(^^ I know, I know-my German is highly impressive. I will also give you one guess as to the location about to be described in this long and rambly post. Grab a Diet Coke and put up your feet, because I haven’t written in awhile…)
My last big European adventure was a long-overdue reunion with my own personal Messiah: my friend Steffi. As you may remember, Steffi saved my bacon (woooow…if that’s not an annoyingly American phrase, well then I just don’t know what is.) when she helped me translate several testimonies for my dissertation earlier this summer. On top of that amazingness, she allowed me to stay with her for a week and a half before we are forced to live on separate continents. Why? Because she’s wonderful. Das stimmt…
My trip began in (gasp!) anxiety-riddled style. Maaaaaiinly because I can’t tell time, miscalculated train times listed in only 24-hour time, and booked myself a train to Gatwick Airport 4 magical hours before my flight. No, that’s not a typo: I got to the airport a full Rawlins-to-Denver-car-ride before my flight was to jettison off into the night sky (for my non-Wyoming readers, it takes 4 hours to get from my hometown to the closest international airport. Yes…I am fully aware that I come from the middle of nowhere.). And yes-spending that much time inside an airport for no apparent reason is as awful as it sounds. Now, no one ever believes me when I say that I have the worst luck at UK airports, mainly because when I travel with other people absolutely nothing goes wrong and I look like a grumpy old man griping about something that never happened. Welp, this grumpy old man was vindicated with a simple power outage, which threw the entire airport into helter-skelter mode. I don’t even know if that was ever a real thing before, but as of this writing moment, it is now a thing: ‘Conditions at Gatwick Airport reached level helter-skelter this evening, as passengers mimicked the ‘Hokey Pokey’ and had to turn themselves around as they attempted to correctly find their gates before they were finally allowed to ignore a stewardess buckle a lone seatbelt in midair for the thousandth time.’
Did you know that you can ride planes, trains, AND automobiles at the airport? It’s true. You need the latter two to go back and forth and back and forth and back and forth between Gatwich Airport’s two terminals when one of them is closed due to said power outage. And then when you finally arrive back at the correct terminal, 3 hours after your airport navigational journey began, you get stuck in airport limbo as you sit on a bus 5 feet from the airport door because ‘you aren’t cleared to enter without a security escort’. So after staring with such concentration at this door that would bring you inside to a toilet, beer, and your gate you are honestly surprised you haven’t perfected telekinesis with the intense levels of concentration you’ve been harnessing to open the airport door which would make Obi Wan Kenobi toss Luke Skywalker aside because your focus and dedication is so impressive. Right when you think Obi Wan is about to holographically appear in front of you, however, you’re finally whisked inside by one of the three airport staff members that have been on board the bus with you this entire time. You’re so excited to be personally escorted through the airport by the scrawny man whose name you’ve since forgotten that you send Steffi a text that looks something like, ‘On way. Beer please. Excited. But bring beer. LKJso8475*&$HHG(@4’. And then when you finally land in the great city of Berlin, Steffi is there with a giant hug and the requested adult beverage, because she had that packed before you even asked. (I told you she was wonderful.)
The whole trip was an incredible mixture of the historical, the aesthetically pleasing, and deliciousness. When I sat down to construct my ‘Berlin Wish List’ before my departure, almost everything I came up with was related to World War II. I want to believe that this is because this is truly my niche and the fact that learning about this period of time after such an exhaustive program is a great sign. It could also be that I truly am the older gentleman that I always joke about being, with habits strikingly similar to those of my beloved late grandfather’s. There could be other reasons for this , but I didn’t get my afternoon nap today so I’m a bit groggy. (I think that probably answers that question…I might be an 86-year old man.) So in my week and a half, I was able to cross the Berlin Holocaust Memorial, the Jewish Museum, the Topography of Terror, and various other little WWII tidbits off my ‘Berlin Wish List’, and then decided to forgo the infamous Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. I’ve been fortunate enough to cross many Holocaust sites off my travel bucket list this past year, and so this time around I decided that this vacation shouldn’t revolve simply around morbid subject matter; I also needed to pay homage to other aspects of Berlin life during my fabulous 10-day stay.
So during the times when Steffi needed to be holed up in the library, dedicated little student that she is, I stepped out into the sunshine and autumn weather and found my way to the train station without a single consultation of a map. This? Kind of a big deal, as most of the time I would be unsuccessful at finding my way out of a paper bag guided only by a map. I then surprised myself even further by correctly boarding the necessary trains without hearing/seeing a single word of English. Oh who am I kidding, this isn’t surprising: I couldn’t work my way around a city map to the last cheeseburger on Earth, but you place a map of any type of public transportation in front of me and I could make it happen, even if it was written in Klingon. To add to the city’s beauty, the leaves were at their autumn best: changed into beautiful shades of yellow, orange, and red and just beginning to fall, covering both branch and pavement with brilliant color. On my first day alone in the city, I took myself to the location where the offices of the Gestapo, leadership of the SS and the Reich Security Main Office once stood. The buildings themselves were destroyed and dismantled after the war, and there now rests on this site a museum dedicated to shedding light on the personalities responsible for reeking havoc and terror throughout those fateful 12 years of the 20th Century. I had given myself the standard 2-hour window normally allotted to museum visits, but when I looked at the clock I realized 4 hours had already flown by, and there was still an entire section that I had yet to examine (which would have made me late for the dinner that was bubbling deliciously on the stove back at the flat), I realized the breadth of provided information within this lone exhibit information. I highly recommend this destination if you happen upon Berlin and have a jonsing for history. Another monumental location that caught me by surprise was the Jewish Museum. Steffi and I spent 5 hours inside, without even touching half of the museum’s permanent exhibits; an intricate and thoughtful institution that I hope to be able to visit again in the future to comb over the areas I zipped past. Alright, enough talk on the educational; what you’re really wondering is: how is the Berlin night life??
Answer: that depends on your definition of ‘night life’. If by ‘night life’ you mean: eating at generous and amazing individuals’ flats, watching movies and eating chocolate until the early morning hours, or having a bottle of champagne and playing celebrity guessing games just because, Berlin’s night life is superb. If by ‘night life’ you mean: music loud enough to potentially cause your eardrums to burst, spending an inordinate amount of money on alcoholic beverages and having random strangers lick your back (yes…that happened once. And yes, I panic-moonwalked away from the situation. But that was years ago, and not part of this particular story…), then I have no idea. You see, the days of crazy club shenanigans have been replaced by days of spending quality time with friends cracking jokes that no one else will think are funny and playing games that make absolutely no sense. (well, let’s be honest-those days weren’t exactly in abundance in my younger years, either, but I’m trying to make a point here.) Because those are the types of things that are good for my soul, and my soul flew away from Berlin completely regenerated instead of completely hungover. (It flew because it was on an airplane. Get it?? No? That’s an example of the types of jokes I just referenced. I’m funny, dammit!)
This was my last big European adventure of this incredible year. I left it for last, because I knew that Berlin, the people, and the currywurst there would make for an automatic gem of an experience. The countdown on the side of this page tells me that I have 25 days left on my favorite continent; just writing that is making me cry. But I need to remember that I have had more incredible experiences in the past 14 months combined than I thought humanly possible. And I have 4,000 photos to troll through when I need to be momentarily whisked away to my favorite places after I return to my native land. I also need to stop acting like such a girl, push back the tears, and enjoy my last few weeks in the UK instead of crying, but I can do that after lunch 😉
Off topic-I just realized my reading glasses are on my face. I have no recollection of putting them there. I think this officially means I have turned into a grumpy old man…