I made it to Germany just after noon, and, despite the odds, my bag appeared on the carousel. I was surprised, however, that upon exiting the plane, the bag pick up was right outside the gate and right outside the gate was the terminal. I was confused at first because there was no one from customs to stamp my passport. I asked the attendant by security, and he said I was fine. Later, I figured out that since I had already had my passport stamped in Paris, I must be good to go for Europe.
I followed the signs – well, the pictures – and found my way to the bus, stopping only to exchange $200 for about 130 Euros. I was rather impressed with myself for finding the right bus to take and then having the patience to wait for the proper stop instead of asking. I quickly found the transfer to the subway, took it two stops, and exited. That’s when I ran into my first problem: where was the hotel? It wasn’t clear on the map, and I couldn’t find anyone friendly enough to help, until one nice lady gave me directions.
Oh, did I mention the ground is covered in a snow-ice-slush mix? Snish? I’m not sure the technical term. And, my body hadn’t quite eased into the DC cold weather to be ready for the real winter of Germany, which means only eight hours of daylight. I trudged on in the cold dragging my suitcase since the wheels weren’t helping much, and carrying my backpack.
At the hotel, I was advised my room was ready and my roommate had already checked in. Rob is a lawyer from Cincinnati and living in Columbus, Ohio. We started a conversation, unpacked, and then joined up with his friend Ben from Cleveland now living in Columbus as a city planner, and Ben’s roommate Doug, who lives in the Upper East Side of New York City. We strolled around the snish-covered sidewalks of Berlin, stopping at a bakery for coffee and a pretzel. It was next to a Dunkin Donuts, so I snapped a picture and emailed my Dad that this was the proof that DD really is trying to take over the world (inside joke).
We continued our trek and made our way to the Brandenberg Gate where I snapped pictures of a Christmas tree and a menorah. There was Darth Vader having lightsaber battles, a man dressed in a Soviet uniform offering to stamp your passport, a panda bear (confused), and a guy who was painted to look like a statue.
We then made our way to the Reichstag, snapped a few photos, and looked at each other and said, “Yup, time to go back and get warm.” After a brief stop in a clothing store for gloves and at a CVS-like store for 2-in-1 shampoo (Smurf was an option, but none of us bought it), it was back to the hotel to shower before dinner.
At dinner, we were introduced to the program, the program leader, Dr. Dagmir Pruin, her staff, Itay, Anna, and Uly, and introduced ourselves. Then the organized chaos of a buffet dinner began, followed by me lighting the Hanukkah candles. After, we all went out, searching for a bar. Somehow, we settled on an outdoor bonfire bar, where a Turkish man speaking German offered to sell me marijuana. No thanks. I did buy the only beer that didn't seem terrible, and I am quite surprised at the lack of good beer options. We finished at a bar near the hotel and then, jeglagged, called it a night.