0

Thank You Kreuzberg Passport-stealing Flight-missing Demon

The large ticket control officer looked down at the passport I had reluctantly handed over to him. My train headed deeper into Kreuzberg pulled away from the grungy station.

Come on, look at that passport. I’m Canadian. We don’t just hop on trains and cross our fingers that we won’t get caught for fare evasion in a new country. I’m not American.

“Oh, wait, are you sure the U-Bahn isn’t part of DB? (I knew it wasn’t) I could have sworn it was. I had no idea my Eurail pass wouldn’t work (I knew it wouldn’t). Can’t you just let this slide? I just arrived to Berlin literally ten minutes ago. (Please don’t make me hate this place before I’ve even stepped foot into it.)”

At the sight of three other people being herded by the other ticket officer towards the ATM, a knot in my stomach grew tighter. They weren’t messing around here. The moment I had gotten on the train at the first stop they were checking tickets and it looked like I wasn’t the only person to be dragged off kicking and screaming.

“That’ll be forty euros.”

You had to be fucking kidding me.

Really?”

Judging by the dry look I received it was pretty clear he had to deal with the hippie, cheap student types that had clogged up the U-Bahn and wasn’t going to be swayed by any “take pity on a poor student” charade.

After bitterly fishing into my wallet and giving him my money, I sat down on the rusting bench ready to hate Berlin.

And I had been so excited. I had even watched documentaries in my senile great-aunt’s kitchen pullout bench back Koln all in preparation for this.

Watch as I whip out a little history summary as proof:

Starting in 1961 due to a refugee overflow from East to West Germany, the soviet East German government moved in the dark of night to begin construction of what would be the first of four walls to restrict their citizens from fleeing. This wall remained a dividing force, caging in half of a modern city until 1989 when German was unified. What remained after the wall was pulled apart by wall peckers and the guards were two areas of Berlin with a very different feel.

I was an idiot, I had decided then, by choosing to stay in the dirty East German area with strict ticket officers.

After a later train, I finally arrived in Kreuzberg and at the Jet Pack Alternative hostel. It was in amongst graffiti on every spray-paintable surface and lovely little deposits of dog shit on the street. Jet Pack had given ample warning, but it was amazing that they had the details down right down to the dog poo.

What they hadn’t warned about was how, despite my less than warm welcome to the grungy ex-East German part of town, Kreuzberg is very, very good at making you stay.

My opinion started to change after having an awesome burger at Burgermiester under the U-Bahn (damn them) railroad on top of padded bars beside a stick-covered glass hut. By the time I strolled along the East Side Gallery as the sun-set and watched two local boys spray paint their own mark onto the iconic wall, I was hooked.

It was that sort of nonchalant counter culture feel that was so incredible. I could roll out of my bed without showering, wear my worn out plaid shirt, slap on a hat and be considered “cool”. As a lazy person, I couldn’t ask for more!

In Kreuzberg, trying to enter clubs is not about how you dress, or how much money you have, but instead what you will “bring to the scene”. According to the Jet Pack Alternative Hostel’s seemingly only female staffer, Lynne, lead singer of Poet in Process, “looking like you rolled out of a dumpster doesn’t hurt”.

When one of the girls Sarah came down dressed up to go to the strip club I hopped onto Lynne’s advice and asked her, “don’t you have anything trashier? Something you haven’t washed?”

Then she shook up her hair and nodded quickly. “Oh! I have a t-shirt I’ve been sleeping in.”

I was already in deep and dolling out advice in a place I had been so ready to hate.

I didn’t have it the worst though.

My bunkmate Callum had a noon flight back to Bath to catch and he was found sleeping on the stoop of the hostel at ten am after attending one of the legendary 24 hour clubs. This wasn’t the first time he’d “extended” his trip. My other bunkmate Christian suddenly lost his passport and had to extend his trip as well.

It felt like there was some sort of nefarious power at work in Kreuzberg that seemed intent on never allowing you to leave.

Thank god I didn’t miss my train to Copenhagen. Thank you Kreuzberg passport-stealing, flight-missing demon.

Advertisements
2

Traveller vs. Tourist – AKA “Your Selfie Stick Makes Me Sick”

After now having backpacked and travelled around for a few months I’ve started to notice a trend with some of the people I have been meeting in the hostels I have stayed at. There seems to be a lot of self-styled pseudo-intellectuals who fashion themselves as the modern Hemmingway and gods gift to world travel.

I first encountered this type when in my first few days I decided to buy one of the selfie sticks that a lot of street sellers were peddling all over Rome. I had met up with an old roommate from Madrid who had purchased one and encouraged me to do the same. It just made sense. I was travelling alone and wasn’t fond of asking people to take photos of me. This way I could take my own photos without bothering other people.

When I placed it on the table to show it, I was already apologetic because I had the inclining that these travellers were instantly going to think worse of me because just a few minutes before they had been touting how they were artists (with rather shitty sketches that they over explained their genius with) and had been to “gems” like Laos years before people knew what it was.

Boy, was I right. Instantly they were on me as if I was an antelope carcass and they were a pack of very hungry hyenas. They literally began to boo and whine pleas to make me put it away. They told me how disappointed they were in me, how shameful it was that I’d ever even considering buying one. I had had potential to be one of them until that moment.

photo 1

Here I am with the offending clicker.

