On turning 30

On turning 30

My twenties were good to me. The mainly traditional thing I did (from that little checklist of “things that must be done according to society at large or so they say”)(is anyone even looking at this list anymore) was get married and buy a house-getting in under the buzzer on that one. No babies. One dog, one husband. A few degrees and a lot of travels and books read and films seen and alcohol drunk. An indefinitely permanent move abroad was made. They have been chaotic years, and it’s been a bit of a chaotic decade really. Things only seemed to settle around the 28 mark, although in the past year, and particularly in the past 6 months, I’ve felt more myself than ever before. And I feel like a door has solidly shut behind me, and shut on a fair amount of uncertainty, of insecurity.

When I was 12, it was a tradition at my school to write a letter to your future 18 year old self. Pretty neat and not at all cheesy, I know. My classmates and I wrote these letters in our 6th grade English class, saying what we’d hoped we’d done by then, and who we assumed we’d be, asking questions to our future selves, licked the envelopes closed with favorite pictures or trinkets inside, and when we graduated, if we were still at the school, they were given to us once again. I know I still have my letter somewhere, so enthusiastic and pure and earnest as all get out and so so hopeful for everything that my nearly teenage self assumed would happen. I remember getting teary when I opened that letter during the spring of my senior year in high school, although I can’t at all remember what I wrote to myself. But so it goes.

If I had written that letter again at 20, or 23, or 25, I don’t know what I would have said or asked of my thirty year old self.  It may have been more cynical in tone, surely. But maybe just as hopeful that things would eventually smooth out, and bare some semblance to a life that I wanted and might have dared to dream of. And definitely a life that had a reassuring kind of stability to it, one where I felt safe and secure and loved and continuously optimistic all at once, in a way that I didn’t feel or know if I would find for a hefty part of the last decade.

Things seem to be settling now. My twenties were very very good when it comes down to it. But maybe my thirties will be, too. Or they’ll be better. And I’m ready for that, whichever way it goes. I don’t mind getting older, and can’t relate much to those who do. It is a thing that seems so silly to complain about. What’s the alternative-death? No thanks. So. Here we are. Thirty! Man oh man.

thirty year old thirty year old selfie taker

 

October 20, 2014 4 comments Read More
Three Days in Berlin, Part Three: Hofbrauhaus, Oktoberfest, and Berlin by Night

Three Days in Berlin, Part Three: Hofbrauhaus, Oktoberfest, and Berlin by Night

After leaving the Topography of Terror, Jon and I found that the sun was setting, we were starving, and a drink or two was needed to take the edge off. To the Augustiner! We ordered very large beers and settled in with our pretzel (why every restaurant doesn’t replace bread and oil or chips and salsa with a big ol’ soft pretzel, I just don’t know).

Augustiner Berliner

Augustiner Berlin

Then we ordered-I went for traditional Bavarian sausages, Jon went for something that is easy to find in England (but that I really dislike) called currywurst, and oops, turns out it’s still gross in all its authenticity in Germany. Also turns out traditional Bavarian sausages basically come in a pot of hot sausage water sprinkled with…chives? Maybe? And special sausage tongs! Still tasty though, although not particularly appetizing in appearance.

currywurst berlin

So we ate our sausages and enjoyed our very very large beers.

Berlin

This set the tone for the evening, which would end up going very much as it began-after ditching the bikes and cleaning up at the hotel, we headed back out for Oktoberfest shenanigans at Alexanderplatz, what used to be the main square on the Soviet side of Cold War era Berlin. It’s almost gaudy in its straightforward architecture and socialist style. I was surprised at how Oktoberfest in Berlin is pretty much exactly the same as Octoberfest in Ohio, or Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland in London, meaning very cheesy, very fake, but super fun and happy nonetheless! And obviously with more lederhosen.

