Berlin: German “Cuisine”

December 3, 2017. Berlin, Germany.

I arrived in the arctic Prussian wasteland of Berlin, mapless due to both the brutality and consistency of FlixBus’s cold-blooded infidelity.

Don’t just avoid them. That’s not enough. Molotov them in the streets. I will not rest until nothing remains of those lying transit bastards but twisted wreckage and burnt-out husks in lime green and, apparently, sometimes, unmarked red.

Berlin is mighty stingy with its free Wi-Fi too, and it was only by chance that I snatched a handful of internet from one of FlixBus’s competitors (yeah eat a dick bud Eurolines RULES) and discovered that there was, in fact, a difference between Berlin Central Station and Berlin Central Bus Station.

That distance is four miles. You know, for a people with such a reputation for linguistic and engineering precision, that’s a pretty loose definition of “central”.

Obviously, I couldn’t try to navigate across this new city in the sudden dead of winter without a Google map. First of all, it’s current year. Paper maps are relics for nerds and pirates. You hang them on the wall to look cultured, you don’t actually try to utilize them. What, you have a compass watch too? Keep your money in your sock? Shut up.

Secondly, I have no sense of direction, whatsoever. I rationalize it away with cute, pithy, middle-aged-woman yard sale sign aphorisms like “Wherever you go, there you are” and “Not all who wander are lost” but make no mistake, I’m always wandering and it’s always because I’m lost. If it weren’t for GPS, I definitely would have kept wandering south in Turkey and wound up on the other side of the country, dodging active gunfire. And even then, my doofy blithe ass would be like, “They shoot their guns in open fields all the time too! Just like home!”

I snarled a bunch, hissed swears in a colorful assortment of unrelated languages, then slipped into a skeevy American-style diner that had the worst pinup drawing I’d ever seen next to the second worst motorcycle drawing I’d ever seen. The menu was endless. I ordered a currywurst.

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a little intimidating

Take a good look, beautiful reader, because this is the last German food you’re going to see for the duration of the trip. Currywurst is a delightful little concoction accredited to the most German sounding woman I’ve ever heard of, Herta Heuwer, in 1949. Up until this point, I’m pretty sure Germany had been subsisting entirely on boiled sausage and fried potatoes. The British troops gave Herta ketchup, worchesterhsiehchihriehshcishire sauce, and curry powder, and she just kind of chucked them all on top of a bratwurst and changed the face of central European cuisine as we know it.

The Germans were flabbergasted. “Heinrich! Zis powder, it TASTES!”

“Was, like sausage?”

“Nein! Well, ja, but like other things as well!”

Heinrich furrows his brow in confusion.

“Was meanst du, ‘other things’? Like… weak beer?”

“Nein, Heinrich. Halt maul und smeckst das.”

Heinrich put the ketchup-sodden powdered hot dog in his maul and gesmeckt. His Augen bulged. Lars had been telling the truth. It tasted neither like sausage nor like weak beer, and he spent the next half hour in a fetal position, screaming, in a state of catatonic sensory overload.

When Heinrich calmed down, he and Lars immediately dialed India long-distance and demanded answers. India shrugged, explained that they’ve been doing this for as long as they can remember, my friend. Heinrich and Lars tapped the impressive German national coffers, presumably swollen as they are from how much Volkswagen parts cost from the manufacturer, and imported thousands of Indians.

And that, boys and girls, is why it’s a physical fucking impossibility to find any German food in Berlin. Every restaurant is an Indian restaurant, broken up with occasional Japanese, Vietnamese, and Shisha places. And kebab stands, of course, but you can’t get away from kebab stands in Europe, they’re like roaches in New York.

Listen to me. This isn’t comic exaggeration. I walked a total of fifteen miles over three days, all through different parts of town, looking for authentic German cuisine. It’s gone, man. They globalized it away. Alex Jones was right all along. The Germans realized cooking wasn’t their strong suit – DESPITE sauerkraut! – and handed the keys to India, then shifted their focus to more traditional pursuits, like talking quietly accented but grammatically perfect English in every hostel I’ve ever been in, or being tall.

I asked other travelers.

“Did you find any German places to eat?”

“Naw, dude!” the stoner kid said, throwing up his arms. “There weren’t any!”

“You either, huh?”

