Berlin, part 3. 6 stories about 5 people I met.

I got excited at the thought of writing something about the people I came across. The thing is about people is that we’re all connected and each connection, not matter how brief, can change us in ways we don’t always understand. These are just a few nameless people I decided to write about.

The French girl

She had a yellow coat, an umbrella and a backpack, one of those European hipster ones. Short dirty blonde hair, a bob with bangs; her beautiful face featured her large eyes. We were introduced, she had a beautiful French name (of course) and apologised for her thick French accent and her lack of proficiency in English. I apologised for not speaking French.

She smoked like a European and waved her hands about like the actresses you see in French movies, the indie ones, not the ladies who appear on the covers of Vogue. That night, I found myself at a table with a French-speaking Canadian from Quebec, the French boy and her, not understanding a word. Thank God for beer. And WiFi.

I saw her the next morning, as she was checking out. We said goodbye and wished each other well. She was wearing her yellow coat. I think we would have been great friends if we spoke the same language.

 

The singer

Ozzy serenaded me one night. In return, I had to kiss him on the cheek, cheeky bugger. He had a great voice and soon, an audience had gathered around as we sat on a couch and enjoyed live music at its rawest form.

His crazy wild hair matched his voice perfectly, it was the last thing you’d expect from someone only 18 years old. Or 21. Who knows. He used to be in a band and had recorded an album. He decided to come to Berlin and was on a mission to make it, whatever that meant to him, and to me.

 

The French boy

We met on my first night at the Sunflower. We lost track of time as we chatted all night, and downed a couple of beers too.

I learned that he was from Paris and I asked why Parisians were so rude to tourists. He apologised for not all Parisians are like that, but a lot of them are unfortunately. He studied medicine briefly before deciding that the life of a doctor, regardless of how nobel it was saving lives, was not the life he wanted for himself. He then pursued engineering for a while and made it through a year and an internship before stopping because he hated the campus and the city he was in. It was too small for him.

He enjoyed art and drawing, although I never got a chance to lay eyes on his work. He decided to pack up and move to Berlin because he had fond memories from his first visit when he was 21. I couldn’t understand it, why on earth would someone move from the most stunning city on Earth to Berlin?

“Well, it’s Berlin.”

And that was that.

The Vietnamese phd student and his thesis

I was so excited to learn about his thesis and proceeded to ask him a million questions about it before apologising for interrogating him. It was a study on children’s orphanages in Vietnam and the US, as well as the whole foster system too. It was truly fascinating.

He carried with him a sling bag that army men used to carry. It was lighter than a camera bag but thick enough to protect his camera, and it was in a perfect army green. I later learned that he’s also an incredible photographer because we’re friends on Facebook. His pictures make me drool.

We talked for hours, him, me and the French boy over a few beers. It is evenings like those that I miss the most about travelling. Learning about different places and countries and cultures, all from a table at a hostel.

He would also ask people he met on the road to hook him up with friends from home, if he was heading there next. He was heading to Paris after Berlin and so asked the French guy to introduce him to a couple of friends who could show him around. He called it his version of a Blind Date.

The coolest girl I’ve ever seen

I didn’t actually meet her, but I saw her often as she worked at the hostel. Impeccable fashion sense, the sort of androgynous look that only really tall and edgy girls can pull off. She was no regular Berliner.

Towering over normal people with her cropped pixie hair, I never mustered the courage to speak to her. She had an aura of cool that I could only dream of. Not a dorky cool, but a legit cool. Every outfit was straight out of a magazine and everyone knew I had a girl crush on her. Except her, of course.

 

The bartender

I found myself alone one night, with nothing much to do. Everyone had either gone out or gone to bed so it was just me and him and a table of people who had grown quiet as they finished their drinks.

After ordering my favourite beer, I had grown very fond of a stout that was €3.20 a bottle, I sat at the bar in my pyjamas. I watched him work as I had nothing else to do, which was when I noticed all the small things about his face, his movements, the brown shirt he was wearing, the numerous bracelets he had on. He was handsome but not in a typical way. Curly hair, dark eyes, a moustache, a nose ring, and had a beautiful tan.

“What time do you finish?”, I asked. And we began chatting. He had travelled the world and just returned to Berlin, which is why he wore so many bracelets. Each was a memory from a place he had been to. The gig at the hostel was the first job he got after returning and he liked to late hours, so he took it. He liked the quiet evenings you see, it gave him time to work on his music.

I asked about his music and he too, was an aspiring DJ. I asked if I could listen to some of his mixes, he said he would play some of his stuff after the table of people had left.

I asked him how old he was and he said 32. My eyes widened.

“Wait a minute, you were alive when the Berlin Wall came down???”

