Because I had a roomy exit-row seat on a full plane to Berlin, I sent a photo of my gloriously unbent legs to my wife. A petty triumph, the frequent-flyer’s tame version of sexting. My seatmate was a small, physically non-intrusive man, but troublingly prone to coughs and sneezes.
We painted lipstick on our lips and watched businessmen in suits flip open Die Welt, grazing the top of the newspaper with their line of sight, conspicuously shy in their observations of two foreign frauen. The train shot into Berlin’s Hauptbanhof with succinct precision, confirming one of our German stereotypes: 7.00pm exactly on Dec 31st, 2003, and not a minute late. My friend and I hoisted backpacks and flowed out of the central station and into a city that was eagerly, furiously rebuilding, was humming with energy, and was dusty and heterogeneous and still could not quite figure out how to contain itself. 2004 seemed like an inauspicious year to welcome.
There’s a big church conference in West Berlin and the streets are amazingly crowded, but many shops are closed. It’s the perfect day, we decide, to visit East Berlin, the land of Godless communism, as my husband Bob calls it. We hope to find bookstores selling cheap editions of classic books (Marx, Goethe). Also, because we are traveling on a tight budget, as always, we hope for some inexpensive but substantial meals. The Wall has been down for about seven months, but East and West are not yet unified, and they still have separate currencies.