Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Long Road Just Slightly North Of Dublin That Changes Names A Lot As You Go Along It, Seriously, Like I Probably Counted Like 8 Name Changes - It Was Annoying

July 8, 2010 - Dublin, Ireland.

The gray sky opened up to a small Boeing 737 hurtling through the heavens and probably going way too fast. The "pilot," a man Ryanair found sleeping outside the airport the previous day, gleefully flipped various switches and leaned forward on the yoke. The plane pitched forward as the passengers, between bouts of screaming, experienced moments of weightlessness. As the plane came in for a landing, the megaphone operator atop the control tower furiously made the motion signifying "turn a few degrees left, no, my left, no, not like that, fine, just land the damn thing" before the wheels (plastic skids) slammed into the tarp runway. After the plane violently skidded to a stop, the hands were pried from the armrests, and the masking tape was peeled off the sheet of wood covering the door, the passengers exited the plane, making sure to step over Nibbles O'Patchcorn, the beloved plane-cat whose assignment it was to keep the mice away from the exposed wires. The pilot turned in his Soviet-era brochure detailing how to fly a plane that doesn't exist anymore (how different could it be?) and got the sandwich he was promised in return for "gettin' these here people from Germany or France or something to whatever place is next on the list."

It may not have been a good flight, or a safe airplane held together with glue-sticks and Scotch tape, but I was finally in Dublin. I got my guitar, which by the grace of God had not been turned into a loosely-associated collection of splinters, and went to customs. The officer checked my passport, asked some questions in his accent that made me think of moors, fog and drunken brawls (I can't help it!), and sent me on my way. I said farewell to Stefanie, Maria, Theresa and Jennifer, and found out where to go. The 16a bus would be my home for the next 45 minutes.

So I got on the bus and took it to the city center. The website of my hostel claimed it would a 20-minute walk from the city center to the hostel, which is fine - what it neglected to mention is HOW HARD IT IS TO FIND YOUR WAY WHEN THERE ARE NO STREET NAMES ANYWHERE.

You know how in the USA, street names are generally pretty easy to find? Sure, there are occasional intersections where the streets aren't marked, or possibly the names are hidden atop some stop sign in a dark corner, but normally, those familiar green signs are ever-abundant. Well, never again will I complain about not being able to tell what street I'm on. What I contend happened is this: the city planners taped a map of Dublin to the wall of a large, empty room, then gave a blind person a paintball gun and ten paintballs. He wasn't told where the map actually was, and was just told to fire blindly ( :O ) at whatever he wanted to shoot at. After the ten rounds were used up, they put street names up at the closest intersections to the places on the map that were hit. But instead of, you know, easy-to-see signs that hang above the intersection, they decided to go with the more entertaining "nail really tiny plaques way too far up on the sides of buildings" approach. While I suppose this is cool for spiders who want to know what street the building they're climbing up is on, it doesn't work so well for motorists, cyclists or pedestrians. When I got lost on the last night and called my brother to Google Maps me some directions (more on that later), we actually had to figure out where I was based on the names of the businesses I was passing. Ridick.

So, the first night, I just got my bearings. Then the second day, I went out to Howth Harbor on a bike. Here's a map of the area.

The yellow line, going from the red dot in the bottom-left to the red dot in the top-right is the path I took. It's a 17-kilometer trip that takes about an hour and a half by bike. The scenery along the way is really pretty, especially the part that goes right by the ocean. And then the harbor itself is just spectacular, too. Here are some pictures:

 Samuel Beckett Bridge.




So yes, I did find seals, and they were very friendly and enjoyed fish a lot. Which is weird, because I would think they'd be more partial to veal or something, but when I threw a baby cow into the harbor, they just swam away. And I got arrested. Those Irish can't take a joke...

 So after that, I went to the Guinness storehouse. This place is COOL. Back in 1756, Arthur Guinness signed the 9000-year lease on the building, and now it's embedded in the floor under a glass pane. And the whole building looks like a giant Guinness pint on the inside. There are seven levels filled with all sorts of exhibitions and information about how Guinness is made, the guys who made the casks that stored Guinness (coopers), the ships used to transport Guinness around the world, and everything else you can imagine. And on top is the Gravity Bar, which offers a panoramic view of the city:

It was just cool. There were quotes from various Irish authors on the windows too. And free Guinness, which is a wonderful thing. Then the next day, I started out by going to a place called Kilmainham Gaol. Lemme start this by telling you a little about Joseph Plunkett.

