Berlin: Ich Bin Ein

December 4, 2017. Berlin, Germany.

The first thing I learned was my normal strategy of walking everywhere is of no use here. Berlin is too big. It’s because there used to be too many Berlins, and once Reagan hulk-punched that wall down it became a single, titanic Berlin.

Hostels were in short supply, but I managed to get my hands on a nice $13 a night dealie right off of the Landwehr canal, called the Grand Hostel Berlin. Their delusions of grandeur didn’t stop at the name. They were under the mistaken impression they were a party hostel, and wanted this party to center around what they called the Gin Library.

Now, ordinarily, those would be great things better together, right? Peanut butter and jelly. Peanut butter and chocolate. Peanut butter and whatever arbitrary nutritional asceticism I’m inflicting on myself at present.

No such luck, beautiful reader. It was most assuredly a library a la Ron Burgundy, leatherbound books and rich mahogany, but it also had bar no one ever wanted to tend, obnoxious techno music that kind of disrupted the whole “library” mystique, and a fucking disco ball.

Do you know why most libraries don’t have disco balls? It’s because you need light to read.

When I entered the Gin Library, there were four people sitting around a coffee table, talking over the bad music in various accents about what their favorite types of alcohol are. Pretty standard cultured frat-boy hostel fare. The girls were middling attractive, the boys were “traveler chic” with whiteboy dreadlocks and dated facial piercings.

Laboring under the mistaken impression I could get some reading done in the library, I stood at the bar and tried to order a beer during happy hour. It didn’t work for a few minutes. I went to reception and said, “Hey, think I could get a beer?” The receptionist smiled, nodded, and shouted rapid German at no one in particular.

I went back to the bar and waited for another couple minutes, then decided the hell with it, I didn’t need one that bad, and started back to the corner seat to chip away at a reread of Stephen King’s It.

It wasn’t until then that one of the girls at the table, still squawking something about how Oh she LUVES tequila, deigned to stand up, approach the bar, and say, “Did you want a beer?”

“You work here?” I asked.

“Yeah.”

I narrowed my eyes. “Are you sure?”

She smiled, thinking I was flirting. I corrected this misconception by deliberately stiffing a service worker on a tip for the first time in my life.

Sorry baby. West Berlin’s always been a capitalism.

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I started at the Brandenburg gate, one of Germany’s most famous monuments despite its relative youth, at least by European standards. Berlin had been a defensible fort with a sequence of unpronounceable names since Germany was Prussia, but the Brandenburg gate didn’t show up until around 1790. For America, that’s all of relevant history, but for countries like Italy or England, that’s basically yesterday.

I hadn’t done a lot of Nazi-centric sightseeing because the weather is depressing enough and I like to have fun, but considering the Germanic bent my recent journeys have taken, it’s not avoidable. The Memorial to the Murdered Jews in Europe is about a block from the Brandenburg gate, rising from a concrete lot like a time-lapse cemetery. Catchy name too, huh? It’s got a beat and you can dance to it.

Concrete slabs of varying heights shoot haphazardly from the ground with no inscription, pattern, or real rhyme or reason. Some look like tombstones, some like coffins, some like tiny Brutalist skyscrapers. The architect, a dude named Eisenman, claims that the blocks are supposed to create a confusing atmosphere indicative of a highly ordered system gone wrong, then in the same breath says that the memorial has no symbolic significance. Sounds like your confusing atmosphere worked better than planned.

The designer’s contradictory Zen-koan babbling doesn’t stop visitors from their interpretations, though. Popular opinion is that entering the monument proper was isolating. The concrete absorbed the sounds of traffic and life coming from Berlin, leaving you in this cold, spooky hallway. The alienation, the echoes, and the imposing bleakness of the corridors reminded me of a slaughterhouse, but I’m not the best central tendency metric for this kind of thing.

Some people call that vague feeling of visceral unease the heebie-jeebies, or something comparably cute. I call it draggin’ ghosts, and I felt them like a physical weight on my shoulders as I walked out of that bleak little grid. At the same time, I was reining in an almost irresistible urge to jump from block to block. That was something I liked to do in graveyards when I was young, until someone saw me. Never met anyone who was thrilled about that.

