An American in Berlin

An American in Berlin
New York Edition

September First marked a rather significant anniversary in the Life of Dave.  And also in the life of my best friend Jared.  As of 9/1/16 we’ve now lived longer outside of Maiden Lane than we did in it.  Talk about your mindfucks.  And I thought describing the currywurst bitches was hard.

Jared and I were roommates for ten – count ‘em: 10 – years.  Six years in Maiden Lane, and another four on Orchard Street.  Even now, we joke with our married friends that they haven’t made it until they beat our mark.1  Anyway, this sort of anniversary – if that’s even the right word – is hard to wrap your head around.

I mean, when we first moved in, the Fulton Fish Market was still a thing.  We’d walk outside in the summer and be hit with that smell.  Ground Zero was still Ground Zero and not the new Trade Center.  We could still pretend to afford the rent down there.  But all I’m saying here is that Manhattan changed.  The city changed.  That doesn’t even begin to touch on the heart of the matter.

When we moved in together – along with English Phil; it was a three-bedroom – we were, what, 23?  You think back to it, and you start to realize, this was an entirely different time of your life.  A different era.  What I’m going to say next is going to sound cheesy.  But, everything was still new.  You were discovering yourself at the same time as you were discovering the greatest city on earth.  You were properly free for the first time in your life.

Free, and yet poor.  My first year, I worked at Starbucks.  And Jared, I think, was still in acting school.  I’d come home from work with bags of expired scones and sandwiches and we considered it a bounty.  But we didn’t care.  Aye, we were ‘appy in those days, although we were poor.  Because we were poor!

But it’s strange to think back to those times.  Because it’s but two years ago that we were still roommates in Chinatown.  Yet even that was different somehow.  By that time, we were both in grad school, both looking more towards the future than towards today.  But Maiden Lane, those were the last days of youth, somehow.  The days when we were free from worry.

And of course that’s not true at all, is it?  It’s just, that’s how it feels now.  Not everybody gets to live their twenties in New York, but we did.  And we loved it.  And he’s still there, and I’m here.  And nobody knows what will come next.  But those days are gone.  The days of living with your best friend and facing the world together are gone.

As people get older, they move on.  Many people settle into relationships.  Others run away, as I have.  But in your twenties, it’s your friends who are the central figures in your lives.  Your friends are your family.  In your thirties?  It’s your boyfriend or your girlfriend, your husband or your wife.  And your friends fade into the background.  If you’re lucky, they become family.  And they have, for me.  My friends from home, Jared front-and-center, are my family.

But they’re family in the sense of a no-questions-asked-always-there-for-you kind of way.  Not in a central-figure-in-your-life kind of way.  I hesitate to speak out of turn regarding Jared, but I trust what I say here will not be taken amiss.  He lives now with his boyfriend Josh.  And I adore Josh.  That’s not hyperbole or polite blogque-speak.  I adore Josh.  And I am so words-can’t-express-it happy for Jared.  But his life now is with his partner and not his buddy-roommate.  And that’s as should be.  My life, for now, is here in Berlin.  We’ve chosen our paths.  And I don’t think either of us regret the paths we’ve chosen.

But that doesn’t mean you don’t look back upon the times-that-were and feel a twinge of nostalgia.  It doesn’t mean you don’t miss the times-gone-by that will never come again.  I texted Jared, on the first of September:

Dave: Congratulations, my man. We’ve now been outside of Maiden Lane longer than we were in it.

Jared: Something about that makes me sad.  Also I read that as I went into Starbucks so there was some synergy there.

Davie: Weird. Yeah man, little bit of melancholy. Little bit of nostalgia. Little bit of getting old sucks.

Jared: There it is.

There it is.  The Maiden Lane days were their own thing.  We would live tougher for another four years on the Lower Easy Side.  But that was its own other thing.  It wasn’t the same.  We were in our thirties.  We were going our own ways already.  By that point, I’d met Joschka and Vinny and Niki.  We were getting drunk in Williamsburg til 4am and finishing up with ‘breakfast’ at WoHop.  Meanwhile, Jared was doing his thang.  Even if we were still best friends in those years, we weren’t the team that we were in the Maiden days.

And now here we are.  Here I am.  An entire Maiden Lane Lifetime after Maiden Lane.  I’m trying to process it, but I can’t understand it.  But maybe that’s life.  You do your best to understand it when it’s happening, even though you know you can’t.  Then you try to understand it when it’s gone, and you can only grasp at the fringes of it.  You can try.  You should try, even.  But you can’t live in the past.  Enfin le temps perdu qu’on ne rattrape plus.

זיי געסונט

  1. Cheers to Keith and Heather, who only just recently beat us. []

An American in Berlin

An American in Berlin
19 October, 2016

Lately, I’ve spent a lot of time cooped up inside.  Lots of reasons for this, I suppose.  Not wanting to spend money.  Busy with work.  Weather turning to shit.  Boredom.  Some reasons are better than others.  But today, I got off my ass and went for a five hour walk.  My main goal was to visit the Schwerbelastungskörper, on more which later.  My secondary goal was to get a currywurst from a particular stand on Tempelhoferdamm.  I achieved my goals.  I also achieved getting soaked by the rain, which was not my goal.

There are two types of walks that I undertake here in Berlin.  One is a blind wandering.  There’s no goal in mind.  I simply pick a direction and go.  These are great, because you never know what you’ll find.  The drawback is, you might find nothing interesting at all.  But at least you get some fresh air and exercise.  And obviously the Fußpils, the walking-around-beer.  The other type of walk is the one where you pick a point of interest beforehand and map out a rough route.  That was today.

My first stop was the currywurst stand on Tempelhoferdamm.  I’d been there once before and considered it to be one of the better currywursts that I’ve had in this town.  Certainly I don’t go for the friendliness of the staff.  I’m not kidding.  It’s run by these two old ladies.  Two old ladies who seem to have sticks or small dead animals up their asses.

OK, that requires some explanation.  The first time I went, I merely stumbled upon it.  I was wandering around the area, I was hungry and their prices seemed fair.  So I ordered the obligatory Currywurst mit Pommes – currywurst with fries.  I gave my order to the old blonde lady, but it was the old brunette who served me.  Somewhere in that handoff, she lost the fact that I had ordered my food to go.  So when I saw her putting it on an actual plate, I politely interrupted her.  Entschuldigung, kann ich’s zu mitnehmen haben?  Excuse me, can I have that to go please?  And wow, did she give me the dirtiest look ever.  I mean, it was all out of proportion.  Like, OK.  This is a minor inconvenience.  I get it.  But did I just ruin your whole godsdamned day?  Because you look like I just ruined your whole godsdamned day.  I wanted to apologize.  I probably did apologize, in fact.  But I did some serious eye-rolling.

Still though, it was as a good a currywurst as I’ve had.1  And the fries were solid, which is key.  Nothing’s worse than going for a currywurst and getting shit fries.  Contrary-wise, when you get a subpar currywurst but it comes with nice, thick steak fries, all is well.  All this to say, despite the customer service hiccup, I was looking forward to grabbing lunch from the old dames today.