Back in 1916, the Easter Rising took place in Dublin, namely in and around the General Post Office (GPO). This was an attempt by those who wanted Irish independence to split from the English. So a bunch of guys spent a number of years training soldiers and gathering guns, and in April, the Rising happened. It lasted a few days, but ultimately was stopped by the English. So the leaders of the movement, including Joseph Plunkett, were thrown into Kilmainham Gaol (pronounced "jail") for a number of weeks. They were sentenced to be executed, and in May 1916, they were. But before that happened, Joseph had to get married to Grace Gifford. The story is just crazy sad. Here are the lyrics of a song written about it: 

As we gather in the chapel here in old Kilmainham Jail
I think about these past few weeks, oh will they say we've failed?
From our school days they have told us we must yearn for liberty
Yet all I want in this dark place is to have you here with me.

Oh Grace, just hold me in your arms and let this moment linger.
They'll take me out at dawn and I will die
With all my love I place this wedding ring upon your finger
There won't be time to share our love for we must say goodbye.

Now I know it's hard for you, my love, to ever understand
The love I bare for these brave men, the love for my dear land
But when Pádraic called me to his side down in the GPO
I had to leave my own sick bed, to him I had to go

Now as the dawn is breaking, my heart is breaking too
On this May morn as I walk out, my thoughts will be of you
And I'll write some words upon the wall so everyone will know
I loved so much that I could see his blood upon the rose.

Well, yeah, he got married and then executed a few hours later. Saddest thing in the world. There's a cross where he was shot, too. This is it:

 Well, after going to Kilmainham, it was time to go to the Jameson Whiskey Distillery. And that was a lot of fun, particularly the whiskey tasting I participated in at the end. I gotta say, I like American whiskey more than Irish whiskey or Scotch whiskey. And then after that, it was time to go to Howth again. Except this time... this time it was personal. I think I've reached the maximum number of pictures I can upload per post, so I'll save the adventure that happens next for the next post.


Monday, July 12, 2010

The Long Road to Dublin

For the last week and a half, my connection to the internet has been absolutely awful. For this reason, it's been rather impossible for me to do ANYTHING related to the internet. Because of that inconvenience, I decided to take a trip to Dublin, Ireland.


It's like... In the beginning, there was to be an average distribution of "good" in the world. But in the same way that a day was taken away from February and added to August at some point in ancient history, a considerable amount of "good" was taken from the rest of the world (probably mostly from Chamblee, Georgia) and given to Dublin.

For real. This city is amazing. It was probably enhanced somewhat by the fact that I had a free bicycle to use in the city, but nonetheless. One of the best parts? The smells. It all smells like the kitchen of a bar and grill. Pretty much because the entire city is one huge bar and grill. And there's a port in there too, and a few statues, but basically, the whole city consists of two types of buildings:

1. Hotel
2. Bar, possibly & grill

Now, a city with that much employment in the service industry is bound to be extremely nice. And it totally is. Oh, and the stereotypes about Irish people? A lot of them are COMPLETELY TRUE. They all sit in bars and drink Guinness, and they're all really nice. And they all speak in outrageous Irish accents. Oh, and the number of red-haired girls per capita was much higher than average. It felt like heaven.

The not-so-fun part? Actually getting there. My big mistake: choosing Ryanair to get to Dublin. Here, I used my extensive photoshop skills to design a hot new logo for them:

Pretty sweet logo design, huh? It took me four months and I went $800 over-budget but I think it'll sell. Anyway, the reason Ryanair blows so much, or possibly why they're so smart and successful: They advertise tickets at insanely cheap prices, then charge your intestines out with spurious nonsense fees. For example: My ticket to Dublin was to cost 18 euros. But then there was the 5 euro online-booking fee, the 10-euro "administrative" (read: donut fund) fee, and of course the 40 euros they charge to check a bag. So even after paying all that stuff, and then having the bright idea of mailing my suitcase to Munich instead of lugging it all around Dublin (I took a carry-on instead), I still had to pay 40 more euros to take my guitar. So on an 18-euro ticket, I ended up paying 113 euros total. At that price (the price of an average one-way ticket), you'd at least expect the plane to be comfortable, right?

Wrong. I took this picture of the inside of the plane:

Was there enough room to move around? No. Was there enough room to turn your head? Absolutely not. Was there enough room to breathe? Only if you took alternating breaths with the person next to you. Here was my itinerary:

July 7, 20:15 - Depart Weimar Hbf on ICE 1940 toward Frankfurt-Main Hbf
July 7, 22:53 - Arrive in Frankfurt-Main Hbf
July 8, 03:00 - Depart Frankfurt-Main on Bus 600 toward Frankfurt-Hahn Airport
July 8, 04:45 - Arrive in Frankfurt-Hahn Airport
July 8, 09:40 - Depart Frankfurt-Hahn Airport on Ryanair 1949 toward Dublin International Airport
July 8, 10:45 - Arrive in Dublin International Airport
July 8, 13:00 - Arrive at Harrington House Hostel, 21 Harrington Street, Dublin

