A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Andy_in_Europe

Days Fourteen to Sixteen - Wasps and Fairytales

Zaniemyśl to Prague

sunny 26 °C

As you can probably tell from my last post, the fairy tale had ended. I apologise if I offended anyone with the brutal honesty of my account of what happened. Being hurt and angry about being lured under false pretences combined with travel plans' expense and constant changing. In the face of what happened, up until that point, I have been having the most excellent adventure. It did take me a day or two to reorder my thinking and feelings, so at the very least, I could continue my journey with the same wanderlust and enthusiasm I began it with - hence, for the break in my writing.

The drive to Prague (or Praha as it’s called correctly) was one of the best. The way that I was directed led me through the mountains and the winding forest roads, and every so often, a break in the foliage would allow me to see church spires and castles across the landscape. I reached my hotel in the late afternoon, and it’s here. I want to share another travel tip. It seems widespread sense that you must read the fine print of anything contractual, especially when checking in to a place. Unbelievably, “Booking.com” has this check-in feature whereby you can provide the time to reach your destination. Simple enough. It has a 24-hour clock, and you say when you will arrive at your hotel. Now the but. You need to check what time the hotel you are staying at is open for check-ins. Incredibly, some of the places close their Hotel reception at 5 pm! The last thing you need as a weary traveller navigating on the wrong side of the road in a different city is not to be able to get access to where you’re staying. Websites like booking.com are great for keeping track of all your reservations and correspondence in one place; however, it’s not the hotel or accommodation directly, nor do they take responsibility for what Booking.com or the hotel itself state as being the rules here. Yes, you can check in (or put your check-in time at midnight) on Booking.com, but the hotel is not obliged to meet you at this time. Most of them will message you and give you instructions, but some just close, like the corner shop, and you will get a friendly voice message saying to call them in the morning. Yip, great!

The room I had in Prague was cheap, but it served the purpose of a single traveller like myself. I was a ten-minute walk from the main square, which, if you have been following me on Facebook, you will have seen the horses towing a white carriage, incredible buildings, art, architecture, and an honest feeling you have been transported to another time. The language has changed again. After getting used to listening to a lot of Polish and German, I am confronted with another language that I honestly think I’m hearing for the first time. It’s Czech and Slavic based (like Polish), so similar sounding, but the few phrases I know have all changed. A rule of thumb I worked out was that there seem to be many younger people who speak English well, but as soon as you find older people, it’s "nie" - which sounds like nyah, no and good luck.

So, the first traditional meal I decided to have in Praha is Korean. I was missing Asian, and I heard some of you groan. Rice noodles, pork bones, and kimchi soup were as good as I’d eaten in Melbourne. I had intended to eat something local, but most of the places and menus I found were also not in English. I did find a tiny wine bar with a couple of chest-high round tables outside to smoke and drink at. It also had no English, but I considered I could navigate a tiny bar like this with hand signals. I noted its location and returned to my hotel to shower and have a siesta. Something I had decided was essential to be able to walk most of the day and then still have the energy later to go out exploring at night.

On returning to said wine bar later, it was a surreal and fun experience. They had casks on the wall with a serve-yourself arrangement. A mature woman who ran the place came and started talking to me fluently in Czech. I didn’t have to say much to understand we couldn’t communicate normally. I saw another person's wine that looked the right colour, and at least the owner knew the difference between sweet and dry. She poured me a glass and offered me a chair, facing inward with no table in this small space. She was neither friendly nor unfriendly to start with. No one smiled. A few other people came in, got wine, and went outside to smoke – something that so many people do in Europe. There was no music playing.

I was sitting silently on a wooden chair, studying the words written on the ends of these casks. I like these moments. The feeling of needing to be entertained is something we call atmosphere. Whether it be a jukebox, a guitarist in the corner, or big screen TVs with commentators yelling or punters yelling at horses or dogs going around a track – this place had nothing going on. Nada. A wine and some barrels and locals drinking and chatting. The owner next brought me a plate with a selection of cold meats. Think salami, but this platter's selection of cured meats was impeccable. She placed it on the bookshelf behind me and pointed at the plate for me to help myself.

A few more people arrived, and I felt it was time to go outside on the street. A tall man introduced himself to me on the road. He’d been watching me drinking and watching. He said his name was something like Evanovich, but it ended more with a sound I can’t replicate. For my story, we will call him Evan. His English was good, and he’d travelled to Australia and New Zealand, so he could relate to the culture shock I was going through. He was very proud that he was the tallest person and the most gay. He introduced me to a blonde woman named Petra. She had a face that was rounded in the cheeks, and she liked to laugh a lot. Her English was understandable, as she made more effort to discuss more complex subjects. And this is the only issue with different levels of understanding. I love cerebral discourse, and from this woman’s education, she did too, but the frustration that became a fascination was how to have a non-weather and how your trip conversation when you don’t share the language. This is where Evan was more than happy to jump in, except I never imagined he was this huge prankster. So I’m conversing with Petra that he’s almost translating on the fly, and we are having these moments of laughter. Petra is becoming more friendly with the wine and conversation, and Evan is animated and laughing. Evan went to the bathroom, and it was then that Petra and I realised that Evan hadn’t been translating our conversation correctly. I'd never said she had nice breasts, lips or anything. He’d been making up a completely different story to both of us. We had been talking to him, and he translated it into a completely different question. When he returned, we played our little trick on him, which was great!

The fascinating part about this little bar I discovered was it was owned and run by the locals. And they could point at which apartment was theirs from the street. I thought Petra was making half of it up to start with, especially at who attended this private bar I had now been accepted into as a member. A radio/TV personality who was incognito and everyone else there who was a professional seemed to be at the highest station of their chosen career. A dean of a University, a teacher who was head of Educational Studies in Praha, a Czech diplomat (aka spy), and the list of accolades of the people continued. A private bar owned and run by these incredible professionals. They decided they might take turns being the bartender but wisely decided to pay a person to manage. It which was the mature woman who served me earlier. Some other tourists showed interest in the bar and were promptly given finger directions down the street. “We don’t need them here,” Petra said, laughing. It was great to be accepted by this group of local people and to listen (albeit mistranslated at times) about their lives.