And they didn’t disappoint, on either front.  This time, I went out of my way to make clear I wanted my food for the road.  So far, so good.  The brunette wrapped it up for me.  Which, I mean, is weird.  Like in New York, when you get a slice or two to go and the put the plate inside a paper bag.  On the one hand, thanks, I guess.  On the other, more realistic hand, do you not realize I’m going to start eating this the minute I’m out your door?  Why did you put that in a bag?  But that’s what they did, and I wasn’t going to ask them not too, lest I get the evil-eye again.

One thing you need to know is, you don’t eat currywurst with a fork, nor do you eat it with your hands.  You eat it with, what I call, a Nathan’s fork.  New Yorkers will know what I’m talking about.  When you get fries from Nathan’s, you eat them with this little red plastic trident.  It’s part of the charm, no?  Well, it’s the same for currywurst, although here it comes in all colors.

Anyway, here, they usually hide the spear under the paper plate when they wrap it up.  So you get that awkward fast food moment.  You know the one.  Where you don’t really know if they put a fork and napkins into your bag, so you just grab extras on your way out, just in case.  Well, that’s just what happened here.  Kind of.

They hand me my bag – and again, I’m going to eat this starting in three seconds, why did you put it in a fucking bag, no really, do you think I’m going to take it all the way home and proceed to eat it lukewarm? – they hand me the bag, I’m saying, and I think, lemme grab a fork/trident/spear.  Just in case.  After all, if you think I’m taking this “home,” you also probably think I have utensils where I’m going, yeah?

So I stretch my paw towards the pile of plastic tridents.  And get this.  The blonde lady literally slaps my hand.  Like I’m a fucking child that doesn’t know any better.  Slaps.  My fucking.  Hand.  And the brunette – who last time looked at me like I was the world’s biggest asshole for asking for my food to go after she’d put it on a real plate – looked at me like I was out of my mind.  “Alles ist drinnen” she said, or something like it.  Everything is inside.  Jeez, OK, fine.  Thanks, I guess.

So I took my package of junk food and found a bench by the river.  I opened the bag.  And yeah, I found my little spear hiding out under the paper plate.  But you know what I didn’t find?  Napkins.  So alles wasn’t fucking drinnen, was it?  And napkins would have been helpful, given that the whole Mischung was drowning in ketchup.  But whatever.

So I’m sitting there trying to enjoy my lunch.  But now I’m annoyed that, at 35 years old, I’d just had my hand slapped.  Like I was a fucking idiot child.  And I’m trying to figure out if this is normal on a cultural level and I just need to accept it, or if these two broads are just raging bitches.  Certainly Germans have a reputation for being direct – even severe – in ways that Americans might consider rude.  And sure, when you encounter this, it’s your job to recognize that you’re in their country and you can’t take it personally.  But this seemed a bit beyond that.  In the coming days, I’ll run this by some German friends and see what they think.  But at the moment, I’m thinking I can get my currywurst elsewhere.  Or, you know, eat something healthier.

Anyway, after lunch, I headed up to the Schwerbelastungskörper.  Beer in hand, obvi.  On the one hand, it was great to be out walking.  On the other hand, what a shitty day for a walk.  It was cold and grey and rainy.  Not freezing, not black, not pouring.  Good enough to manage, but still fairly shite.

So I made my way up Tempelhoferdamm, past the Ring-Bahn, until I picked up Baron-von-Richtofen Strße.  Baron von Richtofen, you will remember, was the Red Baron.  See, in the area around Tempelhof aiport, they’ve named the streets after famous aviators.  This particular street leads you through a rather posh neighborhood.  Well, it’s posh now, anyway.  When THF was an active airport, it was a different story.  Jetliners flying over your house at tree-top level aren’t great for property values.  But once they turned the airport into a park, this little ‘hood gentrified in a hurry.

Anyway, you walk through this little neighborhood a piece – and you have to know where you’re going – until you turn a corner and there it is.  The Schwerbelastungskörper.  This huge concrete cylinder, 14m high and 21m in diameter, just sort of sits there, in this little residential area.  An ominous reminder of what Berlin – Germania – might have looked like, if Hitler and Speer had got their way.

The structure itself was nothing more than a test.  It was never meant to be the foundation of anything.  Its sole purpose was to see just how much weight the marshy soil of Berlin could bear.  But it would provide critical information.  With this test completed, the Nazis could build their Welthauptstadt – world capital – with all the scary, imposing, monumental architecture their sick minds could devise.  Of course, they never got that far.

–Interpolation: I started this piece on October 13th.  It is now the 19th.  In the intervening days, I’ve been suffering from a real bitch of a cold.  In fact, I still am.  But I took a break from writing, as my usual habits seemed to me to be counterproductive as regards convalescence.  In other words, I though it unwise to stay up late, smoking my pipe and drinking wine in throes of this wretched cold.  I probably shouldn’t be writing tonight either, but I’m getting antsy.  So instead of wine, I’m drinking hot toddies, which I deem medicinal.  End Interpolation–

Anyway, the Schwerbelastungskörper was interesting and scary and awesome in the more literal sense of the word.  Interesting, obviously, as a piece of history.  And you can go inside it.  It’s almost like a bunker in there.  And while you don’t have access, you can see how far down underground it goes.  Scary because, you know, Nazis.  Awesome, however, is more complicated.

I have a weird relationship with Nazi architecture.  On the one hand, it is all “intimidation” architecture.  Like Versailles, it is meant to make the viewer feel small and insignificant.  But there’s no confusing Louis XIV with Hitler.  So there’s a creepy, evil feeling about it as well.  Walk by the old Air Ministry (the current Finance Ministry) and you will feel it.  Charlotte, who is not exactly a student of history, certainly felt it.

On the other hand, I have to admit a feeling of admiration for monumental architecture.  Especially when it’s influenced by classical architecture.2  Take for example the US Capitol Building, the Supreme Court Building, the Municipal Building in New York, and on and on.  And here you have this government that wanted to build things on a bigger and grander scale than anything that had ever been built before.  You imagine what these buildings might have looked like, and it is literally awesome.

Then you remember who these people were.  You remember that everything they built was built by slave labor or near-slave labor.  And it churns your stomach.  The further in time we get from these things, the easier it is to view them with a detached eye.  But it’s still difficult to balance your subjective feelings about the architecture with your objective knowledge of the bastards who built it.

Anyway, in the week since I started this post, I’ve had the opportunity to ask more than a few Germans about the “hand-slapping incident.”  To be honest, I was kind of expecting at least one or two people to admit, with a bit of embarrassment, that yeah, even if this wasn’t exactly normal, it wasn’t entirely unheard of either.  I encountered no such response.  To a one, I was met with looks of abject horror.  Each responded in turn with something along the lines of, oh my god, that’s fucking horrific and please don’t judge Germans by this.

So at least I know I don’t have to feel bad about reaching for the Nathan’s Fork anymore.  And I know I won’t be going back there again either.  It does mean, however, that I need to find a new currywurst spot.  Last year, there was a place in my ‘hood that was pretty great, and which served up some beautiful fucking steak fries.  But they seem to have gone out of business in my absence.

In other news, I started watching Deadwood.  Normally, I don’t much care for westerns.  But I knew the show was done by HBO, was quite popular in its time, and starred Ian McShane, whom I loved from his work on the short-lived (but totally fucking awesome) Kings.  So when I saw it on Netflix, I decided to give it a whirl.

