Notes from a Summer Tour Part 4.1: Berlin, Germany

I landed in Berlin groggy.  The day at the beach in Lido, steady flow of adult beverages to dull the incredible annoyance of flying out of Venice on Easy Jet, and general fatigue had me on the ropes.  Don’t know if this caused my shell shock after landing in Germany, or just magnified it.  Holy shit, can you go from two different states of mind (or at least so I thought at the time).  I dragged myself into my first trip into Germany, and immediately became brutally aware how little I know about the country.  All ignorance on my part (I’m sorry!), but my knowledge of German culture amounted to the Sprockets skit on Saturday Night Live, 90’s industrial music and a swiss cheese version of German history.  I expected a sterile and efficient land.  What I found was obviously neither to any extreme, and I soon learned that Germany was a quirky and fascinating place.   I had heard from multiple travelers that Berlin is one the most fun cities in Europe so I was curious how this jived with my preconceived ideas.

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The extent of my German language skills are from 8th grade when my friend bought a tape called “Dirty German” at Spencers.  It was an “educational” language tape that only had the translations for slang and curse words.  Pretty damn cool when you’re 13, and tellingly some of it stuck.

scheisse = shit

fich dich = fuck you

elle grossen balcon = she has big boobs (literally big balcony)

OBVIOUSLY this wasn’t going to get me very far, at least with out getting punched in the face first, and I quickly became aware of how alien the language felt to me.  Off the plane, walk to customs and on the floor is “Bitte Abstand Halten!”.  I felt like the floor was yelling at me.  I now know that it simply means “Please keep distance”, and very soon all my notions of German harshness fell to the wayside.

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***

07/08_Berlin Day 1

Having my first bier at Georgebrau in a cute little “old town” in Berlin.  I think it’s called Nikolaiviertel.  Nice pocket next to the Spree river, but judging by all the English being spoken around me, a true biergarten this ain’t.  I am completely a stranger in a strange land.  For the first time in a while, I don’t get SHIT!  I can’t read or say any of the words, and to be honest it makes me feel like a douchebag.  I want to have polite, basic conversation skills, but just…don’t.  Walked around today, and learning Berlin’s history from the street level was cool (went to the Berlin wall and Checkpoint Charlie), but still don’t quite get it.  An interesting thing I learned from my informative cabbie from the airport last night was that Berlin has the highest Turkish population outside of Istanbul (not a fact, just cabbie speak).  Sebastian (I think that was what he told me his name was) said after the War most of the men in Germany had been killed.  So the fragile Soviet and Allied compromise know as Germany for the decades after the mid 1940’s invited folks from friendly nations to emigrate in.  Tax free and dreamy (heard this before).   The influx was heavily Italian but mostly Turkish due to an age old relationship with the Ottaman empire (“like the relationship between Massachusetts with England” in the words of Sebastian).  Apparently Berlin is the birthplace of the doner kebab, and the new regional dish is the curry-wurst (basically a hot dog with a slathering of ketchup, little bun and drizzle of curry powder).  Who would’ve thunk it.

first bier in Germany

curry wurst biatch

Pretty much walked around aimlessly today.  My first experience was walking past a half mile stretch of squats.  (This became a theme but…)  I was surprised.  I have no idea what the story of Engeldamm Strasse is (across the bridge from our hotel), but it felt like Y2K era west Philly.  A good 20 minute walk past vans, cars and cabins that were obviously squatter’s homes.  To the left were brick buildings which seemed in disrepair but inevitably had beautiful gardens all around.  There was a makeshift sign outside one of the buildings that read “Tourists.  No pictures, no problems”.  This was my first clue that the Berlin young cool class are squatters.  I hate the word hipsters, but the young hip in Berlin seem to express themselves with tattered black denim, “stray” dogs and living in abandoned buildings.   At first I thought that this was an unbelievable residue from the punishments placed on Germany after WWII, but eventually I figured Berlin chic is Squatter Style.

Anyway, saw Check Point Charlie and the longest stretch of the Berlin wall today.  Started to awaken my curiosity about the times before the Wall fell.  Walking passed the Berlin Wall has a certain weight to it.  Heavy with history.  Looking forward to learning more about life here.

berlin metaphor

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