One of the cool things I gleaned was that the “tourist” town centre they send everyone to isn’t Praha's original centre. Petra said the absolute dead centre of Praha was about there, and she pointed just down the street. The teacher historian piped up and went into detail about it as Evan translated, with me going, Now you’re interpreting correctly this time?

Our small tiddly group dragged me off to a Belgian beer bar, and I’m going. Is this what your typical Monday looks like? They all laughed. No, but they felt they needed to be polite and entertain me. At the beer bar, the waitress did a fascinating thing. She greeted each one of us individually and formally. I thought she was taking the mickey, but apparently, it’s a done thing in these parts. She shook hands and would focus each person in the eye, and they would announce their name, to which she would reply with hers, which I only caught ended in OV. “Mistres-stravanova-check-OV,” it sounded like. She goes around the whole group and finally gets to me. I offered my hand, and she shook it as I said, “Hi, I’m Andy.” She goes, “Hi Andy, I’m Lois.” And everyone laughed.

The next day, I decided to go on a random walk around Praha. It’s a great city to get lost in, and I would arrive at an intersection and use my instincts and a minor divinity to decide on direction. These geo-psychic walks are so much fun, and with a map on your phone, it’s okay to go and get as lost as possible. I ended up most of the day down great streets with excellent dissecting lines and colours, of which I posted one to Instagram and Facebook, as well as other scenes that could easily be lifted from the pages of fairy tales. The medieval nature of this city and its history is impressive. How all these different cultures survived each other and didn’t wipe one another shows the strength and resilience of each one. It also shows tolerance and diplomacy in realising their differences and culture. I thought Berlin would be hard to top, but Prague would give it a run for its money. Red is a colour I noticed a strong synergy and highlights, perhaps lifted from the Czechia flag. No one says all calls it the Czech Republic anymore, which showed how old my geography was of the place.

To be honest three days heere were kind of blurry as I was still processing what had happened. On ward and upward I felt, and I wasn't going to spend a moment longer pondering about it.

End of Day Sixteen.

Posted by Andy_in_Europe 14:19 Archived in Czech Republic Comments (0)

Day Twelve & Thirteen – The Fat Lady sings.

Berlin to Zaniemyśl via Poznan

I awoke with the sun and smiled for the last time at the silver pole dancer pole in the middle of my room. I thanked Katharina, the most wonderful host, for having me, and she said she wanted to know how my day turned out. I had shared the reason for my trip to Europe, and that today I was driving back to Poland to see Urszula. It was surreal hearing it out loud. The downstairs journey to the car with my belongings was much easier than all of those climbs. I remember the sticky note on the doorbell on level three that was in German. Contextually it said the doorbell is Kaput please knock.

I had a three-hour drive to Poznan first, where I wanted to return to where I had worked in 2000 and buy a packet of Marlboro cigarettes from the local sklep where I practised my first Polish. I wanted to watch the Andy Tram go past and fill in some of the scenery my memory had erased. The other location was the old town centre, Stary Rynek, where I remembered the white umbrellas, restaurants, and bars lining the large square, which contained an old church bombed by the Germans in WW2 in 1945 and restored years later. The plan was to meet Urszula after this at 4 p.m. at a location in Zaniemyśl. She had changed every single plan we had made, would she change this one at the last minute as well?

The drive from Germany to Poland is only marked by the language change to the street signs. Before the war, the border I was crossing was all part of Germany, so the architecture and houses wouldn't change for at least another hour of driving. Polish houses in the country are two-story and large, well insulated after living for seven years in a 1920s bungalow in Wellington, New Zealand, it felt criminal that so many Kiwis freeze the proverbial bums off in cold houses that would better suit being built in Fiji. Road conditions were good, and I had the soundtrack on that I’d thought about playing for this moment. The only thing that wasn’t in gear was my brain.

I have found the Kia Sportage an excellent SUV to drive, but unfortunately, not as good as my VW T-Cross I have in Melbourne, and this was mainly because my VW has a mode called active follow. So I can cruise in traffic that is changing speed and not have to ever touch the pedals. The other thing was I have no idea what my car is like to drive at 190kph, but the SUV resembled driving Wal Blagrove’s power boat out on the Manukau Harbour. The road narrows to two-lane country roads, especially when you switch the toll roads off in the GPS navigation settings. I would highly recommend travelling Europe with Google, as its murdering of foreign place names is always funny, and when you have started in a major city. Your destination is another major city, you can only wonder, when you are driving on an unsealed road with chickens running out across it, how this was the “best route” without tolls.

I’d reached this section of longish straights and got behind an eighteen-wheeler truck with a trailer. I turned the dial in Kia to SPORT mode as the engine signalled it was ready to go. With the road ahead clear as far as I could see, I put my foot down on the loud pedal, indicated and pulled out to pass. About halfway along the side of this extended truck, a pair of headlights appeared ahead. I had misjudged the underlation of the road, and I’m generally good at calculating gaps between moving objects. I had to brake like all hell or see if the KIA had anything left in acceleration. I decided the later and realised then that this may be where my Europe trip ends. In a road accident on the day, we were supposed to meet.

The headlights were now flashing me, and it was an approaching Mercedes that my brain couldn’t fathom how it had gained so much real estate between us in only a couple of seconds. He was flying! I guess the Mercedes and the truck braked just enough to allow me what I will call the narrowest of escapes in all of my road-passing history. Did my life flash before my eyes? Did I have any last regrets or something profound to say about a life punctuated with an airbag? A strange thing happened. I remember the universal and international hand signal the German driver held up hard against his windscreen. I remember the truck flashing me from behind as well. Did I feel shocked, scared, or like I had just escaped death? Nothing. I felt calm. At peace. It was as if this moment was a counter to all of the other feelings and emotions I had carried since 2000.

