Emily and I are taking a train from Berlin to Prague. I suppose we left from platform 1, rather than 9 and 3/4. Still, this train feels like the Hogwarts Express, or as close to it as I’ve ever experienced.
We started out in London, had a great New Year, poked fun at accents and had our own poked fun of. I was there less than 24 hours, but it was a good meeting place so I didn’t intend to see much. It was cheaper to fly to London for a day and then to Berlin than it would have been to go directly to Berlin.
Fun fact: I almost missed my flight to Londres because they switched the gate to the other side of the terminal. Ahhhh tan divertido. But I didn’t. A British half-of-a-family and I went running through the terminal. They should have announced it more clearly. I think Air France was hogging the speaker system.
It was nice to get my footing in Europe in an English-speaking country. We meant to spend New Years watching the fireworks from a popular hill, but we decided to follow the crowd for a bit, and found ourselves on a bridge that had a much better view of the fireworks, the London Eye, and Big Ben. People were excited, and obviously were taking pictures. We discovered a new trend: the selfie stick. I don’t know the proper name for it. The selfie sticks make me laugh, though. They are metal rods with a place to attach your phone to the end, so you can get the right angle for your best selfie ever.
Now we are on our way to Prague, or Praha, from Berlin. Here I am just casually writing and watching the German countryside passing out the window. No big deal, at least not to the German man sharing a cabin with us, sleeping. I, on the other hand, think it’s pretty great. I worked at this Spanish immersion camp a few summers, Concordia Language Villages. There is also a German immersion camp, and they have buildings modeled after German architecture. I’d seen them, and they are cool buildings, but I never understood how accurate they were. So ten points for Waldsee for having authentic-looking buildings, from a girl who understands almost nothing about German culture or architecture.
Berlin, Berlin, Berlin.
We stayed in a mixed dorm hostel. There were two girls from Italy, Florence I believe, who were there for the same period of time as us. They were nice enough, but we didn’t talk to them much. There was this French-speaking couple, the guy from Paris and the girl from Geneva. When I asked, she told me she didn’t speak any German. I wasn’t sure if she would, since I know German is widely spoken in Switzerland, but not so much in the south. I tried very hard not to eavesdrop on all of their conversations. There will be other opportunities to practice French. They left in the morning the day before we were set to leave. Another couple moved in after. So there was always a 5-to-1 girl-to-boy ratio. And that boy was gorgeous both times. This time, the girl was from New York (City?), and the boy from Sevilla. I normally would just start blabbering away in Spanish after learning that he was from Spain, and she was working in Madrid, but I didn’t for some reason. And then they would communicate in Spanish and didn’t know we spoke Spanish. I don’t know, it felt almost dishonest to me.
Sometimes I don’t understand how I should use the languages I speak. I was only in Berlin for a couple of days, but I gathered that anything touristy was usually conducted in English, and anything else at least started out in German. I was secretly hoping that we would meet someone with whom it would be easier for us to communicate in Spanish, than in English. We met more than one person like that, lucky me. One lady worked at the Jewish Museum, and then we met a few people from Argentina who were excited that we spoke Spanish.
Okay, actual Berlin now. We went to this Turkish place to eat on the day we got in. Of course, there was only one guy who spoke a tiny bit of English. The menu was in German. We took about half an hour to figure out what to order. I tried to use a bit of German. I actually tried to use a bit of German most places we went. Most places, the Turkish place included, they switched to English. One of the guys there teased us, which was nice and friendly, although he teased us in German. We were trying to share the kebab wrap we ordered by cutting it in two, and he was telling us we were doing it wrong.
The next day we tried to go on a free tour, but kept missing it. We missed the 11 o’clock one, and then went to eat, and ended up missing the 2 o’clock one, by five minutes. Sigh. Not surprising. Later the receptionist at our hostel shook his head, smiling, and saying ‘this is Germany, you have to be punctual!’
We went to the Jewish Museum after missing the second tour. It was full of information. It was like a mix between a natural history museum and an art museum. There were artifacts and maps and stories and pictures relating to Jewish culture, primarily in Europe, and during various time periods. There were also art installments. There was a robot that writes the Torah at human speed. A person has to train for a while to be a qualified Torah scribe. So it was some sort of art statement, which I don’t understand completely, to have a robot do it, and at human speed. Very cool.
