Of my nine visits to Berlin since my son Pepe moved here in late 1999, this was by far the most challenging journey. Bottom line: I do not recommend international travel during a pandemic.
I can only describe the LAX-Heathrow-Berlin trek as Kafka-esque. I arrived early for a COVID test in the airport, found the website recalcitrant in providing results, then filled out travel forms for tracing. And that was just at LAX.
Everyone was masked at all three airports and in the planes, lifting or lowering them only to eat or drink. We were not allowed to walk around during the long flight; attendants kept passengers apprised of restroom availability.
But finally I landed at the new Brandenburg airport in Berlin. Usually entry is a nod and a stamp in my passport but this time I was questioned: How much cash did I have? Was my return trip booked? Show the proof, which sent me scrambling through my emails.
At last, suitcase retrieved, I was out the final door and there was Pepe to take over and drive the 20 minutes to his home. He lives in an 1870s building in Kreuzberg, an area that became Turkish after World War II when men came to help rebuild the city, followed by their families when things started to look permanent. Now it is somewhat gentrified with a mix of people walking about the streets but still with many Turkish eateries featuring kabobs, döner and freshly grilled flatbread.
My grandchildren, Ruby and Elliot, go to Berlin Metropolitan School, 2-1/2 miles away, where instruction is in English beginning in the first grade. But they were at home under quarantine for the first 10 days of my three-week visit because Elliot's teacher had come down with COVID.
I timed my trip to celebrate their 5th birthday on Sept. 10 and I'm glad I did since the party had to be canceled and the celebration was just the five of us. Luckily they got some pretty cool gifts -- including a drum set and a darling little kitten -- which made for a fun birthday, and the 20-foot ceilings resonated with their laughter and excitement.
My family gets around by U-Bahn and city buses but also by bicycle with the kids in their Babboe cargo bike. When a car comes in handy -- such as to get Granny at the airport -- an app informs my son where the closest carshare vehicle is parked. The downside is finding a parking place to leave the car afterward, a typical problem in city life. Otherwise everything is so convenient, from an ATM right in front of their building to the grocery store half a block away.
The rule here is masks indoors and on public transportation, and some restaurants require vaccination. A sign at the U-Bahn entrance instructs that masks are required "For you, for us, for all." Germany is on the green list so this approach seems to be working. On the streets about half of the pedestrians are wearing masks.
We have done a lot of exploring on foot, including the requisite trip to the Brandenburg Gate and stroll down Unter den Linden, and I'm pleased that I've not twisted my ankle on the cobblestones. We also visited the Pergamon Museum with antiquities from the Mideast, booking slots in advance, limited due to the pandemic. Elliot, unimpressed by the Islamic art, asked a guard where the scary stuff was, and he suggested a nearby museum that has mummies.
The day before I leave I need to get one last COVID quick test for the road. The German government makes them free to all citizens, and pays small businesses who have lost revenue in the pandemic to administer them. In Pepe's street, this means bars! Not sure I relish the idea of having a COVID test done by a bartender...
Editor's note: Dolores Fox Ciardelli is Tri-Valley Life editor for the Pleasanton Weekly. Her column, "Valley Views," appears on the second and fourth Fridays of each month.