Germany is one of those countries with its ducks all in a row when it comes to transportation. Public transportation is everywhere, convenient and cheap. Cars are small, sometimes battery powered and gas is expensive, which prohibits people from driving for dumb reasons. Scooters and motorcycles are more common than uncommon. Walking for long stretches is considered usual, and when you can’t walk, then the answer is to bike.
Biking is everywhere. Bikers have their own lanes, either part of the road or the sidewalk, and if you’re walking in the bike lane someone will yell at you and possibly just fly past you at high speeds, scaring you poopless. Most people have mastered one handed biking, biking with heavy bags, biking around sharp corners without wiping out. It’s amazing.
So, yeah, I took a lot of pictures of bicycles while I was in Germany. Why not?
My vacation in Germany lasted 13 days total, and I expected it to rain at least once. No one can hope for clear, blue skies for two straight weeks, right? Well, I was treated to day after day of exactly the opposite of dreary weather. Occasional clouds framed by a bright, clear, beautiful blue sky rolled above me. Every day was dry and gorgeous, until finally at 9pm, the night before my flight back to Korea, a huge thunderstorm rolled in. And it was one of those rare, strong but beautiful thunderstorms.
So while practicing the deceptively difficult field of architectural photography, I kept finding myself taking the same photograph, just different. And they were all gorgeous, because of those bright blue skies behind the subject at hand. Looking through my pictures, I was blown away by how many gorgeous skies made their way into my documentation. So if you’re having a rough, rainy day, maybe you can use these photographs to take you back to sunnier times. They definitely do that for me.
I think people are fascinating. Anytime I have a chance to stare, unhindered and undiscovered for more than a minute, I rejoice in it. I don’t like to judge people for what they’re doing necessarily, and I don’t only stare at weirdos (though that’s always interesting). I just find humans, in general, to be so fascinating. The way someone drinks their coffee, carries their bag, avoids or hops over a big crack in the sidewalk.
So obviously, if you give me a camera, I’m gonna take some creepy photographs of people around me. It’s just inevitable. I had a great time photographing people in Germany during my last vacation, of course often without their knowledge. Occasionally I got caught. It was cool, no one paid mind really. And at the end of the day, I’m happy with my creeping (creepy?) results. What do you think?
I have a fascination with a few common day objects, one of which is street signs. Wherever I go, I find myself photographing them. It could be the contrast between the sign and the background, the static words and the life behind them, or maybe just the awesome bokeh they produce, but signs get me every time. Before I know it, *snap*, a hundredth picture of yet another street sign. At least I can make a photoessay out of them, right?
I spent most of my time in Berlin, which means I wandered through a lot of Berlin’s streets, sometimes with Claudia and sometimes alone. I’ve included some signs that don’t quite qualify as street signs, but they have words and I liked the photograph. Words, ya know? They work. Enjoy these eighteen snapshots from the streets of Berlin, Germany.
A couple years ago, my mom introduced me our neighbor’s new German au pair. His name was Aljoscha (eye-yo-sha). I invited him to my impromptu, three person birthday party at the bar, introduced him to Pabst Blue Ribbon and we’ve been friends ever since. So when I planned my trip to Germany, I knew that seeing Aljoscha was a no-brainer.
We spent the first day walking around the big city of Hamburg, which has plenty of beautiful sights but requires a lot of leg work to see them all. The next day, he took me to his home city: Lübeck. The city of Lübeck is smaller than Hamburg, but definitely packs a punch in terms of gorgeousness per square foot. It feels a little more cozy and friendly, and didn’t give my feet too much of a reason to complain. Aljoscha and I wandered, sat by the water and went searching for tiny alleyways to duck into. The photographs will do this gorgeous little city considerably more justice than my rambling words, though, so let’s begin!
When I mentioned to friends that I’d be going to Germany for vacation, there was an overwhelming cry of “Go to Munich! Go see Southern Germany!” I’d technically already been to Munich twice when I was 17. One trip was spent entirely in my bed, sick with a throat infection that would eventually land me in the hospital for 5 days. The second trip was with my Austrian Gymnasium (high school). I don’t remember much about Munich from that second trip, not because I was black out drunk the entire time, but because my teenage self was simply fixated on my friends and the available alcohol for consumption. So this time around, I vowed to do Munich right.