However, here's what actually wound up happening:

July 7, 12:00 - Start cleaning room
July 7, 12:30 - Notice there's still a full bottle of whiskey and vodka in the room
July 7, 12:31 - Try to give the bottles away
July 7, 12:32 - Sampled the bottles a little bit...
--note: Everything from this point until the end note is a bit blurry.--
July 7, xx:xx - Finish cleaning room
July 7, xx:xx - Remember I have to send my suitcase to Munich using the courier service recommended by my professor
July 7, xx:xx - Stumble downtown with suitcase
July 7, xx:xx - Wander around an intersection looking for the courier service
July 7, xx:xx - Get three different sets of directions from three different stores
July 7, xx:xx - Find that the courier service door is locked
July 7, xx:xx - Ask a cop where the post office is instead
July 7, xx:xx - Arrive at post office after getting turned around three times (of course the damn thing is right at the main bus terminal, and I see it every day)
July 7, xx:xx - Get told my suitcase needs a lock on it to be shipped
July 7, xx:xx -  Wander around looking for somewhere that sells locks
July 7, xx:xx - Get like eight different sets of directions toward somewhere that sells locks
July 7, xx:xx - Find the locksmith after 45 minutes of wandering around the same square (who would have thought it would be the place with the huge wooden key outside?)
July 7, xx:xx - Buy a lock
July 7, xx:xx - Deal with the locks and keys and suitcase until there's a lock on the suitcase zippers
July 7, xx:xx - Back to the post office, get asked where to ship it, have no idea
July 7, xx:xx - Awkward call to my professor to get the address
July 7, xx:xx - Suitcase ships to Munich
July 7, xx:xx - Go home
July 7, xx:xx - Something extremely confusing that ended up with me being in the apartment of a guy named Jörg, who is repairing my harmonica
July 7, xx:xx - Leave Jörg's apartment
July 7, 20:15 - Depart Weimar Hbf on ICE 1940 toward Frankfurt-Main Hbf
July 7, 20:15 - 10-hour headache begins now!

Well, everything after that went relatively according to plan, except for the Ryanair stuff. I have to go to sleep now... but adventures in Dublin come in the next post.

Pictured: Me, freezing cold and wet, 8 miles from Dublin on a bike.
Proof that interesting stuff happens in the next post.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

In honor of July 4th, here are the top 5 things I miss about the United States.

#1: The emergency vehicle sirens.

I never expected that this would top the list, but a few weeks ago, when I was in Leipzig, there was a big firetruck parade. Firetrucks from all over the land congregated in the streets and had their sirens on. Almost all of them had the European two-tone siren 4 whole steps apart. And, you know, hearing all of those all the time is cool and all, and watching people cheer whenever the drivers in the parade was pretty sweet, but then...

Yes, a firetruck from the United States, all decked out with the US flag and everything. And when it sounded the wail-siren so familiar to us all, all the Germans cheered, and a tear came to my eye. Never in my life had I heard something so beautiful. And forevermore in the future, when I'm being chased by the police, I'll always pay my respect to that American siren coming closer and closer to haul me off to jail.

However, I really don't think this siren is the most perfect sound for emergency vehicles. Personally, when I'm texting and changing clothes while doing 190 on the interstate without a seatbelt, and I see those blue lights in the rear-view mirror, I'd prefer to hear He's Frank by The BPA feat. Iggy Pop coming from the police car behind me, but I guess that's just a personal preference.

#2. Water that doesn't blow.

Now, I know it's a European thing, and normally, my pretentious, holier-than-thou personality would automatically (although grudgingly on the inside) accept all cool European things, but this is something I just can't accept, no matter how much I try. For those of you who have not tried the water in Europe, please do the following:

1. Get a bathtub
2. Fill the bathtub with regular tap water
3. Have this man bathe in it
4. Read a very depressing book
5. Drop as many Alka-Seltzer tablets in the bathtub as will fit
6. Rub course-grain sand paper all over your body, vigorously
7. Drink the bathwater through a chocolate straw (but don't eat the chocolate)
8. Lose a friend

This is about what it feels like to drink the mineral water in Europe. I've been trying to figure out exactly why they love the stuff for weeks now. It's like, not just carbonated water. It's carbonated water with nightmares added to it.

The nightmare-water should look like this.

Furthermore, the water in this country is extremely expensive. When you go to a restaurant, and the water is more expensive than the alcohol, there is a problem.

Or perhaps not.

#3. Air conditioning.

