Saturday, August 31, 2013

From Berlin, With Love

Berlin Dom
Berlin Wall
Our journey started in Berlin, with a brief layover in Brussels. The trip did not really hit me until the layover in Brussels at about 2am NY time when I was laying my head on Mike’s lap, trying to get in 15 minutes of sleep, and I heard a flight attendant announce a plane boarding in French. I had a teacher once say to me, "You just love words." And it is still true- I love words in any language. When we landed in Germany, the feeling was no different. Language - be still my heart.

I have been to Europe before, but I never made it to Germany. But having made a German friend the last time I lived in Ireland in 2003, the invitation had always been open to come for a visit. And what a visit! Did I mention my German friend works in the hotel industry and hooked us up with a reserved tour of the Reichstag, a hop on-hop off bus tour, a boat tour, and dinner reservations at the TV Tower? When I say we did Berlin, we DID Berlin, (Thanks, Nicole!) complete with beer gardens, audio guides, memorials, all sorts of different sausages, even Russian pancakes, and lovely evenings with Germans! (Oh, and when I say “we” I mean me, Mike, and Danielle @dromeodromeo who was traveling from Hamburg!) I fell in love with that city and I learned so much. I have to say the tour of the Reichstag still remains one of my top three experiences so far. The audio guide was very interesting and takes you through the new glass dome of the Reichstag which has a 360 degrees view of Berlin. The guide has senses in it that tell you when to stop and look out at certain buildings or monuments and then it tells you the history. The tour was very well done and the architecture is very inspired. The Germans call the glass dome of the Reichstag the "heart of democracy"
Reichstag
and you can actually look down through the glass onto the parliament floor even when it is in session. There is a genuine symbolic effort to be transparent in a country with such a murky and dark political past. (It should be noted the Nazi party never held office at the Reichstag) And on that note, the “Topography of Terror” tour on the Nazi’s rise to power was fascinating. They were terrifyingly systematic. They took this fragile, vulnerable country suffering the effects of a devastating depression and then they agressively pointed blame and “gave reason,” then instilled hope through a distorted nationalism and then once they earned enough support, kept their power with violence and terror and this was before the Holocaust even began. It kind of blows your mind to learn more about World War II while in Germany. But what really blew my mind were the tiny gold plaques in the cobblestone all around the city. You may not notice them at first, but Mike found two. The plaques are a part of a new memorial to mark the places where Jews who were sent to concentration camps once lived. Germany will never get away from that piece of their history, just like America will never fully get away from our history of slavery. It's important to remember. It's important to keep trying to heal.

Nicole and I met while working in a tiny sandwich shop in Caherciveen, Ireland back in 2003. We reconnected years later via Facebook. She and another friend came and visited Mike and I in 2010. Though we have not seen each other much, we have now known each other for ten years. She is the kind of friend that always says something that makes me think. My favorite part of my Berlin trip was talking about our respective countries. From her experiences and her understanding of America seen through a European lens, her observations of the country were very conflicted. She brought up the Janet Jackson Nipple/Superbowl incident as one example. She was so surprised about the country’s reaction especially when most of
More Walls to Come Down (Berlin Wall)
the music videos on TV objectify women. As with any honest conversation on American politics and culture, eventually we talked about racism and we talked about Trayvon Martin and how  “Stand Your Ground” seems to be no more of a defense as simply a license to kill black people. Trayvon is not the only unarmed black kid whose killer has been able to claim this as a legitimate defense. Despite having elected Barak Obama, racism in America is institutionalized and the world is watching. 

We also talked about the Berlin Wall. Having just been a child in East Berlin when the wall came down, she did not have many memories of the division or reunification. I wondered if like my Reagan-era generation who grew up being told we could be and do anything,  if somehow though she had no memories of this piece of history, if a footprint had still be left on her perspective of life. As you Americans, we were told we should follow our dreams and then grow up and get married and buy a home. What is a man with out his homestead? A woman without her family AND her career? And I watched so many of my friends, as well as myself, over the last decade struggle with these distortions about what we “deserve.” Where as she grew up acknowledging that certain things were out of reach so why long for it?  I had a very wise woman once say to me, if you want your life to have meaning, stop looking for it.

Later that night, we ran into an old friend from Ireland (her ex boyfriend) and joined he and his friend at a pub and the night could not have been better if we planned it, certainly not better if we were looking for it.

Of all the places we saw in Germany, my favorite thing was spending time with Nicole (and Chris!) which left me with so much to think about. Germans are smart and they are no bullshit and she is no exception. I will miss Berlin, but my friend even more. 

