Leipzig To Prague

Pots of flowers on stone steps outside stables

potted plants on the steps overlooking the stables
We checked out of the hotel the day after the wedding and the families spent the afternoon at the one place that was open in Mölkau on a Sunday, Stadtgut Mölkau. It was a cross between a petting zoo, playground, beer garden, and restaurant in what looked like to be the old village square.

Caro and I shared schnitzel for lunch. We took the twins on the swings (which they loved!) and to watch the horses in the field (although my lens cap was far more entertaining). Volkmar’s dad brought the leftover dessert from the wedding, and we decided to hand it out to everyone at the beer garden. People were resistant at first, but once we learned the German word for ‘free’ the cake got eaten up.

young woman and baby looking at a horse in a field

Volkmar and Nicole drove me to the bus ride. Both Nicole and I were tearing up! Volkmar gave me some travel advice – not to take taxis, not to use Euros or to do currency exchange outside of a bank. My best bet was to draw out money from a bank. This was problematic…

Train to Prague

Nicole came into the train station with me. This was very fortunate as my train had changed tracks and was late. There were no English announcements in Leipzig like in Berlin! We ran to the right track, then Nicole asked some passengers for help reading the ticket. One of the passengers explained to me seating, then checked up on me when we arrived in Dresden. I was a bit confused – Dresden had 3 train stops! She said the train ride to Prague was one of the most beautiful in Europe!

Dresden looked beautiful from the train window; vineyards, grand houses, old bridges and dome buildings. I think I’d like to visit there one day! Volkmar said its very pretty.

The train to Prague was different than either of the two trains I’d ridden in Germany. The first car I got into had cabin style seating with 6 seats. Turned out two seats in the cabin were reserved, so I got up so that a group of three could stay. I then migrated to another train with single seating. This train had electrical outlets at the seats with tables.

Arrival in Prague

Upon my arrival, I went to a exchange booth and got local currency. That done, I bought a train ticket. English was everywhere here!

It was very easy to navigate the train station and the metro to my AirBnB accommodation. The subway system had the same look and smell of the blue line of Montreal’s metro.

I found my AirBnB easily enough, but no one answered my rings. I asked some guys smoking on the corner where the nearest wifi or phone box was and they directed me to a small bar. The middle-aged woman working there didnt speak English, but I managed to get the wifi password and a beer.

Turned out my AirBnB host was running late. She offered to pick me up at the bar. She seemed a bit frantic as she gave me a quick tour of the apartment. It was a very odd apartment – I felt like I was in some college student apartment with its mismatched salvaged furniture, bare walls, old stained carpet, and facets that disconnected from the sink when you turned them on. This was nothing like my Rochester or Berlin AirBnB accommodations!

I checked the mattress for bedbugs and got a glass of water for my bouquet of flowers. I encountered one of her roommates in the kitchen, but he didn’t speak English or smile. So I retreated to my room and went to sleep. I was exhausted!

a vespa parked ouside  an apartment

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Nicole’s Wedding

banquet hall

pale yellow facade of a palace
Nicole and Volkmar’s wedding was something out of a storybook. Leipzig and its surrounding areas was romantic in itself – as if it were out of a fairytale with its old buildings and charm. The wedding was in a little white church shaded by trees, that was built in the 1400’s, and the reception was in a Rococo palace! Its no surprise that the little girls in the party thought Nicole was a princess marrying her Prince Charming!

Nicole, me, and the bridesmaids, Steph and Caro, got ready together with the babies. Nicole’s mum, Arlene, came in to help as I laced Nicole into her wedding gown. Nicole looking stunning.

Steph and Caro went ahead to the church while the three of us to help orchestra seating. We were picked up in a vintage white car by the best man. We took selfies with our iPhones as we drove down the country roads. The driver took the best selfies from behind the wheel!

When we arrived at the church, I busied myself with Nicole’s silk train and crinoline. I felt had to hide tears of joy when I heard the music play and saw all the people standing in the little church. Everyone had big smiles on their faces, eager to see the beautiful bride! This was a church filled with love for my best friend and her husband. Nicole radiated joy and excitement – it was so beautiful!

The Church Service

Nicole and Volkmar sat in two heavy wooden chairs before the alter. The minister was Volkmar’s mother and Nicole’s brother Brett stood beside her to read out prayers in English. The service was mostly bilingual – and it was unlike any service seen before!

When the first choral work was sung, I found myself overcome with emotion. Nicole’s mum noticed my hand holding the program was shaking, so she kindly got me a Kleenex. I couldn’t hold back my tears – it was all so beautiful!

Twice, the bridesmaids and I joined the minister, Brett, and best man at the front. First to hold hands in a circle and again to give our blessings. There is no rehearsal at German weddings, so I did not know what order things were to done. Its suppose to be organic. Apparently I was suppose to give the first blessing, but I didn’t quite clue in. There was some back and forth in English German, some akward standing still in silence before it was clarified. Oops!

I had been unsure what to say as a blessing. I didn’t want to sound corny or canned. Volkmar had said not to worry and just say whatever came into mind. As I sat in the pew earlier, studying the white and gold paintwork around the alter during one of the choral performances, I was spurred by the moment to give a blessing related to song. Music was a huge part of Volkmar and Nicole’s life. So, I said something along the lines of words of love, glorious song, and never ending. Caro and Steph both said very beautiful things – and Steph had even memorized words in German.

A tuning fork was a central part of the service. I don’t yet know whether that was a Lutheran tradition or unique for Nicole and Volkmar. I think it was to represent them as one, in tune with each other and God.

basket by a door leading into a dining hall

The Reception

The reception was held outside at the grand steps of the palace. Once we had coffee and cold steins of beer, Caro played her violin and Nicole and Volkmar cut the cake. With each slice, they kissed one another with cheers from the guests. I had a slice and a small sample of all the other German cakes that were available! I had to try them all!

Dinner was the best catered food I had ever had – it was so flavourful! There were so many dishes I had never had before. We were particularly curious about the cold cut meat that had the same texture and thickness as smoked salmon. I think it was called Leipzig ham.