Alexanderplatz Oktoberfest Berlin

Berlin oktoberfestAlexanderplatz Germany Berlin Oktoberfest

Berlin alexanderplatz

jon ashley berlin oktoberfest

We also met up with a friend of mine from Ohio, who is currently living in Berlin and just moved over a month or so ago. Small world! Hi Taylor!

berlin oktoberfest

We didn’t spend much time at Oktoberfest before making our way to the massive beer hall that is Hofbrau Berlin, which coincidentally was also filled with drunk Germans in traditional dress, dancing and singing along to a rocking house band. Surprisingly enough, the crowd went wild for the most traditional of German songs, “Blurred Lines”.  We were given seats next to two drunk guys about our age, we danced, we drank from tankards, the men taught us some German (for example, I now know that “saufa” means drink!), and we had a lovely evening.

hofbrauhaus

hobrauhaus

hofbrauhaus berlin

hofbrauhaus berlin

hofbrauhaus berlin

Alas the fun couldn’t last forever. Or it could have, but we’re not that wild anymore, so after Taylor said farewell to catch her train home, Jon and I took a long walk back to the hotel, stopping to enjoy the quiet streets of Berlin by night.

Berlin at night

Berlin by night

Berlin by night

And bears. There are lots of bears in Berlin for some reason.

Bears in Berlin

bears in Berlin

Finally, a bit of Checkpoint Charlie in the moonlight. How strange to know that this space used to be the most common crossing from East to West Berlin, full of soldiers and guns and fear. Now it’s next to a McDonald’s. So it goes.

Checkpoint Charlie Berlin Germany

Just a bit left, my friends. A final morning in Berlin, and then back into the clouds.

October 13, 2014 0 comments Read More
Three days in Berlin, Part Two: Bikes, Abandoned Airports, and the Topography of Terror

Three days in Berlin, Part Two: Bikes, Abandoned Airports, and the Topography of Terror

I read an article last week that said Berlin is an on-again, off-again capital with a darker history than most cities in Europe. It served as the epicenter of Hitler’s Third Reich and was nearly wiped off the map at the end of the last World War. Berlin was also the flashpoint of the Cold War between the United States and Russia. Their conflict split the city into two, leaving residents on either side cut off from each other in every way imaginable for a generation.” For all these reasons, it was a place that’s been on my list to see and actually experience for a long time, but also a place that made me wary-the good and the bad live in such close proximity there, and I knew our visit would have some seriously dark matter involved, which is hard to steel yourself for, particularly on a lighthearted birthday weekend.

We woke up Saturday morning in our impossibly fluffy white hotel bed (how do they even do that??) and got ready for our only full day in the city, ready to do some fun touristing, but also prepared to see reminders of some of the absolute worst times in recent human history. Berlin is strange like that.

Completely unplanned in the morning, we strolled by both of our respective embassies. Heyoooo England and America. We are part of youuu.

British Embassy Berlin

US Embassy Berlin Germany

Our first stop was for coffee and wifi in order to get our bearings. This meant another walk up to the Brandenburg Gate, where we decided that we wanted to rent bikes for the day, head out to the old abandoned airfield, explore the artsy and gritty neighborhood of Kreuzberg, and eventually meet a friend at Alexanderplatz that night for a raucous evening at a beer hall.

berlin

brandenburg gate

But first, I wanted to take a walk over to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, also commonly known as the Holocaust Memorial. It’s only a hundred yards or so from the Gate, and we nearly stumbled upon it, walking along and looking for something more obvious, more boisterous. It’s a strange place, and not as somber as one would expect-instead, it seems like a series of granite benches or boxes, right up on the street, not blocked off in any way or set apart. As you walk into the area-which is actually made of 2,700 concrete slabs of differing sizes- it’s like a maze, and things become quieter, the light goes in and out, a child or a tourist or a shadow catching your eye as you walk through, getting lost, sounds of the street disappearing behind you. It is somber, inside. There is a museum and exhibition space below. We didn’t go in.

holocaust memorial berlin

holocaust memorial

holocaust memorial

holocaust memorial

holocaust memorial

From there we needed to do something lighter. Something more present. We spotted some city bikes across the street, so rented them and took off, determined to find our way to the abandoned airfield, Berlin Tempelhof.

bike riding berlin

Riding through the streets, getting used to being on two wheels again, even in a huge city, was the most relaxed I’ve ever been on a bike probably since childhood. The bike lanes in Berlin are clear and respected, people are serious about scolding jaywalkers, so no errant pedestrians to worry about, and it is just altogether a pleasant experience, even in the parts full of traffic. I loved it.

berlin kremlin flag

berlin grafitti

bike riding berlin

bike riding berlin

We went through one amazing park on the way to another amazing park, and Berlin, you got it goin’ on. Stop being so gorgeous.