I received a text message from Urszula. I considered it might be to cancel everything now I had arrived in Poznan, and yes, the plan had changed., again. Urszula had attended a funeral in Poznan, and we now found ourselves in the same city. She asked to meet, leave my car in a 15-minute parking space with all my belongings in it and accompany her to pick up her daughter. I declined the offer and said I was okay with the original plan. Why? What’s the problem? What’s wrong with our meeting? I said to myself because you don’t control me. Nor this moment. Urszula was miffed by my actions, just like she was when I went to her hometown, Zielona Gora, without her. "Were you planning on seeing Europe and going to these places of joint significance without me?" After she had cancelled the whole trip in the first place. I’m all good with our plan I reinforced, to which I received a woman’s “fine.”

I couldn’t find where I worked in Dabrowskeigo Street and texted Urszula to send me its location. She text it had all gone and changed. It no longer existed the way I remembered it. The beautiful stone building I lived in on the 3rd floor had been replaced with modern apartments. It was a residential area. No trams. No sklep (shop). No going back to that time in 2000. I had lunch at the Stary Rynek and found a florist so I could buy flowers. They felt unnecessary. We have all waited for this moment, and it keeps getting extended in my writing. You know this feeling. That special moment is tarnished with changing plans and time. Like being told, Christmas will now be held on January the 6th. It’s not got the same feeling or excitement, but rather a double dose of whoopee-friggan do.

I reached the rural location in Zaniemyśl and parked in the short driveway behind the automated gate. Urszula was inside this large two-story house with its guesthouse out the back. Her daughter had decided to stay another night with friends, so it would be just Urszula and I, meeting. She made me wait at the gate like a CEO makes you wait in his reception for fifteen minutes after the booked appointment to let you know who is in charge of this situation. I used the time to relax and breathe. The gates finally opened, and I pulled into a double garage carport behind the house. I got out of my car and heard the house door open.

A woman much larger than the photos I’d been sent shuffled toward the car. Her hair was unkempt and oranged from too much home colouring. I didn’t care what Urszula looked like, as we have all changed in 23 years. The thing was the attitude of this moment. She smiled at me with those crystal blue eyes that had zapped me in 2000. I put my arms around her and thought at that moment that I would burst into tears. I didn’t. It felt awkward. I tried to break the feeling and moment by making a joke. “I told you I’d come back,” I said, referring to our last conversation in Poznan airport in 2000. What stared back at me wasn’t the dream, fantasy, or the moment we had all been waiting for. It was the harsh reality that what I had been deluding myself for all that time was false. This could have been the moment when we lit the fuse. Where we just held each other in the surreal moment. No, it was awful.

I was going to write everything that happened over the next few days. I will paraphrase the next couple of days. I was saddened by how Urszula was in such a funk and state and seemed to be oblivious of the reality of it. No effort, make up, profusely sweating, fragrant like a council bin worker, rather than someone who had prepared like I had for this moment. Everything about me was a problem from the moment I entered the house.

This gorgeous house in the country with modern everything inside was dishevelled. A metaphor for where Urszula was at in life. Excuse the mess and all and come as you are, but to have done absolutely zero in advance. Two dogs and a cat were inside, and remains of their mud skid marks on the white tiled floors. It would have been a schmick house when all dolled up, but this was boarding on squalor. For three weeks, she had lived here with her daughter and had not cleaned a single plate, pot or dish. Everything was piled on the sink and stunk. I was banned from entering the kitchen, so couldn’t unpack the food I’d brought.

Removing your shoes in European houses is custom, so I got reprimanded for having mine on. Are you serious? Remove my shoes and clean the floor with my socks? I was given the choice of the couch or the guesthouse to sleep in. I said the couch would be fine, as I didn’t travel all this way to spend time in a separate dwelling not connected to the main house.

Everything was a problem. And no matter what I said, it was twisted into the negative, and the kindling and paper stacked and ready to light for a stupid fight about nothing. My music was a problem, so please turn that off. My hat was a problem. “Do you always wear your hat inside?” I replied, I do. “What are you trying to do, hide from me?” I thought it would be a nice Segway to have her take it off and mess up my grey hair in something playful. No, this was someone who was struggling with my very presence. Breathe. "You smell funny" she continued. I know I have had women cross an entire Pub to ask me what cologne I was wearing, but now wasn't the time to share what I thought. "I like more earthy tones," to which I thought 'Eau de dung heap perhaps?' I had brought some 0% alcohol drinks that were delicious, and it being late in the afternoon, I opened one to get the response, “Oh, I see you are still an alcoholic.” As Urszula lay upon one of the couches and chain smoked her electronic cigarettes, she also thought it would be good to remind me that I wasn't able to smoke inside, as he daughter was allergic to it. Okay then. For someone who didn’t drink alcohol, she had beers in the fridge, to which it was okay to help myself, as she had been drinking a few of them. There was no way I was getting drunk with the person before me. I felt sad and helpless for her situation. I felt angry at how everything was my problem and fault as she ranted about how oblivious she was to the situation and mess she was sitting in. It had nothing to do with her.
“So is being in the same room as me like you imagined?”
I was hoping she couldn’t read my face at this moment. “It’s not like in the fairytale,” I replied, “but it’s wonderful to be here, seeing you after all this time.”
“What did you want to talk about?”
“What’s for dinner?” I replied sarcastically. “What would you like to talk about?”
Let’s paraphrase the choices for conversation. “I have been playing games on my phone, listening to pop music in the car, texting Adam, a man she is having an affair with in Zielona Gora, Korean Pop dramas and soap operas on TV, and her mounting health issues.”
“How about why you didn’t meet me at the airport like we had planned?”
“Andy, it's perfectly okay to cancel plans when the other person is abusive.”
The next part of the conversation was her unprofessional diagnosis of me being an alcoholic. I said “you’re not qualified to make such a diagnosis, and it’s totally disrespectful towards a guest, who has just arrived here.”
“You’re right she said, I don’t respect men.”
“And what of the mightiest of all loves? Where did this go?”
“Oh well it’s clear to me Andy, you would need to undertake years of mental therapy to be with a woman like me, and know how to treat her properly.”
I let the second disrespectful statement slide, because I agreed I would possibly need years of mental therapy just to get over the moment of meeting her like this. The dream and fantasy ended. Sit with that Andy. I felt like the biggest idiot on the planet. I had placed this woman on an untouchable pedestal for 23 years, and she had affected every single relationship I’d had since. Because I kept leaving the light on, and that precious space beside me, empty, no woman had shared in my love because she was always in the way of this, through my own fantasy and design. Positively in this moment, I realised I loved a great deal. I had carried this love and protected it no matter what, within me. I felt saddened I hadn’t been free to share love like this with another. This moment of freedom needed its own moment. And that was about to come in the form of a visit that Urszula suggested to a castle.