So I know it's not specifically listed in the Constitution, but I think the phrase "Jeder hat das Recht auf Leben und körperliche Unversehrtheit. Die Freiheit der Person ist unverletzlich. In diese Rechte darf nur auf Grund eines Gesetzes eingegriffen werden" implies it. When the temperature in the summertime in my room gets to be hot enough that I have to put out small fires with regularity, I think air conditioning is necessary. On the radiator on the wall in my room, there's a knob whose purpose, I think, is to control the temperature. There are the numbers 1-5 on the knob, and I'm pretty sure those control how hot the radiator should get. But to the left of the 1, there is a little snowflake graphic. The natural thing to do would be to turn the knob to the snowflake graphic, right?

This is the point where I would say something really funny that happened when I did that, but the reality is so disappointing that I can't even think of anything funny to say. Nothing happened. It stayed hot, and I continued to have to actively keep my body from melting while working in my room.

#4. People named Hana Kim.

I've noticed that a disproportionately large number of people walking around in Germany are not Hana Kim. There are some wonderful people here, but instead of investing 7+ years of emotions and friendship with them, it sometimes seems easier just to use someone I already have on that level.

 What Germany desperately lacks.
While I love this country, the simple fact that I haven't really been able to go anywhere and just be fat for hours and hours at a time makes me miss that luxury. It seems that there's a certain level of class expected in public in Germany, which is cool and everything, for a while. But there comes a point when all I want to do is drive on up to Dunwoody, hit up Brandywine Court and make pizzas out of solidified hamburger grease. Or watch Futurama until my eyes bleed while drinking various drinks out of the two-liter bottle. Excuse me, out of the 0.53-gallon bottle.  Which brings me to my next point,

#5. The imperial system of measurement.

Yeah, I know it doesn't make a lot of sense that the Americans still use it, and I know it's unnecessarily hard to learn, but I love it. I love being able to say I'm 6'1" tall and not 1.85 meters. Or that I live 5000 miles from Weimar instead of 8200 kilometers. When I'm ordering something to drink and I see listed on the menu that it's 500 mL, I'm reminded of Chem 1310 at Georgia Tech. And while I usually love extrapolating the molality of an acid from a titration curve, a restaurant is simply not the place for that. 

 Not very appetizing.

One other thing I miss a whole lot right now is being at home for the 4th of July. But I suppose that will go away in two days. Hopefully, at least. I don't know. Writing this post made me a little sad. I think I'm gonna go talk to @Joey Slater for a bit. He's a good person to talk to.


Thursday, July 1, 2010

My last two posts have both been very thought-out and well-worded, so I think it's about time to just open my thoughts and let whatever's sick of being in there vomit on out. And first out of the bullpen is this: You know what's really, really great about liking grapefruits? THEY'RE ALWAYS REALLY CHEAP. So I adventured out to Nah Kauf tonight, which sounds like just this really happenin' club or what have you, but actually it's a supermarket, and not even a very good one at that. Because that's what Rob Agocs does on his Tuesday nights. Alright. So I got in there, looking for items to purchase whereby I might embark on a culinary adventure later on in the evening. And suddenly, I see oranges and grapefruits right next to each other. "Hmm," I said to myself. "Methinks yon orange or yon grapefruit might ensatisfy what frivolous needs I have to-night for a culinærrieye ad-venture!" I glanced 'pon the prices, and was shocked to see such a difference!

Seriously. The oranges were 2.99 euros. And the grapefruits were a) about twice as big and b) 0.59 euros. At that price, I'll take a grapefruit any day. Grapefruits are completely awesome.

I'm kind of stuck in a battle tonight between crappy pre-packaged food and fruit. See, while on my adventure at Nah Kauf, I purchased four items. But I feel only one of the items can reign supreme. I bought a container of peaches, a thing of pre-packaged breaded chicken-style foodstuffs, a grapefruit, and those glass noodles, dried and in a bag. I've split them into those two groups, naturally. So far I've tried the grapefruit and the chicken things. Grapefruit had much more flavor, so it won that round. Then I had a peach, and I considered opening the glass noodles and just munching away, but then I decided I wasn't a total slob yet.

So lemme talk about Dresden for a bit. From the outside, it looks AWESOME. Like, you're sitting on a train going eastward for about two hours, passing by billions of empty fields and wind turbines on the horizon (why are they always on the horizon? It seems like they specifically move for me so I never see one up close, which is kind of weird, but I guess kind of flattering too) until you find a sign that says the city of Dresden is coming up in a little bit. And then after a little bit, everything starts getting urban. And kind of gritty, like you might get looked at angrily by a passer-by if you're too loud or something. And there's a bit of graffiti around, but not enough to make you think you're gonna die.

