Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Welcome to Berlin

21 years ago, the Berlin wall would have stood less than 50 feet from the door of the building I am staying in. The park that now occupies the space between the two vertical walls that once separated East and West Berlin is clearly visible from the window of the room in which I am sleeping. Beautiful, soaring towers of brick churches decorate the open spaces between rows and rows of 4 and 5 story apartment buildings, their bottom floors occupied by retail or office space. Canals cut through the city at regular intervals, their banks covered with weeping willows, thick, leafless bushes (due to the onset of winter’s grasp) and a walking path along both sides.

Despite the constant dampness and clouds, people are out walking, getting their shoes muddy along the bare paths, walking dogs, riding bikes and playing Bocce Ball on sandy public courts when the sun peaks out for the afternoon. Large children’s playgrounds are gathering points for parents and their toddlers. Cafés with outdoor seating fill up on warm days. Everyone has their winter jackets on, even though it is not that cold. It has yet to reach freezing, though I am warned by everyone that in a few weeks, it will be bitterly chilly. Last year, the temperature hovered around -15 C for weeks in a row.

I spent my first few nights here in the apartment of Jordana’s friend, Hannah. Hannah had gone on holiday to the Canary Islands where she learned how to kite surf, and had gladly loaned us her place so that we could have each other all to ourselves for my first few days in town. I am now at Jordana’s 2 bedroom apartment, where she lives with her cousin, Adam. It is a cozy, well-lit space that I imagine is very typical of the setup here in Berlin. One thing that is taking some getting used to is the fact that in order to access his bedroom, Adam has to walk through Jordana’s. Thankfully, we are all very comfortable people, and this is not being a problem so far.

In the past few days, I have met several of Jordana’s friends, all of whom are interesting, intelligent and genuine people with big hearts and positive energy. Two nights ago, I went to a dance performance where Todd, a Californian whom I met at Burning Man the same time I met Jordana, was one of the stars of the show. It was a captivating, modern dance performance, the likes of which I had never seen. Dramatic classical music, a company of 30 performers on stage, and fast paced, almost seizure-like movement characterized some of the more memorable parts of the night. In what must have been and incredibly tiring performance due to the sheer speed and intensity of the show, Todd’s solos stood out as elegant and natural.

At the show, we also ran into Uli, an incredibly talented illustrator who shares studio space with Jordana a few minutes bike-ride from her apartment. After the show and a few failed attempts at finding some good German schnitzel to eat, we all sat down at the local go-to eatery for some delicious falafel and chicken schwarma. There is a notable Turkish population in Berlin, due mostly to the need for cheap labor several decades ago. They are now quite an established, respected and successful minority, and both of the neighborhoods in which I have stayed are heavily Turkish influenced. This makes for really tasty Turkish food, which is also the cheapest take-out around.

Yesterday I met up with Wayne, one of Jordana’s friends from Australia who is in the process of somewhat of a world tour. After spending 4 months in India, he has been in Berlin for several weeks now, and heads to Barcelona next week. He aims to end up in Los Angeles at the end of his trip, quite a while from now, and start a legal organization (he’s trained as a lawyer) to encourage those with money in Hollywood to do something more useful with their dough than buying ten million dollar homes with 50 extra rooms. We saw eye-to-eye on many issues, had great discussions, and enjoyed a latte at a great café.

Here in Berlin, it would seem that either business is good, rent is low, or both, because every space is being used. The café which we were sitting outside of was down a small stairway from the sidewalk, on the edge of a court which seemed to be bound on most sides by warehouses and stone walls. The café had only a small sign, and there’s no way you’d know it was there unless you were looking specifically for it. Wayne had been there a few days before, and liked the atmosphere, which I admit was very unique and relaxed. Only a few others wandered into the café as we were sitting there, and our drinks, which came with a couple of tasty cookies, were quite reasonably priced. I couldn’t understand how a place like that would drum up enough business to stay afloat, but it seemed established enough. The building the café was in looked, as many buildings here do, as though it had been repurposed many times. Numerous healthy vines grew all the way up one wall to what looked like a window to an attic. The walls were blasted with graffiti. I’m coming to realize that this city is known for its ubiquitous graffiti, much of which took obvious effort and planning to paint on the sides of five story buildings. Some of the scenes depicted are very political, and were painted by well known artists.

I have been extremely lazy since I’ve been here. My schedule has changed drastically due in some part to jetlag, but certainly also due to the constant gloomy skies and Jordana’s night life. Last night, Wayne and I cooked up a delicious meal of pumpkin stuffed with rice and veggies, roasted and served with a crunchy cabbage salad. It was a hit with the 8 folks who attended a cozy dinner party here at Jordana’s apartment, including all of the people before mentioned. The meal was served around 10 pm, so needless to say, we didn’t get to sleep until much later. I am adjusting surprisingly easily to this drastic schedule change, due in part to the fact that I have no obligations in the mornings yet, and can sleep as late as I like. Not being on a hard schedule for the first time in several months is being very nice.

Jordana is being wonderfully accepting of my invasion of her apartment and her life, graciously inviting me into every aspect of her life with open arms, a warm smile and lots of kisses. We share openly and honestly with each other, cuddle often, and enjoy each other’s presence thoroughly, even in the midst of the most mundane of circumstances. I greatly appreciate the way she treats people, her keen sense of other’s needs, and her self-discipline when it comes time for her to work. I am somewhat in awe of how well she balances her life.

I am enjoying myself greatly! I look forward to many things in the near future. I already have a social calendar which is filling up due to the wonderful people Jordana has introduced me to. Adam (our apartment mate, Jordana’s cousin), has loaned me a spare bike to toodle around on for the duration of my stay. There are galleries to be visited, neighborhoods to wander through, cafés to sit in and enjoy the unique, relaxed atmosphere that this city has to offer. I can already tell that I will not want to say goodbye when the time comes to depart.

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