The story of the Kornic castle is fascinating. The most famous resident there was the White lady, and she arrived there in the form of a painting. It was rumoured from this painting she materialised, as a ghost, and became the castles resident. It couldn’t have been more perfect. When we reached this castle I navigated to the painting of the White Lady, after stopping to view a piano that Chopin used to play. I stood before the woman, and said, now you must return to the painting for good, never to return. imagined her retreating in a wispy white cloudy form with the odour of death, returning to the frame, and I felt a huge weight shift in me. I cried and sensed the release, euphoria and freedom of the moment. It was finally over. We were over.This fairytale didn’t have the ending it was supposed to or did it?

That night, I decided I would leave in the morning, without saying goodbye. I would drive to Prague, and leave this whole stupid farcical mess behind. The witch from Dabrowskeigo would no longer hold their spell over me, it had been smashed and buried at the castle. I packed the car and opened the automatic gate and smiled as the narrow country roads turned into highways. I felt free and the weight lifting off me with every deep calm breath. I had one last reminder of her, as I entered a closed and fast section of motorway. I had passed hundreds of signs with deer on them, so I imagined like Australia they would be a danger like kangaroos, at dawn and at dusk. So I was surprised to see a young doe, confused in the centre of the barrier as I approached at speed. I did all the things you’re not supposed to do. I swerved to change lanes, trapping the deer’s exit, as well as I sat on the horn to frighten the animal as much as possible. It turned away from it’s helpless attempts to jump the barrier, and directly towards my vehicle. I braked heavily so that the SUV’s ABS was punching and grabbing the brakes and holding the car in what had become a straight line, I watched as the doe galloped into my lane, a deer trapped by my horn and the daylight. FATHER XMAS! I yelled kids, as I watched this helpless deer hit the front of my vehicle with a loud thump. I must have been doing at least 80kph when I clipped it. I checked the rear view mirror and watched it stumble like it was on ice, and then get up and exit the highway through a tiny gap. There was no place to stop, or check if it was going to be okay.

I pulled into the next stop and checked the vehicle for damage. It was the last thing I needed. It honestly was a miracle that the car was unscathed, and not even a mark where the doe had collided with the car. No broken plastic fittings, or bumper marks. A deer was possibly dying in the forest, but I prayed it would survive this punctuation mark to the mightiest of love stories. The ghost was back in the painting, and the doe was injured and returning to the form of an old witch in the forest. This is how MY fairytale ended.

At 7.30pm at night, after I'd been gone all day, and was well settled at my accomodation in Prague some 5 hours drive away, I received a text from Urszula. It read, "I thought you said you were going to help clean up?"

The clean up would have taken a team of professionals more than a day to return it to the pristine state the house was in when Urszula had arrived there. This wasn't my life, my squalor, my mess. I had been treated with disgust, not a house guest, and definitely the antithesis of what a lover would have brought to that moment. I was supposed to have been spending the rest of my holiday with her and her daughter. I was supposed to be providing them transport back to Zielona Gora that evening. I was supposed to be empathetic and supportive of what had melted before my eyes into an uncaring awful slob of person. So I replied in text:

"Andy, it's perfectly okay to cancel plans when the other person is abusive - Urszula 2023."

For all of those who have said to me, that they told me so, I hear you, and yes you were all 100% correct. It was exactly as you said it would be and worse. I don't wish badly of anyone here. Not Urszula, and her situation she has crafted and owned for at least the past five years. She is seeking a man who is half dead, and will agree with being wrong about everything. Her day of reckoning with her own fairytale ending will come. I just had mine.

End of days Eleven and Twelve.

Posted by Andy_in_Europe 10:30 Archived in Poland Comments (0)

Day Eleven - A brush with fame!

semi-overcast 28 °C
View Andy's Trip to Eastern Europe on Andy_in_Europe's travel map.

Day Eleven – A brush with fame!

Firstly, I apologise to my readers for not keeping up to speed with my travels here. As most of you know, that massive moment was approaching where I would get an audience with the woman I had fallen in love with and stayed in touch with for twenty-three years. The original plan felt like a farce—nine months of talking and planning to take Urszula and her daughter on a holiday around Eastern Europe. We were to keep things simple and work out, after all this time, if we had anything to follow up on, thousands of texts, e-mails, and phone calls between us. Nothing with Urszula is simple.

The trip I booked changed three times. I booked the original holiday for one month, and the more we talked about it, the more Urszula insisted it wouldn’t be long enough together. Could I possibly change it to three? A month's holiday is a different animal than three months, and it meant considerable change for me in Australia to arrange to be gone for this extended period. It was also a very different equation money-wise. It would mean I might have to seek work in Europe, which Urszula encouraged. I considered the time extension a massive step towards me and that she was seriously considering a future together. I know how this felt when I heard these words for the first time. I don’t think my heart could have grown any more significant. I remember crying in this moment, such happy tears!

