I arrived on Wednesday afternoon in a cold and snow-blanketed Berlin. Everyone tells us it's been unusally cold here for the past weeks - maybe the coldest in decades. Our gracious hosts, Marion Eickmann and Andrea Tomasini, invited us for Prosecco (which I had to look up - it's the Italian version of Champagne) at their flat, just a few blocks from the hotel. The 'Prosecco' turned into quite an ample feast, starting with Prosecco, of course, plus a delicious sampling of appetizers. Soon the wine and beer was flowing and a variety of hot pizzas arrived from nearby Al Vecchio Trattoria - also delicious. Marion, who is a generous as she is gregarious, soon brought out bottles of Scotch and Grappa, which I unwisely decided to sample on top of the wine and prosecco I'd had.
Hungover and jet-lagged is not a good combination. I learned this lesson first thing Thursday morning, when our team got down to business, but I made it through day. The sun made a brief appearance in the morning, but the mercury never climbed above 20 F, and we collected a dusting of snow on our jackets walking back from lunch. Per our request, Marion arranged a German meal for us all on Thursday evening - Wienerschnitzel with potato salad. Sehr gut!
Friday was another work day and another day below freezing, with the typical depressing overcast skies. The festivities continued Friday evening with an Italian feast for the whole team, spouses and families. Our camped out at the Al Vecchio Trattoria for almost five hours of food, drink, and great company.
Saturday was a brutally cold sightseeing day, with daytime temperatures around -11 C (about 15 F). Our first stop was Potsdammer Platz, a former checkpoint on the wall which has been completely razed and rebuilt, now home of the Sony center - shops, cinema, restaurants. We didn't linger outside long due to the cold so we soon enjoyed a great German meal - and of course beer - at a local Hofbrauhaus (brewery). As the sun was setting we took the subway to the Brandenburg gate, and walked along one of the few sections of the wall that is still standing. After the wall fell in 1989, the east side was completely covered in artwork -- first rough graffiti and later much finer paintings -- which have since been restored and made into a sort of outdoor museum.
We also passed by an anarchists march - about 100 anarchists marching to protest police repression. Ironically, they were being escorted by probably 300 German police in dozens of police vans. Just as frostbite began to set in, we arrived back at Marion's flat in east Berlin where she prepared us a home-cooked German meal - this time a tasty potato dish called 'green sauce'.
I must say 'vielen dank' to Marion and Andrea for their exceptional hospitality toward us all!