And friends, it is basically Shakespeare transposed onto a western.  You don’t notice it at first, what with the costumes and scenery, the waterfall of cursing3 and the Old West dialect.  This to say nothing of trying to keep up with the plots and characters.  But once you get accustomed to these things, you start to notice the Shakespeare in it.

First, some of the characters are right out of Old Bill.  You’ve got your Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.  You’ve go your Falstaff and your Macbeth.  And if I was more versed in Shakespeare, I could probably pick out a few more.

But more than this, there’s the language.  When the main characters embark upon long dialogues or soliloquies (and yes, there are soliloquies), the language is totally Shakespearean; if not in dialect, then certainly in syntax and meter.  In fact, I would love to do a metrical analysis on some of these speeches vis-à-vis Mr. Stratford-upon Avon.  I’m dead certain they would match.

As for syntax, the sentence construction doesn’t hold with the way we speak, but is definitely in accord with what you find in the Bard’s work.  To be fair, I’m not an expert on 19th century speech patterns in the American West.  But it’s hard for me to imagine that people spoke this way in their everyday lives, even if surviving letters support this to an extent.

And now here, I’m going to get into the weeds a bit.  I’ll do my best to keep this succinct.  In modern English, we have the “-ing” form of the verb.  When I teach, this functions in one of two ways.  The first is as a gerund, or a verbal noun.  For example, “I like running.”  Running is gerund.  It’s based off the verb to run, but it functions as a noun in the sentence.  The second, is as a participle, which is an adjective.  For example, “We have running water.”  Running is still based off the verb to run, but here, it’s an adjective, describing the water.  What we don’t really do anymore, is use the “-ing” form as a present active participle in the classical sense.

And here, it’s helpful to remember that our ideas of style – even today – derive from Greek and Roman ideas of style.  And in Greek and Latin literature, a sentence usually only has one main verb.  Of course, you can have subordinate clauses which can stretch a sentence for nearly a page.  But the main clause, the meat of the sentence, will have one verb.  For the Greeks and Romans, joining multiple verbs with “and” was suboptimal.  Of course they did it, but they didn’t love it.  What they preferred, was to have one verb and then use present active participles in parallel with it, when more verbal action was required.  OK, OK, shut the fuck up, Dave.  I know.

So let me try to give an example of what I mean.  Today, we would probably say something like “I went to the store and bought some bread.”  That’s one sentence with two verbs joined by “and.”  The Greeks and Romans, however, would prefer something like this: “Going to the store, I bought some bread.”  Still one sentence, but now only one verb.  The second verbal idea is expressed with a present active participle.  We simply don’t speak like this anymore.  We hardly even write like this anymore.

But Shakespeare certainly wrote like this.  And so does Deadwood.  They both also enjoy anaphora, or the repetition of a word or phrase.  So, putting the two together, you might get something like this: “Bullock, being an honest (fucking)4 Sherriff, can be counted on to act justly.  And acting justly, can be counted on to bring about a favorable (fucking) outcome.”

I realize this is an imperfect analysis.  But this is how I watch the show now.  I’m watching as much with an eye to the language and the style as I am for the story and the entertainment.  I’m constantly trying to put my finger on why this sounds and feels so Shakespearean.  This is what I’ve been able to come up with so far.

If you’re still with me – and I can hardly blame you if you’re not – I’ll begin my wrap-up here.  The only other thing worth mentioning is the ongoing apartment hunt, which is a living hell and hangs over me like a cloud.  I feel very unsettled, not having a place of my own.  Added to this is the fact that I know I won’t be able to extend my stay where I am, as my hosts have booked the room to someone else for next month.  So if I don’t find a place for next month, I don’t quite know what I’ll do.  I can hope to find a different AirBnB, if it comes to that.  And I have at least one friend offering a couch, which, while lovely, I don’t relish the idea of such an imposition.  So there’s nothing to do but wait.  Wait and see if I get any more responses to my room requests; wait and see if any of the people I’ve interviewed with deign to choose me.

Of course this will pass.  And even if I don’t find a permanent place starting next month, I know I will find one eventually.  But until I do, it’s a most unwelcome stress.

That said, I hate to end a down-note.  So I’ll offer this as a coda.  A few weeks ago, I interviewed at a language school where a couple of my CELTA classmates now work.  I had, of my own accord, sent in my résumé prior.  But I received no response.  However, both of my friends got in the guy’s ear about me, whereupon I received an email to the following effect: “Dear Dave, I’ve now had two of my teachers singing your praises to me.  Would you like to come in for an interview?”  Obviously I would.

The gent turned out to be a Yank, and was lovely as could be.  We had a very nice interview and he gave me a letter-of-intent on the spot.  This letter, I should add, is something I very much need for my next visa appointment.  So if nothing else, the meeting was already a win.

Anyway, in the course of the interview, it became clear that regardless of how our meeting went, he was going to write me the letter for two reasons.  The first, being American himself, he knew well the hardship of trying to get situated in this country and simply wanted to be helpful.  The second, he was doing a favor to his friends, who were also my friends.  And on some level, I think he wasn’t sure if I was truly looking for work or if I simply wanted said letter.  So at the end, I made clear that once I had my visa, I would very much like to work for him.  Whereupon did he make clear that he would be very happy to have me work for him.  And so, while I can’t work for him until I get my visa, it’s nice to know that I’ve got this prospect waiting for me.

And when I next saw one of my friends, he told me – unsolicited – that the guy had contacted him to report that he was quite pleased with me.  And this is no small matter to me.  Knowing, after all, that I only got the interview because of my friends’ intervention, it was very important to me to represent them well.  Hearing, then, that I had done so was a relief.

So that’s where I’m at.  Things continue to be tough at the moment.  But once my visa is sorted, once I have my own room, things are going to start turning in my favor.  The ass-end of 2016 is likely to be a struggle.  But the dawn of 2017 is full of promise.  It can’t come soon enough.

זיי געסונט

  1. Which, I mean, isn’t saying all that much.  Currywurst, like the Philly Cheese-Steak, is the local indigenous food.  And like the Philly Cheese-Steak, it’s second rate.  That doesn’t mean there’s not good ones and bad ones.  And it doesn’t mean the good ones aren’t quite enjoyable.  It just means, get over yourself.  Nah mean? []
  2. Speer had this concept of Ruinenwert – ruin value.  It’ll be easier just to quote Wikipedia (gods forgive me): “Ruin value (German: Ruinenwert) is the concept that a building be designed such that if it eventually collapsed, it would leave behind aesthetically pleasing ruins that would last far longer without any maintenance at all.”  In other words, after the thousand years of the Thousand Year Reich, there would be glorious ruins for thousands of years more; just like the Athenian acropolis or the Roman Forum.  Remove the Nazi aspect from the equation, and I can’t help but love this idea.  Especially when contrasted with the ruin we now call Penn Station, to give but one example. []
  3. I’ve never seen a show or movie make such use of the words ‘cunt’ and ‘pussy’ before. []
  4. I earlier referred to the ‘waterfall of curses.’  Let this also serve as an example of that.  And these words, being so bold, draw your attention away from the poetry that is being spun around them.  Which is why I only began to notice all this in the second season. []

An American in Berlin

An American in Berlin

So in my last post, I mostly just talked about horseradish and the travelling shit-show of a circus that is Dave & Charlotte Roadtripping.  But I really didn’t say much about the places we visited.  So I should probably do that.  You know, before I forget all about it.  Prague first, then Saxony/Poland.

