Friday, December 17, 2010

Warsaw -> Berlin

If I posted a photo of the Central Train Station in Warsaw, you would be dismayed. It is quite bleak. Varsovians hate it (I am told) and I have to agree. I'm not a grumpy, whiny traveler -- I’m generally inclined to have warm thoughts about places I visit (yes, ultimately even Milk Bars), but this station leaves me cold (in all ways). It’s undergoing some cosmetic restoration. Let’s see what happens in a year or so.

And so, we leave Warsaw from this gloomy subterranean space and it doesn’t help that we emerge in the glitzy Berlin Hauptbahnhof, the largest and most modern station in all of Europe. Hrump.

No matter. Poland has more important virtues. Like the splendid landscape, made stunning by the never ending snow that falls and sprinkles, and puffs things out and then falls some more.


Our entire stay in Europe this time, with the exception of one warm-ish day in Berlin, has been one long snow storm. Flakes on my coat, my camera, my face, and now on this flat but lovely stretch of land – these will be the memories I’ll have with me.


I am mesmerized by it all as we speed westward. It’s a six hour trip and about five of those hours are through Poland (Berlin is actually quite close to the border).

The vast fields, bordered by farmsteads and forests, are a playground for wildlife. I watch countless herds of deer...


...and large rabbits, with legs long enough to make giant leaps, and red breasted pheasant hunched near the snow covered brush, and in the forest – deer with such fantastic antlers that I could have mistaken them for the fine animals that pull St. Nick’s sleigh.

It’s not easy to take photos – there is the glare of inside light, the speed, and frequently, there is a cloud of snow spewing to the sides, as the train pushes forward. It is not unlike watching Dr. Zhivago, part two.


Sometimes the train slows and passes through towns. Here's one: Swiebodzin. A little known place until recently, when it decided to construct a large tower of Jesus. Larger than Rio's. Largest in the world, I'm told. There is this side to Poland now too. The gaudy, pompous display of solidarity of a different sort -- coalescing around religious symbols and material might. The little engine that could, wants to be viewed by the rest of the world as the big engine that roars. Sigh...


Our compartment mate – a very self assured gentleman who has as his goal to teach me about my own country – tells me I will enjoy taking photos of the border crossing. "Enjoy" is an interesting word. I certainly will take note. In my high school history classes there was much discussion about the border along the River Odra.


And now we are in Berlin.


We’re staying in the commercial heart of Mitte.


And right across the street we have another Christmas market! Make this our third in Berlin and this one is the most glitzy and sparkling of them all. You have to pay to get in (unless, like us, you have a hotel pass) which is curious because once in, all you do is shop and eat.


We participate in the eating part. (With hot mulled wine to fight the bitter cold.)

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It really is cold again. And it’s snowing, but we have no complaints about that. You’d have to be pretty jaded to not love the constant retouch of fresh snow. We’re not jaded.

We walk back and forth, sampling sausage and chocolate covered gingerbread, comparing vendors, watching others do the same.


Finally it's time to sit down to a regular meal. We've not really eaten since Warsaw. Our dinner is at another (Eastern) Berlin establishment, where the traditional meal comes with venison over red cabbage, with potato dumplings. It’s absolutely delicious and it seems fitting to be dining on traditional food. Something of old Berlin needs to come through and grab your imagination and food is always a good place to take note of the most pleasing aspects of a nation's soul. And so we eat our venison, followed by plum ravioli and pistachio ice cream, all in this quiet, neighborhood restaurant with a garden covered with snow and an open black iron gate.



We try not to think too much about tomorrow’s flight to Paris, where it is also snowing. One day at a time. One small challenge, then the next and the next... One snowflake, then another, and another, until it all becomes a landscape of white stuff, a coherent whole, a tablet of loveliness.