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My time in Berlin came and went too quickly. I got in late on Friday after the bus broke down, but my friend Jules, that I met in Iceland and that was hosting me, stayed up and scooped me from the station. After some tea and some sleep, the next day she took me around Berlin and we saw the important touristed landmarks and squares. It was great to have a private tour, she has her masters in history, and it was cool to hear about the evolution of the city. A lot of it had been destroyed in the war and my first impression of the city was that it had a unique character. Jules and I got along so well quite immediately. We knew had a connection but it really came to light as we spent more time together. We had similar outlooks on life and spoke excitedly of our fated meeting in Iceland with each other and with our friend Gayle, who we missed of course ! (who is over in Canada now and may visit me in Chicago).
Saturday night we went out with her friends, not to a typical German techno club, but an African bar scene and dance hall, set along the river. I expected a good night scene from Berlin and this was cool because it was where these girls went often. It was so interesting to see all these German girls so into African guys. Berlin was immediately more multicultural and diverse than a lot of other cities I’d seen. I thwarted much attention and there was a clear difference between straightforward Africans and passive white boys from the Midwest and elsewhere. I was being too nice in my polite refusals to requests to dance because they often got angry that I did not give them the dance, the number, the kiss they wanted, like they didn’t understand that I could be there to just dance with my friends and enjoy the music and atmosphere without getting rubbed against. I missed my passive Midwest boy especially in that moment.
Sunday was really cool because we went to the flea market, where I would’ve bought so much stuff had I been able to bring it home easily. Housewares and clothes and jewelry and furniture all for pretty cheap. It was a really fun atmosphere and beside the market on the lawn people were just hanging out, eating, watching street performers, and there was a chill festival like vibe to it. Randomly, we ran into Jules’ ex boyfriend, super awkward because he was wearing a baby carrier around his chest. They chatted for a bit but we didn’t linger long. But, just like in Chicago, or anywhere, there’s a possibility of running into an ex. 😑
We sat and listened to some street musicians and watched people leave with their random objects. It was fun just to people watch, too. We walked through the super cute neighborhood near the park and looked for a place to eat. Berlin is very neighborhood organized, like Chicago, (as opposed to more flowing and sprawling like New York or Seoul), and the different areas are quite different from each other. We had a nice meal, some simple yummy salads, and went to get some ice cream since so many people were walking by us with cones. We were in the neighborhood her aunt had lived in when Jules was little and it was where she’d like to live if she had more money, and I could see why. It was really cute. We grabbed the train for a couple stops and sat on her balcony and chilled easily for another hour or two. It was awesome how easily we chatted about life and boys and anything and everything.
She was also hosting a boy from Cameroon, who would have maybe been on the streets if not for her hospitality. She believes in helping others and also wrote her thesis on underground living, like the Jews that did during the war. H was young and curious and we had some interesting conversations about life and things. He had spent the last 3 years in Amsterdam and was new to Berlin. Jules was such a sweetheart to help him out, but it also showed me that there are people who genuinely want to help and welcome immigrants and refugees.
My Monday in Berlin it was beautiful weather and I decided to walk all around. I was also pretty overwhelmed by the train map. There were so many lines! And the city didn’t feel that big, so, I walked to the big garden in the city center and along the river for awhile and all the way back to the touristy area that Jules had shown me the other day. I was along the river for a good while and they had a few cute restaurants set up and some nice walkways. It was also important to me that I sit down and write a letter so I did that for awhile. I usually just write cards and notes these days, but I felt challenged to write a true letter, so, I did. It made me think about how that used to be the only way to communicate and how lucky we are to contact whoever we want at any given time, but that doesn’t mean we do, so it’s like the social networks just make it easier to stay superficially connected without getting intimate in a conversation through a letter. After I wrote it, I really did feel like I kind of had a conversation with the intended recipient.
I met up with Jules to go get some dinner and we walked all through the cute neighborhood we were in the day before to this really good pizza place. She had friends that worked there and we chatted with a few. I thought it was cute that one of the girls told us she had just bought a ticket to New Zealand, where her boyfriend was from, and he had moved to Germany, but she was going back to NZ without him to work at his family’s law office. And another of their friends just bought her ticket to the states. Germans like to travel!
Which reminds me of a conversation I had at the Englishhaussen about Germans being the most liked abroad. It was a real poll and it surprised the Germans, but I think it’s because Germans are so polite, so generally respectful and considerate.