“I’ve been all over town! There are no German restaurants, unless you count the currywurst stands!”

“I don’t,” I said. Stands are not restaurants.

“Neither do I!” he continued yelling and flailing. He was a very excitable boy. “Yo, do you mind if I roll a spliff in here?”

“Follow your heart.”

I did find a bar/restaurant that alleged to serve traditional German food, but the dude running it was most assuredly Indian. Go figure. I still had the Leberkäse, which, as far as I could tell, was some sort of… bologna loaf. I know how that sounds. It was described as a meatloaf, but while you or I would imagine meatloaf to be hamburger with bread crumbs in it, the Bavarians conceptualized a ground pulp of pork, beef, and liver rendered into a pudding then poured into a loaf pan and baked. It tasted like what Spam aspires to be, but still good because it was served over (surprise!) fried potatoes.

In parting, let me show you what happens when you ask for the menu “dark beer” in Berlin.

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Love,

The Bastard

 

 

Dresden: So It Goes

December 2, 2017. Dresden, Germany.

FlixBus is a bunch of filthy, mouthbreathing animals. They talk a big game about their bus internet, but once you get onto it, you learn it’s an elaborate German ruse. For some reason, the trap didn’t spring until I got into Germany, but I think FlixBus had been plotting it the entire time I was in Europe, earning my trust by degrees. Toying with me. Then, once I was in for a ten-hour bus ride, the unwashed, skulduggerous, drug addict hyenas that orchestrate these bus routes like some dark and deviant god pulled the plug on the so-called “bus internet”.

Ten hours, I rotted in that cell on wheels! Ten hours I languished in an Amish diesel nightmare, not so much as a scrap of Wi-Fi to be found. I didn’t even have the map downloaded. You want to take a guess how long I tried to download the map?

I’ll find the miserable, hoary, addled son of a bitch who did this to me one day, and I swear before all the saints and angels that I will dance in his blood.

Anyway. Deutschland. Ja, das ist fuckin kalt. It wasn’t nearly as kalt in Budapest, so fool that I was, I thought I’d be fine in just a t-shirt and coat.

I was not.

Fortunately, Dresden is presently devoted wholly to Christmas, and you can’t walk ten meters without hitting a Christmas Market. I’m sure we have these stateside — we do love markets — but never anything like this. It reminded me of the church picnics that would paralyze the townships of my childhood and herd all the adults into parking lots to drink beer and eat pierogies, but pierogies were conspicuously absent.

(I know pierogi is the plural, shut your goddamn mouth)

Instead, there were brats. This would be a running theme throughout the whole of my stay in Germany. No matter where you went or what you did, your only hope for food was some form of wurst. It was usually currywurst, but sometimes, specifically in Christmas Market times, it was bratwurst. And oh, the glühwein! It flowed like… well, like you’d expect.

Tremendous MacBeth cauldrons of the stuff, manned by grinning German men in hokey holiday dress, the whole square stinking of cinnamon and cloves. Glühwein is a Germanic holiday drink, mulled wine everywhere else. You take red wine, you heat it up, you slam-dunk whatever incense your grandma smelled like in there, and then you drink it in the cold. Immediately, you’re warm. It’s a Christmas miracle. Ein Weihnachten Wunder. +30 Frost Resistance, effective immediately.

The other stands sold fried dough covered in sugar, as did every other building everywhere in Europe. They love baked goods so much it’s uncanny. There were also souvenir stands, weird little trinkets with city or religious significance, and a distressing number of puppets.

This is something that isn’t talked about often, but central and eastern Europe are absolutely nuts for marionettes. You can’t get away from them. You’ll want to, believe me. They’re freaky. Freaky and omnipresent and watching you, judging you, with their bulging, painted, sightless eyes. Wooden demon’s eyes.

In typically understated German fashion, there was also Der Goldenerreiter, a dude made of gold riding a horse, also made of gold, in the middle of the town square. His name was Augustus the Subtle.

Strong, sorry. Augustus der Stark.

It was a scenic river overlook of four buildings, churches and municipal dealies with breathtaking architecture that I couldn’t get a picture of because it was dark.