Berlin bike riding

Finally we found ourselves at Tempelhof, which was built in the 1920s but ceased operations as an airport back in 2008, and is now in the process of being taken back by the city’s denizens, with multiple projects being promoted for the massive area. Right now, there are a few dog parks, a playground, a tree nursery, and lots and lots and lots of open space, which people seem to use for working out, bike riding, skating, scootering, picnicking, and generally enjoying the space. It’s a pretty cool idea, and if you’ve never been on the grounds of a full size now-abandoned air field, it is super trippy.

Berlin Tempelhof

Berlin Tempelhof

Berlin Tempelhof

Then it was back into the city on the bikes, and by this time my butt was feeling the pain of renting a city bike not really made for comfort. Also, cobblestones. Eep.

berlin graffiti

Berlin

It was about this time that we randomly rode by another place that I’d wanted to go, but that was super depressing, so we hadn’t decided if we would fit it in or not. Pulling up to a red light and finding ourselves next to the Topographie des Terrors seemed like a sign that we needed to devote some time to it. So in we went. The museum/memorial sits on the land that used to house the  Gestapo and SS headquarters from 1933 to 1945. It has a really detailed account of events and people and places leading up to the war, during the war, and after. It is heartbreaking in its breadth and detail.

Topographie des Terrors Berlin

topographie des terrors

I find the existence of this space as a brave step of acknowledgement for the city of Berlin, and for Germany as a whole. It would be so much easier to destroy all those old things and places of pure evil (most of which were already blown up during the war anyway) and never talk about this horrible history. Having it there, in your face, unforgiving and blunt-it’s a noble way of dealing with that painful history, I think. It’s important that none of it is ever forgotten.

topographie des terrors

The outer edge of the museum space consists of a block of the Berlin Wall that was never torn down, and the outer wall of the former cells that were in the basement of the SS headquarters where tortures and executions took place.

topographie des terrors

A bit strangely, when we were looking at the Wall an Australian tourist asked if we could take his picture, and of course we obliged. Then in return he offered to take ours and since we didn’t have any of us together at this point in our trip, we said yes, sort of automatically. Then it hit, oh, we’re where the SS used to be, but this part is the Berlin Wall so I guess it’s okay and by then I had already put on my weird photograph smile and it was over anyway. So here’s that picture.

berlin wall

berlin wall

the berlin wall

the Berlin Wall

Phew! So that’s a lot, and a lot of deep, hard stuff. But there’s more that’s a lot more light (basically everything that is not a museum about the horrors of the Nazi regime is lighter than this)-so I’ll just come back and tell you later. I need a time out.

October 12, 2014 1 comment Read More
Three days in Berlin: Part One

Three days in Berlin: Part One

So, a long weekend in Germany! Like I mentioned, I only found out that we were heading to Berlin a mere 12 hours or so before the flight took off. Not much time for planning, nor for packing-but then again it’s not that hard to pack for three days away. Jon, having gone to Berlin before at the young and drunk age of 19, had a few things planned for the trip, but it was largely open and free, just the way we like to do things.

gatwick airport surprise

We packed a small bag each and left the house just after 6 am on Friday, dropping Bruce off at the in-laws on the way to Gatwick Airport. Our flight was delayed a bit, but by 11 am we were in those fluffy white clouds, heading over the Channel and east, onward to Germany. We touched down at Berlin-Schoenefeld, which is a surprisingly tiny international airport, breezed through passport control then muddled our way through buying our tickets from ancient machines in enough time to get on the S-bahn and into the city. We checked into the Hilton (that husband of mine gets fancy on occasion and a 30th birthday is a serious occasion for fanciness). We looked around, we breathed it in, it was all very lovely.

