Two months in Berlin

An old runway at Templehof Airport

I had such plans for these two months in Berlin. Between exploring the city and learning what it's like to really live in Berlin, I was going to learn to speak german, work on my musical, develop multiple business ideas, refresh some of my personal web projects, and take some time to sit and think about what it is I want to be doing when these two months are over.

It's not hard to believe that I've fallen short of these aspirations. Perhaps I overloaded myself with goals, but even so my list of achievements has been low. I guess that's to be allowed since it is a holiday.

I've now had five solid, uninterrupted weeks in Berlin since getting back from Austria. Most days have consisted of sleeping in, doing a bit of work and then heading out into the city to explore. I've been making steady progress on a refresh of Repertwa, and trying to take time to think about what I wanted to be doing and where I wanted to be for the rest of the year.

As I'm turning 30 this year, it is my last chance to take advantage of the youth VISA to live in Berlin. These two months were to be a trial to see if that's something I wanted. It has really come as a surprise to me that it isn't. Berlin is certainly a fascinating place - full of history and progressive culture - but it doesn't seem like quite the right fit for me. I'm sure I could happily live here, but I'd miss a busy theatre scene, walking everywhere and having full feeling in my fingers. I see what excites other people about this city, but I also see what makes people move on.

I was still unsure until one night when, in full Mama Rose style, I had a dream. Amongst all of the usual confusing dream fragments, I was enjoying relaxing in slightly too warm weather in an apartment atop the Melbourne laneways. I put out a call to people to meet for coffee (or tea in my case, it wasn't a nightmare) in the bustling shops below. This felt like paradise. Certainly the warm weather enhanced that feeling. Immediately after this moment in the dream I awoke. I checked the clock and it was about 1am. I thought about my dream and how it felt, and realised: that is my life.

If I put any value in dreams, I would certainly believe this was my subconcious trying to make me aware of how good I have it in Melbourne, and how much I truly do love it there. After all, it is a city I chose to live in, it's not my first home.

Of course, I don't regret coming to Europe and staying in Berlin. It has been an amazing time of exploration of the city. It's something I love to do and has certainly been a good challenge at times, particularly with the language barrier. I have more to say about my Berlin experiences, and will when I get the chance.

Tomorrow I leave for London for a booster shot of theatre. I have a bit more travelling to do and will be in Australia in about a month.

Birds over Mitte

The Vienna Philharmonic

Inside the Musikverein, Vienna Austria

I decided to swing by Vienna for a night to catch the Vienna Philharmonic on my way back up to Berlin. Unfortunately I hadn't planned on it when I packed a small duffel bag in Berlin and hadn't packed any appropriate clothes. I didn't need to suit up, but I at least wanted to wear a collar and some decent shoes. H&M solved the collar situation, but as time ran out I was going to have to listen to one of the world's best orchestras in sneakers.

When I arrived at the concert hall (the Musikverein) I spotted a guy in sandles and blue jeans. Perhaps I shouldn't have been so worried. It also becomes clear that the Guess Who? faces were all modeled on Austrian men. At least 80% of the audience would have pre-paid funeral plans. They say the older you get the bigger your ears get. Well, the same thing goes for bow ties.

I am admonished into checking my jacket. This is always dangerous for me because I lose things. It shouldn't be too hard to get it back; I'll just ask for the young person's clothes with a can of spray paint in one pocket and a bag of weed in the other.

My seat is in a side box towards the back of the theatre where I'm joined by two old ladies. Our section is mostly empty, however the sections closer to the stage are much more full.

During the quieter parts of the concert, the symphony of respiratory conjection outplays the orchestra onstage. The coughing is constant and irritating, and one of my biggest pet peeves about concert and theatre going. I myself aim to be 100% motionless at a concert. I'd rather voluntarily shut down my repiratory system than let out an uncovered cough. Of course, it's mostly just boredom coughing; no one seems to have to clear their airways when the orchestra is playing loudly and vigorously.

The types of people of people who go to orchestral music concerts fall mostly into three groups:

  1. Oldies with hearing so strained they seem to prefer the sound of their own lolly wrappers over the solo flute credenza. Admittedly, this group (often subscribers) are the ones usually paying for the concert to go ahead. They buy the more expensive seats, make as much noise as possible during the performance and some leave immediately as the bows begin.