I wound up in a brauhause, hopeful that what I’d heard about German beer was true. Dark news, kids. The weizen is the best you can hope for. See, the Germans, strong traditionalists, have had this grim law in affect since 1516 called the Reinheitsgebot. In English, it’s something along the lines of “The German Beer Purity Law”, and it stated in a tone that brooked no argument that the ONLY ingredients that could be in beer were water, barley, and hops.

Absolutely brutal. Just like that Harry Chapin song about the teacher who won’t let the kid color flowers anything but red.

Don’t worry, they’re not that draconian. They modified the law in 1993(!). From Wikipedia:

“The revised Vorläufiges Biergesetz (Provisional Beer Law) of 1993, which replaced the earlier regulations, is a slightly expanded version of the Reinheitsgebot, stipulating that only water, malted barley, hops and yeast be used for any bottom-fermented beer brewed in Germany.”

What I’m trying to communicate here, friends and neighbors, is that I’m an American boy, born and bred, and I’m used to exciting shit in my beer like frosting and cranberries and whatever else they had lying around the microbrewery. I like stouts! They’re full of chocolate and espresso and smoke. That’s the trifecta, infinitely better than that hyper-bitter quintuple IPA crap everyone pretends to like.

In Germany, what you get is lager. Sometimes the lager tastes more like wheat, sometimes it tastes a little darker and heavier, but at the end of the day, it’s nationalist PBR and I’m not out here for it. Still, when in Rome, gladiate, and when in Germany, drink beer until it’s not cold anymore.

Unfortunately, it was cold. Forevermore. I tried to do the sightseeing thing the following day, but everything was way too far from everything and I could feel my bone marrow freezing. Less than ideal tourist conditions. I eventually found a restaurant that would let me steal WiFi, and I ordered what appeared to be a giant bowl of cheese.

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The menu assured me it was a traditional Dresden dish. It was sort of like a French onion soup thing, only instead of French, German, and instead of onion, pork. But it was warm, and calorically dense, and you best believe I inhaled it.

I was on the first bus to Berlin the next morning. Dresden was nice, but even the locals I knew warned me that it was not, perhaps, the ideal portrait of Germany. “The most racist city in Germany” was how it was described to me, due to the massive refugee population. The refugees themselves seemed nice; they were piss drunk in the streets, blasting reggae and dancing as though it weren’t 4 degrees out. More power to them.

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Be A Bandit, my hostel insisted on the morning of my departure. Well, I do try.

Love,

The Bastard

Athens: Making My Escape

November 16, 2017. Athens, Greece.

I spent my last day in Athens wandering around, drinking Weißbier instead of the refreshing sparkling water that was Greek beer. I had discovered the potency of Greek wine the night previous, however, and let me just say, for 8 Euros a vase? Whoa nelly.

Outside the National Archaeological Museum, I stumbled into yet another enormous protest in a language I couldn’t understand. This time the anarcho-communists were well represented, as were some incorrigible teenagers in motorcycle helmets and facemasks who had jumped a spiked fence and were presently involved in occupying a university building.

Here’s something I’ve noticed in my years tightroping it across the fringe: If you give someone a mask, they will stare you down, 100% of the time. Doesn’t matter if it’s a gas mask, a bandanna, or Halloween. With faces concealed, balls triple in size like that scene in the Grinch.

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like this, but with the testicles and a Call of Duty LARPer

I asked my Greek correspondent on political uprisings and good restaurants what the deal was. Apparently, there’s a yearly national celebration that pertains in some way to Greek independence, though no one either could or would give me more information than that. In the late 60’s and early 70’s, there was a military coup d’état that the students protested. They were, perhaps unsurprisingly, gunned down. The junta broke in 1974 but particularly radical left-wing students have carried on a proud tradition of occupying universities, lighting things on fire, and breaking shit ever since.

(This is a gentle paraphrase of how it was described to me; I’m thinking my source might lean a bit right. That’s more common for university students in Greece than back home, for reasons you might be able to intuit.)

They were carrying around lead pipes and blasting Greek rap music out of what looked like a pretty nice guitar amp, and being the intrepid journalist I am, I decided to document the occasion.

This was not well-received.

“They were saying, ‘close your phone’,” she told me.

“Yeah, kinda figured it wasn’t a brunch invitation.”

Some local Suicide Girls were sitting on the gate in front of the occupied university quad / masquerade mosh pit, and I asked them what was going on. They looked at each other and giggled, went back and forth in Greek, then turned back to me.

