Archive for the ‘germany’ Category

very nice things

Sunday, December 16th, 2007

  • this morning when I walked past the Dom on my way to the train station in Koeln, the sky was blue, the sun was shining, and the bells were ringing, oh my god.
  • later Brook and I saw a woman carrying home a Christmas tree on the u-bahn!
  • on the train from Brussels to Paris, I grinned at a little girl wearing a jacket with bear ears on the hood and looking over her mom’s shoulder, and she gave me a brilliant smile back.
  • walking down a cobbled street in Paris generously festooned with overhead string lights on my way to meet Caitlin.
  • great conversation with Caitlin over hot chocolate and a tasty fruit tart.
  • every time I think about home, I get really happy.
  • every time I think about where I am, I get really happy.
  • berlin photos, part 2!

    Saturday, December 15th, 2007

    Christmas market + carnival–

    This was a static display from a little train ride that went past various fairy tales… elsewhere, Cinderella was sweeping ashes, Rumpelstiltskin was spinning gold, etc.

    The Reichstag–

    There’s a restaurant up on the roof; this was one of the windows as seen from the dome.

    This group of people who presumably actually work at the Reichstag were taking a smoke break together. I was up on the roof being sneaky.

    View off the front of the building.

    A group of tourists getting their picture taken on the steps in front of the entrance.

    The Pergamon Museum–

    The steps up to the Pergamon Altar (or what’s left of it, anyway).

    (Part of) the Ishtar Gate (of Babylon). Pretty cool, but Lexi, as far as things to take your breath away, have you seen la Sagrada Familia??

    I found myself taking lots of pictures of lions in the Pergamon…

    Like this one.

    Or this one (who looks to me like he belongs in The Wizard of Oz, though the audioguide that was free with admission said things about his “easy power” or something).

    And today I walked along the East Side Gallery, the longest remaining stretch of Wall (I think), which is covered in murals which are covered in graffiti–

    “we are recording our own history here now and i was here”

    When I went back to Ostbahnhof to get back on the s-bahn, this special Christmas s-bahn train was waiting at the platform, full of adults taking photos of their happy kids–

    But I couldn’t figure out where it was going or what the deal was. Maybe I should’ve hopped on!

    Instead, I wandered into a crafts market and a crazy flea market, and listened to these guys (I saw them last night too, elsewhere)–

    Coolest street musicians ever?? Maybe.


    Now, by the way, I’m in Brook’s cozy apartment in Koeln once again. I was standing in line at the Berlin Hauptbahnhof this morning, hoping to buy a reservation and a couchette or sleeperette supplement for the night train to Paris tonight (the night train from Barcelona to Granada, my only night train experience to date, was enough to convince me that next time I need to be horizontal), and worrying about it being full, and musing on my alternate options: “Well, I could take this other train that leaves at around one this afternoon, which is early, and I’d get to Paris pretty late tonight and not have a place to stay… I guess I take a train tomorrow and try to find a place for tonight… man, the night train is the only direct train, too, all the other ones I’d have to transfer in Koeln… hey waitasec! I don’t need no stinkin’ night train!” So I abandoned my place in line and called Brook, who said “yes, of course you can stay here tonight!” So here I am. She even saved me some dinner.

    Today was the start of going home. Paris tomorrow, London the day after, Seattle/Sammamish two days after that, Portland two days after that! I am gonna have me some fun on my way, though.

    cold & clear (berlin)

    Friday, December 14th, 2007

    Friends, either this is, as always, the natural fluctuation of my moods (those beasts I have occasionally celebrated, sometimes tried to pathologize, etc etc etc)… or else I have found the other side of my wall. You remember that wall? For me, it was a weeks-wide, very dense bank of fog. Just these last few days I have found myself close enough to its edge to know what direction to walk in, and now, over here… well, it’s not exactly sunny, but it’s clear.