I was bubbling over with excitement, it was difficult to hide. He had lived before this one incredible moment in Germany and was present for it too. I had seen pictures and heard stories, but these were from people who studied it. No one was actually there. Until him. I was in awe. Jealous almost, of his life and his experience. Of being there and alive at such a time of reconciliation. Oh my goodness, tell me all about it. What was it like? I wanted to know everything.

“Yes, I was there with my parents. I was so small and I didn’t understand why everyone was dancing and partying. People climbed up and danced on the wall. There was a lot of dancing.”

He smiled at me, as if apologising for the lack of detail and for his poor memory. But I felt like I finally understood Berlin.

With that, I finished the last of my beer, bid him goodnight and went to bed.

I never got to listen to his mixes.

East Side Gallery in Berlin

Advertisements

Berlin, part 2.

East Side Gallery in Berlin

Here’s part 2. I should probably come up with a better introduction. It’s late.

Food: Veganz Berlin-Friedrichshain

Apart from the supermarket around the corner, where I bought pasta, spinach and pasta sauce for dinner, I was also addicted to Currywursts. I know, WHAT A TOURIST. What can I say? There was this really great stand nearby and I’m lazy.

When I wasn’t having either of those things for meals, I made my way to Veganz (yes, with a z), down the road from my toothbrush. I had the best dinner there. By this point, I had been craving for something healthy and their vegan bowls really hit the spot.

They’ve also got a deli downstairs where you can buy kaffee, juices, pre-packed salads and other vegan goodies. I enjoyed them all. Burp.

IMG_6529

Art: East Side Gallery

Just a heads up, this is not your typical indoor gallery. It’s outdoors. And was previously known as the Berlin Wall. Yes, that Berlin Wall. It’s madly profound statements like this, turning something once oppressive and divisive into art that continues to draw me to Berlin.

It blows my mind how they embrace their history.

I walked along this part of the Berlin Wall in continuous awe. I also walked along the wall in the rain with nothing but my coat and beanie. I’m hardcore like that.

What a silly thing to say.

Market: Sunday market in Mauerpark

Remember that friend who told me to “shut up and be cool”? Yeah, he told me about this market and boy am I glad I went. It was a little far out but it was completely worth it. I arrived at a park, where the stalls were arranged on one side of the park; and performers, musicians and 4 or 5 or 6 member bands played on the grassy part of the park. It felt like a festival, but no, that’s just your typical Sunday afternoon flea market in Berlin.

There were food stalls, craft stalls, hipster antique stalls, hipster clothing stalls, basically, anything and everything hipster you could ever want, could be found there. It was brilliant. I queued for the longest time to get a Currywurst with fries and chomped that down as I sat on the grass watching a band play some incredible music.

I then got a cup of gluwine. I made my way to the noisiest part of the park and found a seat. Gulping down my wine to stay warm, I watched Berliners karaoke. It was so much fun. Members of the audience would line up and tell the host what they wanted to sing. Only none of them just sang it, they performed the life out of these songs.

At the end of the evening, apart from letting the audience know he wasn’t going to be back next week but the week after, he also did this: “Look at the floor. Do you see a beer can or an empty cup? Pick it up. Now, take it to the nearest bin. Thank you.”

What a champ.

IMG_6520
This is how to karaoke in Berlin.

As I left the park after sunset, I heard some really good beats coming from one of the entrances to the park. Being on my own with no plans for the evening, I walked over to satisfy my curiosity. There was a guy with a saxophone, a microphone, and one of those paddle-y things that let you record and play your recording on loop. Strangers went up and performed with him, including the artist to a famous song called “fuck you stupid ex-boyfriend”.

It was incredible and I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end the day. I stayed till he stopped playing and thanked us for being such a great crowd. I danced till my feet hurt, till I was tired. I laughed. And I danced some more. With strangers and their children. At an entrance to a park. At night.

Protest: TTIP protest

What trip would be complete without a protest? To be honest, I slept in that day and by the time I got to the site of the protest, the beer trucks were packing up and so were the other 20 Currywurst trucks. Yup, Berliners know how to stage a protest alright.

I walked past the Brandenburg Gate and found groups of people just gathering and dancing to awesome beats in the park nearby. Police officers were present, eyeing them but not stopping them. I had no idea what I walked into until I asked a couple of friendly looking guys. I learned that they had taken a 10 hour bus ride from the south of Germany just to attend the protest and were going to hop on it again in a couple of hours.

I continued walking to the Victory Column and found the remnants of a stage and bright lights and fancy displays. It looked more like a party if you ask me.

A sign left behind from the protest. "Diversity is made by FREEDOM, NOT TTIP"

Getting around: Get a multi-day pass

Definitely get a weekly pass, or a three day pass. It saves you so much time getting around, Berlin is a huge place. I ended up paying way too much for train fares because I thought I wasn’t going to need a pass. How stupid.

