Land Sighting: East Germany
Sunday, July 18th, 2004: Berlin, Germany
Sassnitz to Berlin: 333 kilometres
The alarm rings and wakes us both at 6:45 – we quickly shower and pack the car. Despite the promises of the night before that breakfast would be ready by 7:30, there is no sign of it, nor of any life at the bed & breakfast.
At 8:15, we sail – we are taking a ferry across the Baltic, from Trelleborg to Sassnitz, and then will drive the rest of the way to Berlin, saving hours of driving, and paying no more than the cost of the bridge & tunnel tolls and gas. At 12:00, we dock. We start our drive, not taking the fastest route, but rather driving through small towns on country roads until we finally hit the Autobahn, about 150 kilometres outside Berlin. It is a high summer day today – the sun is magnificent in the sky, dancing on the wheat fields that we pass, looking almost ready for harvest.
The Former East Germany
We are driving through the former East Germany – and although reunification is old news, 14 years old, there is a different look, somehow, than the solidly prosperous Germany of Frankfurt am Main and Köln. And on the radio we hear in English (there are British and US military bases, broadcasting radio from home) a discussion of the economic consequences of reunification on Germany, still being felt through a depressed economy and high unemployment.
We find relatively easily, the apartment we have rented for our stay in Berlin. It is in Schöneberg, a bit south of the city centre, but right on the U-bahn. After settling in, we head out to Nollendorf Platz, a few blocks up the street, to find a café for dinner. We scope out the selection, choose 1, and order in halting German – with the assistance of the woman sitting at the next table. To our delight, a meal that would have easily been well over $100 in Scandinavia totals less than half that! The $20 green salad (which we could never bring ourselves to order) is replaced with one for $6, the $12 beer with one for $5, the $35 bowl of pasta with one $10. Welcome to Germany! Monika, as she turns out, teaches French to Germans and German to foreigners in Kassel, a town in central Germany, and is visiting Berlin for a couple of days, having left husband and children at home. We spend an enjoyable hour or so talking to her about the state of Germany and of the world, during which we discover, among other things, that Germany (but not Austria or Switzerland) has decided to discontinue the use of the letter ß, and to replace it with two s, so Saßnitz becomes Sassnitz, and straße becomes strasse. Monika expresses some sadness, and also some doubt about the value of the cost – every textbook used in the German school system is being replaced, at huge cost, as a result of this small change.
We started dinner seated outside, but over the course of dinner and our conversation, the weather has changed – huge thunderheads rolled over, followed by lightning and high winds, then the downpour. We retreat inside, and decide to stay for another beer, hoping the rain will stop.
The rain has different ideas, and so we run to the U-bahn, ½ block away, and take it to the stop ½ block away from our apartment.