Right, Prague.  The stories are legion.  “Go to Prague,” they say.  “You’ll get beer for like 35 cents,” they say.  Well, maybe 10-15 years ago.  But not now.  I mean, don’t get me wrong.  It’s still cheap.  Cheap compared to New York or Paris.  But maybe not so cheap compared to Berlin.  In fact, in most ways, I’d say the pricing is pretty comparable to Berlin.  So yeah, it’s cheap.  But it’s not like you go there and spend 35 dollars for a weekend.

Whatever.  It’s a beautiful city.  It’s beautiful in terms of its architecture.  You find neo-classical butting up against baroque butting up against art deco.  There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to it.  It’s just all there.  And it’s gorgeous, even if it doesn’t seem to make sense.  But here I’m talking about the larger city, in general terms.

The “city center,” the “old city,” was less than impressive.  I mean, don’t get me wrong, there’s some fantastic architecture and a lot of history.  But it all feels very Disneyfied.  Kind of like Times Square, actually, but with older buildings.  Herds of tourists shuffling from one attraction to the next.  Street vendors selling useless garbage and subpar food at gougey prices.  Not to put to fine a point on it, but it’s a fucking rip-off.

C signed us up for a free walking tour.  This, in fact, was pretty great.  But I’ll come to it later.  Because, before the tour, we decided to grab a quick lunch in the city center, the old town.  Now look, we’re fairly experienced travelers.  We know that if we we’re going to eat lunch here, we’re going to overpay.  Cost of doing business and all that.  But there’s over-paying and then there’s getting ripped off.  And they ripped us off.  Or, rather, they tried to.

So enamored were we with the sausages and horseradish(!)1 from the night before, that we decided to grab a kielbasa (though I think it was spelled ‘klobasa’) and some kind of potato salad for lunch.  The posted prices were high, but not unreasonable.  Based on the signs, we calculated something 4-6€.2  So we were fairly shocked when the guy at the register asked for roughly twice that amount.

Well, what can you do?  We paid it.  I mean, we were in a line, in a rush.  And maybe we did the conversion wrong, who knows?  But we weren’t happy about it.  Still, that’s the travelling life.  So we took our food and found a bench.  Only, when we started eating, we were hugely disappointed.  The sausage was greasy and not very flavorful.  The potato salad was also kinda gross and there was way too much of it.  So we broke out the receipt and tried to figure out what the hell had happened.  And here’s what the hell happened.

On the sign, they quote you a price per gram or kilogram.  Then they give you way more g/kg than you could possibly want.  Then they insist that this is the standard amount.  In other words, they rip you right the fuck off.  So now, the food wasn’t good and we’d been screwed.  We were not happy campers.  It was at this point that C resolved to raise hell.

She picked up the bowl of shitty potato salad and marched back to the food stand.  Five minutes later she returned sans potatoes and with a crisp 200 Crona note, good for about 4€.  I mean, basically she made a scene until they paid her to go away.  Bless her.

But here, this is one of the mysteries of life, as far as I’m concerned.  I mean, in almost all contexts, it’s the men who are aggressive, confrontational, warlike.  It’s the men who conduct business.  But screw up the bill at a restaurant?  Well, hell hath no fury, nah mean?  So in the end, it worked out.  I mean, it worked out as well as overpaying for a shitty lunch can work out.  But at least we (read, she) made them pay for trying to fuck us over.  The point is, don’t fuck with a New Yorker.3

After lunch, we had our free walking tour.  Our guide was a Polish guy named Michal.  He described himself as an aspiring actor.  No surprise then, that his opening schtick was a bit heavy-handed.  But in fact, he turned out to be a great guide.  And when you got him to the side, when you were able to talk to him one-on-one, he turned out to be a great guy as well.

Anyway, we got some good history on Prague.  Apparently, the thing to do, when you’re unhappy with a public official, is to defenestrate them; to throw them out a window.  I’m no position to judge the efficacy of such a method.  All I’m saying is, if I was a corrupt big-shot in Prague, I might put my office in the basement.

So lots of old Prague then.  But for me personally, the highlight of the tour was the Jewish Quarter.  Now, we went on Saturday, so of course everything was closed.4  But we saw the Jewish cemetery and a couple of synagogues.  Worth noting, we saw the synagogue that is home to the mythic Golum, who even now, it is said, sleeps in the attic.  So that was very cool.

The next day, we walked around the palace grounds.  Which was definitely cool and very pretty.  Great views of the city too, as it is up a mountain and across the river from the Old Town.  But you know, seen one, seen ‘em all, kinda thing.  Much cooler was the classical concert we went to that evening.

It actually took place in a small, baroque concert hall (or maybe ‘salon’ is a better word?), where, it seems, some of Amadeus was shot.  This was a lot of fun.  The core group was a quintet.  But they had a guest singer as well as two guest cellists.  The set included Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, the first movement of Beethoven 5, Spring & Summer from the Four Seasons, the Lacrimosa from Mozart’s Requiem and some other big ‘hits’ as well.  It was pretty interesting, as a lot of the material had to be (re)arranged for the small ensemble.  But they did a fine job it.  And I loved it.  I mean, I don’t even know what the last classical concert I’ve been to was.  I just know it’s been a while.

Which is kind of weird, really.  When I was in London, I’d go to two a week.  And even in the City, in my first few years, I’d go quite often.  But somewhere along the line, I just kinda stopped.  I don’t even know why.  So I’m not even sure I really knew how much I missed it.  But when they opened with EKN, and that rich beautiful sound filled the hall, I was in heaven.  OK, that probably overstates it.  But, I was in a wonderful and familiar place that I’d been gone from for way too long.

C, on the other hand, had never been to a classical concert before.  This gave me some mixed feels.  On the one hand, I was delighted to be the one to bring her to her first show.  I was delighted to share this experience with her.  And, as I so often used to go solo to these things, I was happy to have somebody to share it with this time.  On the other hand, I felt a bit of pressure.  I mean, she was 100% on board with going.  But it was really my idea.  I was the one pushing for it.  So if it sucked, or if she didn’t enjoy it, I’d have felt like it was my fault.

I needn’t have worried.  After the Beethoven, she turned to me and was just like, ‘wow.’  And yeah, wow.  Which is impressive, given that it was played by a fucking quintet.  No brass.  No timpani.  But they still rocked the hell out of it.  I mean, it’s Beethoven.  So it’s going to kick ass.  That’s what Beethoven does, right?  Bach is perfect.  Mozart is beautiful.  And Beethoven is the fucking destroyer of worlds.  In addition to being perfect and beautiful.  The point is, C loved the shit out of this show.  Big success.

So yeah, we might be disorganized and totally à l’arrache, but we get horseradish and Beethoven.  What do you get?  Nice hotels?  Pass.