Caro and I, who had both worked in catering, were very amused by the staff at this event. They had visible tattoos (one even had one on her face!), facial piercings, coloured hair, dreadlocks, even one had catering gear that looked like it came out of a LARP. It contrasted sharply with the Rococo interior and traditional decorations. We definitely weren’t in Canada anymore! Nonetheless, they were smiley servers and did well.

Volkmar’s friends from choir had adapted two traditional German songs to be about Nicole and Volkmar. Although we didn’t understand most words other than “Volkmar” “Mölkau” “Nicole” “Beamsville” we were laughing along with all the guests! It was incredibly entertaining. I loved all the singing at this wedding.


Volkmar’s best man did a bilingual speech, then translated when Volkmar’s dad did his. I had set up German captions as a PowerPoint with the help of Nicole’s friend from Austria (also called Nicole) for mine. We had some technical difficulties at first, then I spoke too fast, resulting in me saying half of my speech twice. Volkmar ended up jumping in to be the technician!

Despite the hiccups, Nicole was practically keeling over with laughter at the humourous parts of the speech. Despite me being mortified that it hadn’t been ‘perfect’ for my best friend, it appeared to go over well with the guests. Many people came up after to say how much they enjoyed my speech with the balance of humour and sentiment.

Nicole’s parents, Steve and Arlene, stole the show with their shared speech and childhood pictures. It was hilarious! Apparently at age 9, Nicole declared she was going to have twins later in life. Later, when she met Volkmar, she had sent a simple email to her mum: “I’ve been swept of my feet! Skype now?”

Speeches done, we gathered in the small ballroom where a projection screen had been setup for a video complied of all the well wishes to Nicole and Volkmar from people who could not attend. We had been worried that it might make Nicole cry tears of sadness at her wedding, but she glowed with joy and laughed all the way through. It was a hit!

Nicole and Volkmar kicked the dancing off with a multi-generational music mix. It was held in a small ornate ballroom with Euro pop and American classics. The wedding party appeared to do a lot of traditional dances too. I think it may have been polka!

The dancing carried on until sunrise, but I had to call it a night at 3:30am. I think Nicole’s grandfather outlasted me! It was one hell of a party – and Nicole and Volkmar were dancing to the end! They are superhuman…

banquet hall

Last Words

Weddings are usually quite formulate, but this was truly unique! Combining German and Canadian traditions, language, song, venue, food, the love for and between Nicole and Volkmar, with the beauty of Europe made this wedding truly special. Throughout the entire evening I kept thinking how fantastical this wedding was – better than Hollywood! A real fairytale wedding that wouldn’t have been possible in Canada or China. It was so exquisite! And Nicole looked so very beautiful and every room was filled with love.

No other wedding shall compare!

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The Magic of Mölkau

church behind a tree

The days leading up to the wedding were filled with making bows, crafts, and speech practicing. Nicole encouraged me to have some alone time now and again, so I would periodically go explore the village of Mölkau, where we were staying. It did not disappoint!

Bicycle Ride Through the Country

My first excursion was by bike. It was my first bicycle ride since my run in with the moped two weeks ago. I was quite excited about it – Germany looked like the perfect place to explore by bike! It was flat, the roads were well maintained, and you didn’t have to wage war on cars. (Nicole borrowed a helmet especially for me!)

I peddled down the main road, the side streets, and back trails, absolutely enthralled by the residential architecture. It was so different than back home, yet most of the houses were relatively new.

For example, I only saw one shingled roof (and they were shingles in some sort of petal shape) – all the rest were terra-cotta or faux terra-cotta concrete, matte or glazed in orange, blue, black, or brown. Volkmar told me after that terra cotta roofing lasts forever- that its salvaged from old buildings and re-used. The faux roofing made from concrete doesn’t last as long – it needs to be replaced every 10 years.

The countryside with golden with fields of grain, with wild poppies and daisies growing at their edges. When I was walking my bike along a footpath towards bails of hay, I saw an old couple walking my way. The man was carrying a wicker basket with a white cloth on top. The woman was carrying a bouquet of flowers. As they passed me, they smiled and spoke to me in German. I beamed back, thinking “My god! These types of things really do happen in Europe!” These people had my kind of picnics! This was my kind of place.

wood fence and a field by a forest

Morning Coffee

While Nicole and Volkmar worked on their vows, I took a stroll over to the corner store. I accidentally ordered a cappuccino, which was

excellent I might add, and a heart shaped jam cookie I’d been eying since yesterday.

I sat on the wooden bench in the park outside the village church. As i sipped my coffee, I watched as a man in a bow tie washed the windows of the Badstudio (bath shop?) and two elderly people watered the flowers in the church graveyard over the stone wall. All the while I could hear children playing at the petting zoo down the street, and crows call to one another from the treetops. It was lovely.

A Walk in the Woods

Earlier that morning, Volkmar took me on a walk in the woods behind their cottage. The woods were just like back home, minus the bugs. I pushed the stroller with Isabelle asleep in it while he held Anna. I would occasionally get the puppet owl out and hoot Anna into little fits of giggles.

Volkmar told me stories about his many adventures in these woods as a child. Occasionally we would stop to pick a maple leaf for Anna to wave like a flag, or he and Anna would go approach a textured tree and touch its bark together. The walk was full of beautiful, quiet moments like these.

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Leipzig

ornate church ceiling with diamond shapes and flowers

My Morning in Leipzig

I caught a car ride into Leipzig with Nicole’s brother Brett and their father Steve. Babies and toddlers can make quite a mess, so they were going into town with a trunk load of laundry. Laundry was 3.50 euros per load which I found shocking in my mind when I converted that to Canadian dollars, but if you just think in Euros, its not that much different at home..

Once the laundry was sorted and shoved in the washer (with panel instructions in German, French, and English) Steve and Brett dropped me downtown in front of the Paulinum, the famous university building I wanted to see. However, first thing first: I needed breakfast. So I went in search of a bakery.