  2. Young romantic couples on a "culture date." Often one is trying to impress the other, but inevitibly choose something anotal and challenging rather than Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet as they had imagined. They'll dress up in formal wear and if there are icecreams on sale, you bet they'll buy them.

  3. The rarest attendee is the music enthusiast. Aged anywhere from 16 to 56, they're usually alone, causally dressed and filling the cheap seats. They're easy to spot because they'll be seething and shooting sideways glances at their neighbouring coughers. Sometimes they'll be wearing the wrong shoes but don't judge them because maybe they weren't expecting to be in Vienna and only packed light.

Young people should go to hear an orchestra play on a regular basis. How often do you get the chance to pay a small amount of money to have 60 or so people work really hard for you for 2 hours? Also, the feeling against your chest of a orchestra playing forte easily beats a stack of woofers at a concert. And why not go while you still have excellent hearing?

After the concert (and after all of the rude oldies who walked out during the bows), I collected my distinctly youthful jacket and head back out into the city and then unwrapped my cough lollies.

Innsbruck, Austria

I barely had enough time to get over my jetlag before heading before heading down to Austria with my friends Phillip and Chris.

We flew to Zurich and caught the train to Innsbruck. The train trip was everything I could have hoped for. We glided through snowy scenes of tiny villages and rocky alps for hours, all with wifi and a tea service. That's how travelling should be.

Flughafen station in Zurich, Switzerland

A snowy village on the way to Innsbruck, Austria

From my Innsbruck hotel room I had a great view of the sleepy little town surrounded by snowy alps. I'd never been anywhere like it in my life. I had seen snow before, but only in Berlin and New York, never resting on mountains.

View from the Hilton Hotel, Innsbruck, Austria

Old town in Innsbruck, Austria

We ate and strolled throughout the town. At one dinner Phillip turned to me and said, "Do you realise this is the fifth time we've sat down to eat today?"

The highlight was our last day in Innsbruck when we journeyed up into the alps. I lost my wallet (twice) and then found it (twice) in the snow, but I could have stayed up there all day snapping plenty of pictures.

Halfway up the mountain

On top of the mountain

Me on top of the mountain

The Long Haul

Long haul travel is similar to surgery; you choose to undertake a period of pain and discomfort for some greater outcome (and accept the small risk that things might take a turn for the worse). At least with surgery you're guaranteed a good sleep.

My flight out of Melbourne wasn't until around midnight, and I had plenty of things to organise during my last day in Australia. I ran around the city getting last minute things, running into familiar faces and stopping for chats. It was a busy, tiring day in itself, and the travel hadn't even started yet.

It was going to take three flights to get me to Berlin. Melbourne to Dubai, Dubai to London and London to Berlin. Departing a bit late, around 1am Melbourne time, I was ready for a sleep after the first meal. I had scored one of the seats without a seat in front, and in payment for some nice things I must have done in the past, the seat next to me was also free during the first leg. With all the stars aligned I managed a few hours, sleeping through the second meal (a shame I'll never forget).

Landing in Dubai I turned on wifi to receive a torrent of emails. It seems that after years of running happily without being touched, as soon as I hop on a long haul flight a bug developed in Repertwa, my sheet music website which meant people were paying but not receiving their orders. People weren't happy. It had already been 12 or so hours without a response from me. I whipped out my laptop in the 30 minutes I had before reboarding the plane and sent each customer their music manually. There wasn't any time to fix the bug, so I just pulled the site down until I could fix it.

For the second leg the free seat was occupied by an aviation nerd who wanted to discuss the differences between this flight and a Singapore Airlines flight. I was pretty close to requesting my oxygen mask fall from above but he eventually settled down. He was that sort of hyper-friendly person and I thought there was some slight chance he was flirting with me. Until I saw a picture of his girlfriend. His Hail Mary after we landed was a nice little reminder of why I shouldn't assume anything.