We went back to ‘our’ restaurant for dinner.  We had to.  I got some huge pig’s knee, which was gross and fatty and delicious and came with pickled peppers and pickled onions and also just pickles.  C, I think, got what the English version of the menu called “gnocchi” but which was just another version of their awesome boiled potato dumplings.  Given that we loved this place so much, I feel compelled to mention that the night before, I got deer neck, which came with red cabbage, potato dumplings and an ungodly delicious sauce.  I mean, this joint was just brilliant.  Obviously we had lunch there on Monday as well, before we left the city.

Those, I guess, are the highlights from Prague.  Worth mentioning, but not going into detail about, were the TV Tower, the smaller Jewish cemetery in our neighborhood, the Charles Bridge and Borčak, which is a sweet, young wine that kind of tastes a bit like pineapple juice.  You could drink it all day, and never think twice about it.

Now for Saxony.  I say Saxony because we were kind of all over the place.  The original plan called for a visit to Dresden.  But the AirBnBs there seemed rather overpriced, and we had begun to think we’d seen enough of cities.  I mean, at some point, cities are all the same.  So let’s see something new, we figured.

Whereupon did we visit a place called Kromlauer Park.  No great reason behind this, other than that we saw a picture of a beautiful stone-arch bridge.  So beautiful were the pictures, we figured why the hell not?  And our hosts confirmed the Merkwürdigkeit5 of it, which was nice.  It did not disappoint.

The bridge is set over a small stream/lake/whatever in the midst of beautiful woodlands.  The bridge itself is shaped like a rainbow.  And the waters beneath it are so still that the reflection forms a perfect circle.  It’s gorgeous from any angle.  And we saw all the angles.  The rest of the park was lovely, to be sure.  But the bridge alone made the trip here worthwhile.  And being a bit off the beaten trail, it was not at all crowded; neither did it have the feel of being a tourist attraction.  Kromlauer Park ftw.

But wait, there’s more.  The place even had a bit of a fairy tale feel to it.  This owed in part to the scenery, but also to two young girls, seemingly about 8-10 years of age.  More than once, they seemed to appear out of thin air and to disappear back into it.  They also had a strange, almost enchanted look about them.

One was dark haired and seemed to ignore us.  The other was blonde and either smiled and waved to us, or sort of just stared at us.  We fancied that the dark haired one was an angel and the other a demon.  Adding to this feeling were two stone benches set into semi-circular stone “caves,” little concave huts, for lack of a better word.  On the map, they were called Himmel und Hölle – Heaven and Hell; one was of white stone, the other of black.  They must be the thrones of the two girls, we reasoned.

Before leaving the park, we made a little picnic, using an old tree stump as a table.  We feasted upon bread and meat and cheese and fresh tomatoes, washing it all down with a couple of radlers while listening to Abbey Road.  As fine a picnic as you could want, I tellya.

After lunch we drove down to Gölitz, a small city on the border of Poland, which lies to the South of both the park and also our AirBnB.  As I mentioned in my last post, this was my plan from the night before; but our hosts had confirmed to us that it was the nicest of the towns we had under consideration.

And indeed, it was quite pretty.  Our initial walk through the town was a bit odd, however.  The buildings seemed to alternate between grand old structures of great beauty and boarded up works in a dilapidated state.  Indeed, it had the feeling of a once vibrant city dying a slow death at the hands of a stagnant economy.

Soon enough, however, we came to the river, on the other side of which was Poland.  Now, technically, I’m not supposed to leave Germany at the moment.  My 90 days have expired; these are the 90 days you get as a tourist on an American passport.  I’ve been granted an extension to stay in Germany until my working papers are sorted, but my extension isn’t actually valid as a travel document.

However, Poland is part of the EU and there were no border controls at the bridge.  So obviously we had to cross over.  In fact, one of our original plans had us going to Krakow.  C had worked there in the past, and she very much wanted to see it again.  I’d never been to Poland at all, so I was happy to visit Krakow as well.  In the end, though, we decided not go there, as we would have had to fly or take a bus, and this definitely could have put me in front of the border police.

So we crossed over the bridge to the Polish version of Görlitz.6  Not quite Krakow, but at least we got to Poland.  And the first thing you notice when you cross over is that every third shop seems to be a cigarette depot.  In this respect, Poland seems to be Germany’s Indian reservation.7  By which I mean, tobacco is super cheap there, and apparently they do a brisk business selling cancer sticks to Jerry.

After dinner – which I’m sure I dealt with in my last post – we walked back over the bridge.  This time, we walked through the city center of Görlitz on our way back to the car.  This stood in stark contrast to our earlier walk.  Now everything seemed beautiful and posh and quite medieval.  Indeed, I’d go so far as to say it was even prettier than Prague.  But, as I say, it also felt rather posh.  So, nice though it was, we felt we’d made the right call dining across the border.

As we walked, C and I had an interesting conversation.  By way of introduction, I’ll say that sometimes it’s funny how two people can see the same thing and draw two totally different conclusions.  What do I mean?  Well, I’m talking about the role I played on this particular trip as ‘the German speaker.’

Here’s the short version of what I said to Charlotte.  Basically, I said that it was a nice feeling for me to be able to handle the language for a change.  See, every time we’ve gone somewhere French speaking – this year’s trips to France and Brussels, my previous trip to France, Montréal – I’ve always been dependent on her for the language.  I mean, yeah, if I’m on my own in a French speaking place, I can manage the basics.  But she’s the native speaker.  So she always just takes care of it all.  And in the States – or even Berlin, for that matter – well, she speaks English perfectly well; so she doesn’t need me.  But here, in this part of Germany, it was the first time we’d gone somewhere where I “spoke” the language and she didn’t.  So it was all on me, for a change.  Restaurants, AirBnBs, even just reading signs.

So I told her that this was a nice feeling for me.  It felt good to be useful for a change, instead of dependent.  The only thing was, she didn’t share my interpretation of the situation(s).  I think, first of all, that on some level, she could probably have managed with English if I wasn’t there.  Maybe I have that wrong, and if I do, I’m sure she’ll tell me as soon she reads this.  But the real surprise came when she told me how much she counted on me for English in the States.

For me, English in the States never came into this equation.  I mean, her English is really quite good.  And sure, maybe if me and Vinny are speaking at New York speeds in New York accents it can be hard to keep up.  But overall, I never really gave much thought to how hard living in English might have been for her.  As I say, she’s good at the language.  But New York is a funny place for English, I guess.  I mean, you’ve got people from all over the world.  So every day, you’re dealing with a panoply of accents, all kinds of broken syntax and odd idioms.  As a native speaker, you hardly notice this.  But when it’s your second language, it’s got to be a slog.

I know this just from living in Berlin.  There’s “proper” German, and that’s fine.  As I say, restaurants and AirBnB hosts are no problem for me.  But then I try to talk to the girl upstairs, with her speed-speak, Berlin accent and cornucopia of idioms, and…fuggedaboutit.  This is the long way of saying, I told her it was nice to feel useful – language-wise – for a change; and I had no idea how much she had been relying on me all along.  As I say, it never ceases to amaze me how two people can look at the same data-set and arrive at two totally different conclusions.

So much for Görlitz.  Back at the AirBnB, it was wine and music, Yatzee and Mikado.  And then up early the next morning and back to Berlin.  We drove straight to the airport, as homegirl was flying back to France on a 1:30 flight.  Oh, actually, wait.  I left out one thing.

