Berlin with cousins

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A parked Trabi limousine we saw on our tour.

Two of my cousins that I haven’t seen in years, Sarah and Daniel, have flown in from England to meet me in Berlin! Their sister Mary would probably be happy to join, but she just wrapped up celebrating her birthday and got engaged so she has work and wedding planning. (Is it just me, or suddenly is everyone you know getting married too?) We buy tickets for a hop-on hop-off sightseeing bus around the city and spend the day as tourists. It’s probably good for me, since I haven’t actually seen much of Berlin beyond our Airbnb, some flea markets, and a nearby grocery store.

We catch one of the buses and spend the day exploring, listening to the bus’s pre-recorded tour information and disembarking when we please.

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So it’s not a glorious royal coach. But it’ll do!
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Walking around.

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There are trampolines with awesome bounce built into the sidewalk near Potsdamer Platz!
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Another tourist figures out where we are on an old aerial photograph of the Berlin Wall.

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Trabi world, where you can get all of your Trabant-related merchandise. For those who don’t know what a Trabant is, it’s a “famous” East German car brand.
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Sibling hug!

At the end of the day we say goodbye over glasses of wine. Sarah and Daniel will return home tomorrow, after less than 48 hours in Berlin. I’m so lucky they came to visit, since I won’t get a chance to visit them in England before heading back. Speaking of, there is less than 72 hours before I board a plane as well, bound back to the U.S.

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Temporary Goodbyes

20171106_100212 Today Stoytcho and I are saying goodbye temporarily, as he heads home to the U.S. to take care of some personal matters. It’s weird that it’s just another plane ride, but it will be one that he takes alone. I’m staying in Germany for another week.

I take the metro with Stoytcho to the Berlin airport to see him off and we talk mostly about logistics. He’s flying to New York, then on to San Diego. I’m flying from Berlin to Boston a week later to start looking for apartments while staying with his cousin. He’ll join me when he’s done in San Diego, but we don’t know when that will be.

For most people and in most scenarios, this would be totally normal. But it feels so weird when you’ve spent nearly every waking (and sleeping) moment with the same person for the last 13 months. When you’ve curled up in a tiny 2-person tent in the New Zealand wilderness or shared a mattress on a floor in Russia, when you’ve been crammed together in a narrow row of seats in a bus puttering through the Chilean desert or in the back of a incredibly-jittery minivan careening down a volcano in Indonesia. Or when you’ve both squeezed into the same tiny half-person bathroom because one of you needs to use the sink and the other needs to use the toilet, and like hell are either of you are going to wait.

Our journey together has been 371 days long. That’s 8,904 hours, of which Stoytcho and I have spent roughly 8,890 together. That seems like an insanely long time, but this is how things used to be. We spent our lives with the same people, in the same tribe, unchanging save for the flow of birth and death.

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Now Stoytcho will disappear behind a wall and in a few hours will be thousands of miles of way. The modern age is weird.

Berlin Flea

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The Berliners are thrifty folk and their flea markets are awesome, brimming with everything from antique toys and art deco jewelry to boxes full of secondhand kitchen goods and clothes of prior decades. Though websites online offer curated lists of Flohmarkt, or flea markets (here, and here, and here), some of the info might be out of date, so always go prepared to ask for locations and times of the markets should you show up at a location and find it empty.

Here is the Berliner Trödelmarkt, which had an excellent selection of both cheap and antique jewelry and toys:

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And yes, the flea markets happen even when it rains like crazy, like it did when we visited the Mauerpark Flohmarkt. This market had way more handmade goods, clothes, and boxes of odds and ends:

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Berlin with Photography Friends

IMG_7534 We stay with Cindy and Eric and Anna in a tiny apartment in Berlin for a week, doing nothing in particular but living. The three are here working on photography books and projects and workshops, and for them this stop is just one more in a life of itinerancy. They move to new places every few months to work or think or for Eric to run a photography workshop, but everywhere they work on new projects, connect with friends, and live. Travel is merely another axis on the grid in which they live their life.

I am lucky to know the people I do, and to while away days in quiet contemplation with them. To be not going anywhere in particular, to not be thinking about the next step. Instead, we live our lives and, inspired by Cindy and Eric and Anna, make photography into art. Are we successful?

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Who cares? We are having fun.

The Train to Germany

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Onward, onward! Today we take the last train on our journey, from Paris to the city of Berlin. While this is a departure from our ever-westward travel, we’re meeting our dear old itinerant friends Cindy and Eric, whom we last saw in Hanoi about six months and half a world ago!

 

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Spoiler: Something bad will happen to this bag.

 

We first stop by the local bakery for a bundle of morning pastries to add to our pile of gifts, stuffing them into a spare shopping bag we picked up at Maison Georges Larincol. Then it’s off to the train station to find our train and pick up our tickets, a slightly more complicated process than normal because we’re crossing a border. Still, it’s a breeze when compared to flying.