First things first, I Facebook messaged an old, old friend who lives nearby and asked if she would be free to meet up. I also decided on one of the free walking tours with Sandman’s New Europe, since I’d only be in Munich for a short time, less than two days. Before I knew it, it was July and I was on a train headed for Munich, excited. I found my hostel without issue, checked in and then headed out to meet Jess.
I got off the street car about 5 minutes away from our meeting place and enjoyed a slow meander through a wooded sidewalk. To my left, through the trees, I could see the Isar River and plenty of Germans enjoying the cold water on an otherwise hot day. It was a classic German scene; people from an otherwise busy city finding a quiet place to go swimming and relax outside. To my right zipped cycler after cycler on the bike path, another typically German thing to see. Germans love their bicycles.
Jess and I found each other, exclaimed how crazy it was to see one another again after more than five years, and started out with a beer while we waited for her boyfriend to meet us. We talked over her life since moving to Germany, my life
since moving to South Korea, work, family and all of the in betweens. It was really wonderful to catch up with yet another old friend and I had a great time. Her boyfriend arrived, we had some lively conversation and enjoyed the weather outside. I tried a typical summer drink that’s called the Hugo, which according to the Internet actually stems from Italy.
We went for dinner in a traditional Bavarian restaurant, a beer garden. Sitting outside, awash with the laughter of Munich residents and the clinking of their glasses was beautiful. The walls covered in ivy, the ground paved with stone, we were in a tiny oasis of nature in the middle of a big, bustling city. And I was eating one of the most delicious Sauerbraten I’ve ever eaten with my favorite drink, a wheat beer. I was in heaven.
Afterwards, we took a stroll and grabbed a beer to go, so we could relax in one of the central parks in Munich. It was beyond crowded: groups of friends took up nearly every available inch of grass in the small, round park and their laughter filled the air. I was inside of Munich, I was in the heartbeat of young Germans and taking part in their outdoor, evening drinking with friends. Exactly how I seek to see every city I visit.
The next day, I began by seeking out the traditional white sausage and a pretzel breakfast.
Later I enjoyed a morning stroll along a different, more historic part of the Isar River and took pictures of towering buildings the the statues keeping them company. For lunch, I bought some fruit from one of the market stalls in one of the busy city market areas and sat myself down with a big beer in a public beer garden. I ended up having a fun conversation with some country Bavarians in town for a work trip. I didn’t have nearly as difficult a time understanding their accent as I’d anticipated; it must be my Austrian upbringing. They even used one of my favorite Austrian dialect words: Mädls.
The walking tour began with breathtaking buildings in Marienplatz. The New City Hall, an old cannonball left in a church wall, a short history lesson and the most expensive shopping street in Munich were on the list. The Hofbräuhaus and its history and a great tour guide named Severin who wasn’t afraid to get a little crazy. I learned a lot, I saw a lot. I took a lot of photographs.
But when I boarded my train later in the day to meet Claudia in Berlin, I wasn’t sad. For some reason, despite doing only amazing things, seeing so much beauty and life and drinking my favorite beer multiple times, I wasn’t upset leaving Munich behind. Maybe it was the general unfriendliness of Munich city people, but I’d met very friendly country Bavarians and spent time with friends while I was there. Maybe it was my wallet crying every time I bought something for twice the price in the rest of Germany, but I’d hardly been a big spender while I was there, buying market fruit for lunch and taking a free walking tour. Maybe Munich is just one of those cities that has to grow on you, maybe two days was too short, maybe you can’t fall in love with Munich, but slowly learn to love it. I don’t know the answers. I only know that I did everything that should have made me love Munich, had nothing but fun and good experiences, and yet I still didn’t feel like I needed to come back. Maybe Munich just isn’t my place.
Unless, of course, I think about eating Sauerbraten again. For Sauerbraten, I would cross oceans and hike mountains and steal candy from children. For Sauerbraten, I could learn to love Munich someday.
Not everyone has the same travel style. In fact, even people in love may not necessarily travel well together. When I told Claudia that I’d be in Berlin and we worked out that she’d join me for about a week in Berlin, this wasn’t on my mind. I didn’t think about it. I was just excited to see Claudia after five years and a week with her sounded wonderful, no matter what the circumstances.
