Ich bin ein Berliner

Foreign travel is one of the best ways to keep life interesting. Everything about a foreign country can seem fresh and exciting even though it may bore the locals. And the United States is such an xenophobic country that we often know very little about other nations. I like to do a lot of research before I travel abroad because I’m very nervous about getting around town when I can’t speak the language. But this just serves as a prolonged period of armchair travel which makes the entire enterprise more engrossing for a longer period of time than the one week I’ll spend in the foreign city. My trip to Paris seemed like a grand adventure but I just did the usual touristy things so in actuality it was rather mundane. It is hard to say if foreign travel is an adventure or a mundane experience. The French are certainly bored with life in their country. After all, “ennui“ is a French word and there are many French films about bourgeoisie existential angst.  I recently saw the French film “She’s One Of Us” (aka “Elle est des Notres“) which reminded me of Albert Camus’s novel “The Stranger“ in a modern office setting because the main character seems emotionally detached and kills someone for no apparent reason. This film depicts the workplace culture of France which seems just as mundane as office life in the United States. It seems ironic that tourists seek their little adventures in a country that isn’t very different from their own.

I’m currently preparing for my trip to Berlin even though I can’t afford to do any more travel until next year. But I’m glad it is far in the future because there is a lot of preparation I want to do. I didn’t leave much time to prepare for my trip to Paris. I didn’t read all the travel guides I bought or learn much French. However, I should have plenty of time to read all the travel guides for Berlin. And I’ll read several books to learn enough German to get by. I studied French in high school and retained some basic familiarity with the language but German is completely unfamiliar to me.

I’ve already bought two travel guides for Berlin. “National Geographic Traveler Berlin“and “The Rough Guide To Berlin“. I’m currently reading the National Geographic guide because they have the best photos and maps. Unfortunately, you cannot learn anything about Berlin without encountering the sad history of the Nazis and the East German Stasi. The World War II bombing of Berlin which flattened many of the historic buildings and the division of Berlin by the Berlin Wall are just too significant to the present city to be ignored or glossed over.

Personally I would rather concentrate on modern Berlin, especially the music scene which is very influential in the alternative music scenes that I enjoy. For example, I learned that punk diva Nina Hagen was born in East Berlin. Fortunately I already have four Nina Hagen CDs that I must have bought as part of my 1980s nostalgia. One of the CDs has Nina Hagen singing “My Way” in German. Today I got a book I ordered from the German Amazon web site. This is the first book I’ve owned that is all in German. I can’t read it but it has many photos of German rock groups that I can check out on the Internet. The only musician I recognized is Tilo Wolff, of the band Lacrimosa, based in Switzerland. I have a lot of Lacrimosa CDs with songs sung in German.  Their music is very symphonic with classical arrangements. I also like the German groups Rammstein and Das Ich.

On Sunday, I bought some bratwurst and sauerkraut at the grocery store to sample some German cuisine. I don’t like sauerkraut alone but it adds some flavor to the bratwurst which I ate in a bun like a hot dog. Sauerkraut is pickled cabbage. I remember it was frequently served in school lunches but I never touched it. And sauerkraut can really stink up a home where people like to eat it.

I found some German TV channels on YouTube, openreichstag and zdf which allows me to hear spoken German and get some sense of German news. But my favorite German web site is The Local which provides German news in English.

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