So finally, you get off at the train station, which has like 400 floors, and you navigate the maze of hallways and catwalks without getting hit by trains, and finally, you reach the outside world. But before you step out into the street, you have to be careful that the savage city doesn't kill you with it's vicious streetcars running loose all over the roads. Efforts have been made to capture these beautiful but fierce creatures, but they were simply not meant to be domesticated. The Dresdners have learned to try to live as peacefully as possible with them, but danger still lurks around every corner. There have been reports of packs of these streetcars hiding in tall grass around the city, waiting for an unsuspecting pedestrian to go by, at which point they pounce and feast on the unfortunate person. Usually, though, the predators can be found grazing peacefully on asphalt or other food sources readily available around the city.

So the hostel in Dresden was really kind of cool. It was built right above a Communist restaurant, and I'm not kidding about that. Everything on the menu cost 8 euros. The service was extremely slow, as there was only one cooking station available. And each of the 22 cooks had to switch off every five minutes. No, I'm lying about all of that, but it was still a Communist-themed restaurant. There were three floors to the hostel, and I lived on the top. For each of the three places I've stayed in in Germany, the following set of instructions can be used to get to my room:

1) Enter the building.
2) Go up the stairs as far as you can go.
3) Turn right at the top of the stairs.
4) My room is the last door on the left.

It's getting a little weird. I booked a hostel for my long weekend next week, and I'm eagerly waiting to find out what my room assignment is. I'll be extremely happy if that set of instructions also applies to that hostel.

Oh, you know what else is weird? And seriously, all of this is starting to make me feel like I'm in a Truman Show-esque situation. But the name if every city I've been to so far on this trip, and every city I'm scheduled to be in on this trip in the future, has two syllables. Really. Here, let me list them:

1. Frankfurt
2. Weimar
3. Leipzig
4. Erfurt
5. Jena
6. Naumburg
7. Nürnberg
8. München
9. Berlin
10. Potsdam
11. Frankfurt
12. Dresden

You may have noticed that I listed Frankfurt twice. That's because I'll be in two different Frankfurts on the trip, about 70 miles away from each other. Moreover, what further contributed to my paranoia was the fact that I mysteriously got sick on the very day we were scheduled to go to Eisenach, which has three syllables, and I had to stay home. Strange...

In any case, back to Dresden: Sure, the city is most likely very fun, and the people are very nice, but I was unable to see any of that due to the CONSTANT TORRENT OF TOURS AND MUSEUMS scheduled through the program. The same was the case with Berlin, but because I had a friend in Berlin who knew what to do in the evenings, it wasn't nearly as bad. But Dresden... Dresden was awful. Wake up in the morning, around 7, and spend the next 8-10 hours walking around on guided tours through museums or trying to navigate the confusing, hot streets to get to the next meeting point for a walking tour. While culture is important, it's not SO IMPORTANT that one has to constantly endlessly be force-fed the same art or history in different museums for hours at a time. I would have loved to simply go and figure out how the city works by myself, but by the time all the tours and museums were over for the day, I was always exhausted. And that's not how to get an emotional understanding of a city, the same kind I was able to get with Weimar, or even Berlin to some extent.

Oh, and the churches.

Have you heard of something called Graham's Number? This number completely re-defines "large" numbers. Let me try to explain it. And I totally "didn't" go to Wikipedia for this. So using Knuth's up-arrow notation, we can express numbers like 4 cubed as 4^3. And if we wanted to express an even larger number, we can use something more along the lines of 4^^3, meaning 4^(4^4). Or 4^^5, meaning 4^(4^(4^(4^4))). Furthermore, we can use more up arrows, making such crazy expressions as 4^^^3, which is 4^^(4^^4), which is... (4^(4^(4^4)))^^4^(... 4... er, something. Anyway, Graham's number can be represented by the number 3, followed by 7 trillion up arrows, followed by another 3. 7 TRILLION. Let me put that in other words. For those of us who don't know what a Planck Length is, it's the smallest possible length that exists in the universe before physics starts to not apply. It's so small, that one time I saw this animation online that was a logarithmic scale of the universe with a little scroll bar thing on the bottom, and I was like "oh man, that's really really small, like smaller than you can believe small." Lemme dig through the Internet... ah, here it is. Scroll all the way to the left to see it. It's cool. Anyway, if the known universe was divided up into cubes of edge 1 Planck Length, and each of those cubes contained just one digit of Graham's Number, (note: one digit) then we would still need something like 10^170 universes to represent the number of digits. That's like, indescribably big. Like, makes me want to vomit big.

But that's how many churches there are in Germany.

Seriously. They could do away with the euro and just pass around churches. I have to wade through them on my way to the bus stop in the morning. And on days when those in charge are feeling particularly lacking when it comes to the number of churches in the area, business stops, schools close, and traffic shuts down because of how many churches there are everywhere. EVERYWHERE. What's that? Your church burned down? Just go in the back and take one of those. Oh wait, they already replaced it with four more. I'm looking at the window now and I see no fewer than 7 churches. It wouldn't surprise me if there were 8 or 9 by the time I finish writing this post.

