Monday, November 17, 2014

Friends in Deutschland Tour Pt. 3 // Berlin

Okay... It's been some time since I last posted was in a small room of a small home in rural Sweden back then. Now I'm in a large home in rural Tuscany, Italy. Of course, a bunch of travel has happened in between this three week gap, and I'll get to that sooner or later. However, I'm going to account back to before Sweden, to before I even knew I was going to Sweden. I made those plans while sitting cross-legged in a small bare room in a neighbourhood of... Berlin.

I went to Berlin to finally see the popular city and stay with my friends Caleb and Alexis [C&A] (Caleb is an amazing artist and you can view his collection on his website!). The last time I was in Europe I had only been connecting trains at the Berlin station. So this time I would see the city and the many things it had to offer. My first night there we took it easy and checked out C&A's neighbourhood. They live a stone's throw away from a "borrow shop", the only one of its kind in the city. You literally borrow anything in the store and return the item when you're done with it. Genius. We borrowed an air-mattress and a pump, thus giving me a bed for the week. Getting on the topic of TV shows with the owners of the shop, HBO's 'True Detective' came up and that gave us an idea for our night: Television Binge. Caleb and I started and finished the whole season that one night. All the way through the 8 episodes we kept pushing each other to stay awake and fight our sleepy, bedtime notions. Interestingly enough, it is fitting that we watched this show at the time we did, because you'll soon see why as you read on...

Caleb and I cycled everywhere the five days I was there, but we only covered a mere fraction of Berlin. The city layout and its regions are fragmented like a 100pc jigsaw puzzle. I've never seen as much graffiti in my life as well; commissioned work and that of talented amateurs, Berlin has it all.

We cycled to the Memorial for the Murdered European Jews of the Holocaust and walked through the thousands of erected concrete slabs, divided into many intersecting rows. Underground is a museum that holds the names of all known Jewish Holocaust victims. We read many accounts of these victims and the grim atrocities they were forced to witness, suffer and die from. Truly soul-wrenching.

Passing under and by the Brandenburg Gate, we followed the trace of where the Berlin Wall stood. On the streets, the tracing is a paired line of small metal, circular plates that represent the memory of the city's former separation. Winding our way on the bicycle paths, dodging blind drivers, we arrived at the East Side Gallery. A kilometre stretch of the Berlin Wall that still stands today. Painted with murals of commissioned art on one side and amateur's graffiti tags on the other. Here we took our Lidl €5 lunch and ate by the river, then perused the whole section of the Wall in the spitting rain.

Berlin's nightlife is apparently one of the best in the world. I didn't dare go to the Berghain for example, but you find hundreds of small pubs, restaurants, and cafés within the city blocks no matter where you are. C&A and I attended a Couchsurfing event of table tennis in a bar one night. Met a girl from California, two guys from France and Germany, and another girl from Eastern Europe (I forget the exact country she said she was from). After playing "Chinese" table tennis as they called it, (or "Around the World" as I'd always called it... I mean, wouldn't "Chinese" table tennis be a more professional version of the sport?) we again took to our bicycles and wandered the neighbourhood.

Our True Detective Scare
My final night in Berlin was a creepy one. We decided to check out an abandoned radio station located on the outskirts: Funkhaus Grünau. Taking our bikes aboard the S-Bahn, we made the trek out and arrived at the haunted looking brick building. As dusk turned to dark, we entered the back of the property and snuck in through a second floor window. Creepy. The pitch-blackness seemed to swallow us whole as we stepped deeper into the hollow hold. What was startling was the fact that another man, alone, was lurking about in there with us. I passed by a doorway and through my peripherals saw his silhouetted outline... and did a double-take with a nervous chuckle. He thankfully turned out not to be a mass-murderer...

In the most eerie room we found beer bottle candles, brimming over with wax all strewn about, a mattress (in which we did not want to know the owner), and graffiti with wooden crafts, which freaked us out the most. Cue "True Detective" once more. The stick crafts were of those in the show and the spray painted antlered creature fit the uneasy atmosphere all the same. We ventured into the basement and explored every nook and cranny till Caleb had his fill.

The Funkhaus Grünau gave me the sense of Berlin's mysterious sense of art and its mix of painful history in the same place. As eerie as it was, it was also quite fascinating, bold, and creative. The boiler room in the basement featured an escape hatch, with a pitch-fork and a large star-shaped spool at the foot of it. Another room had a group of individual head-shots of random faces that were defaced or displaying some sort of emotional expression. It was quite the experience.

The next day I hopped on the bus and made my way North West toward Hamburg. But I'll leave that beautiful city for my next post.

Here are some more Berlin photos!
The Reichstag
The Holocaust Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe
Berlin Wall reminder poles 
East Side Gallery on the river side
One of the most famous murals of communist leaders Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker
Berlin Graffiti

ps I did enjoy a sweet and tasty Berliner doughnut in Berlin.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Friends in Deutschland Tour Pt. 2 // Darmstadt, Köln & Marburg

It came time to visit with Danielle again, the Winnipegger German turned Darmstadt(er?) German. She was kind enough to let me stay a full week with her, and I tried to repay her with dishwashing talents and a willingness to help out wherever. The opportunities presented themselves and suddenly I was a hired hand to help her two sets of friends move to their new places. I was excited; I got to meet cool Germans and also gained free trips to Köln and Marburg in process during the two weekends I was with Danielle (more on this in a bit). During the week I explored the neighbourhood, enjoyed döner kebabs, caught up on TV shows, and tried to determine my European life plan all while Danielle was at work (I'll also mention her stellar cooking skills, Jamie Oliver would be proud).

