Thursday, September 11, 2014

Words from Berlin

My bible here : "Berlin Guidebook" by Masato Nakamura

So I'm in a hotel room in Berlin, watching local news on TV, munching on chips, drinking grape juice and trying to write a digest of my stay so far. Mike and I decided to come to Berlin and have a little vacation before and after his meetings on Sep 10th and 11th. I had never been to Berlin or Germany before, and my teaching job at a college doesn't begin until the mid-September, so we couldn't think of any reasons not to. 

as I write this blog at a hotel room...

We arrived here last Wednesday, so it's been exactly one week since then. Everything seemed "wunderbar!" the first couple of days; we enjoyed the gorgeous fall weather (coming from muggy Tokyo where it was still the midst of summer), there were no yucky mosquitoes (while Tokyo seems to be suffering from a pandemic of Dengue fever, believed to have been spread from mosquitoes in Yoyogi park), everyone speaks English, we didn't have any problems getting around the town (thanks to the excellent subway system in Berlin), trains run on time and more frequently than the ones in Tokyo—plus it's never crowded even when everyone seems to be heading home. I was like, wow! I could imagine living here! 

First exploration day! Near Kurfürstendamm street, Berlin

On our 3rd or 4th day here though, I was already starting to notice shortcomings of this "wunderbar" city, and this makes me realize how quickly I take things for granted and start bitching about what I miss or what I don't have. For example, I was getting annoyed by not being able to find public bathrooms easily, because there are *always* toilets at the train stations in Japan (though when in Japan, I often complain about the presence of filthy traditional Japanese toilets and how unnecessary they are.) Even if I find toilets here, we usually have to pay to use, so before I know it, I naturally began to rant, "Come on! Who needs to pay to pee? It's the most basic of minimum human rights we should never have to ask for!!"

Subway station, Berlin

In addition to the lack of free public toilets, I began to notice how dirty some streets are here; there's trash littered around in some places even though there are trash bins available (for everyone to use, for free!) at every corner. I often heard people outside Japan saying how clean the streets in Tokyo are, but I'd never thought Tokyo was such a clean city before I came here; I was wrong! Considering there are 20-30 million people living there and no trash cans available on the street, Tokyo does hella good job keeping the city as clean as it is.  

Mauerpark—with some garbage scattered on the grass, in spite of several huge dumpsters in the park

I assure you that when I go back to Tokyo I'll find everything to be marvelous the first couple of days but I will soon find something to complain about; whether it's the humidity or mosquitoes, I don't want to do that! So that's why I wanted to take time to write my reflections while I'm still in Berlin. 

Trying to look pensive at Nikolaiviertel

There are things that Berlin and Germany in general do so well, so much better than Tokyo or Japan do; how they face and handle some of the darker chapters in their history is one. We went to the Holocaust memorial (Holocaust-Mahnmal) just a couple of blocks from Brandenburger Tor. There, you'll see thousands of stone monuments laid out in all different heights. We couldn't find any sign or a board explaining what they are so we decided to walk in the narrow paths in between the monuments. Within a few seconds of being down there, you'll realize what these stones represent and at the same time, you start having some indescribable fear. However, in order to escape from that scary maze, you'll need to continue walking in the narrow paths. The taller the stones get, the scarier it gets; you never know what's going to happen at the very next corner. I almost bumped into someone at the corner who was also finding his way out. 

Holocaust-Mahnmal, Berlin
These stones were laid out pretty close to each other and are a lot taller than us, so we needed to be careful not bumping into other people coming from different directions.

We then found this very insignificant looking sign just a few minutes walk from the Holocaust memorial and learned that it was where Hitler and his wife committed suicide. We couldn't believe how so unremarkable it looked compared to how those Japanese war criminals are treated (as gods) in Japan. There, too, we feel like we eye-witnessed great efforts and commitments of German people, not wanting to repeat that not-so-proud part of their history again, without hiding or turning their back from it. They must not be proud of their dark history during the Nazi regime, but they must be very proud of how they dealt with (and still dealing with) history and accepted and made amends for past wrongdoings. I am amazed and saddened by how hard it is for Japan to do the same. 

Where Adolf Hitler committed suicide — his underground bunker

Other than having free public toilets at the train stations, perhaps, there are things Japan/Japanese people do so well, too; superb customer service is one. I always thought that cliche "o-mo-te-na-shi" is overrated, but now I have to disagree with myself-then. Of course there are rude people everywhere you go, but Japanese people normally tend to go out of their way to be polite and kind—though not necessarily always friendly—especially to their customers. When you are a customer in Japan, you should be treated like a king or even a god (as in "customer is god" お客様は神様です), but in foreign countries, I'm not god, and I sometimes even feel like I'm actually working for them! 

Monday evening after we came back from Hamburg, I took a short nap. When I got up and opened the curtain, there was "super-moon" gracefully floating in the sky; that same moon that Japanese people enjoyed several hours ago. I realized some things are the same, even on the other side of the world. Everywhere you go, there are pros and cons. No place is perfect—though Sweden or Switzerland seem to be perfect, but I'm sure I'll find something to bitch about once I visit there. So, once I'm back in Tokyo, I promise I will try to focus on the bright side and won't complain too much, for a week or two at least! :)))))

Super-Moon in Berlin! (Monday, Sep 8th, 2014)

More later... 

Photoautomaten is obligatory, isn't it?