Which reminds me, I've been writing this post on and off for three days now. I should probably go ahead and click the "publish post" button before I accidentally delete all of this. Or before they build a church between me and my computer and I can't reach the touchpad. Uh oh, I think they're starting.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

You've Got To Put On That Party Dress

You could almost feel the sensation that it was more than coincidence that made Anne Heisig walk down Schillerstrasse that night. And it almost seems like there was something more than simple musical interest that made her stop and listen to us. And there was must have been something more than courage that made her cross the street and begin one of the best friendships I’ve ever had.

It’s almost hard to fathom that I’ve known this girl for less time than items still in the news as “current events.” And it feels like the things she’s showed me – India Arie, a TV program out of the DDR known as “Sandmann,” a significant appreciation for Tracey Chapman – are all things that I’ve liked for all my life.

After I would finish my homework in the afternoon, I’d go back to the bench at which we first met, and we’d use whatever ragtag assortment of instruments we could throw together to have as much fun as possible for the next 6-8 hours. In total, we used three different guitars, three different harmonicas and a violin. We performed on Schillerstrasse, at Fete de la Musique, at Blaue Nacht, on Windischenstrasse, and in front of as many bars and restaurants as was allowed.

The songs that belonged to us were Mary Jane's Last Dance by Tom Petty and Gimme One Reason and Revolution by Tracey Chapman. Over the course of less than a week, we grew attached to those songs and just the simple act of playing whatever came to mind for hours at a time.

Of course, after playing music and making whatever meager money we could, it would be time to explore Weimar's crazy nightlife, ranging from smokey hole-in-the-wall bars full of college students to smokey hole-in-the-wall bars full of young adults. Of course, there was always also my favorite activity of spending hours talking to Anne and her friends Maria and Stefanie until the sun began to come up at 3 in the morning and we'd all walk home.

Or last night, when we all went to a slightly less smokey salsa club and Anne taught me to dance salsa until the sun came up at 3 in the morning.

Today was the last day I might ever see Anne Heisig. I met her at our bench on Schillerstrasse. We played our songs and didn't make any money, but it didn't matter. Anne was leaving for France today and I for Dresden. In our last two hours, we practiced our tradition of getting Doeners, then we walked all the way to the Weimar Hauptbahnhof (main train station). I had dozens of opportunities along the way to take the bus back toward Ehringsdorf and get packed, but every second I spent would never be able to be spent again.

Strange - Weeks ago, when I was worried about leaving for Germany, I had a dream in which I met a girl. It was frantic- I was running from a gang or something at the time for some reason, but she started running too. After a long time of talking while flat-out sprinting (isn't it great how you don't get exhausted in dreams?), I asked her what her name was.

"Hannah heiss ich."

That phrase (Hannah is my name) sounds almost exactly like the name Anne Heisig pronounced in German.

I was relieved when I missed my bus back from the Weimar Hbh. I had another 15 minutes to see Anne off. I put my bag down, took her hands, and hugged her. She told me she'd think of me whenever she hears a harmonica. She hugged me tighter. I kissed her on the cheek. We came out of the hug and I gave her the flower. She took my hands and I looked into her light blue eyes, and with a smile and sort of a half-wink, through tearing eyes, she said "Mach's gut."

Last week, I found my heart on a bench on Schillerstrasse. But this morning, I watched it leave on a train for France. As I sit on the train to Dresden, writing this, I can almost feel specifically the fact that she took these tracks just hours before. But right now, I'm looking forward to getting a guitar in Munich and playing those songs again. Anne may have taken a little of my heart, but she let me keep my soul.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Nightfall will be Coming Soon

Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve fallen in love.

Four days ago, I sat on a bench in the inner city of Weimar, thinking to myself. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I, unlike the other people on the trip, seemed to be incapable of having a good time. Sure, I’d been able to go out anywhere in the city whenever I wanted to, or surf the internet (when I’m actually able to connect), or even go out and play music in the street and make some money. But it seemed like time after time, I was just passing the time until my next session of sitting alone on my bed, trying to figure out why I’d come to Germany to study in the first place. And let me tell you, those sessions started happening far too often.

Last Thursday, I found myself sitting on a train to Berlin, with two harmonicas in my pocket and Otis Taylor playing bluegrass from my iPod. To be honest, I was not looking forward to spending the next four days in Germany’s capital, taking an average of 4 tours per day and getting along in a city I’d heard was full of much meaner people than Weimar. After all, if I may quote my last post: “In my first seven seconds in Berlin, I managed to get yelled at for talking about polka music stand in the way of a train full of commuters…”  Naturally, after that first day, I was not expecting to have a very good time.

