Getting to Berlin last week was tricky. My flight to New York was delayed and eventually canceled due to airplane maintenance, which caused me to miss Yair’s grandmother’s 100th birthday party and re-route my itinerary altogether. The re-routing of the flight cut my Berlin trip down from an already-short three days to a microscopic two and my luggage had seemingly decided not to take the flight, so I was a lone agent in a new country without possessions.
I was bummed to miss Grandma’s party and the first day of my Germany experience, but I was determined to make the best of it. Since the airline had misplaced my luggage and since I am a frequent traveler, they issued me a generous stipend (equivalent to more than one month’s rent back home…though my rent is super low) to pick up necessities. A pre-paid shopping trip in Europe would be a dream for most other people, but not so much for me as I try to minimize my possessions and shopping is one of my least favorite activities. Nevertheless, I took advantage of the opportunity and hit the streets of Berlin on my first morning in-country to pick up some awesome wardrobe additions, including a very cool armored jacket for my scooter.
It was fascinating to be in a country where I did not speak the language. Everything became an adventure that required patience and a lot of sign language. When I went to the supermarket, I largely relied on the images on the food packaging to determine what to buy – in addition to universally recognizable fruits and vegetables. I honed my miming abilities when asking several folks where I could find a spoon for my yogurt and determined that – if/when I return to Germany – it would have to be with an expanded language repertoire. After all, the extent of my German vocabulary was “thank you”, “you’re welcome”, “good morning afternoon and night”, “good bye”, “God bless you”, “my place or yours?” (pick-up line courtesy of my Oma) and quite fittingly “nein/no”.
I walked around Berlin getting lost and enjoying new neighborhoods. I learned the need to be more relaxed with the passing of time as everything takes longer when you are making your way around a foreign country in a foreign language. I felt more vulnerable being a stranger in a foreign land and it made the world seem a bigger place than I’m used to. Also, I more strongly related to the foreign couchsurfers that we host back home and appreciate how much it means to have someone show you around their hometown.
My dear friend, Dan Ludevig, hosted me in Berlin. Our first evening was lovely with a delicious home-made dinner (curried vegetables and polenta), music, candles and an assortment of chocolate truffles. I stayed in his guest apartment right next door and was delighted to get a glimpse into the Berlin that he raved about through day trips to Brandenburg Gate, SoHo Club, the Jewish Memorial, government buildings and more.
I bicycled through the city, joined Dan’s friends for an evening of raclette and an Ice Age 4 screening, and mischievously attended Dan’s ballroom dance studio’s holiday party. The party started off extremely formal and very on time (how German…) with a long and festively-adorned table la the last supper, but Dan and I put on some music and got the crowd dancing as well as singing silly German children’s songs once a few drinks were behind them.
Another fun part of my super short trip was meeting with the German press about Jewrotica. I met with three newspaper and radio journalists during my visit, each of whom brought their own photographer to the meeting. I had two of the journalists meet me back to back at the same café and – when the photoshoot for the first journalist began and the second journalist had arrived and was waiting – several café goers started snapping photos as well, thinking that there was something exciting going on. At that point, the owner asked “who is she?” in German to which the second journalist replied “an American celebrity”. Though that description is a far cry from reality and though I think real celebrity status would be both oppressive and an invasion of privacy, I had great fun playing the part of American celebrity for a few hours of a winter afternoon last week. :-)
All in all, it was a wonderful trip. I would go back to Berlin and – whether next year will lead me to more international travels or not – my eyes have been re-opened to the fact that there is so much of the world still to see.
posted by ayo