Saturday night, my family was celebrating Rosh HaShanah, the Jewish new year.  The whole family was together; or at least, most of the whole family.  By which I mean, my dad’s side of the family.  This was tough for me on two levels.  First, it was hard knowing everybody was together and I couldn’t be there.  Also, my mom made brisket, and it was hard knowing I couldn’t have any.  I won’t say which of these was the greater hardship.

Anyway, I Skyped in and got a chance to say “hello” to everybody.  This was actually a lot of fun.  I tried explaining to C the difference between my mom’s family and my dad’s family.  Before I go any further, I want to be clear that I love them both very much.  It’s just that they present very different experiences.  With my mom’s family, it’s all quite formal.  There’s fancy china, assigned seats, shirts with buttons on them.  With my dad’s family, it’s (often-as-not) paper plates, buffet style, eat on the couch.  And so, as the phone got passed around, as I chatted briefly with cousins and aunts and uncles, there always seemed to be somebody in the background – my brother, a cousin – flipping me off.  In sign language, “I love you” is expressed with a hand gesture that looks like ‘throwing the horns’ but with the thumb extended as well.  In other words, a fist but with a index finger, pinkie and thumb pointing outwards.  But in Starr-family sign language, you say “I love you” by making a fist and extending your middle finger.

One of my favorite pictures in the whole freakin’ world now, is the one my brother sent me that night.  It’s the whole family – 17 people – giving me the bird.  It’s pretty perfect.  I showed it to Charlotte.  “This,” I said, “is my family.”  And that, she appreciated.

Anyway, we got to the airport with plenty of time.  It was weird to say goodbye.  See, C is going to Australia in November; length of trip: unknown.  Also unknown, when we’ll see each other again.  So it was a bit emotional.  More for me, I think.  Which is odd, maybe.  On a day-to-day level, she’s far more emotional than I am.  At least, that’s my take.8  But when it comes to big goodbyes, I can go a bit weak in the knees, so to speak.

My opinion is that she’s pretty good at compartmentalizing this stuff.  In other words, she’s pretty good at either not dealing with it, or else convincing herself that the goodbye ain’t for as long as it seems.  Or maybe she just doesn’t care enough.  Or maybe this kind of thing just doesn’t hit her as hard.  I’m sure I’ll get her two-cents on the matter when she reads this.  Point is, it was not an unemotional parting on my end.

But part we did.  And now her adventure continues in Australia while mine continues in Berlin.  Ah, Berlin.  Saturday night I was over at Joschka’s for dinner and drinks.  Sometime in the past year or two he’s become quite the mixologist.  I give but one example.  This weekend, he made one drink that included fresh rosemary, crushed ice and fire.  Yes, you read that right.  Fire was an ingredient.  You literally set the alcohol in the glass on fire.  It was delicious.

It was a very nice evening.  In addition to learning a great deal about cocktails and mixology, the lad has also taken a keen interest in cooking.  And while I have nothing to offer in the cocktail department, I do at least know my way around the kitchen.  So he made one crazy drink after another, and I cooked.  We had a very nice dinner, in fact.  Something with pork and Brussels sprouts and red onions in a white wine sauce.  And so many delicious cocktails.

If only I’d had a nice lunch.  I never considered that I was drinking too much on a too-empty stomach.  So we had a great time, sure.  And indeed, we hadn’t hung out in a while, so it was nice to catch up and just hang.  But wow, Sunday was a hot-mess.  I don’t think I ever got out of bed, unless it was to throw up.

In fairness to myself, these soul-crushing, body-destroying, day-wasting hangovers are not at all frequent.  But each one his harder than the last, at this age.  It’s a delicate dance, this whole aging thing.  I can drink a liter of wine on any given night and be alright.  But I can no longer hit the hard-stuff hard.  Not on an empty stomach, anyway.  The trick now, is to know that before it’s too late.  I don’t repent.  I don’t wish to change my ways.  But I do need to adapt.  “Adaptation is the key to survival.”  Who said that, anyway?  Pretty sure it was Evolution.

There is one last thing I want to touch on, before I close this post.  As I mentioned previously, it was recently the Jewish new year.  The exact date escapes me, owing both to the lunar calendar and the ad hoc nature of the celebrations.  But last year, I met an Israeli girl at a party.  And just before I left, we hosted a Shabbat dinner for our gentile friends.9

So now, this year, she decided to host a Rosh Hashanah dinner.  Sadly, it was vegetarian.  Which, I mean, is fine per se.  Just that it didn’t give me an opportunity to win back the brisket I lost by missing my own family’s dinner.  Nonetheless, it was still great.  It was a pot-luck affair, this one.  But Dafna – the only Jew I’ve yet to meet here – decreed a main ingredient for each person’s dish.10  And before we got into each dish, she said a brucha and told us the significance of the main ingredient to the holiday.

It wasn’t formal and it wasn’t “traditional.”  But it was pretty great, all the same.  I’m not a religious person.  If I was home, you can be sure I wouldn’t be going to Schul for the High Holidays.  But at home, I’m not an anomaly.  At home, there’s Jews everywhere.  Here, it’s just me.  So no, I don’t particularly care about the ‘religiosity” of it.  And I’m sure as shit not going to ‘repent’ for Yom Kippur.11  But it’s nice to have that connection.  It’s nice to feel a part of something.  It was nice, is the point.  And I’m thankful that my friend put it all together.

So that’s that.  Prague.  Saxony.  Happy New Year, and wash it down with a fancy cocktail.  In between, I’m teaching and looking for an apartment.  Which is hell, I don’t mind telling you.  The apartment hunt, I mean.  But all that’s for another day.  Now though, I just want to go to bed.  Until next time…

זיי געסונט

  1. “Horseradish makes everything brighter,” she said. []
  2. Despite the Czech Republic not being on the Euro, they do accept them at major tourist spots.  And although we were paying with Crona, we were always thinking in terms of Euros. []
  3. By which I mean, Charlotte, who lived in New York for two years. []
  4. Not today, boychick.  It’s fucking Shabbos! []
  5. Literally, the ‘worth-seeing-ness’ of it. []
  6. The sign on the Polish side of the bridge announced the city as Zgorzelec.  I didn’t have a chance to do the requisite research.  However, based upon the similarity of the names, I surmise that at some point, this was all once city.  Only with the redrawing of maps, I assume, was it divided between the two countries.  And indeed, everybody on the Polish side seemed to speak German.  How much Polish was spoken on the German side, I do not know. []
  7. Upon further reflection, this seems a particularly cruel analogy, given the whole Lebensraum thing. []
  8. Cf, same data set, different interpretations. []
  9. Well, her gentile friends, really.  The ones I invited couldn’t come. []
  10. For me, it was beets.  So I made a beet/cabbage soup.  Quite tasty, if I do say so myself. []
  11. Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur are together taken as the ‘High Holidays.’  The first is the Jewish new year.  The second is the ‘Day of Atonement.’  Yom Kippur is the day you’re meant to repent your sins of the past year.  Whereupon the big G either writes you into the ‘good’ ledger or the ‘bad.’  Personally, I don’t go out for this.  My feeling is – and has been, for a very long time – that there’s a tremendous amount of cruelty and suffering in the world.  And between me and God, only one of us is supposed to be omniscient/omnibenevolent/omnipotent.  In other words, only one of us has the power to end all these horrors.  And it ain’t me.  But I’m supposed to ask his ass for forgiveness?  Nah.  I pass.  Thanks, though. []

An American in Berlin

An American in Berlin
Horseradish Edition

It’s been a crazy last couple of weeks.  Originally, this post was supposed to be about my trip to Prague, which was the weekend before last.  I started writing it last week, shortly after my return, but I was hit with a bout of writer’s block and also general business.  Or is it ‘busyness’?  Odd thing, those two words.  Hashtag spelling.  Hashtag who cares?

