Going back to Berlin

Two days before returning to Berlin I watched the aching and beautiful film Auf Der Anderen Seite (The Edge of Heaven). What I love about Fatih Akin’s films – besides their emotional depth and lingering sadness – is their keen eye for the “ordinariness” of life in Germany (and Turkey). Streetscapes, kitchens, university cafeterias – it’s as real as can be. It was the perfect way to practise my German.

I spent a year in Berlin as university student. I was young and free and my days and nights were, well, extensively documented on social media – why not? But some things don’t show up in Facebook photos: the smell of baking bread in the U-bahn stations; hands make sticky from drinking Club Mate; the first glimpse of early sunrise in the summer, when your night is still in full swing; the heavenly taste of Kristallweizen with a slice of lemon.

It was all like I remembered, but I’m (maybe) a real grown-up now. More inclined to enjoy organic ice cream than 50c tequila shots (grassy, sweet Zubrowka is another matter); more excited about eating Turkish food at normal dinnertime than at 4am. This time around, I was able to tick off the two activities that I somehow never found the time for in 2011 – cycling in Tempelhof, the vast empty space in the city that used to be an airport; and visiting the über smart modern art museum, Hamburgerbahnhof.

IMG_1450

IMG_1190

Clärchens Ballhaus – a dancehall unchanged since decades

IMG_1195

IMG_1148

IMG_1150

IMG_1161

I used to live on this street

IMG_1175

IMG_1156

Club Mate is a soft drink made from mate tea. A acquired taste that every new resident has to get used to.

IMG_1167

Reunion with my dear Australian friend Kate

IMG_1165

Neukölln at night

IMG_1170

Kneipe

IMG_1434

“You pay 1 euro with your first drink for the DJ”

IMG_1431

IMG_1454

The Tempelhof terminal is one of the only remaining examples of Third Reich architecture

IMG_1460IMG_1461IMG_1464 IMG_1469 IMG_1478

Some examples of food worth going crazy for:

IMG_1181

Bio-Eis (organic icecream, now everywhere in Berlin)

IMG_1484

Döner macht schöner

IMG_1225

Leberkäse im Brötchen

IMG_1204

I travelled around the world to find this Turkish dessert – it’s called Künefe and is made of shredded pastry, soft cheese and honey

I don’t think I could ever get sick of Berlin. It has a wonderful creative spirit and wears its history on its sleeve. Its citizens are interesting and interested in preserving its unique place in Europe and the world. It’s a crossroads for young people from everywhere, and in the summer, when gardens are growing out of control everywhere, it’s a real fairytale.

IMG_1487

Darkness and sunshine – that’s Berlin!

At the CN Tower

IMG_0966

“Everything changes after three weeks.”

So said the Englishman who had been here for six. That meant that I should have been two days already into the rest of my (Toronto) life. Well, let’s say you get a few extra days for the weekend. I thought about whether it was that particular evening, warmer than most of the ones I’d had before, that was going to be pivotal.

But it was the whole disappearing day, really, that was a little bit special. I had spent three weeks (and two days) in Toronto, and had very little to show for it. Up until my arrival, every few days held the promise of a new city and new people to meet. I had moved to a new city for real and now, it was all up to me.

As happens so often in life, I shouldn’t have worried so much. Although I didn’t realise it except in hindsight, it was indeed around the three-week mark that my new (temporary) life started to come into focus. My street and my home began to feel familiar. I made some friends and started having things to go to in the evenings. I started to memorise streetcar routes and subway stations. I was able to sleep.

I look at the CN tower every day. So far up in the haze above the streets, it often has a unreal quality to it.

IMG_0936

If I was only staying in Toronto for a few days, enjoying one exciting day after another, I would have visited the CN Tower already. So I decided to go up.

IMG_0940

IMG_0942

My place is over there somewhere.

Even though I had to push my way through hundreds of squealing children, it really was beautiful up there. You can ever-so-slightly see the curvature of the earth, off in the blue distance over Lake Ontario. IMG_0943

It’s expensive, as you’d expect – about $35. Especially because I chose to pay an extra $12 to go up a few more storeys to the Skypod.

