It didn’t take long to fall into travel mode. I arrived in Berlin on Tuesday afternoon, a journey that involves a bus to Braunschweig, an Intercity train to Berlin Spandau, a regional train to Berlin Zoologischer Garten, U-Bahn line 9 to Spicherstrasse, and U-Bahn line 3 to Dahlem-Dorf. This is normal for trips out of Wolfenbüttel, a place that is directly connected to nowhere, and compounded by the fact that my destination in Berlin, the Freie Universität, is also not close to anything. But I was happy upon arrival to find that the Seminaris Hotel is right on campus, a familiar-looking American-style campus, and a block away from Königen-Luise Strasse with its cafes and shops. Three blocks West would bring me to the Geheimes Staatsarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz. Three blocks East would land me in the Botanischer Garten. I was perfectly situated for a three-day stay.
The weather was changeable, as April often is, so the first thing I did after checking in was to walk to
the Botanical Garden. This turned out to be my best opportunity. I got there about 6 PM, and it was still daylight, but cold, gray, and windy. Still I found the medical herb garden and took photos of the few plants that were growing. The rosemary and mint looked lovely, but none of the New World plants were growing yet, and that is my topic, after all–the one I was hoping to illustrate. The signs were up for Nicotiana, Paprika, and Capsicum, but they presided over mud at this point. It started to rain, but I stayed as long as I could, thinking that I might not get back. This turned out to be true.
I came back to the sleek modern all-glass hotel only to find that a seminar reception was underway and the lobby was full of smartly dressed men and women holding glasses of champagne. No way was I facing that in wet hair, jeans and a zip-up Lake Tahoe sweatshirt, so I found a back way to the third floor and washed up, dried my hair, and slipped into black slacks and a white turtleneck with a gray sweater shell. Then I Skyped with Chuck, and at 8 PM went back to the restaurant via the lobby, now empty. The party was dining noisily in a distant room of their own, and I chose a corner seat in the empty formal dining room, ordered Irish prime rib and a dry red wine, started a mystery about the Cotswalds in winter. The service was impeccable, the food delicious and the mystery engrossing. I sensed the beginning of an agreeable routine.
So on Wednesday and Thursday, I trotted to the archives with my laptop, examined boxes of manuscripts related to 16th-century
Berlin court apothecaries, requested and ready in advance, and had a hearty bean soup at the Mensa with a friend from the German Historical Institute tour last summer, and, at the end of the day, Skyped with Chuck, picked up my mystery, and ordered something tempting in the dining room. Wednesday it was a risotto with goat cheese and peas, Friday was chicken breast wrapped in bacon with braised leeks and mashed potatoes. Today I reverse the journey and take 2 U-bahns, 2 trains, and a bus back to Wolfenbüttel. It will feel good to be in my snug little apartment again and to walk to the library along the cobblestone streets between the rows of fachwerk houses. I look forward to a simple potato soup or a fresh brotchen with ham and cheese for dinner. But I have been pampered, and somehow I’ll always associate the Freie Universität with a mysterious snowy Cotwolds farmhouse.