Leipzig was exactly as you’d expect a European city to be: brick-lain streets, grand old buildings, cafes and bicycles. I wandered sown a little plaza that looked like it could have been out of Poirot. Many of the shops were closed at this hour, but I looked in their windows as I passed.

There was a shop dedicated entirely to silk bow ties – then a liquor shop with the most exquisite selection of Islay whiskeys in the window. Low and behold it was open, so I wondered in! I was awe of the many bottles of whiskey, port, gin, and wine that I’d never seen at home, with their stately label designs. The shop had a great selection of single serve bottles too, so I treated myself to a Laphroaig Islay single malt whiskey. It would be perfect for a cold night in Iceland.

I popped my head into about 4 bistros before I saw an Irish terrier outside a quaint bakery. I thought “That’s my kind of dog! Must be my kind of bakery!” The dog wagged its tail as I entered the bakery and I smiled back at it.

When I tried to order in German, the server spoke to me in English. However, when I asked in English what was pastry was the bakery’s specialty, it was beyond our communication abilities (my waving at the pastries probably furthered the confusion). I ended up ordering one that had little green berries and sweet cheese between sheets of soft flaky pastry.

As I sat down in a cushioned wicker chair on the street, I thought “This is the life!” Here I was, overlooking a cobble street, sipping a cup of European coffee with a fine pastry watching the world go by. I was in complete bliss – its moments like this that make life wonderful. I felt so happy sitting there.

I walked around Leipzig, wandering into churches and admiring old buildings. My favourite were the churches – they were so grand! I was able to read up on everything I passed as Nicole had given me a guide book for the city.

An Afternoon in Leipzig

Once I found my way back to the train station, I found Wi-Fi to coordinate with Nicole. Unlike train stations in Canada, there were lots of interesting food options. I went to a very German looking place and ordered the currywurst. I thought it would be a curry flavoured sausage on a bun, but instead I got a chopped up hot dog in a bowl of tomato sauce with curry powder sprinkled on top. It was a actually quite good.

For dessert, I got a Leipzig lerch – a jam filled tart. I had seen them at the bakery I had been to this morning, and as these ones were half the price, I thought I’d try one. It was very good, and i decided then and there that I could eat my way through Europe. No European handbags or shoes for me – just food!

We decided that I’d meet Nicole and her mum at the bridal store instead of home, so I left the train station and started to make my way across town. Back home, I would never have jumped at the opportunity to take a half hour walk, but this was Europe and things were different. I had a grand old time taking photos along the way. I was particularly fascinated with the blue fabric that buildings under renovation are wrapped in. Made me think of that artist who wrapped Central Park in brightly coloured fabric.

The highlight of the walk was an old graveyard. There were concrete tigers, bare breasted maidens, harps, and angels – some with no heads! Of the dates I could still read, most of the tombstones were from the mid 1800’s. It was a very quiet place, shaded by trees with just the sound of the birds and passing traffic.

The bridal store was quite fun. I got to see Nicole in her wedding dress for the first time and she looked exquisite. I kept gawking thinking, “Wow!” Nicole looked absolutely stunning – and that was without the makeup or hairdo! I cant wait to see her walk down the aisle on Saturday!

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Berlin to Leipzig

Facade of the Jewish museum

I packed up and left my AirBnB this morning. When I said goodbye to my host, I felt like I had forgotten something… and I did. My packed lunch and travel spice set (tiny keychain!) – but I realized this when it was too late to go back.

The Jewish Museum

The Jewish Museum was my favourite part of Berlin. The interaction between guest and building were profound.

My visit started off with a very impatient line-up of people pushing and butting in front. I then cut my finger on my umbrella – great, I’m entering the Jewish Museum and I’m bleeding all over the place.

I wrapped my finger up with a Kleenex and made it through the security check with all my bags. I bought my ticket (8 EU) and got in another impatient, disorderly lineup for the coat check. Once all my bags were checked, I sought out the information desk for a bandaid. They were happy to oblige.

I had been wanting to visit this place ever since learning about it in Design History class at university. The Memory Void is what had stuck with me all these years, and it did not disappoint.

As I approached the Memory Void, I heard the sound like breaking glass. Part of me wondered if I was approaching the back kitchen of the restaurant by accident – the feverish sound of catering staff packing away glass wear. Instead, I found a room full of loose steel faces on the floor, gapping up at the visitors as we passed over their anguished expressions underfoot.

There was also the Holocaust Tower and the Garden of Exile. The garden consisted of tall slanted blocks of concrete on uneven cobble stones. It was designed to make you feel sick when you walk through it. I’m not sure if it’s because I read that, or if it naturally occurred, but I did feel a little queasy when I walked through.

The Holocaust Tower was a hollow within a angular cement structure with a slit in the top where sunlight and city sounds came in. It was quite interesting to stand there in the near-darkness with the heavy clang of the metal door whoever someone came in or left. Simple yet effective.

When I left, there was a lineup down the street of people with umbrella waiting to go in. Apparently everyone thought this was the perfect activity for a rainy Tuesday afternoon. I’m glad I got here when I did!

Hauptbahnhof

I got to the train station early. It was unlike any station is seen before! It was multiple levels of shops and platforms – like a mall with trains going though.

Once I found my gate, I scoped out the food options. I ended up going to a Middle Eastern place where I ordered the cheapest thing I could see on the menu that wasn’t fries (3.50 EU). It was some sort of sandwich in a triangular pocket of bread that was similar to focaccia with salad mix and shaved meat with a red sauce that stung my face whenever I got some on me. It was very satisfying – messy too. Not a date food.

I then tried to find a suitable place to leave my 5-day transit pass for Berlin. It still had a day left on it. It was hard to figure out who was coming, who was going, so I left it on the seat of a pink telephone booth. Hopefully someone could make use of it.

I didn’t know whether the trains had washrooms here so I paid 1 EU to use the public toilet. That in itself was an experience! I lined up to deposit my coin in the turn stile and found myself in a very bright, very clean room with Teletubby-esque music playing!

On my way back to the train platform, I passed a fragrant flower shop. I stopped to see if they had any nice bouquets. Low and behold they had a very sweet bouquet of white roses – perfect for a bride-to-be. So I bought one for my friend Nicole.

