Belgium

I’ve lost count now of how many times I’ve been to Brussels. I’ve got the entire routine down, memorized, and I almost hate that because the trip is an enormous hassle. But always in the end, despite the extra-lengths of getting to and from Brussels via Spain is without a doubt worth ever second of the annoying journey.

As always I sat on the plane, and then the bus, and then the train, nervously and anxiously and excitedly awaiting my arrival at Chez Peebles. My palms were sweating and despite being exhausted, I couldn’t sleep for a second on the plane due to my unnerving excitement. Continue reading

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Berlin

Berlin was the longest leg of our trip and certainly the most interesting.

We ended up rooming with six wonderful girls from Holland (clearly we were keeping up with a theme here having just come from Amsterdam) and as we quickly got along, we also made friends with the entire hostel staff.  Basically, Angel and I crushed social networking on this leg.

Our first night, we spent it talking to this really sweet German girl inside of one of the coolest and most unique bars I’ve ever seen: It had stadium seating, couches and tables all over the place, a dj, a giant projector that was playing skate videos, and the bar took longer than the line at the bank here in Spain. This girl we met was studying American Studies (basically, she was majoring in our lives, silly) and we ended up going out with her and all the Dutch girls later that week to a club where she had the hook up and we got in for cheap.

The week was spent between Angel and I tearing through all the sites but also it was spent with a division of language: everywhere we went, it was a combination of English and Spanish. I realized the true wonders of bilingualism on this trip because we made friends with people that were divided by language. In one moment, Angel and I would be speaking Spanish and the next we’d change to English. Knowing Spanish like I do now has really opened doors for me, allowing me to make more friendships than I would be able to if I were just monolingual. I had this realization while we were in Berlin and it’s a great feeling (and also one of great accomplishment!)

We made friends with a guy from Peru and another from Argentina. I’m not sure they spoke much English, but we had a good time hanging out with those guys at the hostel bar just chatting in Spanish. But we’d later have to switch back to English; this especially prove a bit difficult when we were with a group of English speakers and Spanish speakers. I never knew which language to speak.

As if living in a bilingual situation wasn’t good enough for Angel and I, we caught a free walking tour from Sandeman’s (this was now my 5th or 6th tour with them) in Spanish our first full day in Berlin. We had this wonderful tour guide, Lucha, who came from Madrid. My only complaint (or maybe it was my favorite part) was that she made all of us introduce ourselves, so of course Angel threw me under the bus by saying his name, which is already Spanish and then saying he was from Madrid, and I’m like, “Uhhh, soy gra-jjjjam, como los cereales. y soy de estados unidos.” (Uhhh, I’m grahhhham, like the cereal, and I’m from the United States). I got a few laughs but mostly blank stares (you know the Spanish, they just love to stare at people).  But later, I feel like my awkward attempt to be funny got us good points, because later that week, we caught another tour with Lucha to Potsdam, a neighboring city, also known as the City of Palaces. We ended up being pretty buddy-buddy with her and we both are convinced she went home that night and told her boy friend or her roommates or whoever, “I got those crazy American kids again. What a bunch of goofs!”

On that tour, Angel swore he over heard someone say that we didn’t understand a word of the tour, because him and I kept speaking English amongst ourselves. So naturally, we had to prove ourselves and we started chatting them up in Spanish. Later, one of the girls was asking me how to say something in Spain-Spanish (she was from Mexico) and I said I wasn’t sure and that she should ask a real Spaniard. And she says, “Wait. What? You’re not Spanish?” At this point, I’m high-fiving myself on the inside. Victory is mine, they think I’m Spanish. (Then later after admitting I was American, they made some comment along the lines of, “Oh, yeah, well that makes sense, I just thought that the region of Spain you said you were from had a funny accent.”) *Face palm*

Potsdam on the whole was probably my favorite part of Berlin because it was so beautiful and romantic in a novel sense.  It was complete with rolling green hills and heavy mist that floated down covering up the backdrop with a wonderful grey.  A large river flowed through the middle, connecting the numerous palaces, and even though we only got up close to one, from afar, they were all so wonderful to see.

Back in Berlin, after saying goodbye to our trusty guide, Lucha, we went back to the regular site-seeing.

We visited the Topography of Terror which was an entire recollection of the Nazi growth to power and all of the horrific atrocities they did beginning with them killing off the communist opposition in Germany in the early 1930s to the Final Solution and their plan to exterminate all of the Jews. It was really powerful, and well-worth the historical visit. We saw the Stasi Museum, which was a little disappointing, but I guess I’m not sure what I expected. I was hoping to get into some of the underground stuff that the Stasi had left behind, but instead we got a very informative and thorough tour through the staff building.

On our last day, we finally made it down to see the Berlin Wall which is all covered in illustrious graffiti.

As for the food culture in Berlin, we were impressed. First, their sausages are king. Second, the beer is fantastic! I think Brussels has competition. I loved walking into bars and convenience stores because of the enormous beer selection. In Spain we have two: Mahou, and Mahou Sin. There we had so many it was impossible to pick.

Angel and I went back and forth between the same restaurants because we were so happy with them. We found an excellent burger joint, a pho restaurant (which we were both thrilled about), and a pasta joint. In Berlin, we didn’t go out a whole ton because the area that we were in was limited on bars, but what we did do was always fun, even if it was just drinking down at the hostel bar meeting other travelers, or sipping on some delectable German beer up in our room with our Dutch roommates.

One of the highlights of the trip was getting to see my friend Gretchen from home. I met up with her once with Angel and then another morning when Angel was still asleep.  It was just so great getting to see her, but it’s always different seeing your friends in another country. She’s living in Berlin to study German, amazing!

My overall impression of Berlin isn’t what I expected it to be. I loved the city, there’s no mistaking that, however, I felt like it was just another big city. It reminded of Paris: bits of it were just cold. It was just endless buildings and very few had character. Granted we stayed in the East side of the city, but there wasn’t this amazing sense of character I was hoping to find like we did in Amsterdam and later in Krakow (that’ll be in the next post). However, Berlin is a wonderful place for twentieth century history nerds like me. The walls are still literally coated in its richness, which was by far my favorite part. You could still see bullet holes in some parts.  The historical center of the city is also quite a site. We went to the top of the Reichstag building and got a great view of the Brandenburg Gate as well as other famous churches which all left me speechless.

Also to my surprise was my taking to the German language. I had always thought that it was a rough language, a language that sounded as if the speakers were always scolding rather than actually speaking, but being surrounded by the language, I was actually quite moved by it. It wasn’t as harsh as we all think, it was actually…nice.  I wouldn’t mind learning German now, not at all.

Anyway, Berlin is now far behind, and our next stop of the trip got better than the last.

Write more later,

Graham

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