    I’m back in Berlin. My hostel this time around is nicely located in Mitte, on the other side of Museum Island from Unter den Linden. Last night I walked to one of the Christmas markets I mostly skipped last time that’s right smack in the middle of and integrated with a carnival, and laughed to myself at the fantastic noise of screaming kids on rides mixed with earnest renditions of “Amazing Grace” played over speakers. I ate lots of candied hazelnuts. I walked to the Reichstag, where there was absolutely no line (despite every guidebook’s warnings) to get up to the roof terrace and the glass dome. I looked down, then I looked out, and felt my cheeks and nose turning red in the clear cold. Guys, I feel so good. Today I went to the Pergamon and then the Museum of the Wall at Checkpoint Charlie, which is really extensive… and interesting in that much of it is (written and photographic) material that was placed in the museum while the wall still stood, so it has things in present tense, like “to date there have been x number of escapes via tunnels…” It’s also charmingly disorganized and includes a large section about non-violent protest in the 20th century throughout the world, and everything is presented in at least English, German and French, and often Russian, and sometimes, in places chosen apparently at random, Italian or Spanish. By the time my brain was getting tired of picking out the English words, it was dark outside and it was evening.

    On my way there I found a bookstore with a nice little selection of English books, and despite my initial intention to only have one book at a time on this trip, I’ve been suffering so from lack of reading material since I finished Emma in Prague (I have read my guidebook so many times!) that I bought not one, not two, but three books. One of them is Anna Karenina, which I figure should keep me going for awhile. I also bought a book called Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search For Everything by Elizabeth Gilbert, despite the fact that one of the buy-me quotes on the back is from… oh geez… Britney Spears (who thought it was a “good read” and “[couldn't] get away from it”). To quote the author: “I wanted to explore the art of pleasure in Italy, the art of devotion in India and, in Indonesia, the art of balancing the two.” I walked back to my hostel (eating a pretzel and sipping glühwein on the way… god, I love Germany!), sat down and promptly read the entire Italy section (see, it’s a good thing I bought Anna Karenina too). There, alone in my hostel room, I giggled aloud over and over again. At least twice I had to close the book and giggle the giggle out of me. I cried a little bit too, because it’s kind of that kind of book. It is a good book for a woman, traveling alone, having just emerged from a fog, to read. So there. May Britney Spears find her way out of her fog, too.

    It’s okay that I’m going home soon. Maybe I am even feeling so much stabler BECAUSE I am going home soon. I am looking forward to my loved ones’ arms. You know that feeling your fingers get when you come in out of the cold, how they burn as feeling returns to them? Yeah, that. That’s something… ugh, my writing suffers from such vagueries!

    mais oui

    Wednesday, December 12th, 2007

    Today on the train between Vienna and Salzburg I pulled myself back to myself. I thought about all the things I have to look forward to when I get home, and how the future excites me, and how it scares me almost as much. I remembered looking forward to this trip in almost the same way, and I thought about how much I have seen and the lessons I have learned and the lessons I have begun to learn and the lessons I will have to learn a hundred times and the lessons I will probably never learn. I have been sleepwalking a lot lately, thinking about anything other than right now, right here–and that kind of stuff ought to be saved for the kind of 9-to-5 tedium I quit to come here. I’m sorry, guys. I am so fucking lucky–lucky to be here living out my romantic fantasies of lonely wandering down cobblestone streets, and lucky to have my amazing home to look forward to returning to.

    I was thinking these things and suddenly the ground outside the train was dusted with snow. And then there was snow in the air too. And then the snow was gone, and I sunk into my chair and felt homesick. But, you know, epiphanies are there. It snowed on and off, I slept on and off, I dreamed on and off.

    Here in Munich it is raining.

    I realized on the u-bahn a few hours ago that I left my favorite pair of jeans and a black skirt I’ve had for years and years in my hostel room in Vienna, draped over something to get the rest of the way dry. They both had holes in them… I guess you gotta let things go, sometimes.

    berlin photos (part 1–because i’ll be back there by thursday)

    Monday, December 10th, 2007

    It’s too bad this picture is blurry. I dunno, or maybe it’s better that way.