And it was. We met at the hostel and exchanged hugs right away. We shared a lot of delicious cocktails outside, took some long walks and generally had a great time in Berlin together. But it wasn’t all cake and champagne, because as we found out within 24 hours, we are complete opposites when it comes to planning. It had me worrying at first. We were supposed to have an amazing week as old friends. How were we going to do this?
I’m the kind of traveler that may or may not purchase the Lonely Planet guide ahead of time. I don’t have a list of things I’d like to see ahead of time. My research is kept to a bare minimum and involves mentally adding to a list things people ask if I’ve seen. I’ll sometimes put one thing on my to-see list and spend the better part of the remaining day just wandering the area and finding things to do on my way. I’ll go out of my way to find a highly recommended restaurant. The method to my madness is simply to feel the pulse of a city for a moment. If I feel hungry, I’ll eat, if I’m tired, I’ll go sleep, no matter how much of my mental to-see list was completed. Sometimes this works out really well and I see everything I should, other times I completely miss a huge, iconic part of the city. (Although regardless, I always have a nice time.)
Claudia plans. She had her guidebook, she had read and highlighted things she’d like to visit. She will not stop for the evening until everything is completed and she’ll hurry through one place to make sure that she gets to the next before it closes. She thinks about travel times and knows which bus to take before she gets to the bus stop. She’s prepared and ready for each day before it begins, treating it as a series of things to be conquered. And she does it well, very well. Better yet, I can tell she enjoys it. In the time that we were in Berlin, she managed to fit in a crazy amount of sightseeing. I was impressed.
But we are completely, 200%, 180 degrees different when it comes to planning our time while traveling. Both styles are fine, nice ways to vacation in a new city, but are they compatible?
Our first couple days were a trial. She’d ask me what I want to do and I’d give a noncommittal shrug and say “whatever you want!” This probably drove her crazy, since it was her second time in Berlin and she wanted to make sure I was having a nice vacation; I wouldn’t be back in Berlin anytime soon. Then it would be dinner time, I would get hungry and point out an obscure restaurant some friend on Tumblr told me about with not very exact directions. We’d be on our way to the S-Bahn stop and she would want to sit and figure out our public transportation before boarding the street car, I’d prefer to jump on, head downtown and figure out the exact route while on our way. Claudia loves pizza, I like meaty burritos. Claudia is a vegetarian.
Talk about opposites.
But slowly, as the afternoons passed, we somehow figured out how to accommodate each other. She started making her plans and telling me about them, I decided whether I would join or not, or for how long. I let her figure out all of the public transportation ahead of time. She came along when there was something delicious nearby, and I tried to find places in the area from other places she might be more interested in. I quickly learned that Claudia probably wasn’t going to eat the same thing that I wanted, but I should just eat it anyways and then sit through her meal, later. By the end, we were splitting up entirely, but agreed to meet for dinner or drinks at a certain time. When we went to Potsdam, she elected to do a group bus tour and I did an audio guided solo bike tour, instead. We met up afterwards and talked about the things each of us saw (or missed), each of us having enjoyed the tour and also happy to be able to discuss it afterwards.
By giving and taking, doing some things together and plenty of things separate, being clear about what each of us undoubtedly wanted to see or do (or in my case, eat!), we smoothed over the rough patches that inevitably come while traveling with your complete travel planning opposite. The benefit for me of seeing Berlin with Claudia was that she forced me to be a bit more organized than I might have been otherwise, which meant that I saw more of the city. I may have never made it to Potsdam if it weren’t for Claudia, but Potsdam was one of my favorite areas of Berlin. She pushed me to be more efficient, even if I did want to knock her over while she made us run for the subway. I really hate running to catch any kind of train.
And I’m sure that she wanted to toss me into oncoming traffic more than a few times as I said, “Eh, it won’t take 30 minutes, probably just 25. We don’t have to leave right now,” or “It doesn’t really matter to me, you can decide,” and “Yeah, I don’t know what my plans are for the morning yet,” ten minutes before bed.
But somehow we did it and still had a great time. We shared cocktails galore, lots of bakery stops in the morning, museum after museum after museum and the joys (terrors) of staying in a party hostel with an actual club outside the window. My last evening in Berlin I spent alone, she’d already flown out, and it was a little quiet and strange. I had a glass of wine outside and endured an hour of a sudden, huge thunderstorm underneath the restaurant umbrella. As the rain came down hard and the wind whipped drops all over my table, I thought to myself that it was a moment I would have liked to have shared. With Claudia.