There were a bunch of artifacts from Jewish families and people who were victims of the Holocaust. There were little stories to go with all of them. Lucky us, everything that attracts tourists in Berlin is bilingual, with both German and English, so we could read about the artifacts. There was this permanent exhibit that was an open room, oddly shaped. It was in various levels of darkness. On the ground were metal faces. Rudimentary faces with their mouths open, screaming, I would guess. And you walk in the room and walk on their faces. It’s a statement, I suppose. Again, I don’t trust myself to interpret it well. But it made me feel like a shitty person, stepping all over faces. The architecture of the building itself incorporates a bunch of zig-zags, and these big void spaces the stretch over all the floors and have little windows peaking in. The voids represent the Jewish people lost to the Holocaust.
Let’s see. So Friday was the day that we tried to go on the tours and missed them, and then went to the Jewish Museum. That night we went on this pub crawl. I had never been on a pub crawl before. While it wasn’t the hippest thing we could have done, it was fun. It was nice because we didn’t have to worry about where to go. I certainly cannot brag that I would be able to navigate night life my second day in a country whose language I don’t speak, on a continent I’d never been to before. *
At one of the places we went, I saw this beautiful man whom I had seen in the Jewish museum. He was beautiful . He was wearing a greenish shirt. I suppose that’s just the norm here (being beautiful, not wearing greenish shirts). I was telling Emily that I think most people are beautiful when they are young and in good shape. I think people in Europe are in better shape than people in the US, so maybe that’s why they are so much more beautiful. Or maybe all the change, and different languages, and smarter fashion makes me think people are more beautiful.
In the spirit of being cool, we walked at the front during our pub crawl and talked to both of the tour guides. The girl was from Hungry, the guy from Spain. Of course, we talked to the guy in Spanish, and he started giving us directions in Spanish. Like “don’t cross, there is a car coming.” I also spoke some French with the French-speaking couple. I think I got points for that. They said my French wasn’t bad, and I always shake my head at that, because I will be taking classes in French, not just being a tourist. Even in Spanish, I would doubt my abilities in the classroom setting.
That was Friday. Yesterday, Saturday, we finally made a tour. We made the 2pm one, with time to spare. Go us! I learned a lot of history. Unfortunately, I doubt I’ll remember most of it. Regardless of my not-so-great memory, it was a good tour. The lady leading ours, Lindsay from Scotland, seemed to like her job. It might be a fun job for me, since I’d get to meet many people from many different places, and I speak too loud already. It was cold during the tour, so we went to this train station and got a coffee, okay I got a hot chocolate, at Starbucks. So good. So cultural.
I don’t know if it was that day, but at some point this girl in the hostel, I think she was Mexican, was talking to a friend from home, in Spanish, and was explaining that people here are cold in terms of interpersonal interaction. People don’t greet each other with a nice hug. While, I am not from a place where you greet people with a kiss on the cheek, I still agree with her. Very few people smiled at me. I think some people were a bit put-off when I smiled at them. Stupid. A part of me was thinking that, if I really liked this place, maybe I would pick up German. I liked the artsy side of Berlin, and the history, but I don’t think it made me want to learn German. It’s the people that make the language for me. Then again, I didn’t get to meet many people, so I won’t cross German off the list just yet.
On our last evening, we went to the East Side Gallery, which is a long section of the Berlin wall, with incredible art all over it. It was facing east Berlin, and so all of the art on it is from people in East Berlin. The art was largely big murals that are pretty much all commentaries having to do with the division of Berlin, or themes of peace and understanding. I think a lot of the art we saw was done recently, and was copied from originals. There was a lot of graffiti all over the wall, which I have mixed feelings about, and feelings that are not completely developed. For example, writing ‘Justin was here’ is a little annoying, especially when you spray paint it over a beautiful that mural someone put a lot of time into. Writing a favorite quote on a blank space is not annoying; I think it’s cute.On our last evening, we went to the East Side Gallery, which is a long section of the Berlin wall, with incredible art all over it. It was facing east Berlin, and so all of the art on it is from people in East Berlin. The art was largely big murals that are pretty much all commentaries having to do with the division of Berlin, or themes of peace and understanding. I think a lot of the art we saw was done recently, and was copied from originals. There was a lot of graffiti all over the wall, which I have mixed feelings about, and feelings that are not completely developed. For example, writing ‘Justin was here’ is a little annoying, especially when you spray paint it over a beautiful that mural someone put a lot of time into. Writing a favorite quote on a blank space is not annoying; I think it’s cute.
Here are some photos of my favorite pieces of the wall:
Goal from here on: hold the camera/phone steady.
Now it’s off to Prague, Harry Potter style.
* That I have never been to Europe is a lie. I went to London and Scotland when I was 16 or so. Here I am referring to mainland Europe.