This blog entry about the events of Thursday, August 30, 2012 was originally posted on September 04, 2012.
PART 6 (DAYS 8-11): “Can you believe Erik is making us have another party?” Phil noted to Dani, as the three of us tidied up before company was to arrive in their Berlin flat. He was referring to the fact that, for the second time this year, I had suggested they have a social gathering — by already inviting some of their friends. (The first shindig was their going away party when they left Brooklyn a few months prior.) Dani was excited about the idea of a party — she set up the Facebook invite for it after all — for it would be their first as residents of Berlin, a sort of housewarming.
Soon, the buzzer rang and rang and guests arrived. And my last night in Berlin was about to go out on a high note.
MY FINAL FEW DAYS LEADING UP TO THE PARTY of having “Gone Europin’” were spent where I’d started, in Berlin — or as I called it earlier, Berklyn — because Phil and Dani had managed to carve out the same sort of lifestyle they had back when I knew them in Brooklyn, and I fit in like I was with them back home. Phil and I would go on bike rides, or go out to the local bars — including this one hipschter bar simply named “Ä,” pronounced “Eh.” If not that, we’d go to to the späti, Berlin’s version of a Brooklyn bodega, to buy late night beers and snacks to drink on the roof or in front of the TV.
“It’s like Williamsburg 2.0,” Phil told me (referring to our formerly shared Brooklyn hood). Their lives were a bit upgraded than before, with their first “adult apartment” with a roof terrace. And unlike Brooklyn’s McCarren Pool — a huge multi-million dollar renovated pool that opened in 2012 with a constant stream of problems (mostly unruly kids fighting and pissing/shitting in the pool), there was Berlin’s more-behaved Badeschiff, a huge Olympic-sized swimming pool built within a barge (picture above), docked off the bank of the Spree River. Built near a makeshift beach and a dock-turned-club that cranked electronic lounge music, it was the place to be for a relaxed weeknight with Phil’s friend Konstantin — because mostly during the weekends it’s overly crowded with hipschters and Deutschebags.
By day, Dani taught English, while Phil worked at an ad agency, and while they were off doing that I chilled in the apartment, or went on leisurely bike rides — just like I do in Brooklyn. It’s nice to just do normal things once you’ve done all the touristy ones already. Berlin is a great laid back city to hang out in after all, a place where you can just chill out in a hammock chair in Mon Bijoux Park on a warm day and listen to any one of dozens of acoustic guitar playing street musicians in the center of town.
Biking riding wasn’t without its issues though, since I was using Phil’s extra “crappy bike,” with a chain that fell off one afternoon when I was supposed to meet him at his office for coffee. The chain continued to come off because the wheel had become misaligned, and I was delayed by half an hour because I had to walk the broken bike from Checkpoint Charlie — former gateway between East and West Berlin during the days of the Wall — through the area of town most frequented by slow-walking tourists. In the end, I met up with him, and after a hotdog and a drink from this food bus stand by a makeshift beach, we went to Aaron’s nearby house in East Berlin to fix it. It’s good to have friends in different parts of town.
“I live in west Berlin now,” Phil said on our bike ride back home from the east side of town, where he grew up behind the Berlin Wall. “And now I ride through Checkpoint Charlie everyday, and I have an American Jewish wife. Times have changed.”
However, the more things change, the more things stay the same, particularly the German attitude. Observations by Phil and Dani after living in Berlin for a few months were that in New York, people are generally really friendly and polite and almost go out of their way (if not too inconvenient) to help someone out. In Berlin, everyone is in it for themselves. Phil pointed out this one female cyclist pedaling ahead of us, and three guys crossing the street. Neither of them deviated from their path to let the other pass, until they ran into each other and got into an argument after the fact. “See that? Typical German standoff,” Phil told me. “[They see each other, and she could have pedaled around them, or they could have slowed down for her, but everyone just thinks they have the right of way here — and then they argue to each other afterwards.]”
Perhaps Phil, who had spent enough time in America to develop American habits, was also a “newcomer” in his hometown. In fact, some Germans thought he had a different accent, that to them sounded Australian, plus he definitely had a laid-back American work ethic — one that the efficient Germans couldn’t really understand.
And so it’s not all the same between Berlin and Brooklyn. I remember the last time I was in Berlin, I admired how diverse it was, but perhaps that’s because I was surrounded by younger traveler types and not in “the real world” of Berliners. My updated observations of Berlin isn’t as integrated as I thought; the Turks (the biggest ethnic group) seem to keep to their own, and all the Black people I saw were Africans (not African-Americans or African-Germans), who sold weed in the park. Also, as Phil pointed out many times, “The food is shit in Berlin,” which is a statement to be taken lightly if you’re not used to the whole foodie scene of Brooklyn, where everyone is trying to develop the next big culinary thing.
“I’m going to make guacamole,” I told Phil and Dani as we were talking about the party. While they were off at work, I wandered their Neukölln neighborhood to get supplies at the corner grocery. In my wanderings, I surprisingly ran into our friend James from Brooklyn, in the same exact way I do when I’m home: completely randomly, usually when I notice him walking down some street looking confused. (You can’t miss him because he’s about 6’6” or something; my entire height only goes up to his shoulders.)
“Erik! Hey, do you know where there’s an ATM around here?” James asked me, unphased by our change of usual scenery. “[The one over there doesn’t work, and I need to pay off my landlord.]” He and his girlfriend were traveling, and had sublet a place in the hood, just down the block from Phil and Dani by total coincidence.
“I’m actually on my way to the ATM now,” I told him. And we walked to the mall where Phil told me there was a working machine.
“Maybe I’ll see you later,” he told me before rushing off to pay his landlord.
James never showed up to the party that night — he was busy running other errands — but it’s not like we didn’t have decent amount of guests. Some were new faces, some were ones I’d met in Brooklyn during their New York visits. Dani was happy when her friend Jo showed up. “This is the first friend I made on my own here,” she told everyone.
And so my last night in Berklyn was not without a nice time, meeting new people over food and drinks. My guacamole was a hit (the secret is to sweat the onions to take the edge off, and to use a lot of cumin), and it was described as “edible” and “quite good” — which was all a part of a conversation about how things are described in different cultures. In German, the word for “edible” is a compliment, and in British English, “quite good” is actually a very good compliment — as opposed “quite good” in American English, which implies something is just sort of meh.
“[THANKS FOR COMING!]” Dani bid me with a hug. “[Come anytime. Maybe we’ll see you in November. Have a good flight!]”
“Dude, thanks for coming,” Phil, my German counterpart said to me before we all turned in for bed after the last guest had left. My actual departure was a little anti-climactic because I had to get to Tegel airport at 3:30 in the morning via taxi. Phil and Dani were passed out in bed as I closed the door behind me. However, I knew that as long as there’s a synergy between Berlin and Brooklyn, I would still be in touch with them, regardless which side of the Atlantic we were on.
Upon arrival back in Berlin, some guy assumed I just got off the flight from Agadir because he thought I was Moroccan.
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THE GLOBAL TRIP GLOSSARY
Confused at some of the jargon that's developed with this blog and its readers over the years? Here's what they mean:1981ers: people born after 1981. Originally, this was to designate groups of young backpackers fresh out of school, many of which were loud, boorish and/or annoying. However, time has passed and 1981ers have matured and have been quite pleasant to travel with. The term still refers to young annoying backpackers, regardless of year.