I walked through a market in Kreuzberg (I guess you could say a burg/burro in Berlin) today, and it was glorious. I don’t know if the U.S. has open air markets like these around New York, D.C. or L.A. (I’m sure it does), but we definitely don’t in Athens, let alone Newnan. There was anything and everything, and it was all pretty cheap. I bought an espresso, some potato pastry thing, a scarf and a whole box of strawberries. I was invited to go to the market by a guy named Chris, who lives in Kreuzberg. (He took this picture of me buying the scarf for 1.5 euro, not bad considering you can get lame ones at American Eagle and whatnot for $30ish.)
But that was to pull you in. If you want the excruciating details, I’ve got the excruciating details. I’m at 176 photos, and it could easily be more, but I haven’t taken my camera everywhere.
I’m just going to start writing, and it’s going to be long, so feel free to drop off when you want. I hope to fit the photos in here correctly … I didn’t take any until Paris, so here’s to some serious text mess.
OK from the beginning:
Mom took me to the airport after we dropped by Granny’s house so I could pick up some spending money from her and Aunt Carole (Thank you!!) and I checked in at the airport as usual, went to the E concourse and sat at the gate for about an hour, talking to Yashesh, Bobby and Mom and judging the people on my plane. I got on the 10:30 p.m. flight from Atlanta to Paris and ended up smack in the middle of an aisle.
The last few times I’ve flown, I’ve been on smaller planes with only four or five rows. This plane had seven, and I ended up in the fourth. I sat next to a lady who reminded me of Mrs. Elder from EC in a way but not really … she wasn’t cool enough. I didn’t talk to her much but did find out she is lactose intolerant and speaks French fluently. The man on my right reminded me of my uncle John (just the way he said things, I guess, and I think they have a similar dry sense of humor), and we talked a good deal. He has a daughter who is an upcoming senior (like me!) at a New York film school. They live in North Carolina.
I knew to adjust to jet lag I’d have to sleep on the plane, so I tried pretty hard to fall asleep when we first took off. I didn’t anticipate the screaming child in front of me and the flight attendants coming by after we took off to get us to fill out some forms about where we were staying just in case someone on the plane brought in the swine flu virus and they needed to contact us. Yay for France trying to protect herself.
Then we were served dinner. The plane food wasn’t bad, actually. I chose this pasta ravioli stuff, and it came with bread and crackers and a small brownie. Tasty. The movie “Yes Man” with Jim Carrey came on, and I watched it for just a bit until Zooey Deschanel’s bit in the fake band Munchausen by Proxy came on, then I went to sleep. I’ve been watching the clips online since Andrew got me into her real band, “She & Him.” I slept through that movie and the next one, “The Express.” When I woke up for five seconds, I saw dogs and thought it was “Hotel for Dogs” or something and went back to sleep. I had a dream that our UGA photo professor Mark Johnson used an entire class period to critique my photos, so I guess that was me getting myself ready for the trip. Ha. I woke up again to the flight attendants serving breakfast (a bagel and banana – one of the best I’ve had in awhile, actually) about an hour before we landed in Paris. Not bad getting some sleep. The flight wasn’t too bad either. It was a bit bumpy over the English Channel, but I was just happy to be near Europe.
I’m also proud of myself for not going to the bathroom during the entire flight. Weird, I know, but that was also practice. You have to pay to use most of the public toilets in Berlin.
Right before we landed in Paris, the man on my right and I talked again. I told him about The Red & Black, Zinkhan and sexual harassment. He typed our Web site in his phone to look up later. Sweet.
So then in the Paris airport I looked up my connecting flight gate and wasn’t sure where to go. It was D55A, and I saw a sign that said “2D,” so I followed. And walked and walked and walked. I think it must have been on the other side of the airport or something. (This is what I saw of Paris, basically.)
When I was going through security, the man checking my camera bag under the X-ray asked me if I was a journalist, and I said yes. He said I had a microphone and a lens, and I told him three lenses, and then he said OK. I don’t know what that was about, but it was weird.
