Yes, it's true, after 16 hours of traveling, I'm back in Los Angeles. On the one hand, I think it's fair to say that I'm exhausted. On the other hand, it's remarkable to think that this morning (okay, very early this morning, like 1 AM...) I was in Berlin, Germany.
Here are some final (perhaps) wrap up tales. And don't worry, I'm not nuts enough to have come home, sat down at the computer and written all this. Most was written on the airplane. As you might imagine, I had a bit of time to ponder such things.
For what it's worth, I would fly Air Berlin again. It was fine, and if the fare was good or the schedule was the most convenient, it was perfectly okay. But the service was very perfunctory, I don't think I saw one flight attention smile in either direction, unless maybe if it was when they'd get chatty with a German passenger (and even that's a question). The food was a mixed bag -- the pasta, of all things, was quite tasty...though on the return flight they served it with saltines. But no snacks in between meals, like on KLM last year. And their on the ground organization -- well, you can read about that below.
And as for all that below, read on, MacDuff. Me, I'll be resting.
On our group’s last night in Berlin, it’s always everybody for themselves. Last year for example people split up into small packs, but I had wanted to find some small, out-of-the-way German restaurant. (There was one particular place I’d had my eye on, close by my hotel which I’d passed every day walking to our meeting point – but that last night I went there to eat…it had gone out of business that day! Timing R Us) Being hungry and without an alternative, I headed down a nearby alley to a very small tavern-type place I had spotted previously when exploring around the hotel. The place was quaint, quite old and had an interesting design with curved, slatted benches at the tables, and a nice waiter who spoke almost English. They had a very small menu of just a dozen dishes split between hot and cold, but it was tasty and inexpensive. (And though I rarely drink beer, hey, when in Germany… Oddly, when I do have beer, I like a heavy, rich taste. and they served a terrific, dark brew called something like Klosterhaus.) It wasn’t the dinner I’d been looking forward to, but it was simple, rustic cuisine, prepared well, and not a tourist in sight…except me. I lucked out.
I didn’t know what I’d do this year after that adventure. I wandered around – even went past the same area, but decided I’d like to try something new. Nothing caught my fancy, though, so I went back to the hotel. As it happened, people were congregating there, and a few of us split off, and tried to figure out where to do. I wasn’t bowled over when I heard things like, “I hear there’s a good Italian place…” and “Would anyone like Spanish…?” Hey, c’mon, guys, we’re in Germany! Fortunately, another kindred soul, John Quain, a wonderful freelance tech writer for both the New York Times and Fox News, among others (how's that for a parlay?!), said he’d checked out reviews and heard of a good place nearby, and with his Smartphone GPS, we trekked off, using “the shortcut.” It was an adventure, walking through construction sites, up stairs, zigging and zagging (“It says to turn at the next corner”), all through the dark without any lamps, though with a lot of “Where in the world are you leading us??!” Finally, we got to the place, Stadt Klaus.
I went in, and it was charming and pleasant, though so small that I hoped they could seat all 12 of us. What I found surprising was that they had the same odd, slatted seats as the place I’d been to the year before, and wondered if that was common for Berlin bars. As we got deeper into the restaurant, though, it seemed like the design was even more similar. Getting curious, I left the group and checked out the kitchen area, and if that…oh, my God, it was the exact same place as last year! I even recognized the waiter. I was able to set people’s mind at ease, after the trek, that the place would be fine – though I added, “I could have gotten us here a whole lot faster and more direct,” I laughed. “And with lighted lamps.” Because we’d come from a different direction, and back roads, that’s why I didn’t recognize the area. People found it quite amusing (one woman said, “So that’s why you had a strange expression on your face!”) I was able to recommend various dishes, that same beer…and best of all, people were thrilled to let me lead them back along a far better route. They also all thought it was terrific. As for me, while I had been looking forward to trying a different restaurant this time, it was sort of nice being back at what is now “my place.” What I particularly liked is how much it turns out I really had lucked out the year before.