I changed my tickets about a month out from the trip, and everything seemed to be proceeding when Urszula dropped the bombshell on me. About two weeks before I was to leave, she cancelled the whole trip. “Don’t come,” she said. I said, “I am booked to come and have made bookings for the first part of the trip. Are you not meeting me at the airport, like we planned? “No, Andy, I’m going to look after a friend's animals in another city.”

My world fell apart that day in late July. I had dreamed of meeting this woman at an airport for twenty-three years. It wasn’t just one dream about it, but many. There were hugs, tears, and realisation and a combination of all the years apart finally getting their chapter. Now, the chief editor had put a line through the whole thing. What was I supposed to do? Not go to Poland because I can no longer see the woman I have been in love with. The woman who I thought I was waiting for. The woman who said she loved me.

Urszula was ghosting me moments before getting on the plane to see her. I talked to the influential women in my life, and they all said the same thing. That no matter what, I needed to go to Poland. If anything, to bury the ghost. And if you fly all the way there, and she still doesn’t give you an audience, you have your answer anyway. A woman who truly loves you will not deny you the opportunity to meet, even if it is to say goodbye to them.

Urszula did grant me an audience. It’s tomorrow (17th August). When I landed, she contacted me in Warsaw and wished me a good holiday in Poland. I texted, ‘Where are you,’ and she replied, ‘Zaniemyśl.’ I searched, and it was a two-hour drive from Warsaw. This was the closest I had physically been to her since I left her at Poznan airport in 2000. I was going out of my mind. Was it an invitation that would mean cancelling all the booked plans, or did I ignore what she told me? For someone who had royally mucked me around like she had, I decided to keep travelling and not be tempted by the short drive. I was going on the holiday WE planned together so that she could watch and read about it.

That’s enough foreshadowing for tomorrow’s entry; we are up to the day before I am to travel from Berlin to meet Urszula in Zaniemyśl.

I did consider a few nightclubs to go dancing in in Berlin, though after I had been to DEVO the night before and climbed eighty steps to my Airbnb, the legs and feet were a little tired of the shoes I usually boogie in. Age is a bitch, kids, so get all the physical stuff out of the way before you start eating dinner at 5 pm and going to bed by 7.30 pm. I was at the kitchen table making a coffee and working on my blog and chatted with Katharina about where it was good to go clubbing. I understand that she likes techno music, which, if you’re not up with all kinds of dance music these days, think music, but everything is sped up to exceed 140 beats per minute. The 1980s had this part down-pat, and you went and danced to the music they played on the radio, so pop music. It was loud, and you all knew and sang the lyrics and did all the actions to the most ridiculous (but significant) dancing tunes.

I explained to Katharina I knew a little more than the average punter when it came to dance music, so we discussed a few clubs that would play the dark trance that German clubs pioneered. She pulled a few faces at some of them, and I couldn’t tell if that meant I’d find them weird or that they would think it was strange that I was going to one. She laughed and said, “Oh, you should try “Kit Kat!” I decided to Google it. Okay, kids, it’s time for bed.

I could yell out and say what this nightclub is about, but you may find a review of this place more attractive. Two women, both gorgeous friends, go to the Kit Kat club, and the man at the door says they can’t come in because they are wearing too much. So they dare each other in this club lobby (not on the street) to get much more naked. It wasn’t a creepy place, and this step to gain entry felt like a rite of passage. After both women were suitably undressed, though not wholly naked (which is also an option), they entered this club that was heaving with semi and nude people. The rules and the conduct of this club, in terms of both sexes not inappropriately touching one another, were enforced, but the women claimed it was the safest they have felt in any club in Europe. They had the best time, and whilst they said they wouldn’t make the Kit Kat club their go-to, they said you should definitely go and dance there once!

I couldn’t wait to go there and take my shirt off next to all those young men who spent all day in the gym. I have seen myself naked plenty of times, and it scares the bejesus out of me. Did I not have the insane courage and inhibition to go and rock the Kasbah? Pancakes for breakfast, or pancakes displayed in what might seem a tasteful man’s G-string from the front. Had I flown all this way to attend a modern Roman orgy? Or was the initial brief to “go dancing” a little better defined than going to the same club wearing hardly anything? Some parts of the travel blog will naturally have gaps. I don’t remember going to this club at all.

I walked the streets of Berlin during the day with my head full of what would happen tomorrow when I drove to meet Urszula. I had booked the whole trip until this day, leaving the rest open for something else to materialise magically—the hopeless romantic in me. I have been averaging about 15km of walking daily, so it’s excellent that Berlin is so flat. I stopped at an English Pub (of all things) and found a seat at a table outside. The UK bar manager spoke with a Northerner accent but carried the wrong attitude like someone had forced him to do this job. Not “Can I help you?” but “Whaddya want!” I think he thought he was funny or endearing. Tosser is a word I would use for him. He tried to make fun of me ordering a wine instead of a beer. One is fermented grapes, and one is fermented hops, though I passed on any discourse with said tosser about anything scientific. I did contemplate not staying there, but the seat was in a prime position on the street, and I sensed something would happen if I stayed.

I enjoy seeing or meeting famous people. I’m in Berlin; I don’t think anyone in history wandering past me would cause much interest, except for that moustached guy they don’t talk about. I keep hearing John Cleese, as Basil Faulty, saying, “Don’t mention the war!” The place had filled up outside when a table appeared next to me and four chairs. These three young men sat down, and I said, “Oh yeah, the privileged few?” the nearest one replied, “Not really; we asked for a table outside, so he moved it for us.” And smiled.

It's hard not to be part of the conversation when they sit you this close, and my interest perked up when they said two things. “The bass player was sitting over there, and the manager was buying all the drinks.” So I’m seated with part of the band, and one of significance as who drinks in a pub with their manager? I should have ripped open my shirt and offered a felt pen to inscribe something on my chest, but I know they are tough to read (especially phone numbers) in a nightclub mirror at 3:00 a.m.

