Since I had a German pen pal when I was 8 years old, I know the proper way to address a German letter and postcard.
Beyond that, however, my German is not very good but thankfully here in Berlin most people seem to speak flawless English.
For me, however, one of the best things about being in Germany is that everyone gets my name right.
In the U.S. people think it’s Gershwin and in the UK they like Gresham. Here it’s a very proper Frau Gershmann!
I know Berlin fairly well but have not been back in a few years, so despite travel delays and difficulties getting here, it was worth the effort. I have long thought that the part of Berlin to get to know is East Berlin and that part of town which once lay behind the infamous Wall.
There are incredible museums, amazing architecture and some unusual shopping. The weekend flea market is excellent and even in these hard times, there are well-priced items to buy.
Arriving at Tegel Airport was an immediate lesson in how things at airports can indeed be organized differently. We de-planed into a single lobby with a single baggage system—no long walks, no multiple carousels.
Once luggage was in hand, we passed by a single immigration officer and were immediately following signs for a taxi. It was the easiest international entry I’ve ever had.
ADLON UBER ALLES
I have been staying at the Adlon Hotel overlooking Brandenberg Gate since the hotel re-opened in 1997. Although not bombed during World War II, the hotel caught fire in May of 1945 and had been closed until 12 years ago when it was recreated as its former self, the most famous hotel in Germany. It’s now officially the Adlon-Kempinkski, still hosting celebrities and presidents.
President Obama stayed here last summer, even before our elections. Fashion Week will take over the hotel next week, after its run in Paris.
Aside from its Grand Hotel style—and the rumor that it was the model for the movie Grand Hotel—the Adlon is favored because of its location next to the Brandenberg Gate at the beginning of Unden der Linden, a wide avenue that serves as the main drag of East Berlin. In the short time since re-unification and the building spree on the Spree, Unden der Linden has become very touristy with even a Dunkin’ Donuts and a Starbucks across the street from the Adlon.
There are perhaps a dozen TT’s (Tourist Traps) selling books, magnets, guides, and postcards—some embedded with a piece of the original Wall (ha). Among the most original, and authentic, of the local souvenirs is a green or red man symbol—made into everything from key chains to sponges.
It seems that when East Berlin was being absorbed into West Berlin to create one city, the pedestrian signals were being torn down so as to match the more traditional style throughout Europe. The citizens rebelled and the visual emblem of East Berlin is now in the shape of a green man with top hat or a red man with arms out-stretched.
So commercial has all this East-West divided Berlin business become that stores are clustered on all four sides of Checkpoint Charlie and a Starbucks stands one block away.
While there is a Museum of the Wall with a very good gift shops and numerous TTs that sell all sorts of items with the slogan “You are now leaving the American Sector,” the first real outrage is that you are asked to pay 1 euro (about $1.35) to some enterprising young dude who stands in front of Checkpoint Charlie with a flag in his hand. If you want to be photographed there, you have to pay up.
Not to be outdone, the guy across the street has a package deal in which he will sell you six visa stamps for five euros. He will not sell one; this is an all or nothing deal.
Having already had my passport stamped with the Eurotunnel and the Great Wall of China, I didn’t bite.
Surprisingly, Checkpoint Charlie is just down the street from the area where clusters of department stores and designer shops have opened on Friederichstrasse.
There’s a Jean Nouvel-designed Galeries Lafayette department store to represent the French sector, there’s assorted famous German brands such as Escada and international big chains, like H&M.
I’m still kicking myself for passing up the patent leather Puma sneakers.
The best stores represent a very specific look that is done by several different designers on a world wide basis yet remains at core, very German. This look is boxy, drapey and layered with the added luxury of elastic waistlines so that it fits many figures.
The high end of this look might be the British designer Eskander and the most pedestrian version is the American line Eileen Fisher. The German designers tend to go for texture and unusual fabrics and a midway price bracket, usually around $250 for a dress.
Oska (www.oska.de—site is in German and in English) is the best known of these German designers (and most expensive), with stores in London as well as New York’s SoHo district. I did find MP on the Friederichstrasse, which is a very similar line that is slightly less expensive.
BAD & BADEN
Bad means bath and I think baden is plural, but then that might be as in Baden-Baden—who knows for sure? I do know that a trip to an apothecary can be very sterile, or fun to shop, whereas a trip to a general merchandise store like Rossmann will have tons of bath and beauty products for not many euros.
I stocked up on Badedas, which is difficult to find in the U.S. as well as Kneipp bath salts and bath tablets, which I like for jet lag.
The Adlon Day Spa has a wonderful water treatment in which you do exercises in a hydroban that is good for jet lag but I also like my DIY cures. Of course, when the Nivea Spa opens up on Unden der Linden I plan to head right back to Berlin to try it out—this promises to be the Volkspa of Europe, the People’s Spa.
Till then, kisses with saltz,
By Suzy Gershman for PeterGreenberg.com. For 25 years, Suzy Gershman has written the popular “Born to Shop” series, now published by Frommer’s. Her most recent book, Where to Buy the Best of Everything, is available now. For more information, visit www.suzygershman.com.