Disclaimer: this is probably the first time I have actually posted right after the event described in these words has actually taken place.
This past weekend, starting on Thursday afternoon, I did something remarkable. No, I didn’t end world hunger, stop all wars, or even give spare change to someone (don’t judge me), but instead I did something remarkable for myself. I decided that since it is spring break (or study break as they call it here), it would be a great time for me to fly to a foreign country, that doesn’t speak English for the weekend. So I did.
The week prior was a mixture of comfort and normalcy. I almost forgot that Berlin, Germany was about to be my home for the next weekend as Monday and Tuesday ticked by. Once Wednesday rolled around, I realized that packing was probably a good thing to start doing, seeing as I was leaving in the late morning the next day. It’s strange being able to just pick up and travel to a different country completely. It is extremely difficult for me to even fly across our country back to school, let alone a different one. Now flying by myself hasn’t been an issue, not since I moved to San Francisco, but flying by myself and having to deal with customs, a language barrier (which I speak a lot of German, though not fluent, so this wasn’t that difficult), and a different culture was all going to be crazy for just one weekend! However, I am currently sitting in my bed back in London, so clearly I made it through alive. Here are some tidbits of knowledge I picked up while on the mainland, and in my motherland:
- Everyone speaks English. I was extremely excited to try out my rusty German, the language I took for three semesters and absolutely loved. I know plenty of it to get by and to understand some things, but I was looking forward to having the memories of vocabulary tests come flooding back to me. However, this didn’t happen. The minute I opened my mouth to say “hallo” they knew I was American and simply talked to me in English. Literally everyone that I encountered, from waiters to the people at our hostel to train conductors, all knew English. There was only one instance, at a stupid souvenir shop nonetheless, where I started a conversation in German and then the cashier proceeded to tell me my price and everything in German as well. It was the highlight of my trip.
- Everyone is so helpful. So that being said, everyone is extremely helpful; the complete opposite of people in Paris. I felt like I could go up to anyone with my broken German and ask for directions or help. Sometimes, that wasn’t even necessary though. Instead of creating an eye sore of wooden walls that hold in a construction site, the city has put maps of where you are and lists of places nearby on the boards, accompanied by the distance to get to those places. I also need to add the these postings were in both German and English! It just makes so much sense.
- I have never tasted food that good. Maybe it’s because I am stuck with British food most of the time (which usually means I don’t eat British food at all and settle for Whole Foods and other sandwich restaurants near by; or, god-forbid, the cafeteria), but the food in Germany was the best food I have ever eaten. I started my first night there by going to a street-food festival, which was a warehouse converted into giant, food-stand haven, and was also packed to the gills. I got Berlin Balls (meat balls), and then steak marinated for 62 hours on a piece of bread. My mouth was crying for joy. I had Käsespatzle (mac and cheese basically), schnitzel with fried potatoes, gemetzle (I can’t remember the exact spelling, but basically it’s fried, fully stuffed ravioli) with potato salad. I am seriously crying just thinking about the food I left behind. Oh and don’t get my started on the chocolate.
- But, I still hate beer. I think I was expecting to wind up in beer-central and suddenly be magically transformed into a beer-loving girl. As you can imagine, this did not happen. We went beer tasting on Friday night and I just could not get past the fact that it was beer. It didn’t taste really any different from anything I have had before (this is where all of Germany slaps me in the face). I suppose it was pretty flavorful, but it still tasted like beer. Everything I tried was just simply beer to me, and I could never finish the glasses put down in front of me. The only time I enjoyed something made from beer was a beer schnapps shot I had (it was quite cinnamon-y).
- Some things that were a let down: Berlin Wall and Audi. I’ll elaborate on the latter first since it’s short. I think I was expecting everyone to be rolling down the streets in German engineering, because it is obviously the best way to make a car, but honestly, there were no more Audi’s then I see here in London or even in the US. I distinctly remember seeing a lot of Fords, so perhaps the drive (pun intended) for other countries cars is real everywhere. The other part to this let down was the Berlin Wall. Obviously the main reason I wanted to go to Germany was the heritage it holds for my family and my grandfather who just recently passed away. I couldn’t wait to get my hands and eyes on every piece of history I could squeeze into the weekend, and luckily the tour group I went with allowed my to see just about everything. We got to see a part of the remaining Berlin Wall during the day it was an amazing sight. However, the friends I made wanted to see another remaining part, called the East Side Gallery, so on our last night there, we trekked across town and looked at the huge stretch of concrete wall covered in art representing the struggle that the people of Germany went through while the wall was up. The problem that I had was that random people had come and graffitied all over the artwork. Now, I am all for public art and the constant changing of wall space to create art. But when it comes to something so historical, so meaningful to the people of Germany, it made me angry to see someones name scrawled across the Dove of Peace, declaring that they were there. Was this necessary? Why did they have to deface this wall? Is this why during a late evening there were only tourists walking side-by-side with the concrete slabs? I want to know what the people of Germany, those that went through having to deal with a divided city and country, are saying about this. Probably nothing.
- So much efficiency everywhere. This connects slightly with the fact that everyone can speak English, but honestly, whoever becomes our next president should definitely be a German. This country knows exactly what it is doing. Now, I know nothing whatsoever about politics and economics, not even in my own country, but it is clear by the way that this giant capital city runs, that this country makes smart decisions. The only concrete example I have is the Tegel Airport. I was extremely confused as I entered the airport and was greeted by the gates. There was no security checkpoint or anything like that. I honestly thought that I walked through the wrong doors and had broken laws by skipping the customs check point. Turns out, each gate has there own little security checkpoint, even with their own policeman who stamps your passport. This way, there are only the amount of people on your flight going through security at one time, instead of an entire airpot. WHY ARE WE NOT FUNDING THIS IN AMERICA! THINK OF THE JOB OPPORTUNITIES.
- Some random last words: I met a girl from my high school on our last day. Her name is Rachel, she graduated a year after me, and it was just super strange to see someone that I probably saw in my hallways all the way over here, in a foreign country, doing the same tour as us. Speaking of tours, can you be excited to go visit a concentration camp? Or is that too much? I was excited to see something that my grandfather potentially saw (or indirectly saw). Fun fact: I drive a car created by the Nazi regime. Volkswagen, or properly pronounced: Folks Vagen, and translated into the “peoples car”, was all something I knew, but what I didn’t know was that the Nazi’s were the one who coined this phrase and made these cars.
Finally, I simply cannot wait to get myself back to Germany. I want to explore and be a part of all the other Germany cities and everything they have to offer. Berlin was amazing, but I want more. I want the Germanic countryside and places where English isn’t so prominent (although I probably will regret this later). I want to go to German castles and explore the unknown spots. Germany is definitely a place I am going to find myself again, hopefully soon.