I barged into their conversation to find out they were all from Sweden. I haven’t had enough Vodka for them to be ABBA, so I skirt around other subjects with them about their story. They are not forthcoming with who they are but want to discuss the similarities between Swedish people and antipodeans like me. I think I showed their band manager's geographical knowledge when I said I could see Sweden from my visit to the Baltic Sea and Niechorze, to which he agreed. The band's guitarist laughed and said he’s a good manager as long as he doesn’t have to work out where we are going! We both roared about that. A few more drinks, and I managed to pry out of them who they were—the Flavians. You can check them out on YouTube if you’re into Indie rock. I told their lead singer, okay, so if I ever rock up at one of your gigs, I’ll need a backstage pass. I will inform security to get a message to you and say, It’s f*cking Andy from Berlin. They laughed and shook on the deal!

Now, you’d think that was the best part of the night. Nope. For the first time in my life, drinking at any establishment on this planet, I have had. A barman (aka the Tosser) told me I was talking too loud. He said they must consider their neighbours. There is “doof” music thumping two doors down from us and plenty of street and crowd noise, and apparently, my voice is louder than all of that. It was hilarious. I laughed too loudly and could tell the tosser man was about to blow a fuse. So I walked inside to settle my bill, though I did consider I could easily outrun the rotund custodian. “You only had two wines,” he scorned, to which I replied in a calm voice, “I’d rather have had none here.” he replied, “What?” and I said, “You can hear me from when I’m sitting outside, but you can’t hear me when I’m standing in front of you?” He buried his face in the till with my change. “Probably might pay to get something to correctly measure noise if your hearing is the problem. Goodnight and I will never be back.”

End of Day Eleven.

Posted by Andy_in_Europe 18:57 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

Day Ten - Devo!

It's a beautiful world

sunny 28 °C
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Day Ten – DEVO at the Citadel

One of the things I hadn’t planned for was a little ole pop/rock band from Akron, Ohio, USA, popping up when I searched for music events during my stay in Berlin. DEVO or what the band says stands for, DEVOLUTION. It was their (little gulp goes here) 50th Anniversary Tour, with their last ever gig to be played at Spandau Castle. This famous (or infamous – depending on when in history you peek back) citadel was home to some prominent citizens. I was surprised when I asked my Airbnb host, Katharina. She hadn’t heard of DEVO but didn’t know where this renowned castle was. There’s this conflict between Berliners and people from Spandau, who historically have separate claims to the city. So when mentioning Spandau to a Berliner, they tend to stop listening – hahaha. I thought it might be this, but then it was the word castle. When I searched for it, it came up Spandau Citadelle, and Katharina knew these two words.

I thought I was going to a famous Castle at night to see a concert. I wouldn’t be able to make the time to visit the museum as that part would be closed – so I arranged to drive there today and survey the place to work out things like where I could park and the general logistics. It was a forty-minute drive across Berlin in daytime traffic. I parked close to the entrance and began my tour of the place. It was set up in the middle of the castle for the DEVO concert part I would attend later, but the outside rooms and attractions were at least open to explore.

Parts of the castle were being repaired, so a lot of scaffolding broke the suspension of being exactly where Rudolph Hess spent most of his war years. The museum carefully dissected the villains from WW2 from the place I didn’t like. You can arguably say that the Nazis don’t deserve a seat at the history table, but they were part of it. A whole floor was dedicated to Bismark, a lovely person in German history, but not a single reference or photo to Herr Hitler. I guess I’m in the camp where you don’t glorify the guy, but you can’t erase him from history books.

I found a WW2 gun rack of interest that contained the weapons my son Rob, and I used playing Hell Let Loose on XBOX. The Kar98 and The Gerwer97 rifles we have shot and killed so many virtual players with. For the period, these rifles were ahead of their time, and despite my imagining, they were the cause of most deaths and destruction; that prize went head and shoulders to the faceless artillery shells that murdered so many. It’s a frightening thought that this place was filled with SS troops who were commandeered to kill civilians during that time using the very rifles I was examining. Happy with my reconnaissance, I returned to Swinemunder Strasser Airbnb for what had become a regular feature of my day to escape the 33-degree heat and humidity: A siesta.

I went shopping for a new shirt and found a shop called “The Dudes’” which is the name of the first band I saw live in Tauranga’s old memorial hall, so it had the synchronicity I was searching for. I was surprised to find the shop closed when I tried the door but then heard it being unlocked for me. A woman with a punk shock of scissor-cut short blonde hair opened the door and welcomed a spy in from the cold. She quickly closed and locked the door behind us, saying in German that we had the place to ourselves, or I had the shop to myself. “We’re not open yet,” the woman continued, her piercing blue eyes smiling at me. What’s next, handcuffs? She said there was a 30% off everything. It had some very cool shirts that said you bought them in Berlin. I tried a couple on, and with the woman’s sales enthusiasm and encouragement, I left wearing a collared shirt that belonged to a DEVO concert.

Growing up in Tauranga in the 1970s, I was fortunate and grateful to be exposed to alternative music. I was raised on a diet of mainly American West Coast Jazz, think Steely Dan and a peppering of classic super rock bands like Led Zeppelin and Pinky Floyd, but it was at school and my friends who introduced me to punk and alternative music. We would have pleasant arguments about the merit of a jazz guitarist versus someone who abused the instrument for mainly stage effect, refused to tune it, and set all the volume and distortion pots to 10+. The music was angry and had a point or sung about something you weren’t supposed to. I’m pretty sure it was Derek Fendley who introduced me to DEVO, and I remember him often singing DEVO's “Mongoloid” loudly as we dawdled between classes, dragging school bags three times bigger than us.