Sometimes Facebook terrifies me. The fact that I constantly have to keep my privacy settings in check is annoying at best, kind of immoral at worst. I don’t own my photographs once they’re on Facebook, the new graph search is pretty creepy and my older brother always insists on putting weird, sometimes vulgar posts on my wall, because he’s my older brother and that’s what they do. Thanks bro.
But despite all of the concerns I have with Facebook and privacy and the company using my information for advertising or stealing phone numbers from my phone, there’s one thing that stops me from deleting my account entirely. (Actually, if I’m honest, two things: I have to keep up my social media presence for this blog!) It’s because Facebook does what it’s supposed to do and it does it really well: it connects.
When I was 17, a junior in high school, I set off on the adventure of my somewhat-short-so-far lifetime. I went to live with a family in Austria and be a foreign exchange student through the lovely program AFS. We were a group of strangers that left New York together and arrived in Vienna as a group of friends. During our arrival, we met up with all of the various people from around the world that would be living here too. Argentina, Brazil, and Chile. Canada and Finland. Hong Kong. Iceland. USA.* We all had one thing in common: we were going to be foreigners in Austria. We all crossed our fingers that our host families would be nice.
That semester led to plenty of new Facebook friends, who would later become old Facebook friends and buried under news feed of newer acquaintances as the years passed since our life in Austria together. Occasionally someone would pop up in my feed and I’d click on their profile to try and decipher what they were up to these days. In 2011, I studied abroad in Argentina and had a short but lovely reunion with one of the old AFSers named Berta. We hadn’t seen each other in four years, yet here we were, meeting again in Argentina this time and feeling like no time had passed. For that, I definitely had Facebook to thank. (That also sparked my decision to stop deleting Facebook friends all the time.)
So when I was doing my bi-annual Facebook stalking of all of my old AFS friends earlier this year and saw that Pinja (from Finland) was in Germany at the moment, I immediately messaged her with news that I’d be in Germany this July/August. Soon enough I had a reply and our schedules lined up. If it weren’t for Facebook, I’d have never known to get in contact with her in the first place and I’d probably only have the most ancient email address to do so.
We worked out a plan, I flew to Germany, took a train to Leipzig and did a couple things in between that exact sequence of events. We found each other quickly at the train station. Apparently, I look the exact same as I did when I was 17, but so does Pinja. We started out with a short tour of the city, touring at old churches and noticing the beat down buildings, remnants of communist East Germany. The conversation was endless: we had over six years of catch up to do, yet we slipped into our friendship as comfortably as we’d left it. And it was just as hard to say goodbye, this time, too.
The laughter, the old drudged up memories of being a teenager in Austria, the hilarious German vocabulary that only we (and all of Styria) know; these are the things that old friends share. As old friends we, of course, created new memories too: pasta making adventures, the search for baby clothes (don’t ask) and my first curry wurst. But our old friendship was only reignited because of modern technology. Because of Facebook.
So as much as I dislike consonantly monitoring my privacy settings, knowing that people look at the my photographs and information without me knowing and that Facebook is collecting and creating a nice little personality file on me, I will remain. Because as long as Facebook keeps doing it’s main job, keeping me connected to old friends and new friends alike, then I’m going to stick around. For days like the short ones I spent with Pinja, for last year’s reunion with Berta from Argentina, it’s always going to be worth it. Seeing smiling faces and great big hugs after years-long hiatuses are two pretty good reasons, if you ask me, to keep that Facebook page up and running.
*I know I didn’t include every country represented, sorry guys. Writing style, ya know?
We sat ourselves down at a sushi restaurant in the nice part of Berlin. The waiter came out, speaking in his unmistakably accented German, and gave us the typical welcome and a few menus. The avenues of Charlottenburg are well kept and built to impress, and I eyed the well-dressed Germans as they walked down the street, scouting out a table of their own.