It was also weird adjusting to not really knowing the language when people around me talk. I’ve learned how to be pretty quiet in those situations. Even though I know a handful of French and German words, it’s like I completely forgot everything but “merci” at the airport. The humidity inside the Paris airport was ridiculous, so I ended up sitting on the cool tile floor (also because there weren’t any more seats near my gate) and took a few pictures. A woman stared at me. Ha. Then a child right next to me started screaming and crying, and the mom wasn’t doing much to quiet him. I got up and moved, and then the plane started boarding a few minutes later. I walked down the connected hallway thing (as you see above), and I thought the plane above was mine. But the hallway actually leads to a staircase, too, and down below we were loaded on a tram and driven to another concourse where our plane was. It was weird. It’s cool how smiles mean the same thing in every language, though, because I put my hand in between two men to grab a rail when the tram started moving, and a German businessman moved out of the way a little so I could have space. My smile meant “thank you,” and his looked like “you’re welcome.”
The flight to Berlin was only an hour and a half, but I conked out. I woke up to the flight attendants serving a snack. The people across from me chose tomato juice, orange juice and Perrier. Because I don’t know how to say tomato or orange in French, I just asked for Perrier and said “no” when he offered snacks because I couldn’t understand him. Sad. I’m sure he spoke English, but I had too much pride. The German husband and wife next to me just pointed at what they wanted, but I had to play it off. Ha ha.
As you can probably tell, I was really introspective on the flights. I thought a lot to myself and wrote down a lot of the details so I could recount them fully. I also got used to listening to the second message when the pilot would speak first in French and second in English. It makes me wonder if that’s how some Hispanics feel in Georgia.
Then I got off the plane and grabbed my luggage (the airport workers broke the top handle of my bag, by the way. Sad times.) and walked to the exit. I didn’t have to go through customs formally. Apparently there’s a “no declare” line if you don’t think you have any contraband. I guess because the flight was from Paris, passengers aren’t really checked. I wasn’t sure what I was doing, so I just walked through. Then I somehow easily found an exchange station and changed my dollars for Euros. Then I bought a two-hour transportation pass to get where I was going. It’s really cool … you can buy a pass that will apply for all the transportation in Berlin – the subway, the bus, the tram. I got on a bus and took the subway to my next stop.
And this is the part where some of you will get mad/concerned (sorry Mom), so there’s this Web site called Couchsurfing, which is really popular in Europe. It’s where you can get in touch with people and stay at their place for free so you don’t have to pay for hotel or hostel charges. It’s like Facebook for travelers. I joined it last year when Megan and I were considering backpacking Europe. Anyway, the study abroad program didn’t officially start until today, but I saved about $1,000 on my plane ticket by coming in a day early but didn’t have a place to stay, so I became friends with Chris in Kreuzberg. I stayed with him last night and slept on his couch. He was too nice – He met me at the subway and walked with me (carried my suitcase) to his apartment. He had to work but told me his friends wanted to meet up with me and walked with me part of the way, then told me directions, and I got there easily (Don’t worry about me too much! This is my time for adventure. It all worked out fine. Please don’t be mad).
So then I met up with Frederico and went to this bar/club place and met Chisco and Niccolo. I’m not sure if that’s how you spell their names. They were really nice, and the bar was really just an outside patio, and part of it floated on the water. It was pretty cool. The river it was on, however, was pretty still, so there were some gross gnats over the water. I sat with them for awhile, but two of them are originally from Italy and kept speaking Italian, so I just people-watched for most of the time and felt awkward. Frederico was really nice and would talk to me every now and then, but I felt like I was just an extra person, in a way.
After a few hours, I walked back to Chris’s place but got a little lost. People are so nice in Berlin, and it’s really safe! I ended up in an area of town that had Arabic written on the signs, so I knew I had turned the wrong way. I stopped an asked someone for directions, and he actually walked me to the street, which was good because I would have gotten lost again. He was an Iraqi who has a relative in Atlanta. Small world.
I hung around Chris’ apartment for a bit until he got home from work, then we went to a local convenient store and bought a couple of cheap lemon beers. They were fruity and tasty, and I’m not a beer person. I guess the really light, cheap beers in the U.S. that most college students buy just smell too much like pee to me. Ha. And they don’t taste very good.
