Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Axis to Allies

We left Berlin and headed on our flight to London. We were pretty exited - we had plans to hook up with some locals, and spend 4 or 5 days really getting to know the town. I love the feeling of London in the winter - my father says it’s the kind of atmosphere where you “turn up your collar, light a cigarette, and walk away.”

I had been to London before, but it was my first time in Berlin. Although I only spent about a day and a half there, it was enough to get a certain feel for the city. It actually reminded me a lot of New York, as much as any other city I´ve been to except perhaps Sao Paulo. The kicker was the subway - not only is it one of the largest systems in the world, it pulled something straight out the NYC Transit book - changing lines due to construction in the middle of the trip. And while not quite 24/7 like the NYC Subway, I think it´s the closest any other system comes: all night on weekends and only closed for about three hours at night on weekdays. When Berlin was divided, the subway would run through several ghost stations, complete with armed guards, in the eastern section before returning to the west.

Today, you can hardly notice that Berlin ever was divided. For someone like me, who tends to anthropomorphize cities to a great degree, this isn´t very surprising. The idea of completely cutting a city in half (and not even along a natural boundary, such as a river) is almost unimaginable. Something as complicated as a world city, with subways, sewers, electric grids, water pipes, not to mention the natural economic and social flows of its citizens, can only be cut in half and stitched up on either side with crippling results. While I never got to see Berlin heal itself after the wall came down in 1989, I imagine it was quick, painless, and completely natural. Even after 28 years of separation, a city will fall into its natural state seamlessly, the way the body heals itself after a wound.

London didn´t start off too well. Instead of adventures in drains and rooftops, we had adventures in hospitals and airports. Steve ended up laid up in the “Lord Wigram Ward” of the Chelsea and Westminster hospital, and had to take an early fight back home. Due to e-mail miscommunication I missed a chance to head into some drains and underground rivers (one of which, I am told, goes right underneath Buckingham Palace), and a friend I was going to see ended up being horribly ill for some of my stay, and in Liverpool for the rest.

Four days in and I hadn’t really done a lot. I’d walked around a bit, and seen a few museums (almost all of which are free in London), including getting to ride the 5-story slide that’s a temporary exhibition at the Tate Modern. But I certainly hadn’t done anything interesting or fun. The highlight of my trip so far was meeting up with a friend in South London at, by far, the worst nightclub I had ever been to. Imagine a bunch of drunk Brits trying to dance to “Living on a Prayer.”

By the time I had planned to leave, I was pretty frustrated with my time in England. That frustration, however, would change in a big way.

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