    Brandenburger Tor + menorah + Christmas tree.

    + crane.

    People waiting in line at the Reichstag.

    I liked the descent into green on the lawn in front of the Reichstag.

    Memorial to politicians who opposed Hitler, in front of the Reichstag.

    The dome of the Reichstag, with tourists… designed so that whenever parliament begins to forget who’s in charge, they look up and see… the people.

    Memorial of the Jews murdered in the Holocaust, with Communist-era buildings (I think) in the background.

    The Wall–one of the few sections still standing.

    The sewer piping (I think that’s what it is) on the top is just the right diameter that it’s almost impossible to get a grip and climb over–more effective than barbed wire.

    Nearby–I’m not sure if those are real sections of the Wall or not, though.

    Where Checkpoint Charlie used to be.

    The Brandenburg Gate made out of chocolate. I went back here later to drink hot chocolate with a girl named Christine who I met on the walking tour. It was very very excellent.

    Christmas market!

    Maria, our entertaining guide.

    “Berlin” actually means “swamp” in the language of whoever-it-was-who-first-founded-it. So during construction projects (and there are always construction projects) they have to pump out water (or something like that) with pipes like these. I love that they paint them.

    Thousands of books were burned on this square by university students at the beginning of Hitler’s reign. These empty bookshelves below the square are a memorial.

    Another Christmas market…!

    One of the museums on Museum Island.

    Unter den Linden lit up at night.

    This is the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church–built however long ago as a memorial to Kaiser Wilhelm. It was damaged by bombing in WWII and was left that way as a memorial to the destruction wrought by war, or something like that. The squat round (hexagonal, rather) building next to it is the new church, which is very unassuming on the outside but pretty striking inside…

    The floor.

    The walls!

    The taller building is a bell tower, I think, but it wasn’t open to the public except for a completely unrelated shop in the bottom–very strange. There was also, of course, a Christmas market.

    Inside Kaufhaus des Westons, aka KaDeWe, very much in West Berlin, supposedly the biggest department store in Europe… kids crowded around this white-clad St. Nick.

    At least a few other painted bears were scattered around Berlin. “Berlin” means “little bear” in German, so the bear is a symbol of Berlin, though the meaning is coincidental (see above).

    This sculpture is weird. I dunno its story.

    Inside a Frank Gehry building that’s totally unassuming on the outside ’cause it’s on Paritzer Platz, which is next to the Brandenburg Gate, and buildings there aren’t allowed to outshine the Gate.

    Pretty detail on a building somewhere.

    Anyway, I want to go back and see the Gates of Babylon and a whole lot of other stuff, so I’m skipping Italy and heading back up there probably on Thursday, with a night in Munich on the way, ’cause why not.

    slow glowing

    Thursday, December 6th, 2007

    Just wanted to write and say I am better now. The other day, and yesterday morning, too, I was having a very hard time with the simple problem solving necessary for preserving one’s sanity and comfort in an unfamiliar environment. Like, how do I get hot water out of this pitcher? Or where is the lightswitch for this hallway? Or can I use this bus ticket twice? But I had a great day yesterday. I drank a vanilla latte at Starbucks (don’t you dare judge me); went on an awesome free walking tour (and I mean awesome); made a friend from Vancouver, Canada; drank DELICIOUS hot chocolate at a chocolate shop with huge chocolate models of the Brandenburg Gate and (for whatever reason) the Titanic; talked a lot about all kinds of things; wandered some Christmas markets and drank glühwein and admired the way the city is lit up at night. It was good. And today is the feast day of St. Nicholas, and St. Nick left a little bag of chocolate Santas outside my hostel room door. And I read somewhere that “glühwein” directly translates to “glow wine.”

