Shoe Shopping on the Ku’damm in Berlin

Wednesday, July 21st, 2004: Berlin, Germany

Today is a shopping day. John has pretty much worn out his shoes, wearing them practically every day for six months. We both had expected to be sporting more summer oriented foot wear – sandals or flip flops – but the weather hasn’t co-operated and so we are wearing out our walking shoes. Our plan is to have a leisurely shop for shoes.

A Humbling Reminder

We take the U-bahn to Wittenbergplatz Station and walk out and are confronted with an enormous directional sign telling us that this was one of the major departure gates for Jews deported from Berlin. Sadly, they were leaving the city for destinations like Auschwitz or Dachau. The sign lists at least fifteen final destinations and it is the first thing that you see as you exit the station. It is a daily and humbling reminder for everyone who uses this very busy U-bahn station. We gaze up the promenade and at the first curve in the street, sitting in the midst of all this stark commercialism, lies another example of the effects of war on this city. Here are the stark remains of the Kaiser-Wilhelm Church, bombed by the British on November 22, 1943. Its broken west tower is all that remains.

Some North American Brands to Remind us of Home

We have walked up to the Kurfûrstendamm (Ku’damm for those in the know), which used to be the commercial heart of West Berlin but nowadays is showing its age. However outdated some of its shops are, it is still a place where Starbucks and the Gap have set up their businesses and it is a bustling, busy street. We start our shoe hunt.

We stop at Starbucks not only for an expensive coffee but because they have a hot spot for wireless internet users and we are desperate to update the website and pick up email. Berlin does not seem to have many internet cafés and those that want to bring laptops in to work will find almost none that will host you. We set up our laptop and anticipate an hour’s break over our iced lattes and some email and web time. Alas, this is not to be. The network is not working and no one behind the counter knows how to fix it. Thankfully, a friendly English speaking gentleman overhears all of this, and tells us of an internet shop down the street, close to Wittenburgplatz station. We strike up a conversation, introduce ourselves and finish our coffee. Alexander Frey is an American from Evanston, Illinois but considers himself a Berliner, having made the city his permanent place of residence for the last fourteen years. An accomplished conductor and musician, Alex has an international career recording, conducting and playing with many of the world’s established symphony orchestras, and having won a German Grammy for one of his recordings. He offers us his mobile number and insists on us calling if we need assistance again.

A New Friend

The shoe shopping is a success with a new pair being purchased at of all places, Timberland, we head back to Wittenburgplatz station to find our internet café and to update. Again, we are without luck as that elusive café is not to be found. We grab a bus and ride back to our flat where we call Alex on his mobile and sheepishly ask for help again. Interestingly enough he is sitting in an internet café right then and why don’t we join him. It is in Kreuzberg, conveniently close to our flat, and over we head. Alex greets us at the door and we step inside and discover one of the cheapest internet cafés around.
We do our posting, some banking, email and research and afterwards, Alex takes us on an impromptu tour of the area, which turns out to be his neighbourhood, showing us beautiful Victoria Park, with its views over the city, and walking us through the rapidly gentrifying area, back in the centre again after having been, when the wall was still up, a forgotten area on the edge.

The sun is setting, and many Berliners are out enjoying what seems to be their first taste of summer. We all have a drink afterward and lots of conversation. Our friend Derek joins us after his work and our night is gladly later than originally planned.

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