The next day, I made plans to visit my friend from elementary school through high school, Kylie Gregory, who was also staying in Berlin for the summer. But I sort of had my reservations at first. In the past, when I’ve been with Kylie, I’ve sometimes felt that I had to be different from my usual self in order to keep up with her. You know how some people are fun enough that you sometimes feel the need to be more exciting than usual in order to stay appealing? Well, my more-down-than-usual emotional situation over the past few months combined with the fact that I hadn’t seen Kylie in perhaps an entire year made me a little apprehensive.

Be aware that this is the same Kylie with whom I explored the cities of Nürnberg and Munich two years ago, as part of my high school’s exchange program.

 Pictured: Kylie and me in Munich, 2008

I called Kylie on Friday evening. As soon as she answered the phone and said “hello Rob” in a voice I didn’t realize I missed nearly as much as I did, I knew my expectations would be wrong. We met in a café- let me interject here and say that the text editor I’m using automatically put the accent over the e; I didn’t go out of my way to put it there, Hana- near my hostel. I got her a rose from a woman selling flowers in the Prinzlauerberg area (which pretty much died by the next day, sadly) and we met the girl selling coffee behind the counter. She was a blonde girl with a German mom and a French dad, and she managed to make the best drinks ever for us. The next stop was a Thai restaurant in the Kreuzberg neighborhood, where our waiter became an extremely good friend for the weekend. His name is Ali. He’s a Pakistani student who speaks German with barely any accent, but English with a much more noticeable one.  We ate samosas and drank two Mojitos and a Mai Tai total.

But the thing that Kylie did after that was what kept making the difference all weekend. She never made any plans. As soon as we left the Thai place, I was sort of surprised by her question of “where do you want to go next?” Honestly, I’m not much of a party person at home. But I would have loved to embrace any new way of life for the weekend, so I did.

We went to a Korean restaurant next.

It was here that I decided to take out my notebook and start documenting things so I could write about it later. As the night went on, for some reason, my handwriting tended to get more and more illegible…

“Things to Remember (in Berlin) 6/18/10-6/21/10
-Things ordered:
                -Korean Princess
                -Thing that starts with S
-Sat in the red section
                -like a bordello
                                Bordello = bad place
                -Kylie wrote that ^
                -Kimchi with cabbage, bean sprouts, cucambers, I’m a little this
-Kylie: “Honest people come from good roots
                -didn’t mean it abot momya”

And from later in the night, when the notebook was used to both document and make sure I didn’t get lost somewhere in Berlin late at night:

“Orianienstrasse @ Adelbertstrasse
Berlin Ubahn is like MARTA but more crowdeder. People are a bit nicer. Even at 2 AM still a lot of people.
Alexanderplatz aussteigen
U2 bis zum Pankow Station”

The next night, I went to Kylie’s apartment in Schoeneberg. We sat on her balcony and drank wine and played harmonica for hours. Then we walked to a Chinese takeout place on her corner (awesomely called Ding Dong) and got the smallest order of spring rolls. Then later to a Mexican restaurant, where we shared an appetizer and met a pair of Germans sitting next to us.

 Pictured: Kylie and me in Berlin, 2010

And last night, Kylie and I started at a cheap sushi place (sake is awful), then returned to the Thai restaurant and visited Ali again, then to various bars, and finished by singing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” in two-part harmony on some street corner and getting joined by a group of Tajikistani people for an impromptu street party before the sun started coming up.

I’ve come to re-realize that in life, the most wonderful things happen when they’re least expected. Would anyone ever have guessed that in the middle of a bit of a hard time in my life, out of nowhere, I would have one of the best weekends of my life with one of my oldest and best friends on Earth, in the middle of a foreign city 5000 miles from my home, without making any plans at all? That’s the part that leaves the biggest impression on me. All through the weekend, Kylie Gregory and I had absolutely no plans; something I’m not extremely accustomed to. We would let things happen as they came, and I could never want it to have turned out any better. To again quote my notebook, in one of the less legible sections: “I can’t remember the last time I’ve been this happy. You managed to take me out of this ditch I’ve been in, and for the last few days, lift me up to the top of the world.”

Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve fallen in love.

In love with Berlin, and thanks to one of my best friends, if things keep going this way, in love with life again.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Looking Down from her Hotel Room

You know you're oblivious when your professor has to tell you about the girls who were checking you out in the hall.

Aaaaaaaaand... first night in Berlin!

I'm staying in a hostel called East Seven. Like the name suggests, it's in a pretty bad section of East Berlin. Bad section as in don't go out alone bad. I'm considering taking the U-Bahn down to Schoenberg in a little bit to visit a friend of mine though. But it's okay, because the closest station is just two blocks away.

