After a few days in Amsterdam, I headed East to visit a friend I had met a few years back in South America. As he’d promised, Toby had certainly stocked the fridge and it was fantastic catching up with a friend I hadn’t seen in years. Eschwege, I learnt, is a “big” village of about 20 000 people; the largest village of the 100 or so in a 50km radius. The journey took me through vividly green rolling hills with the odd old-school building tucked away here or there and as we passed through vast open spaces, it felt very rural.
The town itself has an old German village feel to it, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I’m pretty sure I was the only tourist in town, especially since the Germans I chatted with on the train had never heard of it. I probably would have never visited had I not known someone living there and I loved getting a feel of a traditional German village.
Eschwege sits amongst lots of forest and many hills and I enjoyed hiking again. We spent one day geocaching and found 10 of the 14 targets we’d noted down. I had also never heard of geocaching before but Toby mentioned there were some +-1.2 M caches hidden all over the world. One signs up and tracks down the caches using their co-ordinates and a hand-held GPS. When you find it, you sign the little piece of paper in the cache (often just a small tube) and then note on-line that you’ve found it. It’s a way to discover new places and the travel bug we found at one site (it’s a tiny cow with a tag that reads “Help me travel from cache to cache”) is now in my rucksack and making its way to Everest Base Camp!
I definitely contributed to the local economy with 3 big nights at the local pub, the town’s 1 & only club (De Mausefalle – The Mousetrap) and the village next door’s Beerfest. Again, I was the only tourist in the place and notwithstanding the fact that I couldn’t understand a word, I thoroughly enjoyed the live band. All in all, it was a super few days catching up with a good mate and I look forward to heading back at some point for the Eschwege music festival.
From Eschwege I made my way to Berlin where I was to stay with Simon, a friend of Toby, and his roommates. Again, it was great to stay with locals and I intend to couch surf on this trip for sure. The flat was just off Karl-Marx Strausse and was very eclectic – I especially enjoyed the beds which were off the floor so as to utilize the space afforded by the high ceilings. My bed was above the kitchen and so easy access to the fridge!
On my way to Berlin I got chatting with Annabelle. It turns out she is in Berlin for three months before heading to India in the new year to volunteer. Given I should be there in the new year, we swapped details and said we should catch up over a chai. It turned out, though, that we would see one other far sooner than we thought … we actually bumped into one another that night on the subway as Simon and I are on our way to an open air party. What are the chances! To take a step further, I was relaying this story to one of the other guys in the house when he says “You mean, Annabelle from XXX”. Turns out he knows her.
Anyway, back to the story: she wisely decides to abandon her plans to head home and joins us for a phenomenal party. I later learn that Berlin is famous for these open air parties, which generally start on a Saturday night and run until Monday. It seems the majority of Berliners are not formally employed with pretty much all the people I met being artists, students, waiters etc. and thus, Monday is really an extension of the weekend. Anabelle left around 10 am on Sunday, Simon headed home sometime in the afternoon and I left after midnight to make it home it home on Mon morning – after leaving the house on Sat night. I now understand where the party reputation comes from.
I spent the rest of Monday relaxing and helped one of the housemates, Sabrina, move. We cycled to the van rental place and as she’d roped in some other people to help out to, we got it done pretty quickly. Once all done, we chatted round dinner and wine in the new apartment and I felt very fortunate that I had been able to stay with Simon and see perhaps a more local side of the city.
In addition to the party reputation and phenomenal live music scene, I love how accepting Berlin is. You can be anyone, do anything, dress how you like and no-one cares. It’s like the city has gone from the one extreme to the opposite end of the spectrum, an extremely positive extreme this time. I think it’s fantastic and I wish more people, & places, were so tolerant.
Before everyone thinks all I did was party, I did take in many of the city’s sights and it was quite surreal to see so many places I’d studied about for so many years. I absolutely loved studying history at school with Mrs. Katz and it was very special to be there. One of the highlights for me was the East End Gallery. Before I go on, the East End Gallery is not on the free walking tour, which I highly recommend one does, so you need to make your way to Ostbanahoff.
The East End Gallery is the longest surviving stretch of the wall at 1.3km. When the wall came down, artists ‘decorated’ some of the remaining panels and the artwork is just beautiful. I took a few pictures of my favourites and particularly enjoyed these two below: the first is the car charging through a now crumbling wall with a number plate that read 9 Nov 1989, the date the wall came down.
I also so enjoyed “meeting” Amppelman; the dude on the East Berlin traffic lights (East Berlin only). This guy was actually a cartoon hero and kids loved him, as I do! There are Amppelman shops all over and tons of Amppelman souvenirs and it’s abundantly clear that he’s retained his cult hero status. (I’m sure you’re thinking I’ve lost the plot here but many people know I do collect teddy bears!).
I’ve been writing this on the train to Warsaw and it’s apparent I picked a great day to travel; it’s pouring. I’m on my way with Marian; one of Simon’s mates who I met at the party. We got chatting at some point and discovered we were both planning to make our way to Warsaw for the weekend so decided we’d travel up together.