The Remains of the Berlin Wall

East Side Gallery

Woke up at 5am today. That’s progress.

I’ve also found my internet router and reset it. Thanks to everyone who was concerned with my health and wellbeing… :) With my newly restored internet I spent my early morning trawling my way through a heap of Berlin expat blogs hoping to find some interesting people in town and/or get a sense of where to go and what to do. Instead, I came to realization that no matter what I do here, I’m truly not an expat.

Practically speaking I’m not an expat because I have no intention of actually expatriating. I go back to the US in 6 weeks. I already know that. However, I’m also not an expat because real expats have worries like finding jobs, establishing residency, buying cars and paying utilities. I’m not doing any of those things. Which begs the question, what am I doing?

In the movie Sheltering Sky, Kit and Port decide that the difference between travelers and tourists is that a tourist is “someone who thinks about going home the moment they arrive” and a traveler “might not come back at all.”

In Berlin, I’m a traveler and I want to find a community here; but I’m also a tourist, seeing the sights, eating meals out, dealing with my next tour job and staying connected to my friends in the US.

The tricky part is that in my non-Berlin touring life, I do all those same things. I’m literally a continuous full time traveler who lives in hotels, travels for work and for fun and has no home. I’m in a new place every week or two. I spend half my life adjusting to new territory, finding grocery stores, eating out, seeing the sights, packing and unpacking and staying connected to friends and family that I hardly ever see. So whatever it is I do in my life, I’m doing it here in Berlin too.

I’m not sure there’s a name for people like me. I’m a nomad, a gypsy and a world citizen… but not an expat. One has to live somewhere in order to expatriate.

And immediately after that realization, I joined the Berlin Expat facebook group because… why not? Let’s see how people really live.

After all those deep thoughts I went to yoga and yeah… quite the experience. I’ll write about yoga tomorrow.

Then I left my apartment with the intent of going to see the remains of the Berlin Wall. I stopped for a banh mi at Co co’s

Co co Banh Mi Deli Berlin

Because one should always stop for a banh mi if offered the opportunity. Doesn’t that look scrumptious? It was tasty and traditional with pate and pork slices and pickled vegetables. The woman who took my order asked me questions in German, effortlessly switched to English to finish my order and then shouted it back to the kitchen in Vietnamese. You know, trilingual. No biggie.

I took a lovely walk along the River Sperry

River Sperry

And got completely lost. With a map. That was no help at all. Story of my life, really,

I literally couldn’t figure out where I was so I finally got a taxi. At a certain point it’s good to recognize one’s limitations,

The taxi took me to the East Side Gallery, which is where the last remaining portions of the Berlin Wall still stand. Almost a mile of wall was offered up as canvases to artists from all over the world.

Some are famous, like Banksy

Banksy Berlin Wall

Arguably the most famous and yet completely unrecognizable graffiti artist in the world who creates art everywhere and keep from getting photographed. His street tags now have to be protected because his work is in such high demand. In 2003-04 he came to Berlin and created several pieces around the city but they’ve been chiseled away and sold at auction for hundreds of thousands of dollars. I’m not sure how he gets that money since there are probably 2 living people who know who he actually is… but I suspect he works that out.

Then some of the wall art pieces are infamous, like this kiss between Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and East German President Erich Honecker

The Kiss on the Berlin Wall

Taken from an actual 1979 photograph that immediately went viral, even in 1979. That painting is all over Berlin now. No postcard is safe.

The painting styles on the wall range widely

East Side Gallery

East Side Gallery

And after the invited artists were finished, all the uninvited artists took over

East Side Gallery

East Side Gallery

It could be upsetting to see all these pieces get tagged but at the same time, half of these invited artists were street artists! And the entirety of Berlin is one big piece of graffiti. I’ve never seen so much street art in my life as I have here.

In fact the entire back of the wall was tagged

East Side Gallery Berlin

Allowing street artists to flourish makes this city really unique, I think. So colorful and with so much spirit. I love it. And using the wall as a canvas turns a horrific devastating event into a platform for political protest and a tribute to those who didn’t live to see it become art.

East Side Gallery

Jetlagged in Berlin

My big news is that I’m relocating to Berlin for the next 6 weeks so I can try out living as a European expat.

