Thursday, October 29, 2015

Day 77: Everything Else

Chris worked late last night (at home), until after 2am. As a result, we began this morning on the later side of things. This leisurely start allowed us to investigate our options for travel back to the U.S.

We purchased round trip tickets when we began this trip. We have been told that paying a change fee is cheaper than buying one-way tickets on both ends. It works out in our favour, as we are not going to leave from Berlin, but from Edinburgh, Scotland. Over $1,000 in change fees later, we have tickets home (and yes, that’s cheaper than if we purchased one-way tickets in the first place).

At this time, we also schedule our final walk-through to return keys with the building manager. The end of our time in Berlin becomes more evident.

Chris goes to work, as do we. Our jobs today, EVERYTHING. My list is to do everything we’ve been putting off until the last minute and now we’re set for a very busy day. 

First, we need to send one more box. A box of books. But, it’s heavy. I’ve been wanting Chris to help me out (I’m nervous to go to the Deutsch Postbank alone to send an international package). Once again, if the tram outside our apartment wasn’t under construction, I could take it one stop. But, as it is diverted, and by the time I find the temporary stop, I could probably just have walked the “one stop” worth of city blocks and gotten to my destination. 

And so, I’m coupling one errand with another. We want to donate our broken luggage bag, a pair of shoes, and a pair of shorts. We’ve been told that there is a place to donate at the Hauptbahnhof. So, I put the box of books into the bag so we can roll it down our hill. 

Ahhhh! I’m foiled on my plan. With the broken wheel, I am unable to angle it as I wheel it (due to the excessive weight of books) and I have to carry the entire set of objects. Ugh. At least the kids keep my brain distracted so I don’t cry over how heavy it is, how hot I get, and how tired I’m feeling already! 

We get to the post office and, miracles, there are only a few people in line, a much shorter line than the other day! But, I have to fill out a form. It took me three forms to get it right. Oy.  I put the city name in the postal code box (they do it backwards here), then I put the telephone number on the wrong line and started to put my address instead of HotelTonight’s address (as a return address). By the third time, I got it right and got in line. 

The package weighed 8 kg and cost 49€ to ship “slowly”. We just might beat it home. 

Now, with the travel bag much lighter, I can wheel it or carry it without much effort. We head to the main Bahn station to hunt for the donation centre. And I do mean hunt. We get there and Google shows that it’s in the main station (which is over 4-5 floors, if you remember), near a Starbucks. But we hunt and hunt and I just don’t have to energy to hunt all over. Venice and I have a hunch it’s on the next floor up, but we can’t see if from where we stand and if it’s not there, how do we go about searching the entire place? I see an Information booth and we get in line to ask for directions.

Hauptbahnhof from the outside.

Guess, what? It IS on the second floor, just about where Venice and I suspected. Of course. It’s between a Starbucks and a Dunkin’ Donuts. The door, to our credit, is down a hall that’s all but hidden from plain view. Side note: This was one of those times where I say, in German, “Wo bist Bahnhofsmission.?” (Where is Bahnhofsmission?) To be fair, I say, “Mission” with an American accent, so it comes out, “Mish-un”. The woman at the help desk is blank. I show her the word on my phone, and she says, “Oh, Bahnhofsmissoin” with her German accent (so it sounds like, “Miss-ee-own.” Yeah, whatever, just point me in the direction, bitte!

We have to press a buzzer to get in. Congratulations, they buzz us in! I begin with my normal German phrase of, “Excuse me, my German is so bad, do you speak English?” To which the woman behind the counter replies, “My English isn’t so good either.” I ask her if I can donate my bag here. She says, “No, the Bahn is there.” Or something like this. I’m not sure if she thinks we’re trying to check a bag, find a bag, or whatever. But we’re at a stand still.

Xander's bagel mit falaffel
At this point, I’m crying on the inside. I’m imagining having to do our entire “rest of the day” while carrying this bag. I just want to get rid of it. I threatened, earlier to the kids, that I was just going to throw it all into the Spree river. So, I open Google translate and search the word for “donate” and I say, “Spenden.” “Ahhhh, spenden? Ja, ja.” Now she’s a little embarrassed that she didn’t understand what I wanted to do and she comes around the counter to take the bag from me. Phew!

By this time, it’s lunch time. Time to hunt for food at Potsdamer Platz.

