The main dilemma of the past month or so has been that I have not been sure if I want to stay in Berlin or head off on further travels. It feels odd to reduce this sentiment to a single sentence, as this decision has been taking up a lot of space in my head – and has lead to a lot of unease, soul searching, general unhappiness . . . as my savings are of course finite I either need to sort things and commit OR. The mythical plan B. Which involves not going home, but probably another train or plane, and a job somewhere else. Either way – decision time has been slowly taking chunks out of me on a daily basis with the pendulum swinging according to my mood. Berlin has lost a little of the glitter it had last year, I guess things are never the same the second time around – and from the start it was missing that inherent new-city weirdness you get when you first arrive somewhere you have never been before. I wish that I’d had the money to be able to stick around last year when the enthusiasm was rolling. But its charms are nevertheless inescapable, and the thought of leaving the people I have met and abandoning the idea of living in Berlin make me feel queasy. I’m pretty much terrified either way.
On Wednesday night I went for drinks with my friend in Friedrichshain and thought that I’d pretty much cracked it. Walking over Warschauer Strasse bridge at sunset gets me every time, and it’s tempting to stick around just based on that alone. At the right time and in the right light that is my undisputed favourite view of the city. It was a quiet and happy night, I thought for better for worse I would stay – I would finally abandon travel plans for the time being and throw everything I had at Berlin.
Then I woke up on Thursday morning and decided, actually, I still wasn’t sure. I had been toying with the idea of going on a trip for a few weeks either to get it out of my system, or as a push to encourage me to maybe keep travelling. Something inside my head finally snapped and I booked flights on impulse – for that day. I have never done this before and I’m still fairly certain that it errs on the side of crazy. But anyway. I studied trains and planes out of Berlin to find cheap deals on interesting places. Vienna was top of my hitlist, but it turned out that the single train journey to Vienna cost the same price as return flights to Copenhagen.
First piece of Copenhagen travel advice would be this: Cheap flights you say? Really, really cheap flights!? Copenhagen is the third most expensive city in Europe apparently, so you might win on transport but you lose on EVERYTHING else. I ended up paying the most I have ever paid for a bed in a hostel. Although there were plenty of young people staying there, there was also a fair amount of families and a more than usual proportion of post-hostel age real adults. I should point out it was a trendy type hostel close to a lot of bars, which was definitely aimed at a younger crowd – so I’m going to put the mixed clientele down to the extortionate Copenhagen accommodation rates. I have paid the same amount for a double room in a nice guesthouse before . . . ouch.
The last minute nature of this trip meant that I had no plans at all, and virtually no idea of what interesting things there were to see and do in Copenhagen. In some ways the point of the trip was to clear my head rather than tick things off a list, so it was ok. It’s also nice to be surprised:
Nyhavn was beautifully photogenic with it’s lines of little restaurants and moored boats. I imagine this place is probably at it’s atmospheric best on a misty night, sipping whisky and listening to live music. Seems like it would be good for a sea shanty or two. Also the painted buildings remind me surprisingly of the buildings along the river in Innsbruck (the header photo of this blog) although everything was totally different of course.
I spotted the corkscrew spire of this church in the Christianshavn area and needed to get a closer look. On approach I realised that there was a staircase around the spire, and it was open to the public to climb. Now, I am not scared of heights. I have scaled the Eiffel Tower, lingered on the outdoor terrace of Heron Tower in London, been up the Empire State building; but OH GOD was the Church of Our Saviour experience terrifying. The steep, old wooden stairs on the way up should have been a good clue, but one I got outside the terrace was very exposed with the gold railings suddenly looking very unsubstantial. The floor was wooden and also ever so slightly pitched, I snapped some quick photos of the view and decided there was no way I was climbing to the top – my legs were already jelly.
As far as hollow tourist experiences go, the little mermaid statue is at the top of the list for Copenhagen. I wandered out to the docks out of a sense of duty, took photos with the rest of the hoards and left feeling slightly cheated and bemused. I have no idea why this statue is such a Big Deal, it seems like everyone has just got caught up in the Copenhagen top 10 hype. However, I will credit this statue with getting me out of the city centre to an area I might not otherwise have visited. A cruise ship had docked in the port which was a curiosity for me, and I later took a ‘shortcut’ through the Kastellet citadel/star shaped fortress near by.
