belated blogging), while he crashed.
He rallied just in time for us to take a trip out to Zehlendorf to visit my great-uncle, whom I had not seen since 2008, and his daughter, Ingrid, who was visiting from Ingolstadt with her partner, Günther, and his father. We also got to reunion with Enno, Uncle Axel’s pretty adorable dog.
The next morning, Maki continued to convalesce, and we put things together in order to host my friend Calvin for a dinner of spruced up left-overs. I hadn’t seen Calvin in years, either (a veritable trend!), not since I last stayed with him for a night or two in 2010, after his own trip to visit me in Bavaria, with stops in Munich, Nuremberg, and a day trip to Franconian Switzerland. It was great to relive old times and catch up on the many years that have elapsed. Plus, we were able to finish up the leftovers from Christmas, just in time for us to set off for our next adventure!
The next morning, we had yet another reunion, this time with friends from a more recent past, Hanna and David, who are colleagues and friends at Michigan, currently doing their dissertation research in Germany. We had an epic brunch in Kreuzberg (Berlin brunches are the best brunches), and we started our long-game approach to convincing them to visit us in Moscow. Fingers crossed!
They headed on to get some work done that afternoon, and Maki and I made the most of our last hours in Berlin to see a little more of East Berlin.
So much street art, so much going on — especially around the East Side Gallery, where we ended our walk.
Given that we were traveling during the Christmas holidays, and given that Maki was feverish and under the weather for a good chunk of our time in Berlin, I think we did a pretty respectable job experiencing Berlin, but I must say, I am also really, really grateful that we’ll definitely be back this summer, when Mirjam and Felix celebrate their wedding in July!
Comforted by our anticipated return, we returned back to Schöneberg to pick up our bags before heading onwards to catch our flight that night to Porto, ready for the next phase of our trip. Berlin, we’ll be back before you know it!