The Fateful Return

Trip Start Nov 29, 2005
Trip End Nov 21, 2006

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Flag of Germany  ,
Friday, October 6, 2006

Every now and then a little dumb luck puts you in the right place at the right time. The day I had set aside to explore Bangkok happening to be the one day out of the year that sacred temples around the city  would be open counts as a perfect example. My return to Berlin would be the other. How I got there in the first place was so totally unpredictable and unplanned that it would be a logical conclusion that fate was beckoning me back (or something like that). When I woke up Monday morning in Denmark I had no clue where I was going to go that day. The initial plan -- initial being a few weeks previous -- was to make Copenhagen just the beginning of a massive Scandinavian tour. But by the time I had to commit to flights to Ireland and other nuisances like that none of my Norwegian or Swedish friends had responded to my emails and there was no way I'd be able to survive those countries with a bank account in the black if I didn't have free accommodation. I would've even considered a few days in Stockholm in a hostel, but that would've required a ludicrously expensive flight and paying nearly the airfare twice over just to get to and from airports. So Stockholm and the whole of Norway was out. There was the possibility of dipping my toes in Sweden by going across the bridge to Malmo, but since my friends there didn't get my emails in time and the city was devoid of youth hostels, that was out as well. Once all those options had flopped I still had to figure out what I'd do with my two open days before needing to get to Frankfurt for a flight to Dublin. I could've spent those days remaining in Skaevinge but since my only two reasons for staying -- my friend Morten, and Martina, the Swedish girl from the party -- were both going to be tied down with work the only thing staying in Denmark would've accomplished would be giving me a case of acute boredom.

So as I boarded the commuter train to Copenhagen Central, I still had no idea where I'd be sleeping that night. My first train was destined for Hamburg, which would've been a suitable stop, but apparently every hostel in the city was booked out. On a Monday. In October. It appeared that Hamburg was the new Brussels. It also appeared that Hamburg was out of the running. At that point, then, Cologne was the frontrunner. I hadn't seen the city aside from a two-hour stopoff at the train station which allowed me to see little more than the cathedral and the inside of a Chinese restaurant. The city also reportedly had good nightlife, so I wouldn't be bored. So, Cologne it was. All up until the time my train was on a ferry crossing into Germany, when I had a brilliant, out-of-nowhere brainstorm. What about Berlin, I said to myself. I already knew it and liked it, so finding a good time wouldn't be an issue. Plus it was my favorite spot in all of Europe, and why not? It's jam-packed with history from all eras, it has beautiful buildings -- some even that pre-date WW II --, world-class museums, is dirt cheap especially by Western European standards, has an eclectic array of restaurants, is surprisingly walkable for such a sprawling place, offers good beer, great food and a fantastic nightlife (not to mention the continent's best pub crawl -- 10 euros for all you can drink, and more than you should). Plus the city has turned its traffic light guys into a major tourist industry and huge source of pride. How could you top that? I was legitimately torn, so I did the only fair thing -- flip for it. I go to the winner, no replays, no screw it I'm going the other way anyway tantrums. Best of seven, winner take all. And with little drama (and there's no point in spinning it otherwise, you already know who won), I was heading to Berlin after only six tosses.

I pulled into Berlin at roughly dinner time and hopped in the U toward the hostel I wanted to stay in (the advantage of already knowing the lay of the land). It was weird, as my train was rumbling through, I had the same glad-to-be-back excitement I had as my plane touched down in Sydney in December. Considering I had lived in Sydney for five months and had been gone for two and a half years, while it was not even three months removed from my three-day stint in Berlin, well, that should tell you how much I enjoyed my initial visit.

I wasn't sure where that first night would take me, I was just hoping that there'd be at least a few people around the hostel so the night wouldn't have to be spent sitting in my room twiddling my thumbs. I walked into the hostel bar and immediately a Canadian guy sitting over a beer asked if I had gotten my t-shirt in Asia. As a matter of fact, I had. And that's how I came to hang out with Chad and Clayton for the evening. And that's sometimes how easy it is to make new friends. Chad and Clayton were Canadians who'd been away from home for nearly two years -- a period of time they had spent traveling Europe and working in the UK. We immediately clicked. They were just the sort of guys that whenever they told one story it sparked one in me, and back and forth for a few hours and several beers.

