Saturday, March 20, 2010

Berlin, Germany

March 20, 2010
Berlin, Germany
Overcast, Cool. Rain in the morning.

I feel like I’ve finally returned to the western world – I’m writing this at starbucks. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this. Do I miss the novelty of Asia and Africa, or am I happy to be back in a semi-familiar place? This question will become even more pronounced when I return to the United States in sixteen days. Some moments I cannot wait to get home and have free time, privacy, and all the people I love around me. Other moments, I feel completely uninterested in going back and feel like I could spend the rest of my life traveling the world.
But for now, I’m in Berlin, eating a really tasty cheese sandwich on a pumpkin seed roll. I’ve been really terrible at keeping up on my blogging, but it’s even harder to do than when I was in Turkey. In any free time, I want to be out walking around, not sitting in my room writing. Since I last wrote, we spent an afternoon in the Charlottenburg Palace, went to the philharmonic one night and a smaller wind and string ensemble another night, walked through the Holocaust Memorial , and went to the Natural History Museum. On our day off (Thursday), I spent the morning sleeping and then walked down the Kurfürstendamm to the KaDeWe, one of the largest department stores in the world.
I breezed past the clothing; I rarely have the patience to shop without a clear objective. Instead, I went straight to the top floors, which Denny and David had told us contained the most outrageous grocery story. After a life-long love affair with Whole Foods, I thought I could handle it. But the moment I saw the endless aisles of food, I couldn’t buy anything, I just wandered. There were hundreds of different kinds of bread and cheese and fruit and tea and pasta and anything else you could ever want. Every type of food was represented by a miniature restaurant within the store. The excess was extremely overwhelming and I felt a serious headache coming on so I had to leave. I haven’t been to a grocery store since Hawaii. The only thing even vaguely similar has been the “corner stores” which are like small 7/11s with maybe three types of juice, a single type of fruit, and some prepackaged food. There has been absolutely no variety.
This experience typifies how I feel about coming to Europe after traveling through very poor countries for a few months. The Kurfürstendamm is like Fifth Avenue and is lined with all sorts of stores that I absolutely love, but I cannot buy anything. I’ve been wearing my hiking boots and sweatshirt and Colombia jacket while I walk past all these beautiful people dressed in beautiful clothes. I feel very out of place, but I can’t bring myself to care. My friend Richard spent much of the summer in India, and right after he came to USC we had a long conversation about how he hated seeing all these people wearing stupid clothes and caring about stupid worthless things. I understand now why he felt that way.
I’m getting tired of being in a city; I know in a few days I’ll be in the tundra in Norway, but I feel a little enclosed. One of my favorite parts of Berlin has been the Natural History Museum. The huge dinosaur fossils and the rows of fossilized plants and the glass doors enclosing the shelves full of preserved animals were wonderful to look at. There was a space exhibit as well, with a circular couch with seat backs that were angled back. I sat down on the couch, and laid back to see a circular screen showing a countdown. When it got to 00:00, a movie started and the screen came closer and closer. It was all in German, but after watching it two and a half times, I was pretty certain what it was saying. The topic was the formation of the earth, and it went through billions of years of time and we watched the universe form, until it zoomed in to the world, then to Germany, then to Berlin, then to the museum, and then to a live image of us sitting on the couch. Then it quickly zoomed back out. “That’s the universe,” the movie finished in German.
Tonight is another philharmonic performance – last night we saw Mozart’s requiem, tonight there are Schumann pieces. Tomorrow is another free day, then Monday is more class, then Tuesday we leave for Norway. I’ll try to be better about writing.

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