Anyway, I was in Prague two weekends ago.  But this past weekend I was in Saxony.  And obviously Berlin in between.  So I’m no longer sure of the best way to structure this post.  I guess we’ll see what happens…

Ever since we were all in college and doing the whole travel-abroad thing, I’ve had friends telling me I had to visit Prague.  Well, this weekend, I finally got my chance.  And about bloody time, too.  I made the trip with – who else? – Charlotte.

Here’s the thing you need to know about Dave & Charlotte trips.  We are awesome at travelling.  We are also shit at planning travelling.  Case in point.  We left Berlin on Friday.  I don’t think we booked transportation or a room until Wednesday or Thursday.  We went by way of carshare1 and were dropped off at the central train station.  And it was only upon entering said train station that we discovered: Wait, so they don’t use Euros here, do they?  Madame et Monsieur à l’Arrache strike again.

But look, you’re either flexible or you’re not.  And we’re pretty flexible.  Which is why we’re boss travelers.  And yet, we’re not very good tourists either.  What do I mean?  Well, we’re flexible, like I said.  We can roll with anything.  We can sleep just about anywhere; back seat of a car if we need to.  We can hit the main tourist sites or just wander around.  It’s all good.

But the thing is, when you’re a tourist, you’re supposed to get up early and fill your day seeing the sites.  This, we’re not so good at.  Reason being, at the end of the day, we get back to wherever we’re staying and proceed to have our own brand of fun.  This usually entails several bottles of wine, dice and a guitar.  We have a tendency to stay up til 3am playing Yatzee and music, drinking all the while. This means we’re not even getting up until 11 or so the next day.  The tourist attractions are not on our clock, is what I’m saying.  But it works for us.

All this was doubly true, then, for our trip to Saxony this past weekend.  When we picked up our rental car on Friday afternoon, we still had no idea where we’d be spending the night, never mind what our actual travel plans would be.  Also, we fucked up the car rental.

A word to the wise: Don’t book your rental car when you’re drunk.  It was Monday or Tuesday night that Charlotte came over for dinner and to plan our trip for the weekend.  I cooked.  We ate.  She brought wine.  I bought wine.  We drank a lot of wine.  Then we did the rental research.  Indeed, we were quite pleased with ourselves when we secured a car for the weekend for around 50 Euros.  Or so we thought.

It was only when we showed up at the rental desk that we discovered that we’d actually only booked the car for one day and not two.  Well, that explained the price.  It also served as a fine illustration of the hot-mess-ness that is Dave & Charlotte “planning” a road trip.

But you can’t cry over spilled milk, as they say.  Unless they say “spilt” milk, which I suspect is more “correct.”  But we – by which I mean, English speakers – like to regularize verbs when we can, so I’m going with “spilled.”  Anyway, we forked over another 56€ and got on our way.  Whichever way that was.

The next part of the story is either romantic or stressful, depending on your point of view.  And I don’t mean chocolates-&-flowers romantic.  I mean, free to wander the face of the earth romantic.  Yeah, sure, the easy thing would have been to have already booked an AirBnB (or whatever).  But easy is for cowards.2

And so it was, with no real plan, that we pointed the car roughly towards Dresden and hit the road.  As I drove, C searched for accommodations, sending one AirBnB request after another.  As the night came down, and with it, hunger, we pulled into the town of Spremberg.  Not because we’d ever heard of it, or even because it seemed particularly nice.  I think we just stopped there because we were hopeful of finding a room and a place to eat.

There was a hotel with a restaurant.  I asked at the desk if they had any rooms.  They did, at the cost of 65€/night.  More than we wanted to spend, sure, but at least now we knew we wouldn’t have to sleep in the car.  But at this point, why rush a decision?  Whereupon did we resolve to eat first and wait to see if any of the AirBnB’s responded.

Dinner was nice, blah blah blah.  We had the fish, which was fine.  Nobody cares, I’m sure.  Anyway, we got a response from a couple in the village of Rietchen – maybe 45m away – who were renting out the second floor of their home.  It was cheaper – and looked nicer – than the hotel, so we decided to take it.  Though obviously we first had to stop at a supermarket to pick up a few bottles of wine.  I mean, at this point, the only way this night could end badly is if it ended sober.

So we got the wine and headed to the house.  We were met by the woman, who spoke no English but was sweet as could be.  The “room” was an apartment, as they’d converted the second floor of their home.  Style-wise, it wasn’t really our scene.  It was a bit hotel-ish.  By which I mean, it wasn’t a “lived-in” home.  But it had everything you could need, it was clean and it was comfortable.

Still though, we were in Rietchen, and where the fuck was that anyway?  And we had no plan for the next day.  So instead of playing Yatzee and music, we spent too much of the night googling places to visit.  No, it wasn’t ideal.  But we also had three liters of wine with us, so how bad could it be?

In the end, I drunkenly decreed a plan.  Or, at least, an outline of a plan.  We should go, I said, to Kromlauer Park in the afternoon.  After that, we should drive down to Görlitz, on the border of Poland.  They both looked pretty, and I didn’t want to spend any more time googling when we could be jamming.  C agreed.  Away went the computer and out came the guitar.  A few more glasses of wine, and then sweet sleep.

When I got out of the shower the next morning, I could hear the sounds of C talking to our hosts through the walls.  Knowing, however, that they didn’t really speak English, I thought it best to hurry downstairs, there to do my humble best as interpreter.  And so it was that I joined the parlay, soaking wet, in an unbuttoned shirt and boxer shorts.

I needn’t have rushed.  Homegirl was managing, as were our hosts.  But I jumped in and was able to expedite the process with my sorta-passable German.  The short version is, they were supportive of my/our plan.  Kromlauer Park was absolutely worth visiting, they assured us.  Likewise, Görlitz was older and prettier than Bautzen or Dresden, our other two choices.  So now we had a plan.  And I’ll just say now – since I’m about to change the subject – our plan came up aces.  But I’ll come back to all of that later.

If this trip was a shit-show from a planning perspective, Prague was less so.  But only slightly.  Our original plan called for us to spend Friday and Saturday nights in the Czech Republic, but to spend Sunday in Dresden.  However, we’d only booked the first two nights in Prague when we left Berlin on Friday afternoon.  Which, I mean, shit will work itself out, no?  It always does.

In the event, we found Prague so much to our liking that we decided to stay a third night, Dresden be damned.3  So once again4 we found ourselves wasting vacation time trying to plan the self-same vacation.  But this too worked out, as the place we found for Sunday was more or less perfect.  More, in the sense that it was in the area we wanted, was clean, comfy and cozy.  Less, in the sense that it also felt more like a hotel than a home.