“ἀναρχία,” they said, and that’s how it sounded when you heard it. It sounded enough like “anarchia” that I got the gist.

“Yeah, got that,” I said. “Me too. But like, what are they doing dancing and glaring in there?”

“Video?” one said, pointing at my phone.

“Video!” the other said excitedly.

“Probably not gonna happen again,” I said. “Already didn’t make many friends with that.”

“Video,” one said, persuasively, making a recording motion. I grinned.

“Okay, I get it. Thanks, ladies.”

I waved, they laughed again, and I got out of there before I had to fight a bunch of teenagers like that Norwegian statue, “Man Attacked by Genii”.

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you know the one

The museum was impressive, especially if you’re big into pottery. I am not, but they had a lot of statues and the crumbling remains of statues, both of which I am big into. I got lost in there for three hours, then had to scamper out to a cat-infested terrace where they fed me build-your-own gyros and carbonara.

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just how i like my women

The next morning, Athena blasted me with another thunderstorm, sensing that I was trying to get out of Athens. I’m probably one of her most vocal modern keepers of the faith, and she obviously wanted me to stay. I absolutely would have, if it were possible to make money there.

Athens is my favorite European city by far. Everything in it was beautiful. Everything in Barcelona was also beautiful, but that was a deliberate, maintained beauty. The Athenian beauty was sudden and bursting and chaotic, the difference between a conventionally cool attractiveness with expertly applied makeup and wild, unhurried naturalité, its only accentuation flashing eyes and playful snarling.

I loved Barcelona for its poise, but I’m in love with Athens for its honesty. No matter what Diogenes might have said.

Still, couldn’t stay forever. I think that hostel might have had bedbugs. Time to go. I weathered the storm, taught myself how 2 Metro, and caught a train to the airport.

On the plane, I sat behind a dude who smelled powerfully of an unwholesome cheese. Of course. Of course I did. I had every intention of writing on the 3 hour flight, but the classical conditioning I’ve instilled in myself runs too deeply and I fell asleep as soon as we got in the air, laptop open in lap, brim of doofy but essential Wanderhut pulled over my eyes.

Turbulence woke me up shortly before the landing, and I looked out the window to see a city of ghosts. Fingers of mist trailed over the barren hills like prowling animals. My plane dropped out of the sunlight and into the massive wraith cloud, and I haven’t seen pure, natural light since. When we broke through the bottom of the cloud cover, the coffee-colored hills dropped away into the Bosphorous, which is as beautiful and imposing as you may have heard. The fog on the other side opened, and the metropolis of Istanbul sprawled as far as my admittedly poor eyes could see, the peculiar architecture of the skyscrapers warping and waving like an acid trip. 

End purple prose. The airport had no Wi-Fi, which I had been warned of.

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I’d made all my plans in advance, except my plan for a visa, which I learned was a thing.

IMPORTANT: If you roll into Turkey from pretty much anywhere, they’re going to make you pay extra money to be there. It’s sort of like driving out of New Jersey, but in reverse. I took a steep 25 Euro hit (the cost of 10 pork gyros in Athens) from a guy who spoke virtually no English. Obviously, I went to the ATM and pulled out the money in lira, because this is Turkey, and that’s the radically inefficient money they use here. My pockets have been heavy and jingling with 5 and 10 cent pieces since I arrived, even though a single coffee is 7 or 8 Lira, which equates to roughly 1.60 Euros (not quite $2).

I tried to give the guy 150 Lira (25ish Euros) and he just repeated, “25 Euros.” So I had to go withdraw more money, only this time it’s a kind that I can’t spend in this country. Now I’m walking around with 75 Euros that I can’t do anything with, and of course most of it is in coins because Europe cannot get enough identical silver-and-gold coins for some reason, so my first night was trying to pay out for my toothpaste and soap from a Scrooge McDuck pile of varying but visually similar coins while the dude at the market, who speaks no English, looked on in disgusted bemusement.

Still, Istanbul is gorgeous. My hostel attendant is always on a great deal of cocaine, but it just makes him friendly. Beats the alternative.

For most of the time I’ve been writing this there was a wailed call to prayer being amplified through the streets. It’s the kind of thing I would voluntarily listen to on Pandora. Too bad I’m a heathen.

