Saturday, June 13, 2015

Berlin - 2

We've been in Berlin since Tuesday and I've only written once partially because jet lag and traveling had kicked our asses but also because I didn't have a lot to report yet. I'm not a very good tourist. Monuments and museums aren't really my thing though I don't mind checking them out. Tourist traps generally reek of insincerity. People want to show up somewhere and have a nicely packaged experience that they can take pictures of to show their friends feeling cosmopolitan. I'm not trying to be a hipster here, but tourism just feels smarmy not to mention that all the "hot spots" are normally crowded with lots of slow moving, annoying people. Usually when I go somewhere new, I like to wander around and try to get a feel for where I am, hopefully blending into the surroundings. That's probably because I have stuck out my entire life having red hair so I hope to just be another guy the locals pass on the streets.

For several days now we have half heartedly said we were going to take a boat tour of Berlin. Yesterday was supposed to be the day but we ended up not going partially because I got us lost and we ran out of time (the street names change from one side of the intersections to the other which I'm not used to yet) but mostly because we got caught up in something way more interesting - a Turkish outdoor market. The bicycle ride alone to the market was fun passing a length of the Berlin wall, stopping several times to make sure we were still on course (I can't remember the German names of the streets for shit). It still amazes me how many people ride bicycles here. You'll even see men in suits and women in dresses riding!

My girlfriend leading the way : )

I didn't take any pictures of the market because there didn't seem to be other non-locals there and I didn't want to ruin the experience by standing out. Most of the stalls are selling produce, meats or cheeses with a couple selling some fabric and one random guy hawking small medical implements like dental mirrors and surgical scissors. Almost every stand selling raw food ingredients has a redundancy down the road a little so you are never without choices.

I love cherries. Cherry anything will grab my attention so I when we walked by the first stand with boxes upon boxes of fresh cherries, I had to have some. I looked at my girlfriend and said "I want some cherries" to which she replied "well then go get some." Always practical that one. Mustering the courage, I walked over to the stand. "1/2 kilo" I said handing the man the appropriate coins  and then nodded in thanks as he handed them to me. It's stupid but I felt excited to have bought something in another country in a system of measuring that was also foreign to me. Later we stopped by a spice booth and an Indian man let us try "the purest, sweetest cinnamon you'll ever taste", and it was. He talked to us for a few minutes about different spices and gave us a white strawberry from the carton he had bought for his parrot back at home. We bought a tiny bit of saffron and continued on to look for some prepared food since all we had had to eat that day was the left over pizza we grabbed a 1am the night before.

A stall with vibrant fabrics grabbed our attention with it's similarly brightly colored food that looked delicious. A man and woman from Africa (there wasn't a flag anywhere so I don't know what country they were from) were selling rice, chicken wings, potato wedges and a couple other things so we decided to give it a shot. It was fantastic and the shop keepers were very friendly making sure we knew about the chili sauce and bread that was available for free on the side.

After eating our food and purchasing a few simple things like a wallet with a built in coin purse, we headed home. Side note: if you come to Europe, you will want to have some way to hold all your cash - coins and paper so you don't have to constantly dig everything out of your pocket. I haven't had a wallet for years in America because I use a debit card everywhere but that is not popular not to mention the fact that it wouldn't work anyway.

Last evening we hung out with our friends at a bar around the corner from their apartment meeting some of their friends who were delightful. One of the guys we met thought I said my name was "Magnum" when we first shook hands. After I repeated my name a few times he said "well you only get one shot at a first impression so you are Magnum like PI. Is that okay?" I laughed and said I didn't care and so I was Magnum for the night which I found hilarious. Everyone takes a lot of English in school here but I'm sure it's rather taxing mentally to keep up a constant stream of English, especially if you have been drinking, so the conversation bounced back and forth between the two languages. I relished the experience of sitting there just listening and trying to sort out what was being said when the English dropped off at times. How else are you going to learn right? Part way through the evening I got hungry and had been told about curry wurst so my buddy and I walked a block to get some. Now I've had some hot food but this stuff takes the prize.

There were 10 levels to choose from and when I said I would try 10 (I think it said 12 million scoville), I quickly changed my mind after the look of shock and disbelief on both the guys face behind the counter and my friends. "Uh never mind, I'll try 8" I corrected. The man shook his head and got the bottle for 8 off the shelf sticking a little plastic fork in some so I could taste it. For about .5 seconds, it tasted good but then I choked and my eyes started crying despite my brain telling them to knock it off. Everyone around me got a good laugh and when I finally got control of my body I laughed at myself too.

Finally I decided not to be a complete idiot (or my body decided that for me) and I settled on option 5 - 450,000 Scoville. It was still hot but quite good although my stomach sounds like it's been trying to cary on a conversation with itself as I've been typing this. 

Doing these pedestrian things may seem like a waste of a trip to some people but it's exactly how I wanted to spend my vacation. I think that experiencing the genuine side of the city has given me a much greater appreciation for it than taking a tour of an art museum or church. I'm not sure what we will do today but I'm sure it will be equally as organic and authentic.

Magnum - "and that, as they say, is the hell of it"

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