IMG_0947

IMG_0948 What does this mean?

However, although it wasn’t advertised, the $12 includes some peace and quiet.

IMG_0949

On the main level there is a glass floor. I was excited to stand on the glass floor, until it came to the point where I had to step on it. IMG_0957My heart was beating incredibly quickly. There were other grown adults who were obviously terrified, and I don’t blame them. The fear of plunging to our deaths from incredibly high buildings unites us all, I guess.

So I had finally visited the CN Tower. I had seen a Sight, and was determined to see some more. I wanted to be excited about Toronto, every day that I spent there. And it was that evening that I met the Englishman, and realised that he was right.

Go By Train: The Amtrak Coast Starlight

IMG_0491

Portland Union Station

I’m a lifelong fan of train travel. I love most things about it – the steady pace (ideal for relaxing and sleeping), passing through small towns that a freeway driver would miss, and looking out the windows for hours on end. I was especially excited to take the Amtrak Coast Starlight from Oakland all the way up to Portland.

The Amtrak stations, the visual merchandise (see these posters) and even the slogan “Go By Train” all have an old-worldy feel to them, as if travelling by train in America is a way to reconnect with some kind of Golden Age. I like the idea that long-distance train travel is genteel and kind of a novelty in an age of cheap flights.

The trip took 20 hours. It was meant to take 18 but I had heard rumours of the “Starlate” being delayed so I wasn’t too surprised. We hit a tree, apparently (“tree strike”) and some drunk and rowdy passengers also had to be removed from the train.

It did seem like there were a few intoxicated and shady characters riding with us but for the most part all my fellow passengers were very pleasant. I had breakfast and lunch in the dining car and had some great conversations with a Canadian couple, an elderly lady from Argentina, a grandmother from upstate New York and a Bostonian who was enjoying his new city of Portland.

The economy class seats are pretty comfortable and roomy.

IMG_0490 IMG_0487

I was certainly able to do get a good snooze. I wish the wi-fi was actually functional though.

But my favourite thing about the Coast Starlight was the view. I woke up soon after sunrise to landscapes that quite literally took my breath away (well, for a few seconds).

IMG_0446 IMG_0454

IMG_0459 IMG_0460 IMG_0473 IMG_0485 IMG_0489

 

I have two more train trips left on this journey – a short one on the Cascades (also Amtrak) from Seattle to Vancouver, and then a much more substantial 24 hour+ trip from Vancouver to Saskatoon on The Canadian (from Via Rail). I am practically counting down the days!

Hermosa, Los Angeles

IMG_0207

 

Los Angeles is a vast, sprawling mess. Palm-tree lined streets clogged with traffic disappear into the hazy distance, and it’s impossible to make sense of where you actually are. Heading straight to Hollywood was a mistake. It was grimy, sleazy and strange, and completely overrun with tourists and people trying to sell things to tourists. After my stay in San Diego I had to return to LA to fly to Mexico and was unenthusiastic. But that was before I went to Hermosa Beach.

I walked out to the end of the pier. The air was clear from smog, the sun was out and the sea and sky were both an impossible blue. Families were fishing along the sides of the pier and some cheery people were walking around. A few scattered surfers braved what I imagined to be very chilly water. With a hired bike I rode along the beach all the way to Redondo, past housing that was a mix of kitsch and splendour. Fellow cyclists smiled and said hello as I went past.

Santa Monica had been buzzing, and the ride to Venice Beach a bit of a journey into the weird, but Hermosa was calm. How this could be part of the same city as messy, exhausting Hollywood, I couldn’t understand. I wanted to lie on the sand and drink up the sunshine all day. I began to understand why half the world wanted to be there. I never wanted to leave.

IMG_0201 IMG_0190 IMG_0199 IMG_0187 IMG_0185 IMG_0181 IMG_0179 IMG_0178