Venice picks lasagna from a counter on the first floor. Xander would like a bagel from the second floor. No problem. Or so we thought. The bagel shop was slammed. We waited over 10 minutes to place our order. It took over 15 minutes for our food to come. And then we had to eat it. I spent most of my lunch time trying to find my “Zen-Zone”. 

We make a stop at the Amplemann store. We’re headed out of town tomorrow and we think it’s a good idea to bring a gift to our hosts. They are driving us around all weekend and putting us up in their home, so a gift is a nice thing to do. But, just having spent 50€ to ship books, I don’t wan to bring something they have to ship or keep. So, we settle for Amplemann gummies for the kids and Amplemann Beer for the adults. We hope it’s not crappy beer, it’s the best we can do having thought of it at the last minute. But now, I get to carry around 4 large bottles of beer (they’re heavy). 

Now, off to one of the last items on Xander’s Bingo list. We head to the Kollhof tower, which is nearby (which is why we’re at Potsdamer Platz). We have VIP tickets, which means we get to cut the line and get on the elevator first. There is a line, so it’s good for us, since we’re running out of time. However, the elevator is the fastest elevator in Europe, 8.5 sec/m (approximately) so the entire ride from floor 0-24 is over in 20 sec (this seems to include the doors closing and opening). So, how long would we have had to wait if we didn’t have VIP tickets? Probably not long. But, we get squeezed in with several others and head on up to the viewing platform (after turning in my receipt for actual tickets).

This elevator is faster than the Fernsehturm, reaching only 90m in less than 20 seconds. I think they include closing the doors and slowing down time, as the elevator moves at over 8.5 seconds per meter at its fastest time. Our ears definitely popped on the way to the 24th floor. Unlike the Fernsehturm, there is an open air viewing area. You can walk up one more flight of stairs to get to the 25th floor and get an even higher view.

The top floor (25th) of the Kollhof Tower.

I wanted to go because it had the fastest elevator in Europe. When we were looking for things to put on our Bingo lists, I found this on the internet. It goes 8.5 meters per second. This is almost twice as fast as the Fernsehturm. 

The lower level was fine because it had bars and a ledge on the outside of the bars. But on the upper level it had the bars but no ledge. If the fence wasn’t there, you would be able to walk right off, which, of course, wouldn’t be smart. I liked the bottom floor. 

The view was pretty cool. I like the Kollhof tower better because if felt higher and it has a really fast elevator. 

Views of The Sony Center, the DB building and the Tiergarten.

There is a bathroom on the top floor. Venice and I used it… I giggled thinking of it flushing all the way down to the bottom floor. 

In the photo on the left, the Kollhof tour is on the right.

Remember, we’re trying to fit in all our last minute “stuff”. So, we head BACK to Hauptbahnhof to see the “Horse”. We should have done this when we were there donating, but I forgot (I was just so happy to be able to finally deliver the darn stuff, that I only remembered the “Horse” as we pulled away from the station. Doh.

On our way back, we passed through Potsdamer Platz and could see a new festival going up. Germans really like to celebrate any time they can. Chris mentioned that there is only one national holiday, but each city or region definitely takes as many opportunities to have a festival. I’m not sure if this is a Christmas festival, winter festival, or something else. It is definitely themed for colder weather. Someone has built a giant ramp (we saw this going up a week ago) that has steps on the side and then it’s now a giant “hill”. They have put hoses pumping water into snow blowers on the sides. We can see a few piles of snow building up. This ramp is going to be an awesome sledding hill! Maybe we can try it Tuesday before we leave but I don’t know. Pretty cool. 

Back at Hauptbahnhof, we find the “Horse”. As we approach it, I realise I was actually thinking of another statue (of human forms that are located closer to the river). But, we are here, and this is something I wanted to see.. just not what I was planning on. Doh, again! The “Horse” is actually built of old materials from the old station before it was renovated, so it is pretty impressive and fun to see. 

The Horse.

Next item on our list, the Aqua Dom and Sea Life. 

The Fernsehturm.
I bought tickets online, as it was promoted as a cheaper price. I thought we’d get to get in a separate line as well, but we had to wait in line with everyone else. Bummer. Good thing it moved somewhat quickly, but you can tell already that this is definitely a tourist kind of place, not a “regular” aquarium, like the one at the Tiergarten we went to a few weeks ago. 