We had a chill night that evening and I did laundry. I’m so lucky I’ve managed to only do my laundry at friends places thus far!
My Tuesday in Berlin I decided to bite the bullet and take the train, so I rode the train a lot that day. It wasn’t that difficult once I got the hang of it. It’s just so weird to me that you don’t necessarily validate your ticket anywhere or swipe it to board, you just have to have the ticket in case they get on board and check tickets, and if you don’t have one then you get a fine. I was only checked once that day, and lucky me, Jules let me use her monthly pass anyway and she rode her bike to work. I went to memorial for the Berlin Wall, the East Side gallery where it’s all painted, and wandered around the neighborhood over there and saw the cool castle like bridge I can’t remember the name of. The wall is a huge party of Germany’s history, of course, as a country divided and then unified. I went to the German history museum and it was cool to see the difference between the conglomerate principalities that were Germany before it became one country in the 1800’s, and say, the history of France. I focused more on the wall and the early history rather than that of the wars. But I am excited to see Austria and Hungary because their histories are pretty linked to Germany’s as well.
I met up with Jules back at her apartment before we headed out to meet her friend at an open mic night in a cool hip neighborhood that had lots of bars and restaurants and looked really different from the other areas we’d been to. We had some Indian food and then went to this adorable bar for the open stage. Everyone who performed was really good, a couple really good girls sang and some boys played some really good guitar, and one group did improv. It was so fun to watch and still find it funny, while not understanding anything they were saying. But they played a game I was familiar with, freeze, bc of all the improv shows I’ve seen of my roommate’s. I was one of the first up and probably would’ve chosen to play something other than what I did if I had seen the others first, but I think they still enjoyed it and I still had fun. Practically everyone had an amp plug in and sang a combo of originals and covers. I gotta get some of my own written. Jules friend played a couple of her own and they were so good. One in English and one in German, and the one in German got stuck in my head. She had just got her permission slip to do some busking, so she could do it at a certain train stop between certain times. I thought I would’ve done some busking by now but I guess I’m shy and I know a lot of places you need permission and I’m scared to get in trouble. I’ve also realized I don’t really like playing for anyone who doesn’t necessarily want to hear me play. An English guy complimented my set when we were outside and said that he’s been shut down in each city that he’s busked in. I have played a good amount for my hosts and friends thus far anyway so I don’t think it’s been a waste to have my guitar with me. Even if I do feel a little silly having so much stuff with me. I told my friend I’m like the worst traveler, with all my stuff, but his response was that at least I’m traveling. 🙃
Wednesday I got my stuff together and made my way to the Jewish museum. I didn’t really feel like going to another museum and thought about not, but mom spoke highly of it, and I do find it interesting and unique how ethnicity and religion of Judaism are so symbiotic. And I’m glad I went because it is a remarkable piece of architecture and art and history all tied together. The different things the building makes you feel with empty spaces and narrow passages is amazing. I recommend.
The last night in Berlin we went to a brass band show with Jules’ brother and their friends. It was so fun to meet up with these tall German gentlemen and go out with them. We rode the train to another neighborhood quite different than the others and they had a few beers outside before heading into the venue. Another night experiencing myself surrounded in a language I did not know, but it was still fun to see how they all acted and how their personalities were apparent, even if I could not understand every word, or any word. One was particularly entertaining and Jules told me he was a music teacher and I could see his ability to lead a room. Two were in construction and I had a nice chat with one about his hometown and how small the community was that he came from. I chatted with Jules’ brother about his studies and his girlfriend and how they travel with a set plan, but he admired my unplanned itinerary. We got to the venue and their friend was getting rid of a ticket and happened to sell it to a guy that Jules was friends with! Small world/city, again. The show was good, too, and the crowd loved it. It was a good set for sure. We had a few more beers after the show and chatted a bit longer about this and that before we headed home. We discussed chi-raq a bit and how violent Chicago’s reputation is, and I noticed the difference bw how seven years ago when I was in Europe, that the response to Chicago was still “bang bang”, but more in association with Al Capone. I explained a bit about Chicago and it’s neighborhood set up and it’s north and south side division. We got back to Jules’ place and hung out with her brother a little longer. He was such a sweet guy and it was great to see their strong bond. We talked about life and the world some more before retiring, particularly about how our system for measurement sucks. I had a long bus ride the next day! Jules was so sweet to make me breakfast and take me to the station and see me off. We both commiserated about leaving each other but looked forward to our weekend in Budapest the following weekend. It was a great time in Berlin with a true Berliner!