Next to me sat Claudia, a native Austrian and across from me was Firat. He’s a third generation Turk who’s lived in Berlin for his entire life. His parents grew up in Germany, as well. We met each other years ago, when he was a foreign exchange student at my high school in the United States. When I booked my plane ticket to Berlin, he was one of the first people I contacted: “Guess where I’m going on vacation, let’s meet up!” So after a many-years-long hiatus, we resumed a friendship certainly not where it had ended, but somewhere new. And on that day, we resumed with Japanese sushi.
The waiter, certainly foreign himself, began a friendly conversation and asking those basic questions. He started with me, as my accent was the most noticeable and asked where I was from, what I was doing in Berlin, how long I planned to stay, etc. Next was Claudia, who has an easy to mark Austrian accent. The way we’d pick someone out from the South in Philadelphia, he picked up on her twang right away and inquired about her situation in Berlin. When he got to asking Firat, the native Berliner, he asked a simple “So how do you know them? You are all friends from before?” before dropping a small, but significant question.
“So, where are you from?”
“I’m from Germany.”
“Yes. I’m from Germany.”
“Firat, do you hear the question all the time?”
“Always. And I always say I’m from Germany. Because I am.”
That conversation got me thinking about identity and immigration and foreign countries, which are things that I often think about because I’m that kind of nerd. The Turkish/German situation has been a running affair for years, and while there are certainly some underlying opinions that some Germans hold dear, it’s not the kind of issue you notice while walking down the street. What you do notice, though, is when you’ve entered a “foreign” district. There are certain neighborhoods in Berlin (and I’m sure in most major cities of Germany), that house most of the foreigners, many of whom are Turkish. Suddenly every second person on the sidewalk is dark skinned and definitely non-Aryan. And this bothers some Germans, who avoid these areas like a ghetto. They are disturbed that there’s suddenly a mosque and five Turkish grocery stores in the same block.
But what I’ve learned from Firat is that Turkish immigrants often can’t get housing anywhere else. They apply for an apartment and are turned down, because of their immigrant status. They don’t have much of a choice except to live in these foreigner districts. Which would obviously make it much more difficult to practice/learn German, which is a common complaint of Germans who like to complain about immigrants. You can see the cycle here; it doesn’t take a genius.
I saw a lot of foreigners, particularly people who looked to be of Turkish descent, everywhere. The subway, the train station, restaurants, you name it. But what I didn’t see was even more remarkable: Turkish people speaking Turkish with each other. I can name only one instance in my eight days in Berlin, during which I heard Turkish people speaking a language other than German with each other. I expected something different, of course. When I see my foreign friends in Korea, even if we are both practicing and learning Korean, we speak English. Yet these Turkish-Germans spoke (accented) German with each other in nearly every single situation I was able to witness, despite the fact that they could just as easily speak their mother tongue, gain some lingual privacy and possibly convey their feelings more accurately. To put it lightly, I was surprised. Very surprised.
And so (from my admittedly limited experience), I have to say that I can’t really see what some Germans are complaining about, at least not in Berlin. I’ve never been so surprised by a population of immigrants and their attempt to fit in, just from what I’ve witnessed in my short time. It seems as though the Turkish people I witnessed knew that learning German was important to the culture they were in, and did something about it. As for the mosques, Turkish grocers and restaurants, those are all commonplace for any immigrant population. (And do Germans really want all the delicious Turkish food to disappear? What are they going to do without their doner kababs if they force Turkish people out, who don’t speak good enough German and haven’t “properly” assimilated? Tragedy!)
I don’t even want to get started on Germans in Argentina, or Germans in the USA, or Germans in Brazil or any of the countless other places where Germans have been the ones clinging onto their culture in a foreign land: German villages, newspapers, restaurants and neighborhoods. I’ll just mention that it happened multiple times in the past. In the end, every country is just a bunch of foreigners to someone else and we’ve all moved into other people’s territory at one point or another throughout history and attempted to make it feel a little bit more like home.
After all, Firat, Claudia and I were sitting around in a sushi restaurant in the middle of Charlottenburg, the uppity neighborhood of Berlin. Imagine the hole it would leave, if Turkish people were to disappear and immigration had been tightened up all along to keep that population more Aryan. To preserve Germany, as some might argue.
I, for one, would be sitting at a table eating who-knows-what and looking at an empty seat. There would be a good friend missing from the situation (and I’m not talking about my good friend sushi, though that would also be a tragedy). My German friend from high school would be lacking. My German friend, Firat.