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. []

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