On Monday, I got rained into a bar – my worst nightmare, as you can imagine. However, I really did mean to stay for just one but then the heavens opened. Google had (oh so reliably) informed me that there was a 0% chance of precipitation that day, so I’d set off in a summer dress and flip-flops, without any of the all-weather paraphernalia the Germans are famous for.
While a lot of people might look at this as a fail on my part, these people clearly do not know me very well. First of all, it was a chance to confuse a whole new set of Berlin pub regulars with my intoxicating Irish accent. Second of all, a trip to the bathroom provided unexpected gold. (“Really, Linda? Toilets again?” I hear you groan.)
Now, I’m all for “WC” signs throughout the establishment directing me towards the floodgate unleasher, but never have I seen a “WC” sign directly above the loo. Maybe this was the kind of pub where people got so drunk there was a chance they might mistake the sink/floor for the toilet? Or maybe the local clientele just weren’t that bright to begin with? There were no signs over the bin or the sink but I guess it’s not so important if you miss those…
Anyway, I figured out from the clever signage that the WC was, in fact, the toilet. I’m a smart cookie…
As I approached, I noticed the little picture on the toilet lid. I rubbed my eyes. Nope, the glass of wine hadn’t gone to my head – it really was a poo in a speech bubble. But what could it mean? I started coming up with some ideas:
Feel free to talk shit here?
Let your poo do the talking?
If I were a turd, what would I say…?
Poo has the right to freedom of speech?
A poo is worth a thousand words?
The only talking poo I’d ever seen was on South Park so this was a bit of a mystery to me. I’m shit out of ideas so does anybody else have any? Is this some kind of German thing I’ve never heard of? Answers on a postcard (i.e. in the comments below).
On New Year’s Eve, I was out of bed by 9 for breakfast. Much as I love being a “Continental European”, I will never get on board with the continental breakfast – especially not in the depths of winter. Someone else could have the slabs of cold meat and cheese. I was having cereal, raisin toast and a lovely big pot of tea.
After that, it was back to my room to shower and psyche myself up for my first ever walk in the forest. I toyed with the idea of going full-on Latvian and wearing heels but the Germans might kick me out for that. Sensible footwear it was.
I’d seen people heading down a little lane opposite the hotel, so that was where I started. The skies were ominous but the walk was actually quite… pleasant. I’d pass the odd dog-walker every now and then and we’d exchange smiles and hellos but apart from that, it was was perfectly peaceful. And very tree-full.
After I’d been walking for a while (keeping an eye out for wolves, naturally), I stopped a likely-looking, Jack Wolfskin-clad German couple in very sensible shoes.
Me: Hello, my fellow forest nymphs. Is there a lake around here somewhere?
They gave me a rather dubious look up and down and were probably thinking, “What the hell is this Arschloch doing in a forest?”
Horst: Well, there IS a lake, but it’s around a 7km walk in that direction.
My face must have dropped slightly, as his wife chimed in.
Hilda: But there’s a river around 400 metres that way.
Me: Right, be on your way, my feisty forest faeries…
I trotted off in the direction she’d pointed in, but I think maybe the famous German sense of humour was at play here.
I decided to follow a man out walking his dog and three-year-old for a bit. I figured that if there were wolves, they’d probably go for the mutt or the toddler first. This, however, got annoying fast as (what are the chances?) it turns out they were English speakers and the daughter couldn’t get the names of the Seven Dwarfs straight. Before I started yelling, “Bashful, Sneezy, Dopey, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy and DOC!”, I needed to get my zen back. I climbed an embankment and did the unthinkable. Yes, it’s the photo the Latvians thought they’d never see…
After sending the pic to a couple of people and enjoying the virtual “thuds” as they fell off their chairs, I sauntered back to the hotel, river-less, wolf-less but happy.
I enjoyed a quick red wine nap-cap and then went back to bed for a couple of hours. Turns out trees and fresh air are exhausting… When I woke up, I decided that there was no harm in being sociable for a while and hopped on a bus into Lübeck. The bus dropped me off outside a rather suspect-looking bar – you know the kind of place that you’re not sure if you’ll come out alive but you’ll probably have some good stories if you do? In short, perfect.
As I walked through the fug of smoke, every head in the place turned to look. At this point, it’s important not to show fear so I marched to the bar and asked the 80s hair-do behind it for a glass of wine. The man next to me immediately offered me a chair, shook my hand and introduced himself. In no time at all, we were gabbing away like old friends.
