In love. Again.

Have you ever been in love? Remember the initial days? Nothing can compare to that. The perpetual euphoria, sleepless nights, the deep longing. Everything in life is colorful and bright and you can never have enough of your beloved’s face and voice. Looking for excuses to see them or talk to them. Day dreaming of your love. Believing that it can conquer all. No one can take it away. Life can throw as many hardships as it wants, you will bear it all and your love will shine through.
Some people are lucky enough to find love once in their life. I have been lucky more than once.
So, this is my love story. When I found love again.
Meet my love. Berlin. Berlin Love.
It was almost like I knew. Butterflies in my stomach when I left Munich. I had an early morning flight from Munich to Berlin. The flight was just 15 Euros more than the train and 5 hours shorter. This was recommended by a friend who is a globe trotter and I would ever be thankful for this tip. I had a lot more (much needed) time in Berlin and I met the awesome Nadine on my flight.
I was tired and groggy. I hadn’t slept well the night before. Late from the opera, an early morning flight and an insomniac over worrying personality equals to a super lost and confused Deepika (Yeah, more than I already am.) My backpack seemed to be a lot more heavier than it did on my arrival. What else did I expect after that manic shopping? I grab a quick but super yummy breakfast at the airport and reach my boarding gate. 
When we are called out to finally board, after my check in I start waking behind a man. I don’t even see who he is, whether a passenger or an airport staff. I am a half asleep zombie just waiting to plonk in my seat and sleep. And there are some unfortunate souls who take the wrong call to follow me. We suddenly notice that we are in a passage which sure doesn’t lead us to our plane. We try to turn back and realize that the door we entered through can only be opened by an employee. Great. I get dirty looks from these people and I give back my gorgeous disarming smile. (Modest much?)  We all laugh and start looking for a way out of that maze. We finally figure out and find ourselves in front of the checking gate. The staff is baffled to see us again, I give an apologetic smile and explain.
I can’t wait to sleep but as usual sleep eludes me just when I need it the most. I don’t remember how but the lady next to me and I start talking. Nadine is a resident of Berlin but works in Munich now. We discussed the cities, the differences between north and south Germany, and above all India. She had worked in Malaysia for a long while and had a few Indian colleagues and friends. It was an incredible experience for me to see how a westerner sees our culture and traditions. How the things we don’t even think twice about is actually leaving a profound effect on someone. We discussed how I was the minority of Indian women who have the freedom to do what I was doing. Leaving a family behind to travel by myself. I have friends who have to take permissions from their families, even to go for a coffee.
So, am I supposed to feel blessed or angry? Not blessed. It’s not something extraordinary that I don’t have to ask for permission. Yes, it’s great that my family is very open minded and not one of the majority, typically patriarchal, controlling Indian family. But, it’s more to do with me. My parents weren’t thrilled with my idea of travelling alone, my father actually upset about it. They couldn’t understand why I would want to do it. (Something I discussed in one of my earlier blogs) But, I am a grown adult and I have the right to make my own decisions. But, that again can be credited to my upbringing and my parents that I turned out be a confident, independent woman. All in all, an argument which is going to rage on for a very long time in our society.
When we reached Berlin, I was shocked to see the airport. Absolute chaos. That was the last thing I expected at such a major international city. Actually, last thing I expected with anything associated with Germany. This is when Nadine tells me about the embarrassment this construction has turned out to be. I was gobsmacked. The whole situation is so plausible in most countries, especially India. But, to have that in a country known for its efficiency? I didn’t know now that I would question this a few more times in the next few days.
Nadine was here to participate in the Hash House Harriers’run. We both decide to take the bus into the city. Standing in the long queue for the ticket, I decide to give my back a little rest and keep my backpack on the ground. Wrong decision! When it’s time to leave, I have to search for a higher surface to keep my backpack on, so I could easily slip it on. This process got me a lot of looks and smiles. People probably laughing at the little girl carrying a bag almost as big as her.
