Sunday, October 24 1999
Yesterday was the first day off for the cast, and as planned, most of the cast took off for Berlin. About 14 people took the train in, and the rest of us travelled in a van which our musical director, Brad, had rented. (Since Brad is fluent in German and has done a number of these tours, he felt comfortable with driving and reading the road signs to get there). I ended up sitting in the front passenger seat since everyone else in the van wanted to sleep on the way, as we left very early -- or at least early for actors.
The drive took us just under 2 1/2 hours, cruising on the Autobahn (that was interesting...being passed when you're already going 210 km/135 mph) and it was easy driving...although we did hit a lot of road construction between Hannover and Potsdam. We parked the car in the lot directly across the street from the Olympic Stadium that Hitler had built for the 1936 games to prove the superiority of the Aryan Race...and where African-American Jesse Owens took home 4 gold medals. The stadium is quite astonishing in its grandeur. Anyhow, from there, we bought a day-long subway pass, and proceeded to Zoo Station (A german equivalent to Times Square -- At least Times Square before Guiliani got to it) to get oriented and for a little coffee. Standing right in the center of the glitz and neon is the Kaiser-Wilhelm Memorial Church: One of the few buildings destroyed in the bombing that has been left in ruins as a memorial. It was remarkable to see, and to look around at the buzzing city around it that virtually everything in sight was also reduced to rubble, and since reconstructed or rebuilt with almost no trace of the war.
We then took a tram to Potsdamer Platz, where another landmark was in the process of dissapearing. After climbing out of the subway station, and choking on the dust, we looked around at literally hundreds of cranes forming a skeletal ribbon across the skyline, rebuilding over the no-man's land where the Wall once stood. A little pocket has already been completed, looking very much like Universal City Walk in Los Angeles (or the new E-walk on 42nd St). A number of cast members as well as our director and choreographer had tickets to see "Der Glockner der Notre Dame" - Disney's Stage Musical version of the Cartoon film. I can't see the logic in traveling all the way to Berlin to see Burbank on stage, so I passed and went for a walk.
Directly across the street from the Tiergarten (think Central Park) was also alive with construction - All the embasies being built for the relocation (Re-relocation?) of the capitol from Bonn to Berlin. After that I walked up to the Reichtag and the Brandenburg Gate and walked through to the other side - after being told by our director that the last time he had been to the gate, it was walled through with concrete and barbed wire - and thought about the number of people who had died trying to do what I now, as a tourist can do with no problems whatsoever.
Now in the Eastern Half of the city, I walked along Unter de Linder Str. which is very much like the Champs Elysees in Paris, ending in the Brandenburg Gate instead of the Arc de Triumphe. Again, cranes and construction cluttered the area...but the overall look of the eastern side was overall very different from the west, especially on the side streets and in the areas not yet rebuilt. After having a delicious pastry and some coffee, I headed back towards Potsdammer platz to pick up the theater goers..I took them up to the Gate and then we headed north along Friedrichstrasse to explore. Right around the river were a number of old theaters which now all seemed to have Kabarets in them, which I have been told are generally focused on political humor.
Just over the river, we entered a much older nieghborhood, which looks very much like the East Village. Lots of older buildings in various states of disrepair and grafitti, yet all filled with coffee shops, art galleries ( the one we stopped in focused on painful looking metal furniture covered in spray paint, and was playing heavy industrial music) and restaurants. Unlike the east village, however, there were very few homeless, little trash on the streets, and none of the women in our group felt uneasy splintering off from the group to go on their own - even in this district, the city felt extremely safe. We later found out that this section of town used to be the old Jewish district, and that the mosque-like structure at the end of the street was the largest Synagogue in the country. This building had been completely destroyed by the Nazis and then after the war had been completely rebuilt from the original design, with whatever original pieces that had survived (a door knob here, a floor plank there).
Again it struck me how so many things in this city had been completely restored since the war, and the painstaking effort to keep the city looking much as it had before the Nazis and then the Allied bombing. We talked about this a little over dinner, which was at a little cafe just down the street. After dinner, we had to walk back to the subway. The subway system there was an interesting experience - like New York, the Berlin U-Bahn/S-Bahn system makes little sense to the outsider trying to read the map, but it goes everywhere, and runs very frequently. However, there are no turnstiles - it works on the Honor System. You buy your ticket for the day at a little machine, and then keep it with you - occasionally train conductors come throught the trains to check tickets, but this never happend to any of us after riding several times. And on the trains, there is wood paneling and cushioned seating - none of this would ever fly in New York...No one there would pay the fare, and the seats would all be slashed.
All who went to Berlin - the Van People and the Train people - had a wonderful time. We never did meet up with the other group of people, but we all arrived back at our hotel in Nienburg around 1AM and quickly got into bed for rehearsal the next morning. We all agreed that once our show is up and running, we had to return on another day off. Everyone seemed to have found what they were looking for, be it live theater, a little history, the bathouses, shopping or, for me, just a taste of the city.