    i’m in berlin

    Tuesday, December 4th, 2007

    Today has been the most ridiculous comedy of errors. I just spent, oh I dunno, maybe an hour typing up the story for your amusement and/or empathy, and I’d gotten to the part where I tried to take the u-bahn from the main station to my hostel when I accidentally clicked on some link at the top of my screen and lost the whole thing. So there you go. There is a church about a block away from here with a big wooden door and hung in front of it is a single yellow paper star lantern of the very-three-dimensional variety that I coveted at the Köln Christmas markets, and that glowing star (my memory of that sight) is my beacon of light right now. I think I had better go to sleep before I start crying. My hostel is nice and there is a big fluffy comforter on my bed.

    the answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind

    Monday, December 3rd, 2007

    This morning it was POURING rain and then blowing it sideways when I woke up and drank coffee with Brook before she went off to work, but (evidently) it turned into a really nice day. Still windy tho’.

    Every time I wasn’t sure where I was today, I looked around for the nearest big, old church and found the picture on my map that matched it. I wandered around eighty bazillion Christmas markets (read: four or five. Or six?) because they are everywhere. After awhile it felt like constant deja vu, but there was some nice, original stuff in a few places. For lunch I ate chocolate-covered strawberries on a stick and a bowl of delicious spicy mushrooms. In that order. The Christmas markets smell so good. Lots of food and candles and herbs and wine.

    I spent twenty or thirty minutes today in a little store that sold drums, windchimes, rainsticks, tambourines, gongs, flutes… trying everything. Some of my favorite moments of this trip have been the childlike explorations of things. I want to bring that back with me.

    Right about when the sun started to go down, I bought a glass oil lamp. The man I bought it from said something to me in German and even the words for “do you speak English?” completely fled from me and all I could do was make a confused sound and smile big and hold out the lamp in my outstretched palms. He smiled back and said, “okay, okay” and wrapped it up in paper for me.

    I had a lover once who I loved very much who called me “liebchen” and being in Germany and things that burn both remind me of him. It is neither bad nor good to think about him (and liebe/love/amour/amore… somehow, for me, it is one of very few things that is harder and more confusing to think about in my native language). I hope that sometime after I am back home I will understand the things I have learned on this trip well enough to write about them in something resembling eloquent language. I can’t wait to find out what home is…


    please don’t confront me with my failures; i have not forgotten them

    Sunday, December 2nd, 2007

    I just booked a seat on th Eurostar from Paris to London on Monday, December 17th, which is kind of too bad because Mondays and Tuesdays are probably pretty much the worst nights possible to try to see theatre, but oh well (I fly home that Wednesday from Heathrow). I also booked three nights in Berlin starting on Tuesday. In between, my plan is roughly as follows: Prague, Vienna, maybe somewhere in Switzerland, Florence, maybe somewhere else in Italy. Then book it back up to Paris to make my train. If I get back in the groove of hopping from city to city a little faster, it might be nice to see even more of France. Mostly because j’adore parler français!

    Today Brook and I climbed to the top of the Dom.

    On the way there we passed this really great band (three accordions and a violin) playing along a pedestrian street that had attracted quite a crowd. This is my attempt to be artsy in framing the shot… also I like taking pictures of couples.

    The Christmas market in front of the Dom.

    Climbing the endless steps!

    The Christmas market and the Rhine through a rain-fogged window.

    The inside of one of the towers.

    The view from the top (with graffiti).

    Aaaand back down, down, down…

    In the cathedral itself. Brook says this window was designed by a contemporary artist who used a computer to randomly generate squares of color. I keep looking at this photo and wondering why it’s pixellated, but in person the effect is quite stunning. She also said the Bishop made a fuss and refused to come to the unveiling ceremony for it, or whatever, because he felt it was inappropriate and had nothing to do with god. Looking at it, I felt its beauty reflected very well on the way random mutation has created life, which is impossibly beautiful… but I suppose that’s not very Catholic.

    After we left the Dom, we walked along the Rhine towards the medieval Christmas market and the chocolate factory…

    The medieval Christmas market was a bit kitschy, with everyone working there vaguely costumed and guards with huge wooden swords and such, but it was worth the small entry fee to see the magic show:

    Brook was even chosen to participate! (The upside-down open bottle of water didn’t empty itself when lifted off her palm after she counted to three.)

