Diary of an Expat, Part 35
Berlin, in the quiet parts
Remember how I told you all that terribly, wonderfully humorous story about the one time I swerved to avoid hitting a stroller and wound up in a streetcar rail, and then on my side?

I walked into the office Monday, and when my coworkers saw what was left of my arms and hands they did not say "oh, what happened?" or "did you get into an accident?" or anything that nebulous. They said: "oh, did you find a tram line?"

It's "like a right of passage," I'm told.

I didn't do any biking today, though. Today I had a friend in town, and by and large I mostly just walked. Berlin has got a lot of really great places to do that in, which is one of the best parts of the city in my opinion.

Side streets are eminently accessible when you're not biking for them — on a bike they can be a little narrow for comfort, and the cobblestones have a way of fucking up your forward progress by turning it into sideways progress also. On the side streets you discover lots of fun little things — little shops, and signs that explains that smoking marijuana makes you "polaroid."

Beyond the sidestreets you wind up at the parks, and those are amazing. In a sense, Berlin is essentially one huge park, with a scattering of urban spaces here and there for good measure. Just go wandering and you'll find a park on nearly every corner. It's a staggeringly green city, and Berliners themselves are quite good at getting out and enjoying it.

On a sunny afternoon in spring these parks are completely full of people just hanging out — not the purposeful park-going of Americans, where you go because your kids want to, or "to throw a frisbee around" or whatever. You just go and hang out. I bought a couple of beers, and my friend and I sat and just hung out. Eventually we both fell asleep, because... it had been a long day up to that point.

It had been a long day because of other parks. The Tiergarten, for instance, is the massive park that sprawls past the Brandenburg Gate in the center of the city. Once you're in it, amongst the trees, the outside world has a very nifty habit of completely disappearing, and you can enjoy the trees and the ponds and the birds that come to beg for food.

Berlin is a quiet city at the worst of times, but in the middle of one of the big parks — the Tiergarten, sure, but also Treptower Park, or Volkspark Humboldhain, or Volkspark Friedrichshain, or Volkspark Rehberge, or seriously just look at this, this is ridiculous... when you're in the middle of them the city completely disappears. It's a wonderful way to get some reflection in — and a bit of shade, since they tend to be densely covered with trees.

A pleasant day ended down in the Treptow district, which is where you discover one of the other things about Berlin, which is that in general it is quite weird, and in general it is quite weird in an awesome way. Treptow is, for example, where one can find the Badeschiff, which is exactly what it sounds like: a ship where you can go swimming in the otherwise heavily polluted Spree river. It's a permanently moored barge filled with heated pool water. Interesting idea, that.

But my destination happened to be hidden in an alley past a service station, where you walk along the banks of a disused canal until, suddenly, you are at a "bar," which is just one dude with a shack selling drinks, and then you go down and sit on a floating platform in the canal and watch lights play off the black water, until it's time to go home.

It was a relaxed, peaceful day and it has reminded me of what exactly weekends are supposed to be all about. It has also left me proper exhausted, which is why this post is a bit rambly. I've left out the parts about the palm trees and the parts about Darth Vader, so maybe I will return to those next week when I talk about the perversely less serious side of the city*.

Perhaps not. I'm not certain. For now I'm just looking forward to tomorrow, and a return to Berlin's delightful quiet spaces, and the ability to enjoy a waning afternoon. The way the light works here, evening lasts 3 or 4 until 8 or 9; that soft, glowing light persists throughout, as though the world itself was saying "nah, go on. You can rest awhile longer..."

It's decidedly one of those "man, I love Berlin" days.

* I say less serious because I was just talking about a bar, and drinking is extremely serious business in Berlin. As, I have to imagine, it is in most of Germany, if the shouting people on the S-Bahn have anything to do with it.
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