I got it in my head to take the first possible flight to Berlin when I was at work.
In school I would try not watching the clock but I couldn’t help feeling each second ticking by, painfully aware that there were 60 of them for each excruciating minute in every pointless hour of the school day. I would get completely overwhelmed by the very passage of time if it was not being spent doing something enjoyable or important in some way.
As a teenager, my idea of what was important was a bit limited. At the age of 30, my priorities are different, but my mentality about how I’m spending my time is not.
As I sat, drinking my fourth cup of coffee in as many hours, darting my eyes back and forth across a mess of words that were as difficult to keep track of as pet ants, it occurred to me that I could stand a change of scenery. I could afford it, in the sense that there was still money in my bank account, so I thought I would just take the first opportunity to present itself.
Berlin was an obvious choice. I know a few people there: Emily, a friend from college who I’d not see in five years; Win, a member of Die Linke (The Left) that Nathan and I met back in Porto with Catarina; Loren, another member of Die Linke, whom I only knew from Facebook; and some others who I didn’t manage to see during my brief stay.
Procuring the ticket would turn out to be something of an ordeal.
The bank couldn’t figure it out, nor could the airline. I made a lot of international calls from work but no one on the other end could ever really tell me what was going on. Three different friends — in Turkey, Germany, and the United States — tried buying the ticket for me with their cards but where all rejected without explanation. One friend even got on the phone with her bank but they wouldn’t even tell her why they wouldn’t process the charges.
Maybe it was a little paranoid of me but I checked to make sure I hadn’t put on the No-Fly List. A few of my friends here in Istanbul laughed at the notion and I didn’t think it was all that important to explain everything about my life that rendered something like that utterly possible, if a bit unlikely at this precise moment.
It actually took two days to get everything sorted out.
While on the phone with my bank, I was engaged in a help-chat with someone (let’s call him Hank) from the airline who told me to visit their “.com” address as opposed to their “.net” site. I explained, as patiently as I possibly could, that I was currently visiting the site they recommended to me and that was why we were conversing in the first place as the other site did not have a chat feature.
After a moment of reflection, Hank told me to try again. For whatever reason it worked this time. It’s a good thing too because the flight was for the next day. Miraculously, it only cost a little more than it had at the beginning of the week.
Going to Berlin was a really good idea. The city is beautiful, and it’s very clean no matter what the Germans think. Of course I’m only comparing the city to all the other cities I’ve been to around the world, none of which are in Germany.
I had a great time catching up with Emily. She was kind enough to put me up the whole time and saw to it that I was well fed and entertained. After Emily, the person I spent the most time with was Win. They both showed me around the Mitte, Kreuzberg, and Neukölln neighborhoods, all of which are so full of things to see and do that I barely scratched the surface.
After a few months in Turkey, a country known for its own cuisine but not for its appreciation of any other food, every single meal was nothing short of a delight, thanks only to the fact that it wasn’t Turkish. I think I probably said as much at least once per meal. Even the vegan currywurst, which Emily assured me was actually not very good, was thoroughly enjoyable.
Win (not pictured) took me on a few personalized “people’s history” tours — similar to that which Pedro treated us to back in Porto — during which I walked the streets that saw barricades and street fighting during the revolution of 1848. Emily took me to the Soviet War Memorial in Treptower Park, which was truly awe-inspiring, if a bit over the top. I suppose they did lose 20 million people in that war. They deserved a grandiose memorial even if it does look like a set from a Star Wars movie.
Talking with active members of Die Linke revealed just how starved I have been for a certain kind of political engagement ever since we left Barcelona. I have missed talking at length about strategies and the debates across the various social movements around the world with activists who are more plugged in than I am. This past year has easily been the least politically active year in a decade. I haven’t any real remedies for this problem yet as I’m a foreigner in a country where I know practically nothing of the language and to really be involved in anything in a significant way, one must put down some roots.
I wandered around a bit on my own as well. I went to see the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag/Bundestag building, and part of the Berlin Wall like any good tourist would. I also sought out the graves of Bertolt Brecht and Friedrich Hegel, like a few other geeks might. I intended to head out to the cemetary where revolutionaries like Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebnecht where buried but I tragically ran out of time.
I suppose I’ll have to go back sometime.
All in all, it was a nice little vacation. I could have easily spent more than a week in Berlin but even just four days was quite refreshing.
Finally, I could settle into the routines of normal life for a while. I had been feeling restless but taking a short trip had helped take the edge off. I’ve been watching the news coming out of Greece like a hawk for the past several months and what with the bailout negotiations, the potential for a debt default, and various potentially earth-shattering events about to take place, I need to save up for a trip to Athens somewhere down the road…
Actually, I bought tickets to Athens the day after I got back into town.
We leave on Saturday.