So, the music store affairs continued rather smoothly. I returned the next day and made sure NOT to ask the owner how he was doing. It worked out a lot better for me this time - he didn't seem to remember me from the previous day, and I more clearly clarified what I meant by "test out" the guitars. Apparently the owner thought I meant I wanted to meticulously look over every single one for dust and scratches. Which, on a normal day, I'd be absolutely fine with... but I was in a hurry that day. So I just bought a harmonica (Hohner Blues Harp MS, for those of you keeping score at home) and tested two of the guitars. Lemme tell you... for a 200 euro guitar, one of the ones I played sounded and felt AMAZING. It's by Yamaha, but I can't remember what kind. I'll have to go back and check, then see if I might be able to find one in Munich for the same price.

Speaking of guitars and harmonicas, Joshua Gloster and I went out busking for the first time last night. First of all, we must have gone out at like 9 PM on a Wednesday. Let me tell you something. When's the last time you saw something that was empty? And I mean empty?You may be thinking to yourself: "why, surely he can't mean the streets were literally empty, i.e. devoid of all matter. That just wouldn't happen given the governing characteristics of density equilibrium in the universe, let alone on Schillerstrasse in Weimar." Well I'll have you know, sir or madam, that you're DEAD WRONG.

If I may introduce a picture to prove my point:

Pictured: Schillerstrasse on a Wednesday night.

Even with the complete lack of matter and energy hanging around, Josh and I still managed to find a bench, play blues for 3 hours, and make 13 euros. And that brings me to my next point: The world needs more people like Anne Heisig. Who is that, you might ask?

It was dark. The road was a ribbon of moonlight tossed upon the purple moor leading to Weimar, Germany. Anne Luise Heisig was walking up the street. Her shadow played tirelessly in the empty store windows, fighting for space with the gnarled black cloaks cast by the willow trees overhead. Schillerstrasse is an empty place on a Wednesday night, but for Anne, it was just another evening. Except for one thing.

Without warning, the soft sounds of a blues guitar began to ring out in the distance. Anne's ears perked up. Was soll das denn? she thought to herself. Kein Musik gibt es auf Schillerstrasse, besonders nicht um mittwoch Abend! She increased her pace, her heart starting to pound. The sound of the music became louder. And then a second sound joined in: what sounded to Anne like a Hohner Blues Harp MS in the key of C (of course, modulated to G in cross-harp) playing over the guitar! Was ist das denn? Anne thought to herself. Das Geräusch... es klingt, als ob jemand einen Hohner Blues Harp MS spielt, C-Dur (natürlich ins G-Dur in Cross-harp umgewandelt). She walked faster.

And then... she saw them. Two dashing gentlemen, the one playing harmonica slightly more dashing and better-dressed, of course, and just an all-around great guy,  playing the guitar and harmonica. Anne stopped walking. She let the sound of blues wash over her, creating a metaphor that would only be described and analyzed in a middle school literature book, the kind that the teacher would always leave in the desks so you wouldn't have to put them in your locker, but citing the excuse that the county just doesn't give the teachers enough literature books, and the ones they do have are in really bad condition anyway but the new edition is scheduled to come out next year so there's no point in buying a brand new set right now.

Anne took a seat on the bench across the street from the two buskers and listened for the next twenty minutes. By the time they ran out of awesome busking power, Anne was inspired. The guitar player, Josh, walked away to find a bathroom. Anne walked up to the harmonica player and asked to play a song with him. They played music for the next three hours. And made 13 euros. Not bad.

Man, for someone studying in Weimar, I certainly have a lot of traditionally American things in my possession.

Pictured: some of the things in my room.

And then today was the train ride to Berlin. They say that in the first 7 seconds of meeting someone, you've already gotten a first impression. Well, in my first seven seconds in Berlin, I managed to get yelled at for talking about polka music, stand in the way of a train full of commuters, and agree to start drunken brawls in as many places as possible (double points for museums and art galleries). Oh, and tonight, we went to a cabaret.

Let's talk about that.

Now, for those of you who have not attended the... thing... I attended tonight, let me say that it opens up a whole new world of awesome. Imagine 8 French acrobats, a few ropes, a pulley system, a bunch of ribbons, and the world's greatest light and sound crew. Now throw in free drinks and a ridiculously emotional storyline, and you might come close to what I experienced tonight. It's amazing what a well-trained French acrobat girl can do with a rope hanging  40 feet from the ceiling.

Off to sleep now. I have to go on 12 tours in the next 3 days. I don't know if I'm annoyed or excited by that fact. Furthermore, Joey Slater is a super dude. Nothin' Better.