When I got in, I noticed there was only a driver apart from the passengers which got me wondering about who would check my ticket. Then, I was introduced to the ticket punching system. I alighted the bus at Alexander Platz and Nadine moved on. I really hope to see her again soon. I saw the TV tower right there and took a few pictures of it. The tower is listed as one of the places to see in Berlin. You can also climb it up and have a bird’s eye view of Berlin. The other option for the same experience was going into the Reichstag. I had already arranged to do that.
I had booked myself in a backpacker’s hostel. I really wanted to experience what it was to live in one of them. The hostel had sent me a very detailed route map with the tram, bus, train numbers and the fare. After I alighted at Alexander Platz I took a U-bahn to Rosa-Luxemburg Platz. Exit, a little walk and I was at my hostel. I couldn’t open the door. It was cold and I stood shivering calling the hostel phone hoping someone would answer. But, no one did. After a while, the door was opened by someone checking out. My first impression of the hostel was not great. It looked dingy and dirty. I had to go up to the 2nd floor. The passages and staircases were filled with graffiti and messages. Some of them made the “nice little Indian girl” in me cringe. But, as I walked up I could feel the energy which later I realized was synonymous with all of Berlin. I was welcomed by the ever smiling and happy Ange. He showed me around, introduced me to the other residents and helped me with planning my day.
I quickly changed and was out of the hostel towards Unter den Linden. I didn’t have a lot of time for sightseeing today as I was going to attend the Berlin music festival in the evening. I follow google maps and get out of a metro as close as possible to the Brandenburger Tor. But, this wasn’t Munich. Berlin is a big city and there are multiple lines of buses, subways, metros and buses connecting the various locations. You should be aware of these connections to be able to use them optimally. Unfortunately, I wasn’t. I wasted a lot of time and energy in walking. I stopped by at a restaurant on the way for lunch. Had a glass of Lager with a Rostbrat’l, in Shawrzbier mariniertes Kammsteak, mit Bratkartofellan under Rostzweieben. I know!!!!! Which translates to Pork steak cooked in black beer with caramelized onions and potatoes. I couldn’t even wait to take a picture. After gobbling a few bites down, I tried to make the plate look neat (unsuccessfully) and took a picture.  I paid a whopping 20 Euros for this meal. Much better experience than Munich but still expensive. Unfortunately because of the weather I was being completely discouraged to sit at the open cafes where the food was way cheaper. Also because of the time constraint I was unable to go hunting for the places on my list. I ate at any place which came on my way, when I was too hungry to postpone my meal any further.
I passed by the Holocaust memorial and decided to come by later. Bad decision. I never got around to going there again. If I knew, I would have happily exchanged it for Unter den Linden. At the tourist center at Unter den Linden, I buy a few souvenirs (all for myself) and a few toys for my son. Unter den Linden is a boulevard lined with Lime trees on both sides. Before you enter this, you come across the massive Brandenburger Tor or the Brandenburg gate. This has been a witness to the tumultuous history of Berlin. This originally led to the city palace. The gate saw Napolean, Prussian rulers and the Nazis use it as their symbol. It was considerably damaged during World War 2 with holes and bullet marks. The governments of East and West Berlin in a joint effort tried to restore it but was finally restored in 2002.
I took a walk along the boulevard and stopped by a few monuments and lakes. Just sitting and doing nothing. What an amazing feeling!! On my way out, in front of the gate I suddenly come in front of a group of Italian men posing for a picture. I try to walk fast so that, I don’t ruin their picture when the photographer calls out to me. I stop and turn, he clicks a picture of me and says “bellissimo!” I am shocked, all his friends laugh. I tell him that he just had to ask and I would have been happy to pose with them; which then I did. 😀
I had almost spent couple of hours in here. I had to get back to make it to the festival. Reached the hostel and it was time to doll up. The festival timing said 6 onwards. I aimed to reach there by at least 7. I hate missing out on anything and so try and reach everywhere on the time mentioned. And thanks to this, I am usually the one at a place even before the hosts are.
The Berlin music festival was at the Arena in Treptower Park. This place was quite far from where I was staying. I had to take a metro and then a subway to get there. And, then a very very long walk. Thanks to google map, I knew where I was at. And thanks to this walk, I saw a lot more places of interest. As I was walking, I came across the 100 foot Molecule man on the River spree and the Oberbaumbrucke or the Oberbaum Bridge. I was happy that I could cross of two things off my list.
