In a Berlin Internet café

Mark and I are at an Internet café just off Schloßstraße. They charge only fifty euro cents an hour. For that cheap price we have to get used to a German keyboard, which transposes the Y and Z keys. The last few days in Finland were spent with my friends Tiffiny and Risto Rossi, and we went to a Chinese restaurant in Tapiola where Mark met them and their children Lumi and Sakari for the first time. I myself met little Sakari for the first time too, since he was not even born when I last visited the Rossis in 2007. Our experiences with the Helsinki regional bus pass just keep getting more of a headache–but only for Mark. We never saw that bus driver we encountered in our first two days ever again, and we got on buses, trams and subways with our passes with no problem. However Mark’s pass, after a few days, got bent and curly and would not scan at the readers. Each time he boarded a bus he would have to explain to the driver why his pass wasn’t working. All the drivers let him on with no further questions asked. There was only one exception to this rule, and that was the demoness of a driver we encountered after saying good-bye to Tiffiny, Risto and their children.

She wouldn’t honour Mark’s pass. I understand why–and after we were forced to leave the (thankfully empty) bus I didn’t exactly endear myself to my beloved by taking the driver’s side, although Mark did understand why she refused to let him board. We had a 50-minute wait for the next bus, and I did the talking again. This time, the driver just waved us on. No problem. And again no problem when we boarded the bus for the last time en route to the main train station to catch the Finnair airport bus.

We spent today looking out over 360 degrees of Berlin up in the observation deck of the Fernsehturm, which is the CN Tower-like TV tower in the former East Berlin. I had never been to Berlin before this trip (aside from airport connections which don’t count) so I have no experience with the divided city. The Berlin Wall and the former East Germany may now be long forgotten, yet there is an odd sense of fondness for the latter, since both are big moneymakers as tourist attractions. One can visit the DDR ( = GDR) Museum; take a bike tour along the former wall’s location; buy dozens of Wall books and souvenirs; and buy trinkets associated with East Germany. There is even an entire store devoted to paraphernalia devoted to the Ampelmännchen. The Ampelmännchen is the term for the little guy who appears on traffic signs indicating when to walk and when to stop. The start and stop icon were unique to East Berlin (and perhaps to all of East Germany). When the city decided to scrap the Ampelmännchen and unify the traffic signals, there was a huge protest and now one sees the Ampelmännchen all over Berlin, not just in the former eastern side.

I would love to pick up an Ampelmännchen 3D postcard when I finally get around to buying postcards. I have not written any cards yet, which is a big change from my usual loquacious self (at least on paper I am). I have bought several books on the Berlin Wall and one memorial I want to see, and reflect upon and perhaps even get misty-eyed over, is the memorial to Peter Fechter.

Mark and I visited the Olympic Stadium earlier today. The 1936 Olympic Summer Games were held there and the famous stadium has since been covered over with a roof of translucent fabric. There is not a swastika anywhere on the Olympic grounds except on the enormous Olympic tower bell. The tower was demolished in 1947 and the cracked bell is on exhibit, with swastikas on its base. A new bell was hoisted in its place.

We leave very early tomorrow morning for Cologne, where Mark will play ice hockey for Canada in the Gay Games. Wish Canada luck on the ice!

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