I carefully spaced my bathroom visits to give me something to do, but of course you're at the mercy of the cabin crew to clear your tray tables after meal service. I was finally clear and able to go to the bathroom when I stood up and treked down the aisle. The plane took a dive and I started to walk like a drunk mime. There was a small crowd gathered for the bathrooms, and one cabin crew member preparing the duty free purchases. The drops and jolts got more violent until I was looking around for something better to old onto. People started to lose balance and fall into each other. The crew member looked up and checked the seat belt sign, but it wasn't lit. "I think you should go back to your seats." Back we went. A few moments later the flight crew turned on the seatbelt sign and then ordered the crew to be seated immediately. That's never a good sign. For the next 30 minutes we sat, strapped in and jolted through the sky. I was desperate for that pee when we were finally allowed to stand again.

One of my pet peeves is the rudeness of people who stand up first, immediately after landing. Their bag is more important than ours. They must be at the front of the customs line. They need the first taxi. They are more important humans than us. Well I say no. If I was in charge of the universe, everyone who stands before the seatbelt sign is turned off has done the wrong thing and must be punished. Everyone who stands prematurely (ie. the arseholes) will be made to sit with their seatbelt fastened until the last passenger, even those in wheelchairs and requiring assistance, are removed. One of the cabin crew on the other side of the plane is clearly on my side and screamed at the arseholes as they jostled for their bags. "YOU MUST SIT DOWN. YOU'RE NOT ALLOWED TO BE STANDING." At the top of her lungs. I could have proposed to her right there and then. Truly someone after my heart. Well the arseholes ignored her as if she was a street preacher. The moment she stopped screaming, the seatbelt sign went off and her cause was extinguished.

Walking through the economy cabins of the A380 after a long flight must be similar to visiting a flood or tornado ravaged country. How people can do that much damage in such a short time is incredible. There are food scraps on the floor, drink stains down the seats and tray tables, blankets, pillows and their respective wrappers strewn across the cabin. It looks like we forgot how to be human.

By the time I got to London, I hadn't slept since those first few hours. I was feeling pretty ragged. I would have paid a plump stranger to let me sleep on them for 20 minutes. By the time we boarded for the final, thankfully short flight I was starting to lose control of my body. Everything from my right butt cheek down to my foot was aching and making sitting very uncomfortable. I slouched forward and fell asleep in an uncomfortable curl. I woke up, probably only five minutes later with patch of drool in my lap. I would have been embarassed but the man next to me was still sleeping in the same position as I had been.

Finally reaching your destination is glorious. It had been 30-something hours since Melbourne airport, and probably close to two days since my body had been horizontal. There wasn't much more to do than to crawl into bed and stay there as long as possible.

Meanwhile, In Berlin

When I got home last night it must have been around -1┬░ celsius. I'd lost control of most of my face and hands. I've definitely escaped the Australian summer.

A few months ago I decided to accept an offer to swap apartments for two months with a couple in Berlin. They wanted to be in Australia for summer and wondered if I might be interested in a swap. I said yes and within the weekend my flights were booked. From early in the new year to the end of February, I'd have a place to stay in Berlin, and nowhere to stay in Melbourne.

I know I'm extremely fortunate to have a set of conditions which allow this to happen. Firstly, I live alone in an apartment in the middle of Melbourne, so I have somewhere worth swapping with. Secondly, as a freelancer no one else owns my time. I can disappear for two months without consequence (and income).

This isn't the first house swap I've accepted. Two years ago I swapped with a couple in New York and spent two weeks pretending I had a beautiful Upper West Side apartment overlooking the park. That was a great experience, so I had no problems putting my trust in these guys I'd met over Skype.

So here I am in a lovely apartment in quiet Sch├Âneberg settling in, doing groceries, strolling through the neighbourhoods, looking bewildered when people speak german to me, catching the U-Bahn and seeing just how much currywurst is too much currywurst.

Eating a mound of heavy food soon after arriving in Berlin

Queen Victoria Market

For quite a while after moving to Melbourne I regarded the Queen Victoria Market as a place of gaudy t-shirts, awful leather belts and pan-pipe music. After a few recent visits I've been starting to enjoy it again, particularly during special events. It's never better than during the Night Markets which have just started again on Wednesday nights. The crowds are enormous and the air smokey, but it's a fun place to be (as long as you don't stray into the souvenir stalls).