Day 14, 07.07.2009
Disclaimer: This post is best read through the lens of a naive, goody-two-shoes junior in high school who liked [and still does!] to take notes of daily events in excruciating detail. 😉
There was too much excitement bubbling within me that first night in Berlin. I finally gave up on trying to fall asleep at 7am. My roomies and I went down to breakfast and were surprised by the scale of the breakfast buffet for such a tiny hotel. There was fresh bread, cookies, danishes, fresh fruits, a cold-cut and cheese platter, cereals, and Nutella everywhere. I snagged a flaky butter croissant and a cookie. One of my roommates was on a Nutella binge and if she had the time, she probably would have cleaned out the buffet’s supply of Nutella.
After breakfast we rode the U-Bahn, then the S-Bahn with the rest of the group to Freie Universität, which I think is the largest university in Berlin (?). Or perhaps the most famous? We didn’t have a chance to tour the college at all; instead, we were all herded into this room where we sat and listened to the admissions people market the university to us for an impossibly long 3 hours. Powerpoints and all. I was bored to death and fell asleep a number of times, jerking myself awake every 15 seconds. My friend and I resorted to playing hangman in German and once we exhausted that option, we began drawing people from our group.
It really was a shame that they didn’t give us time to walk around Freie because it has a really pretty campus. By the time the presentation ended, it was time for lunch and all of us were forced to get into groups with at least 1 German host sibling because they had our lunch money. I stuck with Clara, of course. The cafeteria was huge and had a pretty good selection…if you weren’t vegetarian.
I chose a poor man’s minestrone soup and some antipasti veggies, neither of which was very good. The soup was like drinking needles in watered-down ketchup and the veggies were sour enough to be used as bug repellent. The mousse had too much cream and the cake was a bit too dry. The strawberry soda, however, was amazing. Strawberries in Germany are inexplicably delicious–each with the sweetness and juice of a hundred of the sweetest and juiciest. I ended up eating my friend’s french fries and they basically saved me from starvation.
There was a book sale outside the cafeteria, so all of us went to check it out. Lots of classics in German–I think I tried reading The Divine Comedy in German…which is about impossible. And then one of our comrades stole a giant, 1000-page book in Russian. I share the shame for being a silent witness–watching him stuff it into his backpack–but I was genuinely curious if he was serious about leaving the campus with a stolen book. But at 2 Euros, it wasn’t much of a steal anyway.
The reason our unscrupulous friend stole the book was so Herr Reynolds, who worked as a translator in the Army during WWII, could translate. We watched, eyes sparkling with admiration, as H. Reynolds translated the first page and taught us how to say “fight” [pronounced “boi”?] in Russian. He then somehow segued into a story of how he drank so much beer once that he scrambled to the restroom in desperation for bowel relief–only, the cleaning lady had just cleaned the toilets. And I quote, “the porcelain was sparkling…you could still smell the cleaner…and I painted that sucker brown“.
A tour bus picked us up for a drive around the city. The tour guide was kind of a dud. She droned on and on and I felt like I was in a Charlie Brown short. So I turned my attention to snapping photos of the sights. We stopped at Parliament, which is totally gorgeous inside–doric columns, red carpets flowing down a grand set of stairs–only to be shown to a room where we were again subjected to powerpoints and grown-up talking.
Paintings of the fall of the Berlin wall stretched around the walls. I would have much rather walked over to the real Berlin Wall (which was more like 2 panels of it), that was right across the street. Most of the graffiti has been chipped off and sold by street vendors for 5 Euros per small piece. I’m a sucker for tchotchkes and caved into buying one.
As boring as our guide was, I must thank her for informing us of a 150-year old chocolate shop in Gendarmenmarkt: Fassbender. Our bus stopped at a random souvernir store for some odd reason; the only attraction there was this model of the entire city of Berlin. I bought a pretty pack of chocolates with the different castles around Berlin. We, including H. Birkelbach and H. Reynolds, all ditched the boring lady after the store. I have no idea what she ended up doing. But we all took the U-Bahn to the last stop of the day: the Zitadelle.
The Zitadelle used to be a fortress but is now used mainly for big events like concerts. My first non-classical concert! I was pumped. There was an hour or two to kill before they started letting people in, so my friend and I walked around the Zitadelle, while others went to sit by the river and just chill. It was on our walk that I learned that “pinkeln” is slang for “to pee”. Because my friend really needed to and there was no restroom in sight. That was probably TMI; a good word to know, nonetheless.
The Zitadelle, must have been an awfully secure fortress because it floats in the middle of a ginormous lake, with only one entrance. Our walk around the right side of the Zitadelle took only 20 minutes. So I went off by myself to explore the other side of the Zitadelle. I was bored, so I figured, why not? Let me pretend to be a ballerina and do grande jetés. Many stares and odd looks where shot my way from people walking on the bridge some 500ft away.
By the time I got back, H. Birkelbach was handing out the tickets and money for dinner, which was about 20 Euros! We had to go through security check and my Klean Kanteen gifted to me by a dear friend was temporarily confiscated :(. Thankfully, I could pick it up after the concert. As expected, there wasn’t anything I could eat. I wasn’t hungry though (or maybe I just convinced myself I wasn’t). I did, however, need to [pinkeln] and was forced to use a port-a-potty. As a germaphobe, I was sweating at the thought of not being able to rinse my scummy hands, in spite of the fact that I had hand sanitizer. So I spent an unfortunate 3 Euros on a cup of water to do so.