A photographer is greeting people as they move through the line. He has a box filled with Halloween props and is taking everyone’s photo as they come in. The kids do NOT want to do it (not that we’d buy the photo anyway), so we skip it when it’s our turn. Once you pass through the ticket area, they ask you to go into a closed room with a video screen where you watch a movie on how the aquarium helps injured animals and return them to the wild. If the animals are not able to go back to their natural habitat, the aquarium finds them new homes, either here or at another facility. I’m not sure of the real reason for us to watch this video, other than it seems to space the patrons out from coming into the aquarium all at once. 

Now inside the aquarium, it becomes clear that you do not just wander around looking where ever you like. No, you walk along a path and mostly move in a forward direction. They have tanks representing different oceans, lakes, and such (Atlantic, Pacific, etc.). All the while you are viewing the fish, there is overly dramatic music playing in the background. This establishment is run by the same people who do Legoland Discovery, here, The Wax Museum, and a few others. Disneyland, anyone? 

Fish, Octopus, Venice

In the middle of the tour, there is a small movie theatre showing a cartoon (have no idea what it was about, as it was not subtitled like the intro movie). But, I do know there was popcorn, candy, and Pringles dispensers for your pleasure. There was also a random mirror maze (with the title of Neptune, so it's all making sense).

One aquarium to look like the River Spree (left), feels like Legoland, yes?
Pringles dispenser (right)

Glow in the Dark kids (left), Jellies (middle), Ray (right)

Neptune's Play Labyrinth 

At the end of the tour, you walk across to a hotel and are able to use your ticket to go into a two-story glass elevator that ascends through an aquarium. As cool as it sounds, you can see through the tank and over to all the balconies of the hotel guests. It’s still cool, but all the views and photos are somewhat “disturbed” by “the other side”. Gimmick. Disneyland. If you can only go to one aquarium, I definitely suggest the one at the Tiergarten. 

The Aqua Dom

Buddy Bears from the day

The Aqua Dom is close to Hackescher Markt, which is where Venice’s Bubble Tea is located. She gets a bonus treat as we go there to buy the kids pork buns for dinner. We take our detour route home and the kids are ready to make their own dinner (reheat the buns) and I’m ready to go out and meet Chris and his coworkers for dinner. 

Early evening darkness (5:30pm).
This dinner is planned as a going away dinner for Chris. One of his coworkers had sent me an email asking when we’d be available for dinner. Of course, then I asked Chris, which night would work best, not realising this was supposed to be a surprise (in fact, I didn’t know this for a week, that it was a surprise… whoops). So, I’m ready to head out to the surprise dinner for Chris (who knows I’m coming and knows to say he has “no plans” when his coworkers ask if he can come out that night). 

Ok, the kids are set to be alone. Food, drinks, and Skype. All the essentials. 

Funny story: When I got the official invite from Google, I thought the coworker made a mistake, because it said the party was from 11am-2pm. I thought, perhaps, there was a cultural miscommunication as to what "dinner" is. Was she really talking about lunch? Oh boy, that would have thrown my whole day off. But she verified, no, I should show up at 7pm. It took me a while to realise myGoogle calendar, which I don't use, has not been changed to local time, so it was 11am Pacific time, while is 7pm local time. So, no miscommunication, just a glitch in my applications.

I tram to Chris’ work. Side note, it’s dark already! Even before our time change last week, you could tell it was getting dark earlier, but now, with the time change, it’s all over. It feels like winter as I head over in complete darkness to dinner at 6:45pm. 

I cross paths with one of Chris’ coworkers who gives me her keys (I was wondering how I was going to get into the building without buzzing or calling Chris to let me in). I “surprise” Chris with my presence and we head out to dinner at an authentic-German restaurant, Das Lokal. It was a nice evening with good people, good food, and no karaoke (Chris’ nightmare of a surprise). 

After dinner, we head back to HotelTonight to pick up Chris’ bag. On the way, I finally, to Chris’ delight, spoke a little Russian to one of the Russian coworkers. I was actually have to have a 3 way exchange. Me. Him. Me. But then he said one more thing and it was over for me… but, not bad for it being over almost 18 years since I’ve spoken Russian! 

And now it’s time to pack, pack, pack. We’re traveling again!

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