Devo’s version of the Rolling Stones classic “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” was the track that caught my attention, with its broken beat and lyrics all broken up and crazy guitar rhythm solos. "Are We Not Men", the album, became a staple piece of vinyl in our circle, so walking into the final gig of this band, I remembered where it all started and how this band formed part of the soundtrack to my childhood. Music I was introduced to thought was ridiculous, but over time, it gets in and feels good to be able to yell at things.

Okay, so they don’t have a bag search at concerts here in Berlin. They have a no-bag policy. You must check them into a coat locker for 5 euros for each bag! I wish I had known this, as I would have worn cargo pants with pockets up the Bohai! (lots of pockets, kids.)

Another thing that was different at the security checkpoint was you were allowed liquids (water/beer, etc.) in the venue, but… none of the vessels could be closed. It’s counterintuitive, but they made you take ALL the bottle tops off everything and put them in the bin. So I had a water bottle that was now open and could spill. I pitied those who had more than three beers!

I met a man with a red flowerpot on his head and a DEVO shirt. I asked if I could take my photo with him, and he was chuffed by it. He was German and had last seen them play in 1989. Devo changed their look over the years, but for some reason, the electro-pop years, where the whole band wore these red flowerpots on their heads, were the most successful. I liked their era when they all wore masks that made them look like 50s car salespeople. I worked out how to get to the very front section of the stage as the lights lowered, and this beat started to fill the stadium. Then came the sub-bass, which was uber cool. A video circa the 1980s played in the background of their first band manager, before and after shots of how he thought they would never amount to anything (a bit like Malcolm Mclaren with The Sex Pistols.) During this, the band members in silhouette filled the stage. And we we're off!!!

Germans are funny people at concerts. They don’t move much. It’s like they all had their feet cemented to the spot they were standing in. It was no crush, push and shove, and I don’t think anyone there would have ever seen or heard about crowd surfing. I had to dance and move, and it wasn’t long before I had encouraged several foreigners to join in. Devo played all of their songs I could remember, as I ticked them off individually in my head. At the end of the concert, just before their last live music ever, the lead singer announced they were playing their final gig on a Tuesday because it was precisely 50 years ago, to the day, that they recorded their first single here in Berlin. This was closing that 50 years in a time loop, and I was a part of it. In what seemed an unneeded piece of theatre, the lead singer bounced these super bouncy coloured polyurethane balls during their last song, “It’s a beautiful world,” as they flew into the crowd. I looked up, and one of these balls arced towards me in slow motion. The bright stage lights behind it and its slow arc towards my outreached hand. It slapped my palm as my souvenir disappeared into the crowd. I was gutted. Here all I had to do was catch this last piece of DEVO, and I’d screwed it up! I turned on my torch on my phone and began searching for it, as futile as that seemed. I found the glowing world next to another, just as a woman collected both of them and provided one to her partner. I raised my hand and lowered my head, turning off the torch and rueing what could have been when the woman came over to me. “I have come from Melbourne, Australia, to see their last concert –” but she was already gesturing that this world she held was mine. And when someone gives you the world, you grab it with both hands, hold it up to the light, and thank your lucky stars, “It’s a beautiful world.”

End of Day Ten.

Posted by Andy_in_Europe 16:33 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

Day Nine - Berlin and the Pole Dancer

Second day in Berlin

sunny 29 °C
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Day Nine – Berlin and the Pole Dancer

None of the beds I have slept on in Europe have a top sheet. In summer I like to have a sheet over me. I want to cut holes in my eyes and make ghost noises. This is, after all, a ghost story. I awoke in my very comfortable Swinemunder Strasser Airbnb, a bit dusty. The night with Peter was under my wine limit, but I hadn’t factored in the tequila shots with lemon and cinnamon, which I think I will imbibe this way from now on. They were deadly and delicious.

I sit up in bed; the day is bright and busting through a magic window they seem to have everywhere, but I haven’t seen it in Australia. I will try to explain that the same window has two modes. If you turn the handle one way and pull, the window opens from the top, pulls inward, and makes a beautiful gap for air. If you close the window and turn the handle the other way, it works off the vertical hinges, and the whole window opens. It’s a piece of engineering that makes me smile and puzzled and laugh about something my host has said.

The only access to the 4th-floor balcony is via Katharina’s room. With the internal closed-door policy, this access is politely unavailable, though Katharina said she used to jump out the window to access it. When I opened the window, it pulled inward to make the gap at the top. I laughed. It would be impossible to get out of this gap about the width of an arm at best. I tried to picture Katharina squeezing out of it when I discovered its second mode; of course, I understood the access, and it made me belly laugh.

I sit up and bed, and in the middle of my room, there it is—a shiny floor-to-ceiling pole in the middle of my room. I do a double-take to understand why a pole dancer's platform has been established in my room. Did I miss last night’s entertainment, or is the show this morning? My mind is trying not to put Katharina on the pole in her exercise gear. I examine the rod and its outer sheath, a metal tube that free-spins on the bar. It’s very smooth to roll back and forth.

I need a coffee and a cold shower and try to work out what is happening. I make a long black in my Aeropress when Katharina enters the kitchen. She’s been on a run in the gym and is glowing from the experience.
She smiles at me and says, “A big night, Andy?”
I replied, “How –” before she continued,
“I got back in late myself, with a girlfriend. And your door was open. You were lying on the bed.”
Is this the part where she tells me she and a friend put on a private pole-dancing show in my room, and I don’t remember it?
“You were fast asleep –” she said, being polite about my loud snoring. “So we closed your door. We didn’t wake you, did we? We were quite loud.”
I laughed. “No, the wine and tequila worked. I’ll do a better job of closing it next time.”
I look from the kitchen at the shiny elephant in the next room. “Katharina, was that pole in my room when I arrived yesterday and unpacked?”
“Yes,” she smiles, “and you have only just noticed it?”
“I feel kind of stupid if it has always been there.”
“It’s funny because you’re not the first guest to have missed not seeing it. It’s not in the photos advertising the room because I took them by standing on each side of the pole. It used to be my room. I’m not a pole dancer, Andy. I use it for exercise.” She laughs.