Before I forget: Jeff Homscheck correctly guessed my new location. He is the best of us, and he will be remembered as such long after this world becomes a smoking crater.

See you tomorrow, beautiful readers.

Love,

The Bastard

Madrid: A Bastard’s Intermission

October 31, 2017. Madrid, Spain.

WoOoOoOo lads! What kind of spooky things are you doing this Halloween? I’m trying to survive in Madrid.

First, let me say of the 8 hour train ride that got me here: Beautiful, but never again. The Spanish countryside is incredible for the first three hours or so. Then it’s a bunch of gorgeous bullshit Don Quixote hills. Here are other things I have learned they don’t have on the Spanish supertrains: Potable water, electrical outlets, Wi-Fi. My laptop died, then my phone almost died, so I looked at a hell of a lot of landscape. Bring a friend and a bottle if you’re doing that for more than 3 hours. And maybe some Windex, either for the window or for the chaser after hour 6.

We started to slow for our final stop and it was… just… slums. Not the classy, romantic kind out in the country with the drying lines hung out the orange-tan windows and the children jugando el futbol out on the rolling hills. The kind where you’re like, “Oh! I can buy crack here!”

The train slowed to a stop for upwards of 20 minutes, somehow. It’s on a track, fam. Not a huge margin for error here. When we finally pulled into the station, it turned out to be 4 miles outside of center city, which was an especially sharp twist of the knife because typical proximity to center city of large metropolitan areas is the reason I went by fucking train.

Wi-Fi in Spain is like water in the desert, and it was in the Madrid train station that I learned Barcelona wasn’t just the country’s economic oasis. I tried to download a map to my phone and it took a half hour. I ate a bocadillo that cost around $1.50 more than any of the better ones Catalonia-side, then hopped a bus to the heart of Madrid.

It looked less like the setting of an inspirational movie where a free-spirited teacher helps a bunch of at-risk youth learn to enjoy school and find themselves through the power of dance, but not much. Since Wi-Fi is impossible, I walked to a hostel that was full up, so I had to crouch outside a Starbucks and steal their internet in order to book one called Motion Hostel, outside of a classy restaurant where an old dude was playing My Heart Will Go On violin-style and killin’ it.

The place was a 9-story disaster with an elevator that only ran up to the 6th floor, broken doorknobs, weird pleather mattresses, and no hot water. The guy at the desk was kind of a dick. The Wi-Fi login seemed to be a Ponzi scheme; you give it your e-mail and they give you 15 minutes free browsing time to go confirm it, then they’ll send you a username and password to log into the Wi-Fi. Instead, they gave me 15 minutes, sent me nothing, then sent me 3 different confirmations, none of which logged me in. Then the entire internet disappeared. Poof.

So, I was destined to spend Mischief Night like the pioneers. All righty. I did that the first ten years of my life, no big deal. I went out into the streets to find soap, which was easy, and food, which was hard. Everyone was selling food but they had priced it at twice its actual value because the Spanish economy is sunk. The beggars are aggressive, flailing and pointing at you as you pass like proselytizers.

In the center of one of the largest plazas, a stout, punkish-looking girl flagged me down. We made Spanish smalltalk until my Spanish failed, and then she asked, “English?” in what sounded like a Russian accent.

“God, yes,” I said.

“Sex?” she asked.

Select any three-second close up of Martin Freeman from any of the hobbit movies, and that was the iteration of faces I made.

Disculpe?” I said, because I say that a real lot out here.

“I have a place not far from here. It is 35 euros for 20 minutes. You come?”

I told her I appreciated the offer, but I was all right. As I walked away she asked, “We go?”, but no, we do not. Later, on a much darker and more abandoned corner, a slight man in a collared shirt offered me business cards with mostly naked women and comparable price tags printed on them.

I guess not all of Spain’s economy is in shambles.

Truth told, I was kind of offended. I’m a strapping young man! I’m in the prime of my life, give or take a decade. Yeah, the glue factory’s definitely on the horizon, but I’m not there yet. This isn’t a damn pay-to-play situation! POEMS have been WRITTEN-

No, forget it. Listen, I don’t know how regularly I’ll get to post from this Wi-Fi wasteland. Maybe I’ll have better luck at the next hostel. If so, I’ll update you then.

Del yermo con amor,

The Bastard