Wednesday, June 18, 2014

[BERLIN] The City of Awesome Graffiti

I have to be totally honest with you. My first impression of Berlin has not been that favorable. It could be due to the fact that I have lived within the vicinity of Manila’s business district for half a decade or so, which means that the concept of home for me would mean lots of skyscrapers and easy access to all the creature comforts I could find. This is not to say that Berlin does not have all that, or maybe it just lacks the minimum number of high rise buildings for me to consider it as homey.

Perhaps, I should just go to Frankfurt? It does not help that the city felt like the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse on a lazy Sunday afternoon. The streets were almost deserted and most of the stores were closed. I was looking for a carbon copy of a bustling Hong Kong or Singapore. Berlin is neither of those two, but it really need not be. I only had to wait until Monday afternoon to see the streets finally teeming with people, and multiracial to boot, reminding me a bit of Kuala Lumpur.

“Did you bring a jacket with you? It’s cold there.” I rebuffed my father’s naive question with a nonchalant smirk. Like, doh, dad. It’s SUMMER. I realized that he was right when I stepped out of Berlin Tegel. It was like Tokyo 2012 all over again. I just came from Bangkok, which meant that all my clothes were of the type just apt for hot and humid weather. I thought that was fine until I surfaced from the underground, coming in a train all the way from Haneda asking who turned the air-con on.

It’s not winter, but hey, it IS cold. But then again, when faced with such cold weather conditions, I just have to remind myself that once upon a time I survived Harbin’s -25 degrees. Brimming with enthusiasm for being in a natural German speaking environment for the very first time, I switched to Deutsch for communication as I bought a bus ticket to get to my hostel.

Berlin is full of graffiti, which might surprise people and lead them to think of the whole city as one big dangerous ghetto where they would be shot by some random drug pusher at four in the morning. It is as if Angela Merkel and friends got bored one day, decided to take a day off from their typical routine at the Bundestag, and set off to vandalize the city with a can of spray paint in each hand.

But to think of Berlin as ghetto is simply unreasonable. If it were to be considered as such, then I would say that it is a rather classy one, what with its mix of old and new buildings and churches that easily dwarf those of Manila. You only need to get a glimpse of the Berliner Dom to ditch the Manila Cathedral. But we are not here to compare churches, now are we? Hauptsache, the everlasting graffiti is what gives Berlin its edgy appeal as some sort of a European anti-capital.

For someone who hails from a Southeast Asian country where mostly everything is cheap, getting used to paying 2.60 Euros (~150 pesos) every time for a single bus trip is a bit unnerving, considering how it is roughly ten times as expensive as its equivalent in Manila. Come to think of it, though, almost everywhere is more expensive than the Philippines. Traveling around for almost half a decade now, I think only Laos and Cambodia ever qualified as cheaper than my home country.

The trick here is to think like Europeans do. There is a reason why 2 Euros come in coins, because that simply is what 2 Euros mean to them, regardless if the same amount could already buy you modest lunch and dinner in Manila when converted to the local currency. I guess it took me a while to grapple with this concept, but I think I am getting there. It has to be the least of my worries, what with jet lag and work both contending for my attention.

The first three days have focused on work and the Polyglot Gathering, which meant I did not have enough time to be on full tourist mode just yet. Even so, I already managed to squeeze in Berlin’s most notable landmarks in a three hour window I got free, after one day at the gathering when I did not feel like having dinner with anyone. Hey, we all have our emo moments.

It is a good thing that the area containing the Reichstag and the Brandenburger Tor is just around a kilometer away from the Hauptbahnof, and taking a stroll with this Baguio kind of weather is just so relaxing to say the least. However, I guess I would just not get used to the idea of not seeing the sun set until around 8 or 9 PM.

Pariser Platz reminded me a lot of Seoul's Gwanghwamun. There is no tandem of Gyeongbokgung Palace and a mountain for a backdrop, but you could gain access to an extensive patch of green land aptly called Tiergarten if you decide to head west. The statue of King Sejong is replaced by the Brandenburger Tor itself, with its quartet of horses beaming at you from above. Of course, a country's most popular square would not be complete without a US Embassy in it, right?

Murica has to express its dominance somehow, so they construct the embassy in a place frequented by tourists and then their guards give you the glare of death if you try to take a photo. There is a large hotel as well, around which people suddenly gathered to take photos. Was it Justin Bieber? Thankfully not. Apparently, it was some Scandinavian prince who was on a state visit; the Swedish one with the glasses, if I remember it correctly.

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