It has been a long time since I’ve had a great week, much less a perfect one. Divorce, the death a year ago of someone I’d known and loved for fifty years, and my own black dog of depression have conspired against good days, much less good weeks, these past two years. But as I arrived home last Sunday from a week in Berlin with my dearest and oldest friend in the world, Nancy Talbot, perfect was the only word to describe it.
The weather was gorgeous, warm but not hot, breezy and so beautiful that we walked for miles every day, wandering in and out of neighborhoods nach Lust und Laune, as the Germans would say, that is with no set itinerary or destination. The two times that it did rain were brief cloud bursts that cleared the air of dust and pollen and made Berlin sparkle like a platinum-and-emerald crown worthy of a Hohenzollern queen.
The company was wonderful, a combination of family – my mother and oldest brother, Pete, who happened to be in Berlin the same week – and old and new friends – my two pals of 40 years, Nancy and Peter, and my new friend, Barbara, Peter’s wife – and made for lively discussions and intimate, heart-to-heart talks that nourished the soul, as well as the mind.
The museums and monuments, a dazzling melding of the former East and West Berlin collections and institutions, as well as new ones built since reunification, are so numerous and stimulating that you could stay a year in Berlin and not see them all. Having bought a three-day Museum Pass, we took advantage of it to fit in nearly a dozen exhibitions while we were there, including the wonderful Jugendstil collection housed in the Broehan Museum.
On another day, we took on the Deutsches Historisches Museum and its intellectually rigorous timelines and artifacts, while on yet another I sneaked out to revisit some old favorite 19th century German paintings like Casper David Friedrich’s “Moonrise Over the Sea,” which used to be housed in the Neue Galerie in the old West Berlin, but now hangs among thousands of other 19th century European paintings in the Alte Galerie on the Museuminsel, or Museum Island. Best of all, staying in Mitte, the hip part of town that used to be a part of East Berlin, we hardly ever needed to use public transportation, opting to walk most places, instead.
Our hotel was unbeatable. I’m not one to usually plug one place over another, especially not a chain hotel, but the Radisson Blu was flawless. Our immaculate room looked right out at the Spree River and the Berliner Dom, and we had the world’s largest indoor, circular aquarium right in the lobby and so got to watch swimming fish and scuba divers cleaning the tank while we ascended and descended in the hotel’s elevators. And having booked a Business Class room, free Wifi and the hotel’s truly sumptuous buffet were included in the room price and eliminated the need or desire to eat lunch (although not Kaffee und Kuchen, of which we ingested a lot). Best of all, when we finally retired every night around 1:00 a.m., no one banged on paper-thin walls to tell us to stop laughing so loud, because the thick steel doors and sturdy walls rendered our room the most peaceful and restful haven I’ve ever experienced in the middle of a huge city. I’d go back to the Radisson Blu in a heartbeat.
And finally for this inveterate birder, and since this blog is really about birding most of the time, there were birds everywhere in Berlin, especially eagles, which have played an important role in German iconography and symbolism for over a thousand years. Granted, most of them were stone or wood, but I loved the sensation of being observed by the majestic birds everywhere I went, from Schloss Charlottenburg to inexplicably random street corners and building facades across the city. My heart soared every time I saw one of them. And even the lowly Hooded Crow, a common scavenger all across Berlin, made me smile at its comic antics.
I came back from Berlin a different person than the one that left, a heady mix of ingredients conspiring to finally return the woman I used to be. I’ve missed her and I’ve missed Berlin. Being back there was perfect.