I turned the corner and a giant brain-blimp shone down from a wall.

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“Oh, good,” I said aloud. Berlin’s got a reputation for art, and a lot of what I saw was pretty cool, but we’ll save that for its own post.

I turned another corner.

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agreed

I doubled back to the hostel and sat down for a while since I’d somehow managed to walk four or five miles, thanks to Berlin’s comical immensity. Der Hunger was setting in. I asked a spindly blonde receptionist where I could get some food, and she helpfully said she’d tell me in ten minutes.

She didn’t get the chance. A dude who sounded Ukrainian was scribbling a sort of city-overview to the stoner kid I mentioned yesterday and a middle-aged Japanese couple, and I eavesdropped on that until he circled the areas where “all the best restaurants are”. I leaned in, snapped a picture, and disappeared into Germany’s perpetual freezing rain.

What he meant by “all the best restaurants” was “places you could conceivably locate food”. This walk was only a mile, though, so that was… better? The street was called Bergmannstraße, it was itself about a mile long, and it had nothing but Asian food, one italian restaurant, one Mexican restaurant, and a kebab shop. I didn’t come to Germany for any of those things, but my choices rapidly became branch out or starve. I ate Indian two days in a row, from two different restaurants right next to each other. The first, called India, was bad. The second was incredible. I don’t remember the name.

There were a smattering of tourist shops along Bergmann, and one of them stopped me dead.

Now, my German is not what you would call spectacular. Any doubt about that, ask any of the Austrians or Germans I’ve befriended in my travels; they invariably mock my awful accent and I demand they answer for “feuerzeug“.

I delight in the German language because of the kindergarten way they just staple short, existing words into monstrous yet inexplicably precise Frankenwords.

You’re sick? Du bist krank. Welp, if you’re sick enough, we gotta get you to the hospital. That’s the krankhaus. How we gonna get you there? We’re gonna load you into the krankenwagen.

Absolute poetry.

In my Duolingings, I ran across the suffix –zeug, which essentially just means “stuff”. Your toy? That’s spieltzeug, literally play-stuff. How about a tool? Werkzeug. You can noodle that one out.

Then you got Fahrenzeug which means “driving stuff” and refers to a car. Uh, okay, I guess. But Feuerzeug is exactly what it sounds like, fire-stuff, and it means “a lighter”, and that makes me absolutely furious. You go TOO FAR.

German grammar is a disaster rivaled only by English grammar and their idioms are, as one would expect, deeply nonsensical and often sausage-themed. Every German I’ve encountered has argued they don’t have that many sausage-themed idioms, forcing me to point it out to them when they invariably use one within the following two hours.

These magnets, for those of you who didn’t quite catch up with the bus somehow, are word-for-word English translations of German turns of phrase. I reveled in them, grinning like an idiot in the rain for five minutes, then made the first and last legitimate souvenir purchase of my trip.

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I also encountered this gem.

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Trump halts maul. Well, it didn’t sound complimentary, but it did sound like home. The last I’d heard of the German opinion on Donnie was when the Morgenpost referred to him as… well, as thus:

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“please not the Horror-Clown!”

Well, I had to wait until I got back to the rad library party hostel to solve this particular mystery, but I giggled when I did.

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It reminded me of one’a my favorite twitter threads.

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Although, in fairness, the t-shirt’s not wrong.

That’s all I can do for today, if I type for too long WordPress’s busted-ass text editor starts flinching away from me every time I hit the enter key like a beaten puppy. Talk to you tomorrow, boys and girls.

Love,

The Bastard

Athens: What Did He Mean By This?

November 14, 2017. Athens, Greece.

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por que no los tres?

I wheeled through the Syntagma side of town and found my way into a local-recommended madhouse called Estrella. It was humming with humans. The waitresses were sweating through their blouses. They stuck me in a corner and gave me a menu and, for some reason, a Raphael place mat.