Not going to lie, the music was definitely an acquired taste. But incredibly energetic. I’d ballpark it as the strange lovechild of hard rock, polka, and dance/techno beats. No headline is long enough to fit the names of our fantastic headliners: Goran Bregovic and his Wedding & Funeral Band, and Shantel & Bucovina Club Orkestar. A couple of us stood in the back at first and even sat at a table for a bit, but finally decided to mingle with the raucous crowd. After pushing, burrowing, and squeezing our way through a sea of bodies, we made it to the rest of our group. And then everyone else besides 3 of us decided to go get drinks, leaving us to babysit our spot. Our group never came back.
[ At this point in the narrative, the focus shifts to detailed documentation of a first and close-up encounter of what drunk people are like. Feel free to read on, but I ran out of pictures to break up the text :P. ]
The two members of my humble group had already killed their first liter of beer in the first half hour of the 3-hour long concert. One of them was pretty adamant about not dancing at the concert, but I think the spirits were chipping away at his inhibitions. There is something ineffably funny about a skinny, nerdy Asian kid–flushed like the color of a fire engine–making his debut by getting his drunken groove on to gypsy brass rock music. The other was fine because she was from Iowa–and apparently there’s nothing to do in Iowa but drink.
I tried some of their beer but of all the things that are good in this world, that was not it. This invoked traumatic memories of my first encounter with beer as a 4-year-old, who thought it was bubbly apple juice/cider, at a fancy banquet with my parents.
We gave up on holding our spot by the stage and moved to a quieter patch of gravel to sit down on. Our dearly buzzed friend began his 2nd liter of beer, and soon after was licking the dust from the gravel off his knee and drawing on pebbles. Then he made a slobbering speech about how he should be a role model because he’s 2nd in his class. He’d declare, “I shouldn’t be drinking this” and then proceed to take huge gulp, followed by a slew of selfies (this was years before selfies were cool).
The three of us left the main arena (after a third liter) to the big rocks outside where the rest of our group was hanging out. One of the girls and I tried dancing to the music with some cha-cha, salsa, tango, and some east coast swing. We kept it up for a while until the rest of our group wanted to learn.
Our tomato-faced friend stumbled into our dance lesson, insistent on learning as well. This was a surprising turn of events, as he had taken a very macho stance since the start of our trip, asserting that dancing was for “sissies”. I never turn down the opportunity to teach dance, so we learned the cha-cha and salsa. I was holding back tears because drunk people dancing looks funny. Our group then formed a spazzy dance circle that amounted to the most cardio I had since PE in middle school. Eventually we all tired and sat down on the rocks to rest. Our friend was the last man standing, dancing to the imaginary beat in his head.
His energy unabated, he runs up to one of our friends, sticking his face an inch from hers, and loudly sputters “CAN I HEADBUTT YOU?!?“. She gave him a crisp slap on the face. Undettered, he challenged another in our group to play Egyptian Ratscrew. And won several rounds with confusingly fast reflexes.
Every 10 minutes, he would promptly demand to know where Herr Birkelbach was, because “I WANT TO PUNCH THAT SOB IN THE FACE” . Giant boulders were also too “wobbly” to support his weight; his shirt was chewed on until a nice pool of drool stain had formed; and licking his shoulder became the next tastiest thing. Then he told us the very interesting story about the man in the closet man. He also took to cursing at Herr Reynolds and shaking his finger at him while repeatedly going “Youu. YOUUU. YOUUUU!!! YOU.” My friend and I were also given explicit permission to slap him when he got too out of hand, which was many times that night.
Around 10pm H. Birkelbach signaled that it was time to leave and all of us helped to support the poor drunk boy, whose knees were buckling at every step. Two of us carried him while another carried his backpack. We waited at the railing by the edge of the moat for our Gastgeschwistern [“host siblings”] to come out. The two of us holding him had our hands full trying to stop him from jumping over the rail and from throwing his backpack into the moat.
At this point, three of us ladies had grown slightly suspicious that maybe this guy was faking it because of all the attention he was getting, i.e. from all the girls in our group. We essentially had our arms wrapped around him, acting as a straight-jacket, since he wouldn’t stop squirming (and yelling about wanting to punch H. Birkelbach).
And one of the other girls holding him down frustratingly yelled, “he’s getting HARDERRR”. All of us cracked up so hard. I carried his stupidly heavy backpack with the stolen Russian book the rest of the way back, while two others supported him all the way to the U-Bahn.
The dude completely collapsed and was out cold when we got on the subway. We had to pin him up against the subway pole because there were no seats left. After we got out of the train station, H. Reynolds swung him over his left shoulder like a rag doll, and carried him until we were at the hotel. At some points, bridal-style. It was sad and funny how all of us took turns snapping photos of him in all his vulnerability. But also great.
In the words of Chris Traeger, li-ter-ally the most hilarious night of our trip.