Later in the evening back at the hotel, I was saying goodbye to the clerks, and we chatted about my visit. I mentioned having gone to Hinterm Horizont, which amazed them. “It’s the only show we don’t recommend to tourists because it’s all in German,” one of them said. That was a shame, I commented, because I’m sure they get asked about it all the time. Oh, yes, they replied, all the time. Ah, well. On the positive end, he was able to clear up one small plot point I’d assumed but wasn’t certain. (No, Jessie doesn’t tell Udo she’s pregnant…) That night, lying I bed, I thought how wasteful and unfortunate it was that there weren’t sending guests to a fun, entertaining musical playing at a theater just a half block from them – and the former publicist in me took over.
The next morning when checking out, I said to one of the clerks that I’d like to make a suggestion. I knew that they weren’t recommending Hinterm Horizont to visitors because it was all in German, but people go to operas in foreign languages all the time, and here’s what they should do – Have someone walk half a block to the theater. Ask to speak to someone in the marketing department. And then -- Get A Synopsis Of The Show. “I can assure you, they have a synopsis. Absolutely. No question. I used to be a movie publicist.” And then just translate the freaking thing, print out a lot of companies…and give it to your guests when they ask, “So, what’s that show half a block away?”
The guy’s face lit up. “That’s a great idea. I’ll go there on Monday. Thank you!”
While I was pleased with helping out, all I could think was --- you’re the Grand Hyatt five-star hotel, this hit musical has been playing 150 feet from you for 2-1/2 years, people ask you about the show all the time…and NOBODY thought about asking the theater for a synopsis of the show, or writing one up for your guests??? For 2-1/2 years?!!
And that leaves the trip home. Air Berlin was even more of an adventure heading back than coming. Though convoluted, I’ll make this reasonably brief compared to what it deserves.
While the Tiegel Airport terminal did have a Quick Check-in machine, when I swiped my credit card it said that Quick Check-in wasn’t available for my flight. This brought a particularly heavy sigh, because the loooooooong check-in line had easily 100 people. I got in line and waited – but fortunately, I saw one of our group ahead and figured, okay, I’ll go up and join him, we’re “together,” sort of – I don’t use “fortunately” for no reason: it turns out that this wasn’t a line for checking in, only for dropping off your luggage if you already have your boarding pass. (Take a moment to imagine how I’d have felt if I had waited through that entire, winding line just to find out it was the wrong one.)
I then found the proper Check-in line – also extremely long, though not quite as looooooong, and joined another guy from our group a few spots ahead. (He was there because the Quick Check-in machine didn’t recognize his reservation). Happily, the clerk found it and checked him through. As for me, well…not so much luck – she did check me in…but said I was in the wrong terminal! I had to go to Terminal B so that my boarding pass could be stamped. Ask for the Transfer Desk.
Happily, I’d gotten to the airport quite early, so I wasn’t stressed about time, and trudged over to Terminal B. Where there was absolutely nothing called a “Transfer Desk.” Just a line for the counter. It was reasonably short, so I took a chance and got in line and, phew, it was the right place. Except – well, you see, it seems that Air Berlin has totally different carry-on restrictions going from the U.S. to Europe and the other way around. Flying from LAX, they didn’t even ask about my attache, just weighed by luggage. (Last year on KLM, they didn’t even weigh anything – just “Thanks for flying.” In both directions. Here, they weighed both, and said one piece would have to be checked – which now made my transfer in Chicago quite a good deal more rushed than I’d anticipated, since I now would have to wait for my luggage before going through customs and then getting on the shuttle for another terminal and once again going through security. The only thing that kept stress away this time was the awareness that if I missed my connection, I’d be in Chicago and would just make it a stayover with my dad. (I’m heading back there in October, otherwise I’d have done that on this trip.)
One oddity: when I arrived in Germany, not one official at the airport stopped me to check my passport. I simply walked in. But leaving —five separate people asked to see my passport! Go figure, getting into Germany is easy, getting out is tough. (Apparently, some old habits die hard…)
But all’s well. I rushed, I made it through, and I’m back in Los Angeles. And tomorrow, I’m going to look up Air Berlin’s luggage guidelines…
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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