Friday, August 23, 2013

How To Prepare For Traveling The World For A Year

 Pack the following:

1.    Your motherfuckin courage.

2.    Dry-wick underwear and Dr. Bronner's soap. 

3.    An iPad fully loaded with a Google drive of documents, maps, addresses, and a running list of things you want to do and make it available offline.

4.    A bathing suit and a fleece. Because one night in Berlin you may be freezing your ass off and a week later you may spend the day at the thermal baths in Budapest.

5.    Sunscreen. Never underestimate the necessity of sunscreen.

6.    Your international driving permit along with your state license, because in a pinch, you want to be able to rent a car.

7.    Your Charles Schwab bank card because they reimburse you on all ATM fees worldwide. And along with that your account numbers to other linked bank accounts so you can actually make transfers to said ATM-fee-free account, instead of continuing to withdraw from your high fee bank account while your money sits in limbo somewhere between "holds" and "three full business days" that last a week and a half.

8.    A mini speaker you can plug into your iPad or your partner’s Windows notebook for the days when you just need to do nothing but that.

Berlin Wall
9.    Toenail clippers and tweezers. You may lose all notion of time, but your nails and eyebrows will remind you.

10.    A smartphone (of which you have suspended service) switched onto airplane mode, loaded with the apps Viber, WhatsApp, and MagicJack so you can make free calls and texts to the people back home who are wondering if you did in fact decide to go to that country with grave civil unrest and no way of flying Americans home. (Don't worry. We didn't!)

11.    Deodorant. As an American, you have no excuse.

12.    One book. Not three. Remember this. You will thank me at a layover in Cologne.

13.    A dry-wick towel and a silk sack. Towels and linens don’t always come with the accommodation. And sometimes even when they do, you will want these.

14.    A good moisturizer, because you deserve it.

15. A plastic ziploc bag so you can put said fancy moisturizer in and avoid pissing off the six foot German TSA agent who is not happy to have just stuck her finger in your exploded fancy cream.

16.    Always have 100 Euros. You may not speak the language, but your wallet might.

17.    Shirts that are not white, just in case one of the people in your co-rented flat might throw them all in with red linens and give you a pink wardrobe free of charge for the next 10 months.

18.    A new pen.

19.    The address of where you are staying in the old Jewish Quarter of Budapest that looks like the East Village of NYC probably twenty years ago. The dried puke and used condoms on the street may make you feel right at home, but wandering around for 2 hours looking for a goddamn building names “Minestrone” is in fact, not a useful way to find your flat. After two hours when you and your partner are ready to kill each other with the nearest broken down flesh-eating bacteria ridden payphone, finally ask for help from an older man named Peter who actually does remind you a lot of the Apostle Peter when he gladly whips out his phone, talks to your super in Hungarian and then walks you to your private apartment you would have never found in a million fucking years even though it was right across the street from that goddamn payphone.

20.    Peanut butter.

21.    Your bitchy resting face. The gypsies and the tour guides will leave you alone but the Eastern Europeans will welcome you just a little bit more.

*Bonus- Mike. Because he will think of everything you may possibly need before you even know you need it. 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

All My Bags Are Not Packed


Well hello, there! Yes, it has been awhile and I can't say for sure why. I got really busy, like really busy. And I started rethinking the whole online thing. I guess the pendulum always swings, but it started to swing back and hit me in the face when I realized how much of "me" is out there in and on the world wide web and not quite sure I wanted that anymore. But, I guess you can't put toothpaste back into a bottle. The other reason for silence, is probably because we have been gearing up for a trip that we were keeping pretty quiet about (in terms of online) until now. If you are reading for the first time, here is the recap: Mike and I got married in a book store in New York City last October. Instead of settling down, we decided to pick up and go traveling. We didn't really do a honeymoon, although we went up to Woodstock for two days while Hurricane Sandy hit. You can read about the wedding and that crazy experience here.

The idea to travel started as a harmless text, a joke not to be taken seriously, that we both knew was serious. As our imaginations wandered, the trip got bigger and bigger until we decided this was an experience we really wanted as we started our lives together as newlyweds. The more we have let go and trusted that if we took the right steps, the universe would provide, the more things have fallen into place. So much so, that we will be leaving the country in 11 days! It did not really hit me until last Monday and it still doesn't feel quite real. Probably because the last month has been about leaving our jobs and moving out of our apartment and pushing away any feelings of sadness about leaving the neighborhood we had been settling into quite comfortably.  Closing accounts, canceling memberships, and spending time with people we won't see for who knows how long! It still feels far away, but its the little things, like a card from coworkers that make it feel, quite literally, at my fingertips.