Anyway, we talked a bit then went to sleep. This morning, we woke up around 10 a.m. and went to the market I described earlier. It was too cool. We wandered around the streets of Kreuzberg some more because he was looking for a pair of sunglasses, but he didn’t find any he liked.
Somehow I ate the whole box of strawberries I bought. (This is Chris, buying our potato pastry thing for brunch. This is the clearest picture I have of him for some reason. He never looked at me when I took his picture. Ha. I was being the annoying photojournalist.)
We talked a bit more at his apartment about the U.S. – He’s planning a road trip in America for June and July and was trying to figure out his best bets for motels/hostels, transportation, pay-as-you-go phones – then I headed out. I wanted to get to Prenzlauerberg (where the hotel is) a bit earlier than our 5 p.m. meet time, and I didn’t want to take up any more of his time before his girlfriend arrived for a date later that day. One thing that I’ve learned is that time is really fluid here. There aren’t really any clocks around, and no one seems hung up on the time. You just go. Then again, my phone doesn’t work here and I don’t have a watch, so I don’t know what time it is anyway.
I took the subway up a few stops to Prenzlauerberg and followed Professor Freeman’s directions but decided to be stubborn and walk instead of take the tram three stops, like he instructed. I walked all over Kreuzberg and figured I could do in Prenzlauerberg, but I didn’t factor in how far apart the stops were and how heavy my luggage was. When I was one street away from where I was supposed to go, I thought I had gone too far and turned around. After walking back several streets, I checked a bus map and decided to turn back around and walk the way I went before. By this time, my luggage was getting really heavy, and I had to keep switching hands. When I was one street away, I realized I dropped my jacket somewhere but was too mad to go back to get it. I checked into the hotel and had a bit of time before the 5 p.m. meeting and walked down the street two or three blocks. And there it was – someone had picked up my jacket and tied it around the fence to a cemetery. How nice.
Back at the hotel, I met my roommates and several of the UF students. Two of them have been traveling through Italy before coming here and will go to France and Switzerland after this. Too cool. We met up at 5 p.m., and Professor Freeman took us to see a part of the Berlin Wall.
(This is from a tower we were at, so we’re on the west side, looking on the east. There’s a lower wall that didn’t hold out well, and the actual Berlin Wall is the one closer to us with the rounded top, which made it harder to climb.)
We then headed to a biergarten, and I got a tasty pasta salad and some raspberry fruity beer. It tasted more like soda (It was probably really weak, apparently a lot of the tourists like to get it. Ha. — see the picture. Vince got the green kind.) Then we walked and took pictures along the way, and a few of us fell behind. Six of us didn’t make the crosswalk light at one intersection and got lost, but we put a few clues togehter (what street we knew our professor was going to, where Vince thought the group turned) and finally found them at an ice cream shop. I got a scoop for .70 Euro. Tasty.
Aaaand now we’re back at the hotel. I’m probably the most rested one here, so everyone else is already in their rooms. I’m in the lobby and about to head up to bed. I’m sore and tired … and in need of a massage. All I’ll get is sleep for now.
A few general observations:
-The guys I met in Kreuzberg were all emo-ish dressed. It must be a style here. They were all wearing slim leg jeans, zip up hoodies and ked-like shoes and had swoop hair. Too funny.
-Nobody wears shorts or flip flops around here. Two of the guys (the only two guys) in our group got called out for wearing shorts. It’s pretty warm during the day but gets pretty cool at night, so everyone wears pants and jackets all day. I’ve seen a few girls with sandals who wear pantyhose. I’ve seen several with tights. It’s definitely a style here.
-The police cars really do have weird different sirens. It always makes me think of Catch Me If You Can and Bourne Identity. In Kreuzberg, the ambulance was safety cone orange. Too weird.
-It’s really cultural here, lots of different people speaking lots of different languages. Happy.
-It’s also really safe here. People seem trustworthy, and kids play around in the many parks. People stroll the streets at all hours.
-There’s also a lot of graffiti, and I took a lot of pictures of funny/interesting ones. (Check out this one of kissing penguins.)
-People are really in shape here! No wonder skinny jeans are all the rage. Everyone walks or bikes EVERYWHERE.
I hope all of my details were interesting … and that the pictures were OK. I’ll try to write a lot each day.