Early July 2009

Writing about last night,

Leaving Berlin for München. 

On to München now, with having only been in Berlin since 6:00pm last night. I wish we could've given Berlin more time, but we told Sebastian we'd be in Vienna tonight. The language barrier was a strong one in Berlin, which was strange being that I think most people spoke English. However, I don't blame his on the city at all; I just wish I knew ANY German. In France, I can initiate conversations with my poor French, or handle a Spanish conversation in Pilsen with the leftovers of my high school education in the language. German seems to have escaped my attempts to pick up a few words or phrases here and there and yet, the German words I have figured out hold little significance in starting a conversation, like that gurken is a cucumber or danke is thanks (which may help, but I'm sure my Chicago dialect would blow my cover). Jeff and I made a simple dinner in the hostel before walking around Berlin. We made too much food and offered it to the few others in the kitchen area, they declined, and we all returned to an unsettling silence. I think that's what made the night so unsatisfying: the language barrier made the social interaction with the people of Berlin difficult, but I would have to say even more difficult was any interaction with those at the hostel. Especially our encounters with the english-speaking people that seemed completely disinterested in meeting anyone. Our room was compiled of an Australian, Brad, his mom, and his girlfriend that he snuck into the room, and there was a guy from London, Leum, and another American girl that didn't talk to anyone at all. The conversations we began were typical who-what-where questions to our roommates, but any following related remarks were responded with rhetorical sarcasm. When we went into the common room, there was a girl there, American from Pennsylvania (one of the turners-down of our dinner). The other person in the room sat on the internet, not talking at all except for the "No, thank you" to our pasta with eyes glued to the computer screen. Getting a few words out of the Pennsylvanian was manageable. She's staying in Berlin for two months for an internship and knows no German either, I thought that commonality would'e encouraged a longer conversation but it turned out not working that way. After our meal, we were finishing off our 0.42 € biers and two guys walked in - polos and cargo shorts, I assumed American but didn't want to jump to conclusions. "Hello," we announced in the silent room. They gave us a synchronous "sup", chins rotating to the ceiling with no eye contact and, in amazing choreography, straddled the chairs in front of the open computers, backs turned to the room. The boy to the right immediately jumped to the eBay website to see if he had won an auction on a Rolex watch. He didn't win. "I'm pissed, man" he announced to his friend on his left with a following explanation as to why. The friend blankly responded, "Oh, that sucks," while he was becoming progressively more frustrated by the German keyboard making his e-mail more difficult to write. Our beers were finished an the room had retruned to silence, with the occasional punding of a keyboard or mouse because the Y and Z are switched (the only German / American difference on this keyboard). 

We walked around until we saw a bar that we might enjoy. There was one that had live music and was packed, so we went in. It took us awhile to get a drink at the bar, but we succeeded eventually. "Two hausbiers, please. Um, pints?" we kind-of ordered. "Big ones?" the bartender sized with his hands. "Uh, yeah!" The beers were giant-sized, and there were not many places to sit and drink our giant-sized beers. We squeezed into a table with a group of beautiful girls, which is a really common sight in Germany. Well, actually, maybe just everything I've seen in Germany is beautiful. I know that I've mentioned a few cities with beautiful girls already and hopefully that's not creepy for you, reader. But I wouldn't dare "sup" any of these girls with no eye contact - it would be a situation of pure appreciation. Promise. Just a simple conversation where demonstrating that appreciation is more easily communicated. Like I was saying, yes, an acknowledgement for pretty girls always occurs for me in all cities of the world, but Berlin is just unfair. Every girl. Which of course makes the shyness for conversation even more heightened than the language barrier. Example: girl a few rows ahead of me on this train - amazing. This is where I feel guilty for coming through Germany, because I have absolutely no understanding of the language that would be able to appreciate any of my interests and appreciation for the culture. I want to learn enough so that I can come back with more of an ability to engage with this city. It simulates a kind of deafness where I have no idea what is being talked about around me or if I am being told something, it's a strange kind of isolation. We were going to try another bar but ended up just walking and talking and smoking cigarettes. We got another beer from the market for under a euro and took it back to the hostel. Jeff went inside to get more cigarettes and a Polish and drunk homeless man came up to me to chat. He tried German first, then Polish, then English, where he just started mumbling the different moths he could remember and then different neighborhoods in New York City. Jeff came out with the cigarettes and gave me an expression of "oh, should we go inside?" at which point I looked in the common room of the hostel where the no-eye-contact-"sup" guys were falling asleep on each other, probably creating some dream dialogue with their favorite quotes from comedies. We walked away from the drunken man toward a bar where he had seemed to just finish harassing other kids our age. We sat down on the patio with our store-purchased beers and hoped that was okay. We sat and talked for as long as we had energy for due to Jeff's description of the current state of our room at the hostel: "The girl and Leum are gone, but Brad and his girlfriend are half naked in bed Skype-ing with the lights on, his mom is in the bed across from them." The bar closed shortly after our sitting there and we returned to the common area where there were a few unfamiliar faces that we hoped may feel like some type of social interaction. "Hello, how are you guys?" "Hi," two girls responded and quickly returned to their conversation about boys in their classes back in America that they may still have a chance with, and two others remained facing the computers with no response. We sat there drinking tea in silence and eventually headed to bed. I didn't sleep well though, I was restless. I knew we'd spend even more of our next day sitting on a train and I didn't want to give up on Berlin so quickly. Now, only a few more hours to München and then another five or six to Vienna. I still feel like I didn't try hard enough in experiencing Berlin - too apprehensive. I hate being apprehensive. 

2009, GermanyMatt Austin