When I reach the festival, the security doesn’t let me enter saying I have to enter through the other gate. I walk to the other gate, where there is a ticket counter. I am confused cause I already have the ticket. Being who I am, I had bought the ticket 2 months ago. But still, I think Germans know what they are doing and I wait. When my turn comes they tell me to go back to the earlier gate as I already have this ticket. This goes on for a few more times and just before I lose my temper, I see cops with two guys handcuffed and sitting on the sidewalk. That for sure calms me down. I know, I was being silly. I wouldn’t be arrested for raising my voice, but being in a foreign country all by yourself is probably the best time to learn some patience. Finally, I decide to explore and walk around, when I come across  the security check and entrance for people with online tickets. Another time when I was surprised with this confusion. Completely expected in India, but come on! This is Germany!
Anyways, entered the festival. Now finally, I started feeling nervous. What was I supposed to do? All alone, not a single person I knew. We had to pre pay for our drinks and food. This was possible only at a few counters and luckily I was there pretty early and didn’t have to stand in the humongous queues I saw later in the night. I pay 25 Euros and tell myself that I shouldn’t spend more than that. I get myself a beer and sit on a bench. Most of the stalls were still coming up and I was having a good time watching them all. Suddenly a group of drunk Italians come and sit on my table and start making small talk. One of the guys is in that place beyond drunkenness and gets fixated on my smile. Refuses to leave till I give my phone number. I tell him that I am not a local and my number is from India. I obviously wouldn’t want to give him my German number) He doesn’t know English and I don’t know Italian or German. Finally, I give up and give him my Indian number. He calls it to make sure I am not lying and funnily some man answers it. My phone is right next to me. I am baffled. I recheck. The number, the international codes are all correct. He keeps calling and some man keeps answering. Thanks to my short attention span, I have lost interest now. I excuse myself, tell them I need to use the washroom and disappear.
I get myself another beer and go to the Mainstage area. There’s barely anyone around. It’s still just 9 in the night. The music is great and I stand there wondering what to do. And then, I tell myself, “Deepika, this is not Hyderabad. Not even India. No one knows you. Not a single soul. You can do what you want.” I keep my bag down, and start dancing with the drink in my hand. In a while the place starts filling up and this bunch of guys from London are next to me. One of them comes up, strikes conversation and we all end up having a blast and hanging out together all night. I had an insane time. Yes, insane is the right word. I danced for probably 6 hours straight, felt like I was part of a Hollywood movie where you see the subtle flicks of hand, and money disappearing and little packets appearing. The group from London was shocked to hear that I was not under the influence anything apart from alcohol. They couldn’t believe that someone could have so much energy and madness without a little help. I took that as a compliment.
I left the place at 6 in the morning. The exit was on the other side of the street. My phone was switched off and I had no clue to where I was. It was drizzling, not a soul on the road. I start walking towards the same direction I had come the evening before. After a while, I see an old man on a bicycle coming towards me. I stop him and ask for Treptower Park. Now, I meant the Treptower Park train station and he thought the real Park and told me to turn back and walk. I am not sure, so I keep asking him again. He doesn’t know a word of English. He tells me to walk with him and I do. Thanks to my need for constantly wanting to talk, I just generally start telling him about the place I have to go to. He doesn’t understand anything but picks on the location, Alexander Platz. He starts screaming “Nien Nien Nien!!!!” and waves at the opposite direction, the direction I was originally walking towards. So, I turn around and drag myself. But, it’s one of those rare times when my constant talking actually helped me out. Yes, I talk a lot. I need to talk. So, if I am quite and not making a conversation, I don’t like you or I am pissed at you, which also is a step towards not liking you.
 I reach an intersection where I see a guy and ask him for the directions for a train station. He tells me there are two and he is going to the one closest and I can come with him. Just then, I notice this colorful wall and I realize I am at the East Side Gallery!!! Woah!! I can’t hear what that guy is saying and I start taking my camera out, all I can see are the paintings on the gallery. He confirms that it indeed is the East Side gallery and the Ostabahnof or main train station is at the end of it. I thank him and walk towards the wall.