IMG_6510
The Victory Monument lit up in the night. It was the Festival of Lights when I was there, so all the iconic buildings were decorated with fancy lights.

It’s been months since I made my trip to Berlin but it still feels like I was only there yesterday. I remember the Berlin air too vividly. I remember dancing till my feet hurt in Watergate (another club that actually let me in, YAY) as I watched the sun rise. I remember the many friends I made there. I remember the kisses and the smiles and the hugs. But most of all, I remember the music.

Oh my God, I remember the beats that vibrated through my bones.

That, I think, is what I miss most about Berlin.

Berlin, need I say more? (part 1)

Whenever I’m asked to share my favourite place in Europe, “Berlin” I always almost yell out. I can’t help it. It’s just one of those places that has such an amazing vibe and rawness, it’s an interesting place to be in.

This post will be a simple “guide to Berlin, a la Nicole style”, which means there were no plans. I simply wondered around based on recommendations from people I met.

Accommodation : Sunflower Hostel Berlin

I need to state this from the get-go – this hostel made my trip. It has one of the friendliest atmospheres and moremost importantly, cheap beer.

I arrived early in the morning from Copenhagen, on a night bus where I got barely any sleep, and crashed on their couch as soon as I arrived. I slept through the breakfast crowd and was offered some tea when I got up.

I walked into a little celebration on my first or second night there, I can’t really remember. They were celebrating Ozzy’s first month of stay at the Sunflower. This was when I was also offered a tequila shot by the manager who previously lived in Australia. She spoke German fluently, because she’s German; but also spoke in fluent English with an Australian accent. It was the tastiest shot I’ve ever had.

I was given a wedge of lime, dipped in coffee on one side, dipped in sugar on the other. Her instructions were clear: “With the coffee side up, bite into the wedge, hold the juices in your mouth and down the shot. Then, suck on whatever is left of the lime.”

“Yes ma’am”.

Best. Shot. Ever.

Clubs: The mysterious Berghain

Because of the hostel’s location, there was a lot of talk about this club. By 6pm on Friday, you’d see groups of people dressed in black and looking all edgy and cool and hip, heading towards this mysterious warehouse which is supposed to be the home of the coolest club in town. Excuse me, I meant on the planet. Their bouncers might kill me if they saw this.

Speaking of their bouncers, Google Berghain and you will find way too many stories about their legendary bouncers and how they turn people away for no good reason. So, legend has it that the Chief Bouncer has a scar on his face and he’s a giant. He’s dressed in black and has the power to make our break your weekend of partying.

Here’s how it goes:

You line up for ages. You don’t talk because Berliners don’t like noisy clubbers, apparently. You don’t look at your phone. Don’t you dare. You just wait, in silence, in your black outfit.

When you finally stand before the Chief Bouncer, he will size you up in one glance say one of two things: “Ya” or “Nein”.

I was lucky. I wasn’t sized up by the Chief Bouncer, just his second in command. He asked how old I was and my new found friend who told me to “act cool, shut up and let me do the talking” (not in those exact words, but more or less really) replied “trai un twanzig” (okay, it’s really spelled dreiundzwanzig”, no spaces).

He glanced at me again. I wasn’t sure if I should have looked friendly or not. I smiled.

“Nein”.

Dang it. I shouldn’t have smiled.

Tours: Sandeman’s, of course.

I went on two tours. The first was the free walking tour, duh. I had the pleasure of being led around by Lucy, an Australian who visited Berlin ages ago and decided to make it her home. It didn’t take me long to realise why. She was a great story teller and her last story was incredible. No spoilers but it involves students standing up and making a change, you’ll just have to go on one of these tours yourself to find out what it was all about.

The other one I went on was the Third Reich tour, a paid one. By this point, I had learnt so much about the Nazi regime that it only made sense to learn about how everything kicked off at the heart of it all. It was another fantastic tour, albeit a little long. If you decide to go on it, make sure to wear comfy shoes, carry enough water and bring some snacks. You’ll need it.

Both tours were truly eye opening and it brought us to a lot of the famous spots in Berlin. One of which was The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, designed by the architect Peter Eisenman.

It is sites like this one, the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, and the Brandenburg Gate, that make Berlin. It is a place filled with so much history and culture, it makes Berliners too. Every other Berliner you meet will have a story to tell about any one of these places, and it’s worth finding and listening to them.

IMG_6455
One of Berlin’s many forms of architecture.
IMG_6459
Both walking tours began at the Brandenburg Gate.
IMG_6460
The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
IMG_6470
The Memorial, from the other side. The symbolism of it is subject to much debate. One thing is for sure, this memorial will move you.