Saturday, August 30, 2008

Destination: Amsterdam

Like a Panzer Tank rolling through the lowlands of Western Europe, I crossed the border from Germany into The Netherlands. So began the Dutch leg of my conquest of Europa.

Okay, it wasn’t that dramatic. But it was exciting for me. Once again being asked to show my passport upon entry into another European country. It was a relatively short 6 1/2 hour train ride from Berlin to Amsterdam; little did I know the train would drop me off on the outskirts of the city, at Station Zuid instead of Station Centraal. No worries, I’ve become quite proficient at circumnavigating the ins and outs of public transit. Understanding there has to be a train that goes to the central station somewhere, I just take a quick look at a public transit map
. Ah, there we go, train 54 – Centraal — that’s the one I need. Not wanting to shell out the 3 Euros it would have cost to take a ride, I thought, “What are the odds I’ll get busted by a transit cop anyway?” So, like a true blue American, I take advantage of the system, step on the train, and take a free ride to Station Central. Yeehaw, I’m in the center of Amsterdam, y'all!

From there, I fight my way through the crowd, panhandlers and bicycles to a waiting taxi. “Hostel Sphinx please.”

So there you have it, my first few minutes in Amsterdam.

The first things I noticed were the bike, lots and lots of bikes. The bikes were everywher
e; you have to keep your head on a swivel. Those of you who have been to Amsterdam know what I mean. Next I noticed how friendly and open the people were. People say hello to you on the street, and ask you if you need help… all in English.

Of course over the next couple of days I do the obligatory hash bar visit. I make the rounds of the museums. By the way, The Van Gough Museum is a must for anyone who visits Amsterdam — it’s amazing. Then at night, there is the obvious visit to the Red-light District of Amsterdam. I must say, I wasn’t all that impressed with it. It’s a bit like the North Dixie Strip on steroids — only with more tourists taking pictures. But I’m in Amsterdam; I have to go, right?

All in all, I had a great time, and I would recommend everyone visit The Netherlands at some point in your life.

Till next time…

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Breaking News: Fascism Is Alive And Well In Germany

Well, maybe not that well…

One would have thought that, given Germany’s history with
fascist policies, that Germans would have moved beyond Nazi-ism. Not in today’s Germany, where fascism is alive and kicking. How do I know this you may wonder? Well, I witnessed my first, true, German Nazi rally. Yes, the country that gave rise to Adolf Hitler, is still grappling with his influence.

I must say, at times it was a little intense, given the nature of heavy-handed riot police (Yes, that’s right, police in full riot gear.) In many ways the police were just as intolerant as the Nazis they were supposedly protecting. What’s even scarier than witnessing this event, is being cornered by these same police — I expect in an effort to keep the two sid
es apart.

Stay tuned for more on this later, once I’ve processed my thoughts.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Auf Wiedersehen, Berlin

Well, like a being in a relationship with a crazy person (One thing I know quite a bit about.), the relationship hasn’t lasted long — and has gotten stale very quickly. Such is my two week long love affair with Berlin, Germany. Now I could sit here and wax nostalgic about the history and the ethnic diversity, but I won’t. Let’s just say that Germany and I agree to disagree. Just like a compressed romance, we’ve had our ups and downs. I’ve met some really cool and interesting people. I’ve also come across the kind of people I hope to never encounter again. Ironically, most of the more interesting and likeable people were ex-patriots from across North America and Europe.

But I will see Berlin again. Heck, I’m renting space here, so I will be back. On Sunday I leave for the next leg of my jaunt across Europe, Amsterdam. I’m looking forward to that as well. So Sunday, 8:40 a.m. (That’s 2:40 a.m. for most of you) send out positive thoughts and vibes, as I make my way to yet another historic European city.

I leave you, for now, with a few images of the city.


Until next time, Berlin.

Friday, August 15, 2008

In Berlin, No One Starves

My friend Michael and I were walking back to his apartment yesterday evening. He says to me excitedly, “Hey, free bread.” Being a bit confused, I asked him what he was talking about. He pointed to a bakery we had just walked past, and said, “It’s free bread.”
He went on to explain that very often when bakeries don’t or can’t sell the days bread they’ll but it out at closing time for people to take home. No, not in the dumpster in the ally, or a 50 gallon garbage bin — they put it in front so people can see and take it home.

