The Berlin Series:
- Berlin Day 1: Travel & Copenhagen
- Berlin Day 2: Brandenburg Gate-Reichstag-Checkpoint Charlie
- Berlin Day 3: Food Tour, East Side Gallery, and the Hasselhoff “Museum”
- Berlin Day 4: Museum Island, River Cruise, and the Ice Bar
- Berlin Day 5: Trip to Barsinghausen
- Berlin Day 6: Tempelhof Airport and Adjusted Travel Plans
- Berlin Day 7: Bonus Day in Berlin and Travel Home
Berlin Day 6 (March 16, 2023)
We once again got a late start, this time on account of our late return from Barsinghausen the night before. On today’s (Thursday, March 16) agenda was the Tempelhof Airport tour and some doner kebab. The weather was as nice as it had been all week. This was scheduled to be our last day in Berlin. While we were waiting for the kids to get going, Amy was checking information for our flight out on Friday. But it was odd. The information wasn’t showing up. She called the credit card benefits division through which we’d bought our flights. They agreed that something wasn’t checking out, but they’d have to wait until the American division of Scandinavian Air (SAS) was open. The U.S. was 5 hours behind us at that point, so it would have to wait until 1 or 2.
We ate the scraps left in the apartment for breakfast and then headed out. We stopped at a kebab place called Bistro Nazar which was a little trailer with maybe one outdoor table. Cole did the ordering for us. They asked if we wanted ketchup with the fries. He said yes, and they put a fair amount of it on top of the fries. It was a little sweet for my tastes, and in retrospect it would have been better just plain. But the kebabs were good. Amy found a place to mail some post cards while the kids and I hung out in the sun.
More or less across the street was an air lift monument. It’s an impressive concrete structure “reminiscent of a hungry hand reaching up.” Apparently there are identical monuments in Celle and Frankfurt. However, the area is not well maintained. There was graffiti on the monument and trash in the area. I was put in mind of the Captain Cook monument in Kealakekua Bay, Hawaii. But the comparison is probably not apt. The neglect of that monument pretty clearly reflects ill-will toward the monument and what it represents. I don’t think there is anything like that kind of hostility. Germans might have some mixed feelings about Americans, but the airlift was a pretty impressive feat. Soviets had cut off ground access to West Berlin for 322 days in 1948 and 1949. The Americans and the British performed the astounding feat of supplying the city from the air.
The monument is near the entrance to Tempelhof Airport which was the site of our tour. The place stopped operating as an airport since 2008 and is just an immense, mostly unused structure surrounded by open space which has been devoted to public use. The site of the airport was originally Knights Templar territory (hence the name) and then a Prussian parade field. It then became a pre-war airfield, and Hitler had plans, never fully realized, to turn the place into a showpiece. The side by the runways and tarmac is shaped in a semi-circle where they were going to build stadium seating on the roof with an intended capacity of 100,000. On the opposite side, there were plans to install a sloped grass area that could accommodate another million.
There were also some political prison space there which pre-dated the Nazis but which they took advantage of until they had built more industrial facilities for that sort of thing. Armaments were manufactured there. The airport sustained some bombing damage during the war but maybe not as much as I would have expected – me not being a war planner or anything, but it seems like devastating an airfield would be a high priority. After the war, the Americans kept half and let the Germans use the other half. The Germans resumed commercial flights from Tempelhof. On the American side, there was apparently an attempt to create amenities that would limit the temptation to go out into the broader city. Cold War spying was rampant and the less Americans mixed with the general population the better. So, among other things, I appreciated the basketball court on one of the upper floors, complete with a “Berlin Braves” logo.
After the tour, we found a quiet space and Amy tried to deal with our flight situation. The original itinerary was to fly out of Berlin on Friday morning to Stockholm and then catch the flight from Stockholm to Chicago on Saturday. But the Stockholm – Chicago flight, SAS flight SK945 was just … gone. Nobody seemed to have much information about why or when. Supposedly an email had gone out, but when she was able to check, no email had been sent to Amy about this flight being canceled. It was made more difficult by having to go through the ticket vendor rather than straight through SAS. But the SAS person told the vendor maybe something about a strike. Trying to piece it together later, there doesn’t seem to have been a strike. They just sold us the tickets in January, and then – maybe sometime in February – eliminated the route from February 28 through March 21. And failed to tell us. We had no place to stay on Friday and, now, no way to get home. As Amy was trying to navigate this with the vendor, Tempelhof was closing down. She actually managed to stay on the phone as we worked our way through the U-Bahn and tram system. But, ultimately, this was mostly wasted time. Nobody was getting us on another flight. When we got home, Amy was able to fire up her laptop and make arrangements. We ended up with a “bonus day” in Berlin, a hotel room, and flights through a different airline via Brussels. And a big price tag. International travel on short notice for four people isn’t cheap. We tried to claw some of the money back from SAS and our travel insurance, but so far the results are limited. We’re ridiculously privilege to have this be an annoyance rather than a catastrophe.
Fortunately, all of that was settled in time for us to head back out to dinner where we had reservations at the Hofbrau House. When we’d been planning the trip, this had been Cole’s request. I loved this dinner. But the place is not some kind of authentic local institution. The vibe was maybe a cross between Applebees and EPCOT. For all that, there was great energy. Wide open spaces with big picnic tables, servers schlepping beers, and a band playing polka. People at the various tables all seemed to be having a good time. The table next to us was doing a bunch of Jaeger shots. Along with the beer, I had sausages, sauerkraut and potatoes. It was delicious. Since we were right there at Alexanderplatz, we checked out the World Clock, built in 1969. It’s a 24 sided clock with a side for each time zone and it lists major cities in that zone. We also took in a pretty good view of the Berlin TV Tower, originally intended as a symbol of communist power. With the Cold War won and time having passed, the TV tower has a Jetsons/Venture Brothers/Carousel of Progress sensibility.
We headed home. Cole and I thought we’d head out to one of the bars in the neighborhood for a beer. Amy was gassed from the stress of our travel snafu. Harper passed. So it was just me and the boy. The first place, I believe it was called Moloko, was just right. It was comfy and they had Zeppelin II playing on the stereo. Unfortunately, they closed at 10. Before and after Moloko, we had stuck our head into a place next door called Wohnzimmer. It was: a) too crowded; and b) not at all our vibe – fancy drinks and a hipper crowd. Still, we weren’t quite ready to be done, so we went to a Japanese restaurant called Oishinbo that was pretty close. That wasn’t great, so we tried one more which ended up being smokey and which we should have just skipped. Even so, it was nice to have some one-on-one time, shooting the breeze with Cole. A rare treat with him off at college. When we got back, we put the clothes we had been wearing out on the balcony to air out. There was a day when I was a lot more tolerant of bar smoke, but that day has definitely passed.
Next time: Bonus day in Berlin and travel home.