We hatched a plan to go to one local bar, and if nothing was doing there, try to latch on to one of the passing pub crawls. The latter was what happened. Chad even had the brilliant idea to take a pen and draw a scribble on our wrists so it would look like the stamp that the crawlers had received to get free admission into a club at the end of the night. Pure genius. You have Da Vinci, Einstein...and Chad. While we were trailing the group, one of it's members, a girl with one of the most brutal New England accents you'll ever hear approached us for a light and we were officially in. Again, too easy. Through her I even made a friend I might see back in the States. Consider night one a success.

But the next day, October 3, was the main event. Chad and Clayton had alerted me earlier in the evening that the following day was some sort of public holiday in Germany. Not only was it some public holiday, it was the public holiday in Germany and Berlin was the place to be. October 3 I learned, was the anniversary of the reunification of Germany, and therefore Berlin as well. The day had a special feel to it, one that July 4, for example, can no longer possibly hope to offer. Americans celebrate July 4 and all it symbolizes, but there's nobody around who remembers what it was like living under a king or suffering under taxation without representation. But most every German has at least some memory -- if not most of a lifetime -- of what it was like living in a divided country.

To celebrate, Berliners throw a massive street party right outside of Brandenburg Gate, complete with live music, sausage stands everywhere and even more beer stalls. What would a German celebration be without beer? And isn't that another vast difference from America? Young, old, everything in between were coming together to celebrate freedom over a cold pint -- everyone having good, clean fun, so what's the big deal? For all that Americans go on and on about how wonderful freedom is and how free we are, we're one of the most prudish, inhibited, self-censoring countries in the Western World. Australian, English, Irish culture is almost defined (better or worse) by alcohol. Walk by any newsstand in Europe and there'll be ample magazines where you can spy liberated boobies. Turn on the television and there's nothing censoring naked bits or naughty naughty words. While we were flipping out over a quarter second of naked nipple during the Super Bowl a couple years ago, your average European would've been wondering why there wasn't a replay. And don't even get me started on the whole 21 drinking age thing.

And tonight's musical act...Electric Light Band. Remember Electric Light Orchestra? Sure ya do. Well, the Orchestra has been disbanded, and they're back as a geriatric, less cumbersome, 'band.' With ELB good things were guaranteed to happen, so I grabbed myself a pint and filtered into the crowd. At one point during the show ELB was singing 'Evil Woman' (you know, ee-EEEE-vil womannnn) and the thought occurred to me that during the 60s or 70s, whenever ELO was relevant (if such a time existed) they'd be standing before a sold-out audience barely able to hear themselves because the crowd would be drowning them out with the lyrics. Now they're standing in front of a couple hundred ambivalent, hands-in-their-pockets Germans. Halfway through the performance a friend I had met in Ljubljana walked past so now I had someone to share obnoxious comments with as well as someone who was going to push the pace of the day/night from casual sipping to a higher level of earnestness. After about an hour he had to leave to catch a train and I was back to my own devices. And then shortly after he left, it happened. One of those rare moments that validates a random obnoxious observation, that's so surreal that it couldn't be plotted better if it was in a Hollywood movie. One of those moments that work out just so ridiculously perfect and perfectly ridiculous that it gives you a warm and fuzzy feeling in your stomach (and without going into personal details, this was a day where I sorely needed one of those moments).

For their grand finale, ELB was playing 'Don't Bring me Down' (Brrrrrrruce) and it was getting down to the end where the drums break it down a bit and they repeat the chorus, 'I'll tell you once more before I get off the floor: don't bring me down' over and over again, when the lead singer announces, 'All right, it's your turn.' The drums continue, he points the mic to the crowd and...cue the crickets. So he tries it again and still nothing. Already by this point I'm practically wetting myself with laughter -- and it didn't even have anything to do with the growing amount of pints and distinct lack of public toilets. And one more time, either out of pure masochism or thinking the third time would be the charm, he tries again. And of course, there's still nothing. So he takes up the mic ans says without the slightest hint of irony, 'I know what the problem is. You don't know the words!' Well, i just lost it at that point. It was the perfect groundwork for a night out, courtesy of that 10 euro pub crawl. And I won't go into much detail of that, partly because this isn't necessarily the appropriate venue, and partly because some of those details are hazy even to myself.
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