But. Day one was a walking day. All first days should be walking days. That’s how one gets acquainted! So we walked. We walked up the surprisingly wide boulevards on a surprisingly hot Friday in October and eventually found ourselves at the Platz der Republik, right in front of the Brandenburg Gate. For those who know little about Berlin (as I did, and still do, although now I know just a little bit more!) the Gate is a 18th century neoclassical arch that has been at the forefront of quite a bit of tumultuous German history. The Berlin wall blocked the East Berliners from the Gate and, consequently, West Germany for the better part of two decades, for example. Here’s a fascinating history of the wall with appearances by JFK, Reagan, Hitler and Napoleon). On the day we didn’t know it, but the 3rd of October is actually German Reunification Day, so all the shops were closed and the square was full of people.

brandenburg gate germany

brandenburg gate germany

 

We walked through the Gate to carry on to the Parliament building-known as the Reichstag-but were pleasantly surprised to have stumbled upon an Oktoberfest celebration, or maybe a Reunification celebration, and who are we to walk away from that?

oktoberfest berlin

oktoberfest brandenburg gate berlin germany

oktoberfest berlin brandenburg gate

We were forced to take a beer and waffles break. And I got to test out my less than rudimentary German! If you need to know how to say “one waffle with cherries and cream”, I’m your girl.

oktoberfest berlin

After shooting the loop of the festival we headed on to our original destination, the Reichstag. Unfortunately, times have changed since Jon’s last visit, and now you have to pre-schedule in a time to go inside for a tour, rather than just queue up and stroll in. And double unfortunately, the website said they were full up for the whole week, which meant there was no chance of going up the seriously cool glass dome. I was disappointed, even though I hadn’t even known about the whole thing 24 hours previously. But look at this building! You can see the dome peeking out behind. And there is a conspiracy theory around who set fire to the original structure itself back in 1933-the Communists, as the Nazis claimed (which led to a ruling that really set the Nazi ball rolling) or the Nazis themselves, in order to blame it on the Communists and have their way). I would have loved to go inside. C’est la vie.

Reichstag Berlin at sunset

Unable to get into the Reichstag, a sunset walk along the river running through the city seemed like the next best thing.

berlin

berlin

Berlin sunset

berlin sunset

 

By the time the sun had disappeared, we’d ensconced ourselves on some outdoor seating at one of a string of bistros along the river, a bottle of wine on the table and blankets around our shoulders. Side note: every bar every where should provide blankets! They are so much cozier and more romantic than those heat lights that everyone crowds around like hypnotized moths.

bar du vin berlin

Yes, as you may have noticed, we found ourselves at a French-German bistro. Which is like how we ended up at a German-French bistro the last time we were in Paris. It’s a gift for accidentally tracking down these things.

sparrows murmuration berlin gif

berlin river

Berlin Hotel du vin

Don’t trust those grumpy looking faces-we stayed for hours and only left in search of food late into the evening. Even that was because we’d become so enamored with watching the touring river boats go by, analyzing which seemed like any fun, and how the one with the raver lights was obviously the best party on the water.

River boats Berlin

berlin

On the walk back to the hotel, we stopped in front of the Konzerthaus and became part of the crowd watching an art installation that consisted of booming orchestral overtures coordinated with flames, hieroglyphics, flappers and a mix of ever-changing images, all projected onto the concert house. It was creepy and beautiful.

Berlin Konzerthaus light installation

Berlin Konzerthaus Berlin

Then, it was finally off to bed in preparation for a full Saturday of bike riding, war era explorations to break the heart of humanity, an afternoon in an abandoned airfield, and a raucous evening at a  traditional beer hall. But…that’s for later.

October 8, 2014 0 comments Read More
Happy Birthday to Me!

Happy Birthday to Me!

berlin beer gif

Enjoy the above gif, taken/produced during my long birthday weekend in Berlin (!!). All thanks goes to a wonderful surprise courtesy of Jon, who burst into the living room with a bottle of champagne last Thursday evening, blasting “everybody dance now”, announcing we were leaving early Friday morning while shouting “birthday weekend begins now!” Busting out his very best dance moves all the while. So many body rolls!

The weekend was lovely, and will be talked about at length soon. But today is my birthday, we’re back in England, Jon is making dinner, and it is gray and rainy outside (autumn decided to arrive, so it seems). Here’s to you, 30. I’m coming for you.

October 6, 2014 0 comments Read More