    Also, wanna know the German word for mead?

    Yup. It was really tasty, though, and steaming hot!

    Next we went to a very small tropical rainforest.

    It was part of the chocolate museum, of course. The museum was mostly awesome, especially these old tv ads for various German chocolate brands, and the FACTORY, which smelled SO GOOD!

    This is me inhaling deeply and also looking ridiculous.

    And this is me in front of the chocolate fountain with free chocolate sample #2. Uhh, by the way, my first word (according to my mother) was “chocolate.” I LOVE CHOCOLATE.

    And this is part of the machine that made free chocolate sample #1 (a tiny bar given to each of us when we bought our tickets).

    A really really large chocolate Santa Claus in front of a machine designed to evenly distribute chocolate in molds.

    In the evening we went with Sara to an indie pop show, a band called St. Vincent. I’d heard one of their songs before (”Now Now”), but I didn’t know that until we looked them up on myspace last night. Oh my gosh, it’s been really great to be here listening to Brook’s music and stuff. Yay for indie music. In conclusion, the show was great.

    After the opening band, Brook suggested Sara and I try this local liquor called… um… Einfelder, or something like that? That can’t be right. But named after the neighborhood Brook and Sara both live in, and made there. It was sweet and thick and tasty.

    Rock bands with violinists are awesome. This guy played both keyboard and violin in the same song.

    For her first encore, the singer did a cover of “These Days,” which Brook and I both knew from the cover of it by Nico that’s in The Royal Tenenbaums. You probably know it too: “I’ve been out walking… don’t do too much talking these days…” Anyway, it was really nice.

    On the u-bahn on the way home:


    don’t think twice (köln, germany)

    Saturday, December 1st, 2007

    Hello from Köln! Or gutentag, or whatever language I’m supposed to be speaking now. I was just at a party at which I danced around to Michael Jackson with Italians, Spaniards, and French people, so really, who the heck knows?

    I like Köln. Yesterday evening Brook met me at the train station and we stepped outside and I looked up at the Dom and went “holy shit.” (Haha… “holy”…) It is one hell of a cathedral. At some point we are going to walk up to the top of it. Anyway, we walked maybe ten meters to the Christmas market below the Dom and bought glühwein, which is mulled wine, which is tasty! It comes in souvenir mugs that you pay a deposit for (or walk off with, I guess).

    Brook is carrying my pack in this picture because she is an Excellent Hostess.

    After wandering the Christmas market for awhile, we took the u-bahn (from a stop that sounds/looks like “Applesauce Place”) to her very cute flat and made dinner, then went out to a little brewery and drank fizzy beer that comes in a big bottle and is served in champagne glasses.

    Today I slept very late while Brook finished a personal statement for a grad school app, and then we trekked to a laundromat. I love clean laundry. Ahh, the simple things that traveling teaches you to appreciate…

    Then in the evening we went to another Christmas market

    where we squeezed through crowds and drank more glühwein and ate roasted chestnuts and got lost in all the stalls and found this amazing/ridiculous hat:

    We were running late to Brook’s friends’ housewarming party, though, so we headed back to the u-bahn… the station was so completely PACKED that we decided to walk instead–

    The party was fun, if a bit overwhelming (for me). Someone brought this AMAZING raspberry cheesecake thing that I think Brook and I ate a quarter of between the two of us. Lots of meeting people and some bisous (apparently they don’t do that as much in Germany, but most of Brook’s friends and coworkers are Italian–she’s working at, uhhh, some biology place where they grow plants and everyone is an expat). Some dancing too. We left with Brook’s friend Sara–it was raining:

    Yeah, and I bought the ridiculous hat, but in a slightly less ridiculous color scheme. Yes, I turned down something pink in favor of something more subtle (though “subtle” is not a word most people would use to the describe this hat, I think). No worries, I think my reasoning was that if (when) I dye my hair pink again, contrast > matching.

    Oh, and here’s some German street fashion for you:

    And one of my Christmas market purchases:

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