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Day Eight - Zielona Gora to Berlin

sunny 29 °C
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Day Eight – Zielona Gora to Berlin.

I awaken early, confused by my surroundings. It’s something about travelling and hotel rooms all being the same, and due to their repetition, they can teleport you to different cities magically. I check Google Maps and load up my destination, Belin, Germany. Two an half hours drive to my Airbnb, though I’m not sure how it’s calculated if it’s based on the sometimes-posted open road speed limit of 120kph when most traffic is doing more than this. The music is pumping in the KIA Sportage nightclub, and I’m replaying the words of a blonde woman with no name I spoke to in a Zielona Gora bar last night. She was prophetic and wise beyond her thirty-something years and spoke eloquently with a proper English accent. One she’d had mastered living in London the past six years. Maybe she drops life quotes on unsuspecting visitors as a hobby? We had a real connection, not to each other, but about my real purpose for being here.

There’s no road border between Germany border, so the language suddenly changes. I blow past a sign to "Ausfhart", which makes me giggle like a nine-year-old saying Uranus in school for the first time. Another exit to Ausfhart, in what I considered a north and south configuration. Then another sign to Ausfhart. Logic prevails that this word doesn’t mean it’s a place but rather an instruction, which ironically, I discover later is “exit.” I’m approaching Berlin for the first time in my life, and I always imagined I would enter this famous city driving on the autobahn and listening to Kraftwerk’s masterpiece of electronica, “Man Machine.” I’m singing, “She’s a model and looking good.”

Travel tip, when travelling to a country with a foreign language to your own, makes sure to learn a few helpful phrases and can understand essential words. My comprehension of German is based on a diet of war movies I used to watch with my Dad. Achtung Baby!

I’m staying in a street (Strasser) called Swinemunder. It’s fun to say out loud as I realise I’m in some Nazi parking zone where it’s all pay machines by the hour. I had discussed this problem of not having off-street parking with my Airbnb host, Katharina, whom I’m about to meet shortly. I button push my way through options on an automated parking ticket machine that’s all in German. It’s happy to take my money but not offer a ticket. I surrender to the situation and contact my host to let them know I have arrived. Like most apartment buildings in Berlin, they are made to a certain height exactly, so they don’t require the additional expense of installing a lift or elevator. A woman’s voice calls my name from her balcony, and the door is buzzed open, and I’m in.

Katharina is a beautiful young student of all things physical, dressed comfortably in exercise gear, showing off impressive skin art and has an energy that she’s very comfortable in her solo position and skin. She makes me feel welcome and points out the location of things I need. It's a very chic two-bedroom apartment with wooden flooring. A modern kitchen open plan with L shaped sofa and a shared bathroom. She explains our closed-door policy based on no lockable internal doors. It immediately establishes a position of trust, respect, and roles of host and guest between us. Her place is spotlessly clean and organised. A rack of Dr Marten-esque boots and a couple of striking leather coats, including a Matrix-styled long trench coat, are hung in the entranceway. “I’m not a girlie girl,” she explains in her English German accent with a smile. It’s not chopped, but a flow of words that’s easy to understand. I make several trips back and forth to the KIA downstairs in 28 C+ degree heat and wish I was fit as Katharina looked, and going on 27, not 60! It’s the best place I have stayed thus far, and I smile that I’ve booked five nights here. It’s going to be an excellent base to explore from.

Mornings when sitting in the kitchen writing this blog, Katharina would greet me and chat away whilst preparing a cocktail of protein and pre-workout drinks and disappear off to the local gym for a few hours. Seeing young people free and living with real purpose and determination is remarkable. She spoke of Berlin’s lifestyle and noteworthy attractions, but for me being in the city for the first time, wandering out the front door and into the streets was breathtakingly different and enough. And out I went, letting Google show me the way to restaurants and attractions. I devoured a bowl of Vietnamese Pho in the street, and people watched for an hour or two. It’s an incredible place; I would liken it to a grown-up version of Melbourne. In saying this, and it is a case of you want what you can’t have, most of the Germans I spoke to adored Melbourne and wanted to return there. I said I’d swap your 8 C degrees for 28 C any day of the week.

I decided to find a bar early in the evening, though one thing about Berlin is that the place comes alive after 10 pm. Yip, past my bedtime, kids. A “Speiches Rock and Blues Kneipe” music bar opened at 5.00 pm touting live blues music. The tiny place had beer-dampened sticky carpet and was cave dark inside, with one of those dark stained wooden bars, with the glasses hanging upside in rows above it, thinks pubs in England, filling one end of it, the other end a foot-high performance stage. There were empty tables to sit at but no more than eight in between. Outside, a young barman assembled more tables with bench seats, a standard European configuration. He returned inside, served me a small glass of Riesling, and spoke some English with a face planning what he had to do next as I thanked him with Dunker, holding back the shern.

A well-dressed black man with a waxed Magnum PI soup strainer (moustache kids) arrived on a Lime electric scooter. His suit was burgundy with a peach handkerchief folded in the pocket. He was overdressed for this bar and the weather and didn’t return my smile. He dabbed at his glistening forehead with the scarf and talked past me to two other dishevelled men who appeared to have been drinking there from the night before, complaining about something in German. Their energy was off for the beginning of an evening out, and we were three hours from sundown. Not a good start, except I felt their characters were worth further study for fictional writing purposes.