Back to the weekends however, for those held our fun, assisting adventures. The first weekend we joined Flo and Laura pack up a Europcar moving truck with all of their belongings and headed up to Köln. It is somewhat customary in Germany to paint whichever walls you don't like before you officially move in and unpack all of your things. Smart. So we painted the living room, then began to bring all of the boxes and furniture into the flat. All the while being the lone person who didn't speak German, I again tried to learn a little. The words for three types of rooms is what stuck: Arbeitzimmer, Schlafzimmer, und Küche. Auf Englisch: Workroom, bedroom and kitchen! Ah, I'm a pitiful linguist. Anyway, we celebrated the move with pizza (pronounced pit-za when around Germans), went for a special beer (I'll reveal the specialness in the next paragraph), then hit the hay after a long day.

After all we could do with unpacking the next day, we ventured out into the beautiful city of Köln. Lunch was particularly a treat. Besides the wonderful brotwurst covered with sauerkraut I devoured, Kölsch, Köln's prized pride and joy of beers, was featured. The legend has it that Kölsch is only allowed to be named Kölsch if it's brewed within a 50km radius of Cologne, and you ought to be in view of the cathedral to drink it. Therefore it is a product with protected geographical indication according to EU law! Neato. On our way home from lunch we walked past the massive cathedral, staring at its larger than life presence, thinking of the smooth beer we just savoured (and Catholicism of course).

The second weekend, it was Max's and Vero's turn to gladly accept our services. We hit the autobahn to Marburg, five in a VW van: Max, Vero, their friend Jan (who LARPs!), Danielle, and I. We were to paint and replace Vero's walls and carpet of her new flat's bedroom. Marburg was a lovely town in the hills. Apparently known for its blind citizens, this is too unfortunate considering the sheer eye-capturing beauty of the town's location. I mean, a castle nestled in the centre on a high hill peak, surrounded by unbelievable homes! It was my birthday weekend and I'm thankful I got to be in a wonderful scenic place with hilarious people. The crew even sung Happy Birthday to me in German on the climb up to the castle. For dinner, we went to a cafe that served auflauf, or casserole as we know it—another specialty of Marburg. Straight out of the oven, it was a burning, mouth-watering overload of fantastic. As a present, Danielle gave me a Milka OREO bar and a package of Hanuta, hazelnut chocolate filled delicious wafers. Finally, they surprised me the next day with a small chocolate cake Danielle baked with sparklers! It is German tradition to celebrate someone's 25th birthday the day after, just to make sure the person survives the night... JOKES, but that's what they told me because they hadn't found a time on my actual birthday to do it. Everything we did after that was met with a proclamation of, "GERMAN TRADITION!"

To top off my time with Danielle, we attended her friend Ina's Gothic party... Yes, a German Gothic party. My suspicions were confirmed, we would be in a cellar, drinking German beer, and listening to older hard rock, especially System of a Down. Eyeliner, black nail polish, and black fishnet gloves... I consumed the role. In sum, my visit to Darmstadt and the adventures that came out of it, encapsulated my quarter-of-a-century's-existence celebration quite well.

Here are some pictures of this leg!

Cologne Cathedral 
View from Marburg's Castle
The Marburg Crew—Max, Jan, Danielle, and Vero
'Pt. 3 // Berlin' will hopefully be up this week as well!

Ciao for now

Monday, October 13, 2014

Friends in Deutschland Tour Pt. 1 // Stuttgart

The time had come for Willie and I to part ways. My five days were up, and his experience at Bodenseehof [Bode] was well underway. Solo travel mode was thus kick-started. (I'm ecstatic that I got to travel with my brother creating memories that we'll cherish for a long, long time. It already feels like it was quite some time ago!). From September 24th to this very day I began a bottom-to-top tour of Germany, visiting friends along the way. Here is a (hopefully) short and efficient summary of the past three weeks from my adventures; starting with the first leg of the tour...

Nächste Halt: Stuttgart. I planned to stay a couple nights with a friend, Gaby, who went to the Bode with me, however she surprised me with another Bode friend, Mirji, who joined us as well! Over the next couple days, we caught up on good memories, cooked up some Schwäbisch staples (spätzle, maultaschen and schnitzel of course—more on those here). Gaby had to be at university the next day, however Mirji was free and kind enough to show me around the city, taking me with her to various errands for her day. I experienced a day in the life of a German. First, was a meeting with a local bakery's owners. They discussed bread types and prices (in Deutsch of course) for a fair trade event at a high school Mirji volunteers at. I sat there with my mouth open the entire time, trying to pick up at least a few words (like Nutella... HA just kidding). Second, we dropped by the high school itself and as she made a few announcements to three Grade 9 classes, I was the show-and-tell in the background. Lastly, it was time to visit the Mercedes-Benz museum. It was massive. From the top floor down it took us on a historical whirlwind of the Daimler-Benz automobile dynasty. The ramps leading to each level/gallery gave corresponding dates and subsequent events of world history parallel with the legendary company. The facts were fascinating but the automobiles themselves were obviously the stars of the museum, and shone gallantly in the bright lights.

My final night there we reminisced, watching Bode home videos of performances from concerts, open mics, and special events throughout the '07/'08 year. It was a short and sweet visit in Stuttgart, but it was a blast catching-up with old friends, especially German old friends.

Here are some pictures from this leg of my journey:
Museum #mannytravelpose

Aesthetic Classics

Old School Benz

Mercedes-Benz Racing

Mirji on the left and Gaby on the right

Pt. 2 will be written and up within the next couple of days.

Ciao for now, and I hope those of you in Canada had a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend!

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