The Train to Leipzig

The train to Leipzig was 15, then 25, then 40 minutes late. There were very few seats on the platform, so settled down on the cold pavement, hoping no one has peed recently in my corner.

I was curious to try the dining car as I’d never seen that before, but the waiter was waving people away when I approached, so I went into the regular car instead. The train left quickly and the ride was smooth and silent.

There were no electrical outlets or wi-fi, but I found a table. Next to me was a man with a Donald Duck tote bag. When he unzipped it, a little black head poked out! It was a lovely black terrier, who continued to sit contentedly in his bag. I am continuously impressed by the amount of adorable well behaved dogs in Germany! (It was a habanese/Scottish terrier mix)

The Bride & Family

Once I arrived in Leipzig, I was greeting by an ecstatic Nicole, running down the platform with a McCafe cup in one hand and a stack of tourist pamphlets in the other. We were both a little bit teary eyed as we hugged one another…

Nicole’s husband, Volkmar, was waiting in the parking lot with their twin girls, Isabelle and Anna. As we drove home, I asked Volkmar all sorts of questions about German culture – particularly why the dogs were all so well behaved, alcoholism, and urban planning.

Nicole and Volkmar both had answers about the dogs. Volkmar said, “People in Berlin have a lot of time on their hands, so they train their dogs.” but Nicole pointed out that German society valued discipline and order in everything, so it made sense their dogs were so well behaved. “Like their children!” She chipped in.

As for alcoholism, it was no worse a problem than in Canada. People could drink beer and wine at 16, so it wasn’t seen as a risky endeavour like when Canadian kids leave home and binge to oblivion at university. And as for urban planning, apparently diverse neighbourhoods, mixing the rich and the poor has been the norm since the 1800’s. “And many of the urban areas are new or small, so its easy to re-design a town layout every so often.” Oh I wish I heard those words in Toronto.

We dropped my bags at their cottage, then went to the florist to look at wedding bouquets. Apparently in Germany, it is customary to leave professionals to their own devices when hiring them to do a job – such as designing a bride’s bouquet. To us Canadians, this seemed crazy, but then once I thought about it, it made sense. How many times have I bemoaned a client’s design changes/instruction, knowing it was going to look like crap by the time the final version was due? After looking at flowers, we went back to the cottage to catch up with Nicole’s family and entertain the babies. I had a great time being a human wall for Isabelle and Anna as they clambered around the bed, nose diving into the duvet and standing on their head – and on their feet too! Apparently Isabelle stood unsupported for the longest time she ever had – and for me!

Nicole and I took an evening stroll so that she could show me where everything was. It was a very quaint suburb of Leipzig – more of a tiny rural village than my definition of a suburb. I couldn’t wait to explore it further in the daylight!

Come 11pm, I went into my hostel. Volkmar had checked me in earlier that day. It was right around the corner from their cottage and by the bus stop that would take me into Leipzig. The hostel was a bit noisy and utilitarian, but it was the perfect location!

Tomorrow I explore Leipzig!

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Art, Design, & Wanders Through Berlin

wood guns on display on a wall

I started my mornings excursions with a trip to Körnerpark, the park I’d found on my stroll last night. I bought a coffee and pastry from one of the neighbourhood cafes, then went for a stroll around the park, settling down on a white bench (covered in anarchy symbols) by a old fountain. coffee and pastry on a bench in a park
I watched the gardeners at work, their wheel barrels full of white blossoms. I watched an old couple walk with their arms around each other as their dog bounded around the path. There were joggers, school kids, and people just passing through. It was very quiet – just the song of the birds and the squeals of children in the many playgrounds above. This place intrigues me – I wonder what it’s story is?

KW Institute for Contemporary Art

After I’d finished my coffee and pastry, I got on the train and headed to the KW Institute for Contemporary Art. It had been in the opening of the Art in Berlin book my AirBnB host had handed me, so I figured that was a good place to start.

The summer program was titled FIRE AND FORGET. ON VIOLENCE. Upon entering the gallery, I was met by a room full of black turnstiles (Daniil Galkin, Tourniquet). Then there was a robot drawing the boundaries of Isreal In sand. As I descended down stairs, I saw a tall chain-link fence with barbed wire at the top with heat lamps at the top. I thought that was a good idea – I like work you can interact with in some way. I went inside, warmed up for a bit, then continued my meander through the gallery (Jota Castro, Guantanamo).

There was a young girl playing a video game and when I stopped to watch, I saw it was a shooting game… in a gallery. The playing shot at art! It was hilarious! Then a security guard were burst on screen yelling “What are you doing?! Don’t you know what art is?!” Genius. (Hunter Jonakin, Jeff Koons Must Die!!!)

There was Light/Dark, a Marina Abramović and Ulay video from the 1978 playing in one of the curtained rooms. I’m usually not a fan of video art, but this was a piece with then doing their usual stair at one another… but slapping each other’s face.

My cheeks started to get hot after watching the video for a short while, but I thought I should continue. I was also curious to see how far the face slapping would go – and yes, it did speed up and intensify, but the neutral facial expressions remained (with some subtle winces. I was impressed – that couldn’t have been easy to get through! The video was 8 minutes, but I wondered how long the actual performance piece went on for. I know their works can be very, very long.

I had a “Holy shit!” moment with an installation upstairs. I had just climbed the stairs and upon rounding the corner was confronted by a row of riot police, all much taller than me. They wore visors over their faces and then THEY MOVED! I was like “Holy shit! Did I imagine that?! Are these real?!” They moved to subtly, that they could have been real people trying to stand still – shifting weight from one leg to another, turning their heads ever so slightly in my direction. It was absolutely terrifying – and I loved it! Here’s art that gets a real emotion response out of the viewer! I was still on edge for awhile after. (Julius Von Bismark, Polizei) hall and doorway of gallery
I wandered around the neighbourhood for bit, checking out the boutiques, looking through the windows of all the closed contemporary art galleries, and taking pictures of interesting posters I encountered (work related research?).