We grabbed a few loaves for ourselves and kept walking. There was no shame in it. No one gave us dirty looks, or looked down their noses at us — everything was cool. Michael went on to say to me, "In Berlin, no one starves."

What a concept, the people taking care of the people, businesses taking care of the people — the government taking care of its people. It’s embarrassing to admit, as an American, it feels like a foreign concept.

The bread was pretty good too, it came from a Turkish bakery. Now, how cool is that?

Berlin: Poor But Sexy

So yesterday was also a pretty good day. Saw a lot more of the city, learned a lot more about the city. Met quite a few people from all over Europe. It seems Berlin is an ex-patriot haven for some reason. I haven’t figured that out just yet, I’ll get back to you on that one.

One thing I’m beginning to realize, while it it is an incredibly beautiful city, Berlin is poor — very poor. Not necessarily the people, but the city itself is broke. Everything is broken, and things are constantly under construction — that kind of poor. In fact, the phrase Berliners say to me when I bring this up is, “Berlin: Poor but Sexy.” That just about sums it all up.

But within that framework the average Berliner still manages to have a good time and enjoy life (therein lies the sexiness). I had the pleasure of experiencing a typical Berliner’s day, culminated with a trip to a bar called Mano (I have no idea what Mano means.). We saw this woman named Sussana Berivan perform, she’s very good. And of course there were COCKTAILS!
I’ve posted a brief video of part of her performance.


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

"Ich bin ein Berliner"

Good news, everyone, yours truly just got himself an apartment. I plan on using this as a home base, while I travel throughout Europe. Yes, it's small and inexpensive, just what I'm looking for. Also it's in East Berlin (Spooky, huh? All those old Soviet, Cold War ghost milling around.) I move in Monday, although moving in is as simple as picking up my backpack and getting on the nearest train. What now, you may ask, COCKTAILS, of course. Yes, today is a good day.

Till next time, Bill

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Push East: The Race To Berlin

Well after a brief, but weird layover in London; we board a British Airways flight to Frankfurt. My anticipation for what lays before me begins to build, naturally. We land in Frankfurt at approximately 11-11:30 a.m., local time. Now, my goal is to go immediately from the airport terminal to the train terminal. Not so fast Yankee! Of course you have to have your passport stamped (And yes, it got stamped).

Being unfamiliar with the train system in Europe, and apparently having an outdated train schedule (Thanks Eurail!), I hadn’t a clue as to what was going on. Needless to say it took a long time to get to Berlin — about 13 hrs. I was told it should have taken about 3. On the bright side, I got to see lots of the German countryside — what I saw l
ooks like the Ohio countryside.

I arrive in Berlin, operating on about 4 hours rest in the last 24 hours; I had adrenaline on my side, thankfully. This will come in handy for those of you planning a trip to Germany in the future, THE TRAIN SCHEDULES IN GERMANY ARE WRITTEN IN GERMAN. Of course, I don’t speak German — another hurdle to deal with. That night I saw the largest number of umlauts on one sheet of paper, this side of Scandinavia.

So I’m in Berlin, “Why don’t I just call Michael, it’s not that late; 1-1:30 a.m. Of course he’d give me directions.” But before I do that, COCKTAILS!

I finally call my friend Mike, here’s how that goes:

Mike: The U-Bahn, you want to get on the U-Bahn. U8. Don’t take the S-Bahn. (Editor’s note: The following dialog is paraphrased) Blah blah bla, “German word”, blah. Then you want to “German word” blah. Get off at “German blah”, then, take blah and blah to “German word” blah . And you’re, just a few blocks from our home.
Me: What?! What the fuck is a U-Bahn?
Mike: Okay, you have the address, you could also get a taxi.
Me: Cool.

So that’s what I did, I took a taxi to Mike’s house. Berlin, at night, and by taxi at 1:30 a.m. is not that impressive. But I arrived safe and sound, not a scratch; but a little stressed.

At that point, in true Gem City style, we go out for cocktails. Nice little place called The Syndicat
e; I think it’s going to be my C-Bar. In Germany, 2 in the morning, is nowhere near last call. In fact it’s several hours away from last call.

End of day one in Germany, it was worth every minute.