Blog 2: The perfect traveler

2009-02-06 00:00

The perfect traveler´s day didn´t exactly start as smoothly as I would have imagined. Picture this scene... I am calm, in control and walking down to gate G of the Munich airport to catch my connecting flight to Berlin. The sign points to a place that is deserted. Passport control officials are nowhere to be seen. I walk down stairs. It´s under construction. Suddenly I panic. Where the hell am I? A poor old woman manning an empty shop comes to my help but then vanishes. Thick beads of sweat are forming on my forehead. I am dizzy with panic. With all this confusion, I only have 5 minutes to get to the gate. I find myself running down a labrinth of lanes, including passport control, ellaborate searches and empty gate booths. A lady points to the new gate I have to go to. She says in the most sympathetic of voices, ´RUN!´

Now at the Durban Airport the day before, Katie, my lovely Katie, said I didn´t look very smart. When I was running in my Nike shoes instead of my normal leather shoes, I felt vindicated. I travel for practicality sake. Not for style. When I ran onto the plane late, I looked around and felt terribly out of place. The smart Lufthansa was packed with grey suited business people. A man my age, but with a lot more sophistication and ´style´, seemed rather perturbed that he had got me. Shame. I sat there soaking in sweat, relieved. The lucky traveller more like it.

I am staying at Wombats, a young, fun youth hostel that is very jacked up. It´s in the east side of Berlin, which seems to pride itself on graffiti that adorn most buildings. Walking the city, I found a bookshop in the basement of one building and there was a section devoted to books on Berlin graffiti, or street art. The work is extraordinary. I find myself walking through a market, a women draped in cloth selling precious stones to cure the most absurb problems, and others selling meat, bread and clothes. The main walkway to Brandenberg gate is very impressive, the Romanesque buildings fighting for attention with some breathtaking architecture from the last decade. It´s one of the best European cities I´ve been to, which includes Rome, Paris and London. There is a very happy feeling being here. Things are fresh and exciting. People are perfectionists here in everything they do.

After seeing the Brandenberg Gate, which once divided the east and west, and the Reichstag, I venture to the Holloucast Memorial. I remember seeing a picture of it once. It does not do it justice. Hundreds upon hundreds of square pillars are formed to make a vast labrinth of corriders. I felt scared. The pillars resembled the power and authority that was the SS officers. I felt like a victim, scared each time I reached a cross roads - this happens every 2 metres - that a person might bump into me. And people there were. A group of British brats were running around trying to scare each other. It gave the experience a surrial touch. A Jewish man in prayer seemed a little anoyed but it got me worked up in quite a different way. I truly felt the experience of being a Jew in the gettos. It was really emotional and was unlike any memorial I have ever seen.

At Potsdam Platz I find the headquarters of the Berlin Film Festival. The buildings are massive and spectacular and screens are everywhere, showing Clive Owen who is getting interviewed in the opening media address. I find out where he is and stand metres away from the actor. The buzz is here. The film festival is in town and it´s taken over this part of the city, that´s for sure.

I catch an underground train back to Wombats and feel like a drink. I shower then walk down the street seeking a pub. Any pub. Just a place where I can get a drink. Eventually, I walk in to this ancient bar that would struggle to fit a crowd of 20. The bar lady is about 40, her blonde hair died, her power supreme. Five Berliners, none who speak English, sit there in silence, drinking their beer. I am served a 0,3l glass of the finest beer and sit there in silence. I feel I am spoiling a ritual. They all seem to know each other, they all seem to respect each other´s silence. I drink slowly, in silence, then pay and leave. It was a powerful moment - I felt a part of the day´s end ritual, I felt like I was viewing an ancient Berlin tradition. And I felt bad for intruding on it.

This week is going to be special. I can feel it.

Watch this space.

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