I thought the guy on the other side of me could be trouble as there seemed to be some tension between him and my new buddy – I would have ended up on my back on the floor if he’d lunged for him. But then, dream boat that I am, I got a toothless smile from the tattoo-covered trouble-maker and knew that I was going to be just fine. (In these kinds of situations, it’s always good to get the scariest-looking person on side.)
A guy came around selling roses and my new buddy bought me one. An hour later, he came around again, and my new buddy bought me a second one. Two white roses also appeared from somewhere else in the bar and soon I had a veritable garden in front of me.
After the drunkest man in the world accidentally smashed a pint glass on my jeans, it was time to head back to the hotel. Germany on New Year’s Eve is characterised by the sounds of rocket launchers and ambulance sirens so, rather than wait 50 minutes for the next bus, I got a taxi. I gave the cute Cypriot driver one of the roses and he almost teared up as it was the first time a woman had ever given him a flower.
Back in the room, I poured myself a glass of wine and settled in for some (probably) classic NYE entertainment, German style.
At midnight, I watched the supremely baffling German favourite “Dinner for One” and wished myself an excellent 2016. All in all, it was the perfect day.
The next morning, I woke up full of the joys and, after another walk in the forest, fairly skipped to the bus stop. I made my way to where I thought the bus to Berlin went from with a song in my heart and feeling all kinds of goodwill towards mankind.
Me: Tra la la la la are you going to Berlin la la la?
Random stranger: Can you speak in English?
Me: Sure! Is this where the Berlin bus goes from?
Random stranger: I am not ticket.
Me: Yeah, clearly the English thing is working out great for you.
The first thing that has to be said about Dresden, is that this city is just ludicrously beautiful. I mean, if Dresden were a person, it would be Zoolander – it’s that really, really ridiculously good-looking. I can’t remember the last time I was this wowed by a city; I basically spent two days walking around grinning idiotically at how lovely everything was. But I’m getting ahead of myself…
This time round, I actually made my bus on the intended day. I boarded and unfortunately sat opposite a woman with the mother of all colds, who had no qualms about blowing her nose at a window-shattering decibel level. I was rather relieved when we pulled into Dresden a couple of hours later and I got to leave Foghorn Helghorn behind.
I’d managed to find a room online for just €50 for two nights so I headed off in the direction I expected it to be in. After a couple of wrong turns and a few helpful Germans, I eventually arrived. At a yoga studio. Hmm. I called the number on the booking form and was told that yes, I was in the right place but that the owner wasn’t home right now. Why hadn’t I answered her text?
What text? I cast my mind back and remembered an odd message from the night before. “Lindau. When you will arrive my flat?” I’d just assumed that I’d given my number to some randomer in a bar and made some plan that I had no intention of keeping. For once, I hadn’t. This was of small comfort to me now though, as I had to wait for half an hour for the lady of the house to get back.
So, I did what any self-respecting German would do – grabbed a beer and drank it while I waited outside the building. A classy start to the weekend. Finally, a little slip of a woman of about 70 showed up and let me in. With a steely look in her eye, she non-jokingly told me she’d prefer it if I took my shoes off. Great, I was going to be staying with the female equivalent of Hermann for two days…
But the room was lovely, with its own balcony, and as nobody else was there that weekend, I’d have the bathroom and kitchenette to myself. There was even a comforting picture of a bear who’d ripped a young girl to pieces to help me settle in.
I freshened up a bit, and went out in search of sausage. I found it in the lovely Gänsedieb, a restaurant located right in front of Kreuzkirche, where the booming of the bells made my head throb. I opened the menu and the first thing that caught my eye was “Cup of goose fat to go” – what new sort of German madness was this? I decided against cups of fat, and went for some Merlot and a sausage – this had never let me down before, and it didn’t now.
After a second cheeky glass of Merlot – for the cold – I set off in search of a bar. My original plan had been to stick to the old part of the city for the first night, but it was more restaurant-y so I hopped across a bridge to the new part of town. This actually took quite a while as I kept on stopping to look back at the view.
I hit a couple of bars on Alaun Straße, but the ease with which I get talking to people in Berlin was nowhere to be found. People nodded or smiled politely, but there was no more contact than that. So, in keeping with the theme of sausage, I decided to visit the gay bar, where at least I knew the music they were playing.