Still though, we had a lovely stay in Prague, in both places.  Much of this had to do with the location.  However, when I say “location,” I don’t mean what this word normally means.  Usually, when travelers talk about location, they’re talking about proximity to the tourist attractions or nature or something.

In our case, “location” was all about proximity to a specific restaurant.  You see, we never met our host from the first place.  Her mom – an old lady with bright orange hair – checked us in.  Her English was a mess, but it was good enough for her to recommend to us a nice restaurant in the area.  And, umm, you guys, we fell in love with this place.

It was one of those places where you look at the menu and you just want to try every last thing on offer.  In the end, we did our level best to that end.  But more on that later.  The first night, we got a plate of sausages which came with nothing but mustard and horseradish.  Horseradish with apple, I should specify.  And it was uh-mazing!

It was funny too.  See, C had never had horseradish.  Or if she had, she hadn’t had it in any kind of meaningful way.  Meanwhile, I’d grown up with it as a staple of the Passover Seder.  As a kid, it was something that the grownups made.  Then, once I started living on the LES, I started bringing the stuff from The Pickle Guys.  Finally, this past year, I actually made my own.5  The point is, I fucking love horseradish.  And for me, it’s a very special thing, because you really only get to eat it once a year, at Passover.6

The point is, I came to the table with a love for the horseradish.  And I couldn’t hide it.  To the point where C was all, “dude, relax.”  Pff.  You relax, bitch.  So I’m sitting there giddy like a kid at Christmas Chanukah Passover, smiling like I won the lottery, and she has no idea why.  That is, until she tries it.  And it first, she’s making the “omg I can’t feel my face” face.  And I’m all like, “this is child’s play.”  But by the end of the meal, she was a convert.

And I had that feeling I got when my brother’s wife realized that rainbow cookies are the tits.  You know the one.  When half of you is all proud and superior feeling, being all “Right?  I told you this shit was amazing!”  But the other half of you begins to realize, “Oh fuck, Imma have to share this shit now, fuck.”

So I’m sitting there, watching her eat this horseradish, and I’m so conflicted.  Like, I wanna be all, “How dare you doubt me, woman?!”  And yet also feeling like, “Actually, it would be better for me if you didn’t care for this, so I could have it all to myself, mwahahaha!”  In the end though, you hope your humanity wins out.  You hope that you’ve found something beautiful you can share with somebody you care about.  You hope you’ve found a new memory and a new shared joy in the world.  I mean, you hope for this on a rational level.  On an animal level, you just want all the horseradish.

This, then, was in the background when we sat down to dinner in Poland on Saturday night.  We’d never even intended to go to Poland.  It’s just that it’s right there across the bridge from Görlitz.  And they’re not on the Euro either,7 so everything is cheaper.

I say “sat down to dinner,” but that’s not entirely accurate.  We’d had a late lunch in Kromlauer Park, where we used a tree stump as a picnic table.  (It was pretty awesome).  So when we sat down, we weren’t hungry.  We thought we were just sitting down for a drink or two.  We thought we’d have the drinks, walk around Görlitz a bit and then maybe come back for dinner.  Only we kept drinking.  Until we got hungry.  And then we saw there was something with horseradish and sausage on the menu, so we had to get it.  Oh, and also Pirogues.  Because Poland.

It was glorious.  Or it wasn’t.  But we enjoyed the hell out of it.  And if it wasn’t quite glorious, it was damned fine anyway.  Sausages, horseradish, cheese, pirogues, salad, beer, wine, coffee, and probably one or two other things besides.  The whole bill came to like 16€.  God bless eastern Europe and their depressed economy.8

So much for dinner.  And shitty planning.  We wandered through Görlitz – fucking gorgeous, btw – on our way back to the car.9  Then it was back to the AirBnB, where we’d booked a second night.  We played Yatzee, of course.  And also Mikado, which our hosts had for us.  I’d never heard of this, but I guess it’s basically Pickup Sticks.  Not that I knew this game either, but it was hella fun.  More music, more wine, and then bed.  And then back to Berlin.  Well, for me, anyway.  We returned the car at the airport.  From their, C caught her flight back to France.

In the end, it was a great weekend.  It was great, but not without stress.  Ditto for Prague.  This is the tradeoff when you do a shit job of planning your adventures.  On the one hand, it is actually more of an adventure in the true sense of the word.  On the other hand, you waste a lot of time that could be better spent having fun.

And so it becomes a matter of perspective.  It’s like when Luke says to Obi Wan, “Wait, what?  I thought you said Vader killed my father.  Not to be confused with Vader is my fucking father!”  And Obi Wan is all, “Uh, yeah, well, that depends on your point of view.”  And Luke is all, “Point of view?  What the shit kind of Jedi mumbo-jumbo is that?”  And Obi Wan is all, “Umm, Sand People ride in single file to hide their numbers?”  And Luke is all, “Stop changing the subject, Ben!”  And Obi Wan is all, “Actually, maybe it’s better if you just talk to Yoda.”  And meanwhile, Lando is all, “But we had a deal!”  And Han is all, “I have a baaad feeling about this.”  And Chewie is all, “Raaagghh!”  And I seem to have gone off on a tangent…

The point is, Charlotte and I either travel super fucking well together or incredibly poorly together.  And it’s subjective.  We talked about it, as we drove.  She seemed to lean more in the direction of, “We suck at this.”  In other words, she saw us as being disorganized and wasting precious time.  And of course that’s totally correct.

But I saw the same data and came to a different conclusion.  “We’re fucking awesome at this,” was my analysis.  For me, you can put us in the worst situation and we will find a way to come out on top.  Don’t know where you’re staying?  It’s fine, you’ll wind up somewhere great.  No idea where you’re going?  Nbd, we’ll have dinner in Poland.

For me, it’s all part of the adventure.  For me, it’s turning down a road and not knowing where it leads, but having the confidence that when you walk down the road together, you’ll wind up somewhere special.  And even if you don’t, you’ll come out the other end with a story worth telling.

Which I guess is an apt analogy for this whole Berlin adventure.  In the end, I don’t really have a plan.  I mean, I have a vague outline of a plan.  But I don’t really know what I’m doing or where I’m going.  It’s all part of the adventure.  As Bilbo Baggins said, “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

  1. Which I described in my Barcelona post. []
  2. #amirite []
  3. “Dresden be damned” is perhaps an unfortunate turn of phrase for a city that was once fire-bombed to oblivion. []
  4. Well, not really “again,” since this came first.  A bit “hysteron-proteron,” as Daitz would say. []
  5. At the risk of tooting my own horn, that shit was epic.  I was pretty proud of it. []
  6. Which is essentially true.  However, during my time living at my parents’ house, I started to experiment with using it more.  I was using it on pork loin roasts and other things besides.  My dad was using it with steaks.  It was getting to the point where we were just, “Put horseradish on all the things!”  It was great. []
  7. Again, who knew? []
  8. #amirite []
  9. We sat for a few hours.  C drank wine the whole time.  I had one big beer and one small beer, with a coffee in between.  I mention this only to specify that I was watching my alcohol intake, knowing I’d have to drive. []