[October 17, 2013]
In an unprecedented show of neglect, I have left this blog to wither while I attend lavish-ish balls and throw myself full-force into teaching (something I am thoroughly enjoying, mind you). This entry, although posted on the cusp of a new year, continues where Sweden left off.
I’ve found that the more frequently I travel, the more I think I can cram into an already tight itinerary, leading to nights of airport hopping and speedy meet-ups. October 17th found me fidgeting in the airport in Copenhagen, fingers adamantly crossed that this flight from Denmark to Germany would be on time or, more fortuitously, early. Tonight, I had tickets to see Trombone Shorty, where I’d get to listen to some catchy music and meet up with Cairo pals Loraine, Chantelle, Brad, and Brad’s friend Kevin. By now, they were already there, packed warmly into the venue, contentedly listening to the opening act while I sat, stewing in anxiety, in another country.
We arrived in Berlin and Susannah graciously took my luggage with her back to Zehlendorf. While she assured me that I could easily – and affordably – take the metro, I worried that I would emerge from the underground, hopelessly confused, and become lost. Instead, I shelled out the money for a cab; sometimes you have to pay a little extra to avoid getting lost.
In retrospect, the S-Bahn would’ve worked out just fine, as the Ostbanhof stop is literally right across the street from the concert hall, but I didn’t know that. I arrived at 9:30, checked in at the door, and stationed myself in the back by the bar, reasoning that someone would eventually come back for a drink and lead me to the group. For the first time since the airport, I was able to relax and enjoy the music.
I loved New Orleans music in New Orleans. Hearing it in Berlin was wild. I love the toe-tapping, shoulder-shaking jazz that is so inextricably linked to New Orleans. I hadn’t been to a concert in a while and it felt euphoric, even standing alone in the back.
I spotted Chantelle by the bar and followed her up front to where the others were standing. It was a hygge moment: rushed, relieved, warm and dry, amazing music, cozy company. Trombone Shorty ended his set with a New Orleans-style Mardi Gras tune, a fitting end to a lively set.
After, we hunted for an open bar to grab some beers. This was a different Berlin from the quaint, drowsy town tucked away outside Zehlendorf where Susannah and I had quietly explored a few days earlier. The five of us were still wired on giddy trombone tunes (and each other’s company) and happily scored seats outside some decent bar called Kirk.
There, we chatted about Berlin, music, and Jesse’s sudden departure. At 12:30, we grabbed beers from the convenience store and headed back to the flat that Loraine and Chantelle snagged on Air BnB, a quirky old three-room abode in Prenzlauerberg.
Music, air drumming, and heated debates over Indie music ensued. I wished that Brad and Kevin were sticking around, but they were off to Leipzig in the morning. Brad seemed especially happy in Germany, snug and galvanic in a country whose musical culture and history is rife with world famous composers whose lives lay open and accessible in dozens of museums.
The next day, after spending a chilly night sleeping on a questionable cow-hide rug on the floor, I met Susannah by the Brandenburg Gate to get my luggage and sample some currywurst. Sadly, the currywurst stand was closed, but we walked around the gate, stood on the double-brick line in the road marking the place where the Berlin Wall once stood (and the notorious death strip), and visited the Holocaust Memorial, a celluloid, boxy exhibit that is stunning in its simplicity and lack of ornamentation.
I wish I’d spent more time in history museums both in Germany and in Denmark. After studying the Holocaust extensively in college, it would’ve deepened my knowledge. One thing that’s weird is that Germany seems reluctant to use the term “holocaust.” The eponymous memorial, for example, is dedicated to “the murdered Jews of Europe.” Overall, I saw more about the Berlin Wall and communism than World War II, which makes sense chronologically since the wall came down in 1989, when I was three. Crazy to think that while I was stumbling around my kitchen learning to walk, Germany was reuniting after nearly three decades of segregation.
Later that day, we visited Checkpoint Charlie, the famous passport checkpoint enforcing the boundaries of East and West Berlin. It was an odd sight, a US Army checkpoint across the road from McDonalds. It’s interesting how commercialism and modern society seamlessly sprout up around history. Above the American sector sign was a photo of an Allied soldier and above the Soviet sign was a communist soldier. A sign read, “You are now leaving the American sector” and then “You are now entering the not-for-profit center”, where communism and brainwashing began at an early age, teaching kids to do everything concurrently, leaving no man behind – even using the bathroom.
Although the wall is down, portions of it remain, a significant chunk being the East Side Gallery along the river Spree. Billed as the world’s largest open-air gallery, it bears vibrant art from scores of graffiti artists. There’s a Banksy piece somewhere, but shivering in stockings on a cold Berlin evening did not lend much desire to scouring the surrounding streets, even for Banksy.
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