Now, suddenly I have all the energy in the world. The East side gallery is a 1.3 km long section of the Berlin Wall. The East side is covered with 105 paintings by various artists. Most of them were destroyed by graffiti and vandalism but some of them have been restored. I was thrilled that I saw some of the main attractions and all of this, without any planning!!
Once I got back to the hostel, I went up for breakfast where I met a lot of people. People were from all over the world. Spain, Malaysia, Australia. Everyone would express surprise that an Indian girl was travelling alone, but would be outright shocked when they realized that I was an Indian girl from India. The questions would be, “Where are you from?” and then, “So where do live/are coming from?”  I wouldn’t lie, I did feel a sense of accomplishment.
After breakfast, I tried sleeping, but gave up after a while. The girls sleeping on the bunker opposite to me had the wristbands from the festival. We start talking after a while. Laura and Sophie were backpacking across Europe. I had a great time listening to their adventures and the plans. I wish I had a friend like this who I could travel around with. They expressed their wish to visit India and I hope we meet again.
First stop, The Topography of Terror. Laura and Sophie had asked me not to miss this at any cost. This is an indoor and outdoor history museum depicting the terrors of the Nazi regime. This housed the headquarters of the SS and the Gestapo which were destroyed by the allies. The outdoor museum also has sections of the Berlin Wall. You can read about the rise of Hitler, the ideology of Nazis and short stories of regular people being the target of Nazi atrocities. It broke my heart to read these. I get affected by other people’s pain very easily and these stories were something that would even break a heart made of stone. I did not go into the indoor museum as I had to be at the Reichstag at 4.
Eating Currywurst was on top of my list. Luckily, there was a currywurst outlet right opposite to Topographie des terrors. I was asked if I want it spicy, ermmm.. Yaaa!!  Well, the “Spicy” I got was at the same level of spiciness as of an Indian baby. But, I really enjoyed it. A must in Berlin.
I had a 4ó clock booking at the Reichstag. I had booked this almost two months in advance. You can enter the German parliament or Bundestag on certain days at certain times. This is free and it’s better if you book it online. You can visit the terrace roof and the dome of the Reichstag building which offers a spectacular view of the city. You can also attend the plenary sittings if they are in session. There are guided audio tours in almost every language. I am glad I did this. I got a bird eye view of almost every important site of Berlin, places I couldn’t visit.
Neue Synagogue
Today was the match between Dortmund and Wolfsburg. Berlin was a sea of Green and yellow. I had never seen something like this. The whole city was out supporting one of the teams. From infants to oldies, everyone cheering. There were a lot of stag parties going on too. Berlin is a favourite destination for Stag’s and Hen’s parties. The streets were full of drunken revelry, but I didn’t feel unsafe for a second.
There was so much more to see and do, but it started raining and I just didn’t have the energy to go on. Last night’s partying was catching up to me now. I went back to the hostel and decided to take a short nap. Ange had said that most of the hostel mates would go out tonight, it being a Saturday night and had invited me along. I wanted to be fresh and rested for it. Went to bed at 6 in the evening and woke up at 5 the next morning. L I remember hearing the noise outside my room and telling myself to get up before I would slip back into dreamland. Next morning people couldn’t believe that I was in the room right there and slept through all that noise. There was a club downstairs which was still playing music at 8 in the morning!! The party was still on! I was disgusted with myself for sleeping through a Saturday night in Berlin!
Today is my last day in Berlin and I have to make the best of it. But, asusual the blog has already become very long. I would have to continue this in a new post. 
Es tut uns leid!!

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. Unknown says:

    Beautiful Description and Great trip Deepi!! We have also travelled along with you 🙂 Hats off to you and your courage dear , keep it up !!!

    Like

  2. Deepika Rao says:

    Thank you!! 🙂 Please follow this blog if you enjoy it. Be my companion in all my future adventures. 😀 (You can click on the top right button of “Join this site”.)

    Like

  3. Shweta S says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

    Like

  4. Shweta S says:

    Looking forward for 2nd edition 🙂

    Like

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