I have heard of where your brain can erase objects in a room. It could come in handy if I could master it. I don’t feel inclined to have a go on it. I can barely support my body weight with the legs Mum & Dad gave me, let alone using my spindly arms and being inverted on a pole that spins.
I like Katharina a lot. Her demeanour and the way she conducted our conversations respectfully, and there were no insinuations or innuendos between us. Everything, no matter the subject, was informational and professional. It established a good rapport between us.

I spent the day walking the streets, doing what I do when I travel, and capturing scenes, people, and things that will remind me of this trip for hopefully years to come. I went to Brandenburg gate, and the street that leads to it is wide enough for a military parade. I imagine German soldiers goose-stepping beside me as I count my steps out loud in German. I can hear one of Hitler’s speeches and try to imagine a different time when a nation was caught up in the most evil of propaganda. The surrounding buildings are magnificent. They don’t make buildings like this in Australia or New Zealand; if we do, they are more minor and less grand. I fall into the history and join a long queue to what I think is the Pergamon Museum, which contains stolen Egyptian mummies and artefacts, as the British Museum does.

It’s 29 C, and there’s no shade. An Italian guy thinks I’ve jumped the queue, so he shirtfronts me with an attitude that’s hard for me not to laugh at. I realise this will only make his biceps bigger, so I pretend I’m invisible. It’s working as I look over my shoulder as if he’s talking to the person behind me. You, he repeats. I’m in Berlin, and an Italian guy wants to keep order. The heat has got to him. I offer him a smile and a drink of water before his girlfriend advises him; I have always been there like the shiny pole in my room. The front of the queue and shade from the National Art Gallery is another ninety minutes in the sun. I have finished my water and hope someone can work out how I died waiting in line from thirst. A rain shower doesn’t seem to scatter anyone, and the Italians have an umbrella the size of Sicily to gather under.

I enter the Art Gallery and quickly ascertain that I’m not in the Pergamon museum, but rather the exhibition of Succession artists and the National Art Gallery next door. It’s no longer a mistake when I see the first busts on the ground floor. Priceless sculptures adorn this large room, with the climax leading to an angel with giant wings, making me think of the word rapture. The next floors and paintings are time-stopping. Why don’t we see painters like this anymore? I take as many photos as possible, and no one is banning photography here. It’s a moving experience. I want to spend more time, but I have spent over half my day walking and seeing this. I remember I arranged to meet Peter at 18:00 at the place we were drinking. Not for more drinks, but instead, it’s the start of a historical tour that Peter wants to take me on—the view from a Berliner. I wonder how he wobbled home if he can remember our date.

I arrive at Spieches, which cleverly means “Spoke” in German. Not the talk kind, but the bicycle spoke on a wheel. Perhaps it implies a hub of sorts. If I opened a bar anywhere, I would consider this name as I like the double entendre of it. I can’t see Peter anywhere when a man speaks to me from an outside table with a beer. Andy! You remembered! It was Peter without his Fedora. I didn’t recognise his shock of hair, but his accent, smile and eyes flashed back. Let’s catch a tram! The tram ride costs 2 euros and takes us back to where I started my walk 20 minutes earlier. I’m staying right here. I laughed as we got off at the next stop.

When you come to Berlin, one of its attractions is the Berlin Wall. I didn’t book my Airbnb with this location in mind, but here I was, staying 100 metres from it in what was East Berlin. The following two hours were incredible, and Peter’s life, knowledge, and personal experience with the history was better than any paid tour I could have personally arranged. He knew things that would have got you shot back then.
There were a couple of moments I will highlight.
We were standing together, peering through a gap in the cement wall, across the fifty metres of no man’s land between what was two walls, not one. A guard tower was positioned above. I kept my gaze on the space as Peter talked. He had the voice to narrate the moment. “German dogs. Not fed properly. Rabid. Ready to chase and maul anyone who decided to dash across. Rifles and machine guns cover the space. A searchlight brings the day to the night. Your life depends on it, Andy. It would be best if you got to the other side to escape the hell the Russians have brought with them. It made the hair on my arms stand to attention. It was suicide. Climb one wall, run fifty metres, and climb another wall to escape. It’s unbelievable to think some made it. Many didn’t.
We walked as Peter explained his incredible life to me. I wish I had pressed record here. You can’t make this shit up.

We reached a hole in the ground, a platform of laid bricks and foundations. The cellar floor of houses that stood here formed the border. Peter let me work it out. “So you could go through a house and get from the East to the West?”
“Yes,” he smiled at my need to escape here alive. The houses here have many stories, and with the front door being freedom and the backdoor being hell, they were closely guarded from both sides. Money changed hands—sexual favours. People gambled with their lives. Barbed wire was extended to the pitched roofs, in case you thought you could Superman over these two-storeyed houses. People also crossed both ways, so escaping wasn’t always possible. I imagined a film about these houses and the people who lived in them, all shot in the same room, like Hitchcock’s “Rope” or “Twelve Angry Men.” I had more than enough information to write the script.

At the end of the tour, we walked to the “Pratergarden,” which was lifted from those scenes we often see when they showcase German’s love of Bavarian beer halls. This was outside under umbrellas. We shared a few beers and sat in a friendship that had started the night before. I tempt Peter away with a trip to another place, and he smiles. He has travelled, and there’s no place he’d rather be than in Berlin. I’m getting it. We share details, just in case we are both here again, and he thanks me for my company and laughs. I feel like I owe him for the tour, but know he has freely gifted me his knowledge and passion for the place. It all makes sense as I point my phone and select Swinemunder Hausen. The Pig in Mud house. Hahahaha.

End of Day Nine.

Posted by Andy_in_Europe 10:04 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

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