Contextual situations in another language are easy to interpret, as a mature woman asked me in German if the seat next to me was taken. I replied that it wasn’t in English, and misunderstanding or perhaps distrusting my origin, she decided to sit elsewhere. A stranger's smile seems like pointing a handgun at the locals. At this point, I want to share that it’s not that German people are unhappy or have an attitude. This probably sounds like a deluded assessment of the in situ, but it’s a cultural difference that I learned about when the place started to fill up and the seats ran out. I was joined by a man wearing a stylish Fedora of similar age to me, who realised it was me who didn’t fit in this scene. The black man worked there and spoke directly to me for the first time. I didn’t understand his question, so I replied that I didn’t in English. The man sitting beside me with the hat said in good English, “He’s asking you, what’s your name?” It broke the ice, and I laughed and relaxed a little. “I don’t know a lot of things,” I replied. He introduced himself as Peter, but I deeply suspect he’d spell it with an “i.” In our first few minutes of conversation, I sensed he was the reason I had come to the bar, as everything he said was fascinating and not in an arrogant way. He wanted to be my guide and babel fish (interpreter) to the scene, growing darker in the dwindling sunlight but brighter in mood and conversation.

“So what’s going on with the not smiling,” I asked. Pieter smiled. “It’s a German thing; he continued, maybe European to some extent.” People smile and acknowledge one another generally in Australia and New Zealand. I don’t think scowling at people in a bar would be appreciated, whereas it felt like a grimacing contest here in Berlin. “If you are a stranger, we don’t invite further interactions.” That statement felt like a company motto of a German engineering company. European historical events were bespoken of reasons not to talk to strangers that English people would term the enemy. “You have entered a large city that behaves like a village,” Pieter continued,” so the population was raised through many generations and casualties of distrust. Saying the wrong thing back not so long ago could get you killed.

I can’t share all our conversations here, but I felt I should highlight Pieter's story about Australia. He’s a highly qualified EVERYTHING engineer who is paid to solve Hoover Dam-sized problems. Armed with a few English words, he set off to stay with friends in Australia for a working holiday. Because of the language barrier, he wasn’t expecting to land a job re-engineering the Sydney Harbour Bridge, but also wasn’t prepared to find employment flipping burgers in a sweltering hot caravan.

“What do you call this type of hell?” he asks.
“In New Zealand, there’s a famous pie cart, The White Lady,” I replied.
He laughed, “I like this; I must update my resume,” he admonished. “I’m working out the back, which there is none in a caravan, with no English. My grandmother taught me how to cook. Not everything, but how to fry onions and grill cheese. The cheese in Australia was the wrong type, so I bought proper European cheese for the White Lady. With cheese and onions, I re-engineered their burger business by cooking these two ingredients properly, and I upped the patronage tenfold.”

It was a cooking story without a punchline. He continues, “The very first English conversation I had with an Aussie customer was like this.”
“Gidday Burger, please, mate?” (Customer)
“Ah yeah, mate, that’d be good”.
“Gotta have cheese.”
“Onions and Cheese?”
“Yes mate.”
“Okay. Cheese and Onions. Mate.”
Pieter finishes making the burger, wraps it up, puts in a paper bag and hands it to the man waiting. Man opens a burger, stands at the counter and takes a bite.
“The f**king onions mate!”
“F**king onions mate.”
“Oh and the f**king cheese mate!”
“F**king cheese.”
“You’re a bloody legend!”
“F**king cheese and onions.”
“Best f**king cheese and onions.”
The following customer arrives. Pieter says he is now developing his English vocabulary by interacting with customers one word at a time.
“Burger, please mate?”
“F**king Cheese and Onions?”
“Yes, mate.”
“You’re a f**king legend.”

It reinforces that you will find a hilarious way to communicate no matter where you start in conversational English or German. Pieter and I laughed and laughed and enjoyed each other’s company. A nine-piece music band that assembled earlier and is playing 1940s American Jazz (not blues) during our conversation transported me to a different time. Like Berlin, with its many cultures and cosmopolitan vibe, this cross section of people is represented across the bar. Vagabonds, tattooed bikies, to young suntanned negroni swilling woke folk, all with supermodels for girlfriends. It's a hedonistic scene that in a strange sense feels like an all-in-one thing. The crowd, the music, the setting all begin to make sense.

Pieter and I are joined at the table by Rupert (not his real name) and his beautiful mixed race girlfriend. He explains to then women what a babelfish is, showing of his knowledge of my reference to the item from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, whereby everyone in any language can understand one another. Pieter is struggling with the increased rate of English, and the complexity and level of conversation, whilst Rupert demonstrates further wisdom and knowledge well beyond his years. I immediately love the conversation between us, as Pieter comments that he now completely lost in all the fast big English words between us. His steins of beer are accompanied with tequila shots with lemon and cinnamon, and he starts to slur a little in frustration at not being able to join the new conversation. I'm translating faster English into slower English. As two engineers we know this process is futile. Pieter stands up and decides it's time to go. We plan to meet at the same place at 18:00 (no one says 6 pm), which I feel he’ll promptly forget. In a Monty Python-styled skit, he yells to everyone seated outside, “I make the best f**king cheese and onions in Australia!” and leaves the bar, swaying down the Strasser (strafe).

End of Day Eight.

Posted by Andy_in_Europe 07:29 Archived in Germany

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