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Once on the train, the familiar flow of scenery past our window and people in the aisles begins. There are short bursts of cityscape strung with thick trellises of telephone and electric wire and dotted with concrete train platforms, followed by long stretches of pasture and woods in the French, then German countryside. The transition between countries is once again seamless, noticeable only by the change of language on station signs.

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The flow of people continues as well, French, Germans, and other Europeans getting up and disembarking, boarding and sitting down in recently vacated seats. The only unmoving group is a Muslim family, clearly tired and stressed from travel. The mother desperately tries to handle three children and quell their hunger with cheap, off-brand crackers. She spanks one of them for getting too rowdy and the child wails.

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We doze and nearly miss our stop in Berlin, waking up just in time to dash off the train with our backpacks. When we gather ourselves on the platform, we realize we have left the bag of pastries on board! They’re gone with the train, alongside my warm wool leggings I’ve used for the last year. Easy come, easy go.

The Muslim family also got off with us, and they adults are all now hugging a couple who were waiting on the platform and crying. The children just stand around, confused.

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Berlin is colder than Paris, so we walk quickly, catching the local metro to a small suburb where our friends wait for us.

Transition to Germany

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With a heavy heart we packed our bags, said goodbye to our friends, and headed out of Paris.

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On the way out we made sure to stop by our favorite bakery and pick up a pile of delicious pastries for ourselves and the friends we would be meeting in Germany. Some of Natalie’s close friends from college were staying in Berlin and let us stay with them!

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On the way to the station we saw even more fantastic architecture! We hadn’t had a chance to wander up this way before – it was less quaintly Parisian and more industrial, closer to a concrete, business-type city. The people were still stylishly dressed, of course.

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At the East Station we saw an outdoor exhibit on some of the world’s strangest buildings.

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Bonus points for looking like a space colony. Many of these were in Japan, yet another mark for the mutual admiration that the two countries seem to have for each other. It’s such a big cultural exchange that Mariage Frères, a fantastic French tea company has a Japanese division – the only country in Asia that merits a full Mariage Frères store.

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After a bit of figuring out where our train was at the station, we got on and peacefully rode through the French countryside onward to Germany and Berlin. Along the way we had to change trains, and about fifteen minutes after we did, we realized that something had not made it with us in the transfer. Our bag full of delightful French pastries was spiriting away from us on another train! Natalie’s leggings were also in the bag, but those were replaceable. After a vain attempt to recover the bag by calling the train company, we let the treats go and continued on to Berlin. A quick walk through the residential neighborhood of Moabit, which borders the station and is surrounded by rivers, we arrived with the rest of our belongings to a warm welcome at our friends’ apartment.

Sights and friends in Paris

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One of the best things about Paris (for me) is that a few of my good friends from college happen to live there. We were extremely lucky to stay at their apartment right in the heart of the city, and to have them with us as guides to the city.

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There are of course the monuments we found on our own, and the city is well equipped to handle english speaking tourists. There’s no issue getting around to see all the famous sights, but it’s really for the hidden shortcuts and small alleys that you need a local with you.

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None of these are hidden or secret, though I’m sure there are those as well. For the most part, all the interesting things are right on display, you just have to know where to look. Given how many tiny shops – cheese, pastry, antique, meat, tea, everything – and how many sculptures, beautiful buildings, and above all cafes there are, a friend who has a few favorite spots is extremely helpful.

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Dinner is the other important topic. In college we gathered for “family dinner” nights, and it was a blast to do it again. Despite being in the middle of a move, my friends hosted us for a wine and food filled evening, ending in a short and happy walk back to the apartment.

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On a different night we went out and wandered into a late-night cafe/restaurant. On order were salmon pancakes – a savory shortstack in true American French fusion cuisine.

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Outside of the monuments, Paris is still a living breathing city. It’s far from perfect, and is constantly under construction.

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There’s delicious, perfectly decorated food around every corner. There really does seem to be a pastry shop on nearly every street, often more.

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Giant sculptures dot the city, and in many places they act as playgrounds, especially for tourists, but also for locals.

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Other works of art are much less interactive but no less grand.

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We’re not sure if these dancers were filming a commercial, doing a photoshoot, or putting on a show. Either way, it was one of the many interesting things going on in Paris, on a weekday at that!

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Street-long indoor galleries dot the city. Some are famous and have tours going through them, some are out of the way and filled with unknown treasures. In one of the heavily trafficked ones, a wine shop window filled our eyes with these massive wine bottles. I’ve seen comically oversized champagne bottles for events before, but I’ve never seen so many at once, and given the price tag these are no joke.

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That same gallery, and many like it, have indoor cafes! They’re cozy and in inclement weather a delightful way to spend an hour or three. While we were visiting it never really got cold or wet outside for too long, so we never saw too many people at them.

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There’s all sorts of surprises around the city. In a somewhat lonely corner near a very popular Eiffel tower vista point, we found a statue of Benjamin Franklin.

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There’s lots to see and do, the city is beautiful, and the food is great. I was thrilled to see my old friends again, and with any luck we’ll have another chance to meet in Paris! Thank you Chloé, Antoine, and Axel, for being such wonderful hosts!