Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Live from Berlin

When it came to planning our family vacation this year, Angie and I agreed to keep it cheap. Unless you take reality into consideration, this agreement had nothing to do with Angie's nagging desire to build a ceiling-high bookshelf in the living room. With a ladder. 

We started looking at cheap flights to the Caribbean, but then I realized that my passport had expired, which led to a lively response from Angie that involved several threats that could be the grounds for prosecution if I didn't love her so much.

The funny thing about not having a valid passport is, ... well, nothing; it's not funny at all. On the flip side, though, we live in Germany, which is part of the European Union, which means that we could theoretically travel anywhere within Europe, even without a passport. Theoretically.

After several one-sided discussions that ended with 'Yes, dear', Angie zeroed in on France. Three days before hitting the road, though, I read that the G7 summit was being held in Bavaria and that the normally open borders between Germany and France would be shut down and passport-controlled. Shit!.

I'll spare you the ensuing commentary, but that, folks, is the funny story about how we ended up driving to Berlin for our family vacation.

When we arrived at the hotel that still had rooms even though we booked a whopping one day in advance, I kinda expected to find one of those half-run-down hotels that flaunt a classy plastic bear out front that just screams 'jump on me'. Tommy was the first to be sucked in.

After being in the car for several hours, Tommy's energy reserve kicked in and as I was walking over to tell him to stop jackassing around before he fell off the bear, he fell off the bear. Luckily, Tommy's father has the reflexes of a cat and the speed of a mongoose and caught him a split second before he broke the sidewalk.

After dropping our bags, we hit the streets. I don't have a brother, so I tend to get sentimental whenever David and Tom stop trying to kill each other for more than a minute and just, you know, bond.

Our first stop, surprise, surprise, was the massive Lego store that the boys sniffed from a mile away. After a few minutes, I reminded Angie why I should not be left unattended, well... pretty much anywhere.

After narrowly avoiding getting kicked out of a kid's toy store, the boys wanted to hit the Hard Rock. I tightened my stomach muscles and told them to swing away, but apparently they meant something different.

As we waited for overpriced food, David found Lenny Kravitz's guitar. They share the same birthday, so David was in awe.

The next day we did as nature intended and took the animals to the zoo. The Berlin zoo is pretty big, so we even got a complimentary map when we came in. Tommy designated himself as the navigator.

After a few unorthodox turns, Peter tried pointing our self-appointed tour guide in the right direction.

Tommy impolitely thanked Peter for his unsolicited help and countered with a power point of his own.

This exchange heatedly ping-ponged and I was making mental bets as to exactly when Peter would snatch the map out of Tommy's hands and rip it to shreds when Mama intervened and steered us in yet another direction.

At one point, Peter asked for the camera and plopped down in front of a fish tank. After fifteen minutes or so, I came back to check on Peter and he was almost in tears.

'I just want to get one picture of the sea lion and every time he swims by I take the picture but then he's already gone.'

'Oh, here. Let me try.'


I only wish I had had the camera trained on his face as I nailed the picture with my first try. Did I mention that it was my first try? Yes, I did. Several times, in fact, and Peter told me to shut up each time.  What he didn't know is that Angie has given me years of practice at that game.

As we were leaving the zoo, I tried to become one with the animals.

It was at this point that Peter started walking well ahead of us. I thought about reminding him that Tommy was our leader with the map, but he was out of earshot and my voice was nearly gone after trying to sound like a deer in heat.

After the zoo, we split up. Angie took Peter to the KaDeWe, a massive shopping mall in downtown Berlin. I took David and Tommy back to the hotel to recharge their batteries. When Peter returned, he was carrying a bag full of goodies. Apparently the KaDeWe has a small section with American candies, cereals and other hard-to-get items like peanut butter and yellow mustard.

It took a second for David and Tommy to realize what it was that their brother had just dumped all over the bed and why he was grinning from ear to ear. When your older brother does something cool, you give him a power hug. When he does something oh-my-freakin'-mega cool, you pile drive him to the mattress and smother him with a dog-pile of gratitude.

After jacking up their sugar levels with Twizzlers and a family pack of Nerds, we hit the streets, where David started to show us his new 'walks'. See David recently got bored with walking like a normal human. Instead, he transforms his body into a big rubber band and shows how he can get from point A to point B without doing anything that anyone would recognize as walking. It might sound strange because it is. It's also pretty mesmerizing to watch.

David makes it look so easy, but it's not. Just ask his protégé.

The whole ordeal reminded me of an old Monty Python skit called 'The Ministry of Silly Walks'. I told this to them and Tommy apparently liked the name.

