My problem with Europe is that I still haven't found a place in it that I don't want to check out. I've spent the last year meeting other travelers, at least half of them from Europe, all of whom will tell me all about where they're from. Am I going there? Sure! Of Course! I'd love to see them in Scotland/Italy/Austria/Portugal/Switzerland/WhereverelsetheysayIneedtosee! I've heard so much and it sounds amazing!
So I'm covering the same distance at the same pace as usual, but I'm passing through a lot more countries, each with their own languages and cultures. It feels like trying to have a coherent conversation with a multiple-personality-disorder case. In one 24 hour period I start at one in the morning seeing a horde of Russians swarm a duty-free shop and refuse to budge there until someone is rousted out of bed to sell them their vodka. At dawn, I pull into a bus station in Estonia, and wander the streets of cobblestone old town. Midday I'm in a modern shopping mall, looking for shirts. That evening I end up in a wine bar in Latvia, listening to a live band while somebody plays the original Super Mario Bros. on an NES in a corner. That's one day.
After hunting for 16th Century cave graffiti (carved coats of arms left by bored hunters) scarfing loads of Blinis and sour cream, I headed to Germany. I wanted to see Poland, but I ran out of time for this pass, because I'd forced myself to slow down in the Baltic states enough so that I could actually see something in all of them. All I saw of Poland this time through was the inside of the Warsaw central train station. It has WC signs that don't point to a WC, hotel signs that point away from hotels, an information booth that couldn't give information, and ticket windows that couldn't sell tickets. Gee guys, wonder which side of the iron curtain you were on.
After bargaining passage with a train conductor at midnight and short 5am scare where it had looked like we overshot my station by a few hundred km (Quick tip: the town of "Frankfurt (Oder)" is on the other side of the country from the city of Frankfurt), I got to Berlin. Never before have I been to a city where underpopulation is a problem. The streets do feel a bit empty sometimes. One guy explained it as a city built for 5 million, currently populated by 3 million. It doesn't look it, but it's one of the poorest cities in Western Europe. I was told unemployment is getting to 20%. Squatting on empty lots is legal as long is it's open to the public.
Every place has history of some kind but this is a town where you can practically feel it pulsing in the cobblestones. The Memorial to Murdered Jews of Europe in the center of town is just down the street from the Brandenburg gate and the commemorative brick line in the ground from where the Berlin wall once stood, all in view from the open glass dome of the new Reichstag. Some parts of the wall still stand today because of the artwork on them. As I write, the original artists are doing restoration work on their pieces. In fact, the arts in general here are doing very well. There's a pulsing music scene I only just grazed the surface of in town, and I'd love to see more.
Now, after lots of currywurst, several museum visits, and peek backstage in the biggest stage in Europe (thanks to the resident mezzo soloist with the Duetsche Oper Berlin and her hyperactive 8-month old puppy), I am headed to another party. I'm writing this from the autobahn, sitting in the middle of the back seat of a VW Golf with four gears. We're headed to Munich. When we arrive, I'm meeting up with a good friend from college to see this annual event they have in town. It involves beer. Maybe you've heard of it?
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