I sat at the bar and almost immediately got chatting to a friendly Dresdener who asked me if I knew this was a gay bar. I glanced around at the guys gazing lovingly into each other’s eyes and the drag queens starting an impromptu karaoke session on stage, and said that yes, I had an inkling. It turned out my new buddy worked for a brewery so we had plenty to talk about. He gave me some pointers for the next night as well, and it was 7am by the time I got back to my room.
I was up at the crack of eleven, feeling a little groggy, but otherwise not too bad. I grabbed a cheese roll and a cup of tea on the way into town and then headed for the old part of the city. As it turned out, I’d unwittingly chosen the 70th anniversary of the Dresden bombings so the police were out in droves, obviously expecting trouble. Putting a slight feeling of unease to one side, I walked on – and then repeatedly stopped to pick my jaw up off the ground.
It was a stunning day, and I made very slow progress as I walked around, stopping every few seconds to take yet another photo. I eventually made my way to Zwinger Palace, which instantly took my breath away. The truly incredible thing is that 70 years ago, all of this was razed to the ground – 15 square kilometres were wiped out in Allied bombing raids, the city burned for five days and between 20,000 and 25,000 people lost their lives. Zwinger Palace was among the first buildings to be reconstructed and I think the Germans did rather a fine job of it.
Of course, some people were easily distracted by other things…
I was soon, however, distracted by the most miserable-looking bride on earth. The weather was perfect, her husband looked alright, she was having her photo taken in the middle of a fairy tale – what on earth was the matter? Ah, she was Russian. Her husband should probably get used to that face.
The alternative title for this post could be – “I am a massive feckin’ eejit”.
Friday night was my school’s Christmas party. Unfortunately, one of my old friends from university was also in town with his parents that day. As usual, wanting to do everything, I arranged to meet them in the afternoon for a drink, thinking I’d still have loads of time to pretty myself up before the party.
One drink turned into, well, more than one drink so I was running way behind schedule when I crashed back into my apartment later that evening. A quick shower, a quick bite to eat and a quick glass of wine with my long-suffering flatmates and I was good to go. I Googled the address, put my free drinks tokens into my wallet and ran to the U-Bahn station.
I thought that the venue for the party was a bit odd – Wittenau is pretty out of the way. But maybe the school had some connection with the area that I didn’t know about. Yes, I was sure that was what it was.
I emerged from Wittenau station just as the heavens opened. Lacking an umbrella and inspired by German engineering and innovation, I pulled a Media Markt plastic bag out of my handbag and attempted to wrap the handles around my ears to keep my hair dry.
Naturally, I took off in the wrong direction, but a helpful passing German turned me around when I stopped to ask him if I was going the right way. I walked along, thinking I was every killer’s dream, as I’d even brought my own plastic bag to help him suffocate me with.
By the time I got to Oranienburger Straße 67, I looked like a drowned rat. But there was also another small problem.
I walked up to the bar and got the bar girl’s attention.
Me: Entschuldigung, das ist Oranienburger Straße 67?
Me: Aber… das ist nicht der richtige Name… (But… it’s not the right name)
The guy beside me at the bar was curious now so he joined in the confusing conversation. I showed him the name of the bar I was actually looking for.
Knut: You know there are at least two Oranienburger Straßen in Berlin, right?
Me: No, I did not know that. Heilige Scheiße. I’ve come all the way across the city only to end up at the wrong bar… oh well, white wine, please. Um, do you think she’d accept these drink tokens?
Knut: Probably not, no.
Me: No, I didn’t think so either.
After I’d got my drink, I took in my surroundings. It seemed that a) I was the only woman in the bar, and b) everyone else was a biker. Having given up on the idea of traipsing back across the city again, I made myself comfortable and settled in for the evening.
By around 3am, I was on first name terms with most of the punters, and Knut was my new best friend. I’d even had a bit of interest in English lessons. All in all, it was great fun. As I’d arranged to go to Dietmar’s for a nightcap, I started to put on my coat (and plastic bag) and asked for my bill.
Knut wouldn’t hear of me paying for myself so he settled the bar tab, called a taxi, and paid the driver in advance so I could travel back to Dietmar’s neighbourhood in style. Don’t you just love Germans?
The next day, I regaled my stunned flatmates with my (mis)adventures. They now think I should have my own reality TV show.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sailaway from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ~ Mark Twain