'Yeah! The Mystery of Silly Walks.'

I thought about correcting him, but trying to tell Tommy he is wrong about anything can be rather exhausting and I wanted to save my energy for the barbecue. Barbecue? What barbecue?

I cannot walk with Angie down the pedestrian zone without running into at least ten people she knows, so it did not surprise me that my social butterfly of a wife knew people in Berlin.

Meeting Kay was great, the barbecue was delicious and the boys absolutely loved their fenced in trampoline, but the true amazement came at the end, when Kay gave us a jar of his homemade honey, and then showed us who actually made it.

I was a little surprised that Peter did not run away screaming as soon as he saw the bees, but he's been surprising me lately with a lot of things. Without my usual dive into the details I will simply say - he's growing up.

He may be growing up, but he has definitely not outgrown the habit to flash the peace sign with damn near every picture. Thank God for digital. 

The next day we took a double-decker detour back to the famous and wildly popular KaDeWe.

Except for me, the family thought we were going back there to score another bag of American sugar for the boys. I was just after the yellow mustard, which Angie and Peter had somehow forgotten. This is amazing, though, since they know that I get the shakes if I don't have at least three bottles in the cupboard.

'Hi. My name is Steve and I am addicted to yellow mustard. I once pretended to take a picture of my first born in front of a display.'

After taking care of my mustard fix, we decided to go on a boat tour of Berlin. When we got to the docks, though, we had just missed the boat and the next one wasn't for another hour and a half. No problem, we'll just stuff our faces with pizza!

If you haven't picked up on it by now, I just love pictures of Angie eating. Yup, that and her forehead. Probably because both are very hard to photograph. Or because she gets mega pissed when I post pictures of either. Could be both.

The cruise ship of course had a top deck, so we ventured out for the penthouse view.

Peter is still peace-full and David looks happy, but the sun apparently burned Tommy's eyeballs shut. I know this because that is what he screamed to passengers top-side as he raced downstairs to order a rather expensive ice-cream to, you know, help him get over the trauma of being blinded by the sun.

When we hit land again, we allowed a complete stranger to photograph pure beauty.  I even let Angie and the kids join in.

On the way back, we stopped to get fresh fruit. That's when we met Wurmy.

I have a soft spot for anything that moves through life one inch at a time, so at first, I really liked Wurmy. It wasn't until Angie and Peter made it their mission to find Wurmy a proper home that things became weird.

I insisted that the subway was a perfectly fine place for a worm to grow up, but Angie insisted that Wurmy needed more "nature". I then suggested a nice bush under a bridge, which disgusted Angie because 'that's where everyone goes to pee!'. Hello, you said it needed "nature".

At some point, I just gave up and followed the bug-huggers to a big tree in the middle of the city that apparently met the stringent criteria that they had come up with.

Tommy was so relieved that we had found Wurmy a home that he started doing flips when we got back to the hotel.

Okay, bullshit. Tommy had already forgotten about Wurmy by this point, but he was mighty eager to show his older brothers what he had learned at gymnastics, partly because neither Peter nor David can do a handstand, but mainly because neither Peter nor David can do a handstand.

The next day, we rubbed elbows with a few celebs before heading back home. Tommy was first up and, according to him, he mingled with a guy named Bo-Mama.

Angie stopped her tour for a long-overdue sofa-session with Sigmund.

Years from now, I'm sure that Angie will be wondering at exactly what point David got into cross-dressing. I won't be.

I'm man enough to say that the wax museum was interesting, but I wasn't having any part of the whole 'posing' trap.

In my defense, it was Oliver Kahn and he started it. In any case, I promise that that was my only weak moment.  


Okay, fine. But who could possibly resist the Vettel-finger? Sorry, Sebastian.

At one point we lost Angie. I thought about checking the Betty Crocker exhibit. Then, when I was done chuckling, I walked over to witness a hot hotty who really wants to be a millionaire.

Not surprisingly, David chose to twist and shout.

The real reason we even went to the wax museum was because they had a Star Wars exhibit, which turned out to be the grand finale. What we thought would be fun turned quickly into tragedy when Tommy somehow managed to poke his eyeball into a laser sword.

As if losing Tommy's eyesight wasn't enough, David accidentally fell asleep on the same laser sword and damn near cut himself in half.

I was so not having any more to do with Madam Tussauds' death-trap. I've watched The Sound of Music more times than any human should be subjected to, but at least I knew that there were only two way to make it out of Germany. The first involved singing while wearing re-purposed curtains, but that wasn't really my thing. I went for option B, which involved smuggling my entire family out of East Berlin in a Trabi.

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