The next day I went to the Tivoli Gardens, a cute little amusement park in the city. The place was filled with candyfloss scoffing kids and their grandparents, and although the chilly weather eventually prompted me (jacket-less idiot) to leave I still had a fun time. The Tivoli gardens reminded me a little bit of a British seaside town with its ferris wheel and large show pavilions, it dates from 1843 and I have a suspicion that my grandmother would have enjoyed the gardens and atmosphere here more than I did – but it was charming nonetheless.
In the evening I hit the town to see what Copenhagen had to offer. I had opted for quite drinks at the hostel and avoided going out for the few first evenings just out of sheer ennui. Berlin nightlife has really been taking it out of me, so partying wasn’t exactly top of the agenda, plus oh-my-god-the-cost-of-everything! But of course I couldn’t leave without checking out a bar or two, and my hostel companion and I discovered a few good ones.
We met some British expats extolling the virtues of living in Denmark in Charlie’s. I discovered to my absolute shock that this place sold stout brewed by Porterhouse (a small group of bars and a microwbrewery) in Dublin – one of my favourite old haunts from university times. On a tip off from the expats we then headed to a place called The Moose:
The Moose was full of moose porn murals like this one. I have absolutely no idea what was going on here, but I know this bar was awesome! We met some more expats: a guy from Dublin and a girl who had lived in Berlin for a year, and we hung out with those guys all night. This was a bit weird for me because it was my past and my present meeting – it was odd to talk to them both about beloved Dublin/Berlin places of mine – and life and local idiosyncrasies in those cities. It makes me sad in retrospect, without really being able to say why. I think maybe I’m homesick for the nostaligic idea I have of these places when I know the reality can be harsh.
Thus ends my Copenhagen adventure. I actually ended up going on a brief trip road trip across to Malmo in Sweden, which is just across the water – but it was a bit dull, so I’ll spare you the details on that one.
As for my decision on Berlin? Unsurprisingly I’m still not sure, but obviously operating on a tight deadline here. Urgh.
I recently came across a quote by travel writer Paul Theroux; ‘Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travellers don’t know where they’re going.’ Never has this seemed more relevant to my life than it does at the moment.
On the terrace by the lake the rain pours on a Saturday afternoon. A cold glass of wine, condensation dripping down the outside. Later when the rain stops we sit by the lake at sunset, mist rising off the water. ‘It doesn’t have to be this way’. You say. But the city pulls us back on her tendrils, pulls us down into the vortex. Parties that never end, wooden floors, echoes and ghosts. Night bleeding into dawn already, but you have barely arrived.
Fleeting glances of yourself in the mirror, a reflection you hate so much. A reflection you don’t recognise, pin prick pupils or a dark pool the covers your entire eyes. Pale and shaky and cut adrift. What happened? What paths brought me here?
A reflection that you try to seduce. When you look a certain way, when you smile, lower your eyes. Change your hair. Change your dress. Try to find a combination that will make him want to fuck you. That will make people like you. That will make the city accept you. But it’s all lost when you hate what you see. Shake your head. Shake your head. Walk away.
At 4am on a U-bahn platform he tries to explain. But we’ve heard it. Before. And –
Can’t take it now.
DROWN YOUR SORROWS
Berlin is not perfect, but a different form of not-perfect to the last thing. Maybe a better form. Maybe. Nothing is ever quite perfect as our perceptions and expectations are in constant flux. Always saving for tomorrow. Accept the imperfect nature of things as they are.
But the swans and the willows by the canal on this perfect August afternoon. Happiness is as fleeting as the image of it in your head.
Smoke that blows across the grass.
A goodbye party by candle-light. Standing on the edge of the circle, skirting the fringes, the darkness at your back. All the young, and talented, and beautiful, and drunk, and drugged, and lost. And sad. Sometimes. Libations in the moonlight, but you’ve lost your tongue at dawn.
Warm sunlight non-judgemental
Walk alone by the canal
Turn the handle
High ceiling and wooden floor
Silence in the courtyard
Her sleeping back, bare and smooth
Another day. Another night.
YESTERDAY WAS DRAMATIC – TODAY IS OK
Peace in this empty Berlin altbau on an early autumn evening. Low lights and houseplants, emails and wine. Neukölln night progresses around you as the clock on the kitchen wall ticks. Away.
Crying into coffee and scrambled eggs this morning. ‘Write it out’, you said. Draw out the poison. Time melts when we are together. Seconds and eternity hard to distinguish between.
Disclaimer: This is raw from my notebook, so, yeah.