I had just been demoted in the eyes of the other backpackers from “traveller” to “tourist”. Even though the words seem synonymous I quickly learned that to many people they aren’t. A tourist is someone who travels to different places to say they had been there (which made “country counting” pretty taboo amongst backpackers too), take cheesy photos, eat at tourist places, and then leave without having really discovered the culture of where they stay.

A traveller on the other hand is someone who takes time to immerse themselves into the cultures they are staying in, eat with the locals, and most importantly goes off the beaten pack in search of authenticity.

Although of course you will get a better understanding of the countries/cultures doing the aforementioned travelling there is absolutely nothing wrong with doing the first. How we decide to experience the world is completely up to the individual, and our comfort level with new situations/experiences varies between people.

The horrified look on the french backpacker, Louis, I hung out with in Bologna was similar when I stated that after expensive pasta was driving me insane I just wanted a cheap salad from McDonalds. There are all these faux pas that you must not break in order to retain your veneer of authenticity.

That’s what it all comes down to. It is the same thing that drives people to embrace counter culture, buy vintage, and listen to obscure music. Some people are obsessed with the notion of being authentic in a world that is largely commercial and “inauthentic”. They want to be able to say that they lived in a realm deeper than the average person, that they are somehow more in touch with the “real world” because they sketched David instead of taking a picture, ate Pho made by an Vietnamese grandmother instead of at a restaurant, and took their selfies without a stick.

Here’s the authentic stamp of approval in your passport from the authentic police.

I was legitimately told by one of the travellers in Rome that he honestly believed himself better as a human being than “tourists” because he was a traveller. He flat out told me he was superior.

And this is just my opinion, but I believe travelling like that, constantly in search of the “real” and “authentic” to be able to give yourself a sense of superiority and pseudo-intellectualism is no better than being “tourist”.

If you travel the world to better understand the people in it and still cannot learn to appreciate the diversity and to embrace the differences in people… then why bother travelling at all?

If you want to take photos with a stick or take artsy black and white photos of church steeples, that’s fine. All that matters is you are curious about the world outside your hometown and respect the people outside and inside of it.

As for me, I’ll keep my selfie stick thank you very much.

0

The Farewell Five – AKA NO MORE GOODBYE DINNERS I BEG OF YOU

Countdown to lift-off: 3 days

With my flight right around the corner not only have I started to have miniature panic attacks at the sight of suitcases, but it has finally set in that I’ll be apart for eight months from… my dogs.

My dad keeps trying to hug me close as he gets weepy and, while god I’ll miss my family too, I just beeline it for my favourite pooch Jack and suffocate him in affection. Since the dogs are too dumb to understand the logistics of Skype (or to not eat their own poo) I’m probably going to miss him and my other dog Maggie the most. God damn it.

It’s all starting to sink in that I’m really leaving. I’ve got my travel adaptors, my backpacking backpack (Osprey Farpoint 55L), enough maple candies to give cavities to an entire country, and the most telltale sign is that the goodbyes have started.

Oh god, have they started.

I’m super thankful that I have enough people in my life to warrant all these goodbyes, it’s a sign that I’m truly lucky. The only issue is THERE ARE SO MANY GOODBYE MEALS. So many. Since I’m going to be leaving to a country with a different cuisine, people keep encouraging me to eat worse and worse foods. Perhaps even worse is I’ve started to adopt that mindset.

“Eh, what’s a fourth Tim Hortons jalapeño bagel with herb and garlic cream cheese going to do? We both know there won’t be Tim Hortons in Spain.”

“Come on, eat that mint Aero bar, who knows when you’ll see it again?”

“Sure have a whole bag of party-sized all dressed chips is bad but it’s so Canadian.”

Oh god I’m going to die without these hooked up to an IV.

I’ve been eating like a bear storing up for a Canadian hibernation. It’s not just me though, like I mentioned I’ve been taken on so many goodbye meals with so many fattening dishes that I’m putting on what I have dubbed “The Farewell Five”. It’s the five pounds you gain before leaving the country on a long trip where everyone thinks you are going to die and fattens you up with Jane Bond’s Fat Ass Grilled Cheese (I mean look at the god damn name) and Cora’s inhuman omelette portions (amongst other things). 

I’ll end up waddling into my Getafe residence and then will gain a second round of the “Freshman Fifteen” from the cafeteria food.

On a slightly unrelated tangent—because who needs logical order in these posts anyways—my Spanish is going splendidly.

I recently reblogged this post:

“i want a blowjob”

quiero una biblia

“call a prostitute”

llama a la monja

“where is the strip club”

donde esta la iglesia

“i want to get laid”

quiero leer la palabra de dios

With the caption “the only Spanish I’ll need to know“… with no ounce of sarcasm. For those of you who, like me, have zero Spanish knowledge past mumbled attempts at singing Enrique Iglesias, each of the “translations” are really religious references. For example, I’ve been informed that the “I want to get laid” line is translated to “I want to read the word of God”. Fuck.

I would be religious too if this was where you read the word of God.

I’ve signed up for an intensive course (but will be missing the first, most important day due to La Tomatina) and I also have the Spanish semester course, but jesus it was a harsh reminder of just how far I have to go.

So with all that being said… I’ll try and fit a few more posts in as I settle into lift in Madrid but with the courses and the chaos I’ll be lucky to sit down and write some cheesy fiction, never mind a semi-intelligence blog post. Although on further consideration “intelligent” has never really been my style.

Ladies and gentlemen, and all you lovely non-binary people, cue the dramatic music! Only three days left… and I’m still trying to figure out how to stuff my dog into my carry on and get through border security. If you have any tips, let me know.