The Bauhaus Archives

With time marching on, I took the train and the bus to the Bauhaus Archives – and it was a double decker bus! I got a kick out of sitting up top and the sweet little bell noise it made when approaching a stop. It also had a screen where the stop’s name appeared, and an audio announcement, just like the public transit, the TTC back home.

The bus ride was very scenic. The bus went along a little canal with excellent examples of early 20th century architecture, and many parkettes – most of which had grown quite wild. I had trouble finding the museum, but when a man pointed me in the right direction, I wondered how I had missed it. It was a huge white building that looked very post-modern. photo of a white building  The Bauhaus Archives (museum) was a bit dry and smaller than I expected, but I’m glad I went. Entrance was 8 euros. Photos were not permitted, so I made do with notes. There was a great chair by Bauer that I thought I could make a variation of with Dad, lots of colour theory examples that made me think of my first of year university, and an interesting black and white photo exhibit of architectural details. I ended up buying the poster for the photo exhibit – may curse myself when I have to lug it around the rest of my trip, but hey – its the Bauhaus, and I really like the type treatment.

Kurferstemdam

After the Archives, I went to Kurferstemdam which my friend Kai had recommended. It had a bombed out church and an endless stream of luxury good shops. I walked along the strip for awhile, admiring the clothes and accessories in the windows. Everything I was drawn too was around the 300-400 euro mark (they had prices in their windows!).

When it began to downpour, I hoped on the bus and then a couple trains to get home. I was cold, wet, and hungry, so decided to treat myself to a meal out. My host wasn’t home, so I texted her for suggestions. She told me to look at the map, but there was a number of places on the map. When I inquired further, she suggested the Italian pizzeria I’d gotten my coffee and pastry earlier that morning.

An Evening Out

I didn’t feel like pizza, but after wandering around for a bit, I ended up there anyway. I ordered a glass of their house red and a slice of pizza. The pizza was quite good – doughy bread like naan with real tomato sauce, salad mix, and cheese. The guy behind the counter seemed offended when I asked “Can I have a glass of the house red?” – “Of course! We are an Italian restaurant! What red do you want?”. I pointed to the first one he showed me. The pizza and wine came to 5 euros. (An excellent example of when English commonalities sounds weird when interpreted literally)

I sat at a table by an open window that looked out on a courtyard hidden by bushes and trees beneath an apartment block. On my table was a rose and a candle – it would have been quite pleasant if I wasn’t feeling grumpy and there were screaming children running around the table behind me. The wine and food made me feel better though.

I had left the house without my iPhone (charging) or a map (drying), so chose to keep in a primarily straight line when I went adventuring after dinner. I ended up on Karl-Marx Strabe which reminded me of Yonge street with all its neon lights, eateries and unappealing shops. This was very different than Yonge Street however. For one, the street was extremely wide with tall apartments lining the street. It made me feel very small and remember a passage from Happy City about how these types of layouts were built by communist planners to make people feel like life was grand. The buildings looked too old to be post-war, but what did I know about German architecture? pedestrians on the sidewalk Once I hit an H&M, I decided to turn back. I took a left onto the residential streets and took the back route through courtyards and a park. It really is stunning the amount of lush green-space Berlin can fit in areas with such high density. There were lots of cute, well-behaved dogs, drool worth bikes, and attractive young professionals (usually accompanied by at least one of the former) to keep my mind active as well. I wasn’t just thinking about urban planning…

I kept my eye out for a new interesting bar to try, but they were mostly dives or places for betting. I then tried to find the place I had been to last night, but despite my searching I did not find it. I went into the bistro near my AirBnB, but it was so crowded with people and no places to sit that I went out into the rain again. I then stumbled across a place I’d passed the night before and thought, “Good! I’ll go there!”.

The bar was totally vacant. I ordered a beer and the bartender said he’d bring it to me. I found a corner table by the window, bathed in red lamplight with a big candle at the centre of the table. there was piano jazz playing and it seemed like quite the spot. I wondered why no one was here… but nonetheless, I felt totally comfortable getting out my iPad and keyboard to work on the day’s blogpost. I had reflected on the walk that I hadn’t seen anyone with an iPad in Berlin, nor had I seen many laptops out at cafes or bars, People just seemed to go out to be social, not to work. That was different than home!

The bubbles in my tall stein of beer glowed golden in the candlelight. I happily poured water from the ice cold bottle into my tiny glass – the proportions of the two were amusing. I liked it, The beer glass was extremely heavy – made me feel like I was drinking a lot of beer when I probably wasn’t – but hey, I got a one arm workout lifting that glass!

As I typed, I watched the light dim outside and listened to the cars splash through the puddles as jazz continued to play on the speakers. Once my blog post was done, I opened a Bernie Gunther thriller in iBooks and danced in my chair to the music as I finished my beer. It was beautiful way to end the day.

See more photos from the trip on Flickr: Nell’s Photostream

Step count: 27,337

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Berlin Sightseeing

pastel coloured apartment buildings

I am writing this in the yellow light of bar lights and candles on a rainy Sunday evening. Jazz is playing, there’s the familiar crack of billiard balls coming from the room next to me, and the sounds of cars going through puddles through the open window.

I ordered the haus bier – first time someone hasn’t spoken to me in English when they here how uncomfortable I am with my German. He used his fingers to show me how much to pay (2 euros) and I suddenly realized I had no idea how to tip in Germany. If something is 2 euros, do you give them cents? I gave him 0.60 – and felt really weird about it. But that’s more than 15%…

The beer has a slight metal taste to it. People are smoking in the bar, tastefully decorated, with young attractive people at the tables. I walked around the neighbourhood for awhile before finding this place.

It’s incredible the little places you find in these residential blocks. Random cafes, bars, and shops mixed in with playgrounds and courtyards. I stumbled upon a very ornate public garden – I’m not sure what it used to be, but it was quite grand with concrete columns, white benches, and manicured lawns and flowers.

