An American in Berlin
21 July, 2016
Although I left New York on June 28, it’s really only now that I finally feel like I’m properly back in Berlin. Until yesterday, in fact, I felt like I’d been everywhere but Berlin. I was two nights in Brussels, four nights at a metal festival in the middle of nowhere and three nights in Italy. Sandwiched between those adventures, I was two nights at Joschka’s place, three nights at an Easy[jet] Hotel down the block from Joschka and five nights at an Airbnb in Prenzlauerberg. To put it another way, it’s only today that I’ve finally unpacked my suitcase.
My foregoing adventures may well each deserve a journal entry of their own. Unfortunately, my laptop did not accompany me on any of them, nor did I seek out the time to journal through them by hand. When I was accustomed to travelling alone, I always made time each day to put down my thoughts and impressions in a little notebook. That, along with my pipe and a beer/wine, was always a nice way to end the day.
These days, though, my adventures seem always to be undertaken in the company of others. In this case, it was Brussels with Charlotte; Rock Harz (the metal festival) with a gang of twenty or so; Italy with the Morgensterns and entourage. Thus does it seem rather a bit futile to try and recapture those experiences in any meaningful kind of way. And yet I find that some measure of record is called for. The records shall be brief and episodic.
This was a birthday gift from Charlotte, believe it or not. She bought me a round-trip flight from Berlin and took care of the Airbnb to boot. As birthday presents go, this was a winner. I found the city itself to be small but charming. Our accommodations were lovely, however. We stayed in a rustic old apartment, smack in the middle of the city. We saw some sights, chief among which was the Atomium, a giant model of an atom left over from an old World’s Fair. This consists of a series of aluminum spheres connected by metal shafts. From the topmost sphere one has a panoramic view of the entire city and its surroundings. The other spheres housed historical or artistic exhibits. The connecting shafts had escalators running through their dark interiors with colored beams of light for illumination. I felt a bit like Scotty, climbing through a Jeffry’s Tube or a warp nacelle. It was, I think, the sort of thing that passed for “space age” back in the day. A bit gimmicky, yes, but cool all the same.
Two other structures stood out, in terms of architecture. One, of course, was that staple of any major European city, the gothic cathedral. Like all gothic cathedrals, it gave the double effect of “seen one, seen ‘em all,” and yet feeling entirely unique. When we walked in, we were greeted by some pretty impressive organ music. This meant, of course, that there was a service going on. As a result, we weren’t able to fully explore the cathedral, but it was still pretty cool.
The other building of note was the palais de justice. This structure was absolutely enormous. In fact, it seems to be one of the biggest structures built anywhere in the world during the 19th century. Despite large portions of it being covered in scaffolding, it was nevertheless quite awe inspiring. Sitting, as it does, atop an almost sort of cliff face, it has a way of towering over the rest of the city.
As lovely as Brussels was, however, the highlight was simply getting to spend time with Charlotte, whom I had not seen since she left New York in December. We spent our evenings drinking Belgian beer, singing songs with the guitar and playing dice games. The days were spent wandering the city, eating fries (and other Belgian food) and of course drinking Belgian beer. And as for that beer, while I can see its attraction, it is probably not my favorite. The flavors are deep and rich, of course. But they are so heavy, that each one is like a meal. And in the summer heat, I find they offer little refreshment.
All in all, it was a wonderful weekend. I was delighted to see my dear friend again, and to see that we still travel together with all the ease and comfort in the world. It is hard to imagine a better companion for the road. On the way to the airport, we started a list of other places we would like to visit. Time will tell how many of them we shall have the good fortune of getting to.
What can you say about camping out for four days with twenty crazy Germans? It is, quite possibly, the most fun one can have in a year. Certainly many of our party feel it is the annual highlight. It is, however, also the most exhausting four days of the year. And here, perhaps more than anywhere else, I am confronted with the limits imposed by my aging body. I simply cannot drink as hard as I used to.
Vinny was able to make the trip again this year, and it is a great comfort to have a like-minded English speaker along. We went to the field to check out some bands and made some happy discoveries along the way. Back at the camp it was a lot of partying and napping; though for me, napping probably outweighed partying; at least during the day.
At night, I would break out the guitar. For me, this is simply a bit of catharsis and relaxation. But the gang do see to love it. Mostly I play Irish folk songs for them, while sprinkling in as many German songs as I can muster. This year, the highlight was absolutely Zehn Kleine Jägermester by Die Toten Hosen. I knew this was a big hit back in the late 90’s, but I didn’t know if it would fly with this crowd. Die Toten Hosen are a punk band, and we are a metal people. But as soon as I started playing, every last one of them was singing along. I’d never had that happen before and it was so much fun!
Well, the next thing should be Italy, to say nothing of Berlin. But I find I’m quite exhausted now, and so I think I will end here. Time permitting, I will pick this up again tomorrow. Until then…