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Let’s unpack  this a little bit. We have Raphael, there, apropos of nothing, right in the middle. He’s in some kind of old-timey town, I don’t know where. Says Athens on the top, kind of. Doesn’t look like Athens. There’s a coach, but no cars that I can see. Maybe this is from Turtles in Time, and he’s somewhere between 1800 and 1920. What’s that thing the homeless guy is leaning against? A bus stop? A phone booth?

And then, at the bottom: “You got the spirit don’t lose the feeling”, which sounds a line from the dubbed English theme song of some anime about ranching slimes.

I picked my way through the menu, most of which consisted of “64 degree Celsius eggs”, which is 141 in real degrees, or almost hot enough to kill foodborne bacteria. I opted to try a breakfast pizza with a Greek name.

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Listen, man. You can’t just call something a pizza because there’s round bread at the bottom. A pizza has a layered, homogeneous distribution of toppings, and those are never seeds. What you committed here… was a breakfast pile. Eggs, gruyere cheese, avocado sludge, and sri racha. Too rich for me, but I definitely needed the calories. I dipped and wandered, in search of a mandolin.

I don’t play mandolin, and I don’t actually want one, but I am curious as to how much they are in Greece. If they’re like 20 Euros, I’ll find a way to bring it with me on the planes. It doesn’t look good. I’ll report back when I find one.

I stumbled on a rage room, which sounds like something I’d be into at first. Sadly, I can’t get behind it. The pricing is outrageous! 10 Euros to break 20 bottles? Where I’m from there’s a place we can break bottles for free, and it’s called “behind the Wawa.” And they wrap you in all this ridiculous safety gear, looking like a hockey goalie moonlighting as a welder.

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RDY 2 RAGE in safety

If you’re not ready to maybe lose an eye in venting your anger, what you’re experiencing is not “rage”.

When I was a filthy teenage hood rat, we had our own version of the rage room. It was called “the junkyard”. You gotta stick the sledgehammer through a belt loop so you can jump the fence, but then you’re golden. You drink Old Crow out of the Spencer’s rhinestone PIMP flask and then you cycle through your weapons; a good crowd would have the option of hammer, railroad spike, and baseball bat. You find a likely looking car — be it a model you used to own, or a fancier model that reminds you of class war, or really anything that still has windows, and you Steve Harrington that sonofabitch.

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pic incredibly related

Although, the rage room was probably a little easier to factor on time. Ours was generally over when you heard dogs.

Making my way back to the hostel, I was delighted to run across this little bit of home:

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I haven’t seen that written in a bathroom for like three weeks! I was worried people had decided that perhaps not Fuck Trump.

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j̶u̶s̶t̶ ̶l̶i̶k̶e̶ ̶g̶r̶a̶n̶d̶m̶a̶ ̶u̶s̶e̶d̶ ̶t̶o̶ ̶m̶a̶k̶e̶  nevermind, that was way grosser than i intended

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NEVER! im an american dammit

In the U.S., we have a very limited understanding of how Europe things of us. They don’t hate hate us. France might, I don’t know, I haven’t been there. Most people I’ve met have seemed to admire us for our bullshit omnipresent pop culture and begrudgingly acknowledge us as sort of de facto boss of the Western world (Europeans make reference to the president as “Leader of the Free World” way more often than any of us do, especially in light of recent events).

And while some will ask me, “So how did Trump… happen?” or “Are there really nazis there?”or “Do you really not use the metros?”, there is one thing they’re guaranteed to ask about as soon as they find out I’m American.

“So why don’t you eat real food?”

Listen. We’re not consulted on it, all right? This is just what they give us. Ya’ll have McDonaldses too, we just have them everywhere, and while you have healthful traditional foods to fall back on, we have, what, hamburgers? Apple pie? Fried chicken? We were damned from the get-go and it’s a miracle I’m not 300 lbs.

“Are you all like, really fat in America?”

“What’re you tryna say?”

“No, not like, you! But like, other Americans?”

“Yes. In America, literally every single person looks like this. I did too, before I lost 10 kilos in Spain, living off tapas.”

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And they’ll nod in pity and turn around and eat a foot-long sandwich with fries on top of a chicken breast that’d been sitting in grease all day. Go figure.

Love,

The Bastard