This is possible for me because I’m not working for the next several months and I don’t have a home base since i’m always on the road with work. Since i can live anywhere it might as well be somewhere interesting and I’ve recently wanted to live in Europe for a chunk of time. Living abroad is a challenge and I feel like I’m ready for it. I looked through the European cities and decided on Berlin because it had a relatively low cost of living (for Europe) and I hadn’t been to Germany. Plus Berlin seemed like a cool city with lots of artists and expats and it was near Eastern Europe where I’ve never been either.

While 6 weeks isn’t much time in the scope of a life, I’m hoping a get a feel for the city and the community. I have a bunch of goals for my brief expat life, the top few of which are:

1. I want to get into the community enough to meet local Germans and get invited to someone’s house for a party or dinner or something.

2. I want to take German classes and make a solid effort to get by in a language besides fractured English/charades.

3. I want to get into the expat community, meet people, have regular hang outs, see things in Berlin I wouldn’t see as a tourist.

I’m setting a rather low bar for myself, I realize, but the hard part for me is all the change, the newness and the challenge of meeting strangers. I’ll get all my feelings about these subjects later in the week.

I flew direct to Berlin out of Chicago. It’s the first time I’ve ever flown overseas on a direct flight and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Air Berlin

Especially on a half full plane with dozens of empty rows. Air Berlin has sketchy food and a strange selection of ancient movies including Titanic, Gone with the Wind and You’ve Got Mail, but we flew to meet the sun

Air Berlin

And arrived in Berlin at midnight Chicago time, which was 7am Berlin time.

I don’t sleep well on planes (or cars or buses or trains) but I had my whole row to myself so I took a little disco nap during the flight and felt pretty good when we landed. The Berlin airport is small and the entire Customs process in Europe is so relaxed that I wonder why we bother. No one asks questions, nothing is declared, they just grab your passport, stamp it and shuffle you through. Welcome to Berlin, whoever you are. I’m sure you’ll be fine. Next! I get 200% more hassle just driving over the Canadian border!

My taxi driver regaled me with Berlin history on the drive in to town. He moved here in 1987, 2 years before the Berlin wall came down. He said on new years eve 1989, everyone in Berlin came to the destroyed wall for a giant block party to drink “sparkly wine” and cry at midnight. The first new year for reunited Germany. Incredible. And incredible that it was all within my lifetime. I remember being back stage prepping for a college production of Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern are Dead when I heard the wall had come down. As momentous as I knew that act was, I really had no idea of the scope. I’m sure the Berlin of today is so dramatically different as to be unrecognizable.

I’m staying in the Mitte district, down in the center of Berlin and very near Checkpoint Charlie, the original crossing point of the wall between west and east. I had no trouble finding the apartment but a fair amount of trouble finding the check-in girl to let me in. Jet lag, early morning and not having a working phone all combined to an hour’s worth of hassle followed by a 4 floor walk up with 2 suitcases. At least it’s 6 weeks before I have to haul them back down…

The apartment is darling with incredible views over the rooftops

Berlin Mitte

It’s bigger than I expected from the pictures online and sparkling clean. Sometimes Air BnB does a really great job. Exhaustion set in once I got into the apartment so I took a couple hour nap and then rousted myself up. There’s no good way to handle jet lag but I know that if I don’t nap and I push myself thru the day, I’ll crash around 6pm and be wide awake at 3am. Hopefully a nap will stave that off and I can stay awake until closer to 9pm tonight. let’s see how it goes.

The weather today was PERFECT, low 70s and beautifully sunny.

Berlin Mitte

Everyone was outside in the parks so I ate a late lunch outside at the Ballhouse Gipsy Restaurant, a rather incredible biergarten and dance hall with a lovely garden

Ballhouse Gipsy restaurant

German weiners and potato salad with dunkel beer. What else am I going to eat my first day in Germany?

The rest of the afternoon involved buying groceries via charades (always a good time) and orienting myself to the neighborhood

How Long is Now BerlinSo much beautiful graffiti and street art, the apex of which is this artist squat called Tacheles. I’ll post a lot more about it later.

In the words of my flight attendant today “Ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of the entire crew I would like to say goodbye to you now.”

More Berlin tomorrow.