There was a group of people having a picnic in the rain, and a group of kids singing a variation of kumbaya around a little fire (that they then joyfully stamped out into a waft of smoke). There were even people playing ping pong in a residential courtyard, blasting hip hop music. The streets around here are so alive – yet it’s a rainy Sunday evening! Berlin is an exquisite case study for urban design – I find myself thinking of Happy City case studies constantly!

Berlin Wall, Memorials, Checkpoint Charlie

I did a lot of touristy things today. Went to the East Side Gallery to walk the length of the Berlin Wall, then took the train to the area of the city where the Holocaust Memorial, the LGBTQ2S Memorial, Checkpoint Charlie, Hitler’s bunker, and the Hall of Terrors are.

pedestrian walking beside a paint covered berlin wall
East Side Gallery

The area around the East Gallery was fascinating – and very foreign to me! Upon exiting the train, I found every possible surface was covered with graffiti and stickers. There were young people passed out on the street everywhere from a night of too much drinking, people awake and drinking, nightclubs still going strong and blasting the tunes at 8:44am on a Sunday morning. This was unlike anything is experienced before!

After I walked the wall (not particularly interesting – they were covered with mural art and I am not a fan of murals), I headed over to the memorials.

looking to the sky from within the jewish memorial
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
photo of a woman walking through the Holocaust Memorial
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

I did not have an emotional response to either of the memorials, which surprised me as I thought I would. However, it was hard to get into walking the monoliths with a grim mindset with the sun and blue skies above, children playing gleefully, people just chilling out on the blocks, and no artist statement.

The LGBTQ2S was a bit harder to find, but it was very interesting. It was built on an old cruising spot that had been at the Wall, and now it was a big block of stone with a loop of a same sex couple kissing. It was beautiful – and very few people were there.

I tried to find Hitler’s bunker, well I found it – but I couldn’t find the entrance. Me and a UK tourist commiserated on this, and I ended up lingering a distance from a tourist group to get the low down on the area.

(Note: the bartender just handed me a jar of pretzels and gave me a smile – perhaps my 60 cent tip wasn’t so bad after all) photo of crowds of people around Charlies Checkpoint

Charlie’s Checkpoint was abuzz with people. It was very crowded. I was quite amused that McDonalds was there – any picture you took of the checkpoint had the iconic American fast food restaurant there. Also, I was amused to find that McDonalds coffee is expensive here! It was advertised for 1.86 Euros – pah! (I reviewed the menu at a non-touristy stop, so this wasn’t a hiked Charlie Checkpoint price).

I enjoyed the Hall of Terrors – the wall on display there was much more what I’d expected. There was a free museum and information boards too – I enjoyed it.

I then sought out the GDR Border Watchtower. It was down a quiet street, totally void of people except for a well dressed man sitting in a lawn chair next to it who was more than happy to tell me all about it. It was built in 1969 and is the oldest remaining watch tower in Berlin. I bought a postcard from him in exchange for his enthusiasm.

Transit & Food

I saw a few other things until hunger got the best of me and I headed home for a lunch/dinner (although I tied myself over with a roll that looks like a cross between a poppy-seed bagel and croissant). photo of bread in a paper bag and a cyclist

I was very exhausted and confused by the transit ride home. However, I was amused by the sites, the tourists around me, the dogs riding the metro, and all the affectionate couples. People in Berlin really like dogs – and to kiss goodbye passionately on the platform with their lovers. Yep, I’m definitely not in Toronto anymore.

When I got home, I finished yesterday’s beer, chomped down on some smoked salmon and goat cheese, then set about hard boiling some eggs so I’d have something for a packed lunch tomorrow.

I troubleshooted my blog some more and went through the pictures I had taken before collapsing in bed. I set a timer for an hour nap, but when I awoke I felt no motivation to get up. I was so tired and my feet killed. I had to get up though – Berlin was waiting!

I had a shower, changed clothes, and headed out a sometime after 8pm. It was raining lightly. I enjoyed walking around – the residential areas are fascinating from an urban planning point of view. They’re not much from a architectural standpoint, but my god – I could live here. This city was not built for cars, but for people!

Pub Observations

I just ordered my second pint. A half pint was 1.90 euro, so I paid the extra 0.10 to get a full pint. Seemed silly not too! The bar is slowly filling up with people. The music has changed from jazz to bluegrass to pop to indie – all English vocals, although I do not recognize any of it. The people around me are all speaking German. I remember thinking German sounded like an angry language, but it reality it’s quite pleasant. I’ve even found Germany words flowing across my mind as I am napping. It sounds quite nice.
pint of beer and pretzel sticks on a wood table in a dimly lit bar
I am really enjoying these pretzels. People around me maybe smoking, but I have my pretzel sticks. They are fun to eat, especially when slightly tipsy. Yummy too.

Well, I think I’ll finish off this beer and pretzel stick and meander on home… Connect to the WiFi and post this post! I haven’t been posting as I’ve been trapped in a wp-login redirect on my iOs devices since arrival, but my friend Anthony and my Mum has been helping me troubleshoot. We haven’t yet discovered the root of the redirect issue, but Anthony set me up with post-by-email and recommended that I further explore the WordPress app. I had to engrained in my mind that the app only worked on WordPress.com sites, not self hosted sites, but to my delight we discovered it worked for .org sites too (less obvious). Now I can post! Yay!

Now I sit here, finishing my beer watching a couple hold hands across the table, a woman elegantly smoke a cigarette, and some guys talking animatedly. I will eat another pretzel stick and head on home shortly… Mm… Pretzel stick…

See more photos from the trip on Flickr: Nell’s Photostream

Step count: 25,832

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Dancing Light

photo of a nordic themed room

My trip started off with a gong. I went through customs twice.

So here I was, all proud of myself getting to the airport early, checking my bag, getting through the crowded customs without a pat down… and then I misread my ticket.

I thought the gate number was 15D, so I followed the signs for D. However, once I found myself outside, I discovered D stands for domestic. 15D was my seat number. 30C was my gate number. So, I had to go all through customs again.

When I finally got to my seat, I found my neighbour was a little baby. The parents were trying to find an empty seat so the baby could have its own place to sit – but they didn’t ask me! Once I figured out what it was all about, I switched seats.

Condor Air had a terrible selection of movies – nothing worth watching. Anything remotely interesting was 4 Euros – I could go to the theatre for that! (However, they partially made up for it with complimentary vodka and Campari cocktails)

I tried napping, but I found myself watching the reflections of the light on the cabin through the open window instead. It was incredible how it would flash with such brilliance, then dance across the curved ceiling and walls of the cabin. It was beautiful.

I must have slept, but I didn’t feel like I did. The highlights of the trip were the airline food – particularly the breakfast. I ate my meal of cold cuts, cheese, and bread while listening to Philip Glass’ biography on my iPhone. It was then I noticed the interesting behaviour of my glass of water. My water was swirling around like the rings of a tree. When I grasped my glass, it returned to a flat surface. This like these are fascinating – especially when you have nothing else more engaging to do.

The transfer from Frankfurt to Berlin was painless despite me getting terribly lost again. Customs and checkin were a breeze – nothing like in Canada or the U.S.! My plane arrived 40 minutes late and I was surprised at the arrivals by Brett, Nicole’s brother, also in Berlin on his way to Nicole’s wedding – like me!

My First Hours in Berlin

I was very happy to have Brett there. He showed me how to purchase a 5-day transit pass from the automatic machine (note: it does not take 50 Euro bills) and then stamp it in the little yellow box next to the machine to validate it.

We took the bus from the airport to his hotel. I was shocked by all the trees and cute dogs. There was also this attractive young woman who kept smiling at me – I had no idea why. I smiled back and nodded goodbye when we left.

I dropped my bags at Brett’s hotel, then he and I walked to the nearby park, which is apparently one of the highlights of Berlin. We stopped in a corner shop where I picked up a coffee and he a beer – and to my shock, the coffee was more expensive than the beer! Not only that, but it’s legal to drink beer in the streets! It’s the equivalent of drinking a Coke Cola.

We walked around the park for quite some time, discussing urban design of European cities in comparison to Canadian cities. We headed back to see if his family was awake from their midday nap, but the room was silent (note: hotel rooms only give one key card here) so we went back out.

This time we went for food. Brett told me that the most German street food was in fact not German, but kabobs! We went to a nearby stand and got two shawarma sandwiches and a juice for 4 Euros. It really hit the spot.

When we returned, Brett decided to knock more loudly on the door. His wife, Crystal, opened the door and when the curtains were drawn, their baby Bernie was bouncing in his cribs, all smiles.

I’m not one who particularly goes ga-ga over children, but I find Bernie a joy. I enjoyed hanging out with the family, making faces at Bernie to see his smile grow, and dance with him, toddler style. However, I couldn’t stay long as I was meeting my AirBnB host at 5:00pm.

As the subway ride was half an hour, I decided to get comfy and take off my bags. It’s bit complicated and painful to get my big backpack back on after my bicycle accident, so I tend to wince during the transition. The woman sitting across from me leaped up when I was struggling to get it on and helped me out – no words at all! I was totally in awe of this kindness and thanked her in German multiple times. I feel like that would have never happened at home!

All in all, I was amazed at the kindness of Germans – they are actually happy to help, and don’t mind communicating in English. It’s made navigating a breeze! All I do is approach an unoccupied person with my map, and bamb – smiles and advice pursue!

I first discovered this at the strawberry stand at the metro by my AirBnB (yes, there are strawberry stands everywhere in Berlin). After much zooming in and out on my iPhone, girl pointed me in the direction of my accommodation. I bought some strawberries from her and went on my merry way (and they are extremely juicy strawberries at that).

Once at my AirBnB, I discovered I had no idea what number to buzz. I knew my host’s name was Marleen, but I did not know her last name. I buzzed one person with M. preceding their last night, but no answe. There were a few people with ‘M’ first names. Fortunately, I thought to check if AirBnB’s iPhone app had any offline data stored – and SUCCESS! Yes, my bookings were accessible in offline mode and I was able to find my host’s full name through her profile.

When I finally buzzed the right person, Marleen answered the door. I was in awe of my rental – it was better than than the pictures. It was HUGE! An entire wall was glass, and it had its own separate entrance!

photo of a  room with a wood table, chair, and art on the walls
My writing desk at my AirBnB in Berlin

Marleen have me a brief tour, then I unpacked, had a shower, and went grocery shopping. The shower was a handheld shower head in the tub. This prompted me to have a very short shower – probably a good choice for North American guests who are used to cheap utilities.

I had intended to check out Berlin’s nightlife as I had been recommended some good places from a friend-of-a-friend, but I was zonked. I curled up in the big bed a little after 8pm. I awoke a little after 10 with the street lamp shining in my window. I checked my email and found the most wonderful news – even as I write this, I tear up! I had gotten the apartment at Greenwood Stn I had applied to the morning I left for Germany. I finally had my own apartment in Toronto – and a beautiful one at that. I had been looking since May, and now I finally had a home of my own!

My social media posts were a burst of “OMG Berlin!” and “OMG apartment!”. I was able to get in touch with my mum over Skype and we talked until 12:30. Then I tried to sleep, furniture layout plans and colour schemes flowing around in my mind.
I awoke around my regular time in the morning – to a rooster crowing. A rooster… in a densely inhabited residential area of a major city… A rooster. Now, I am familiar with urban farming, but I’ve never actually encountered it. I was shocked, and then annoyed because it wouldn’t shut up for hours.

Anyway, so that was my flight and first hours in Berlin. This city reminds me a lot of Montreal, but is also quite unique. Here are some differences I’ve observed since my arrival:

  • Not only do you flush the toilet here, you need to press the button to turn it off too!
  • You need to open the doors yourself on public transit
  • There are no turn stiles > just intermittent friendly ticket checkers
  • Everyone walks around in the streets drinking beer at all hours
  • Nightclubs are pumping out the tunes well into the morning
  • People are extremely friendly and helpful > even if you don’t speak German!
  • You have to pay to use the washroom at the train station (1 Euro! That’s more than the beer)
  • Cars drive slowly here (great for someone like me who is still jumpy after a bicycle accident back home)
  • The bike lane and pedestrian walkway are similar, but don’t mix them up! (or you will get ringed at)
  • Refrigerated milk is hard to come by – it’s more frequently seen in a box on a shelf in a tetra pack!

 

photo of German groceries
My first grocery run in Germany!

PS: my Canon pictures aren’t posting – only my Instagrams. Any idea how to remedy this? Size perhaps?

See more photos from the trip on Flickr: Nell’s Photostream

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Packing for Germany, Prague, and Iceland

Photo of a cup of tea and a backpack

Packing for a trip is always exciting! The anticipation and excitement can be drawn out and fueled by planning and the act of packing. Here is what I am packing for my trip to Germany, Prague, and Iceland:

What’s in My Bag?

Backpack:

photo of items laid out: smoothie powder, vingear packets, sun hat, bamboo eating utensils, water bottle, poncho, uumbrella, towel, first aid kit, soap, sewing kit, backpack cover, and lock
Emergency items and essentials at the ready!
  • First Aid Kit: bandaids, Polysporin, tweezers.
  • Stainless steel water bottle; bamboo eating utencils
  • Compact umbrella; poncho; rain cover for backpack
  • Sun hat
  • Greens Powder & snack bars
  • Combination lock
  • Sewing kit
  • Laundry soap; hand soap
  • Travel towel
  • Vinegar packets (for cleaning my water bottle)
photo of ziplock bags with cothes inside
Labeled ziplock bags – compact, water resistant, and organized!
  • Nightgown
  • Underwear & socks (plus one extra just in case)
  • Long sleeve shirt
  • T-shirts (x2)
  • Extra pair of jeans & a pair of shorts
  • Evening top (x2)
  • Bating suit; flip flops
  • Slippers
  • Jacket
Photo of cards, envelopes, maple syrup, and maple sugar.
Hostess gifts and cards for AirBnB.
  • Hiking shoes; shoes for the wedding
  • Cards, maple syrup, maple sugar (hostess gifts)
  • Foundation, mascara, eye shadow, lipstick, sunscreen
  • Gorilla tripod
  • Washcloth
  • Sleeping bag sheet

Carry-on Tote Bag:

Photo of travel pillows, iPad and accessories, sleeping mask, book, maps, magazines, and toiletres.
Essentials, entertainment, and comfort for the voyage.
  • Camera, second lens, extra battery, charger, iPad adapter for SD card.
  • Noise cancelling headphones, extra battery
  • Tablet, Bluetooth keyboard, charging cables
  • Universal outlet adapter (CEE)
  • Travel pillow (neck and head); pillow case; sleeping mask
  • Toiletries & ear plugs
  • Medication with pharmacy labels
  • Maid-of-honour dress (can’t risk that getting lost!)
  • Paperback books (x2); maps
  • Kleenix; wet naps
Camera and photography gear, passport, wallet
Purse contents

Purse:

  • Passport, tickets, directions
  • Cell phone; wallet
  • Camera; extra SD card, battery, and charger; cleaning pen, wireless remote.
  • Sunglasses
Photo of a cup of tea and a backpack
Enjoying a cup of tea whilst packing.

My Thoughts on What to Pack:

Ziplock Bags

I acknowledge it makes me look a little crazy to have all my clothes in ziplock bags, but there is reason to my madness. Usually, I put essentials in plastic grocery bags to save me searching around my luggage for socks or underwear; or my special outfits to protect them and for organization.

When I visited my cousin Kate in Ottawa recently, she raved about vacuum compression bags that help you save space when packing. Then when I was hanging out with Dunter during my last trip to Montreal, he gave me a giant ziplock bag for my laundry saying that is how they packed dirty clothes when he was in the army.

Putting these two thoughts together, I went to the dollar store and bought a box of large ziplock freezer bags (thicker plastic). They work much better than grocery bags! I can get all the air out to ‘vacuum pack’ my clothes. The labels maybe a bit of a nuisance, but it may help make sure I have everything when I pack-up (have been known to loose things). I think they’ll work great!

Headphones:

Comfortable, noise-cancelling headphones are vital to an enjoyable voyage. I find that ear-buds hurt after wearing them for awhile, so bought over-the-ear headphones with a cushioned headband (headbands can also be uncomfortable) with an airline adapter. The Bose QuietComfort headphones I bought for the trip also come in a hard case to protect them during travel.

Budget tip: There are cheaper options out there for sure. However, if you’re set on Bose’s quality like I was, you can buy them second-hand on eBay or Kijiji, or if you have access to a broken pair, you can upgrade to the newest model at 50% off the retail price.

Tablet:

I found it a challenge to blog on my iPhone when in China, and the limited access to computers meant that I had no idea what my photographs really looked like most of the trip. For this trip, I purchased a second-hand iPad with retina screen, an SD card adapter to transfer photos, and a bluetooth keyboard to ease writing on-the-go.

Budget tip: I bought my iPad and accessories on eBay for a song. At least in Canada, eBay tends to be cheaper for Mac products than Kijiji or buying in-store. Another tip is to go for more memory if you can afford to spend an extra $50-$100 on a tablet (I went for 64 GB). As far as I can tell, there is no way to simply view photos off an SD card on an iPad – you have to download them onto your iPad first, which can take up a lot of memory (if you have found a better way, please message me).

Greens Powder & Snack Bars:

Food and beverages in Europe are extremely expensive – especially anything healthy. Iceland is particularly bad for this. So, I packed green supplements to help make sure I had a portion of my necessary greens and vitamins while on vacation. I also am considering purchasing some snack bars to satisfy my hunger when out-and-about to avoid making desperate purchases at over-priced corner shops.

Budget tip for a future trip: I was considering bringing some Greens powder in a ziplock bag to see how it goes over at Customs, but I’ve decided not to try this trip. However, it would be a cheaper alternative to buying individual powder packs, which run around $3 each at the health food store. I’ll try that another time…

Photo of tote back, backpack, and camera bag
Packed and ready to go: black tote bag, 40lb Aria MEC backpack, and Acme Made camera bag/purse

 

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