Arriving in Europe was quite the shock. My entire visual landscape was altered. And not only did everything look different, but everything moved different. It's a strange feeling.
One amazing difference was the weather. I went from hot, humid, and rainy to cool, clear, and breezy overnight. Fall came suddenly for me this year. This made for the perfect day to wander around Berlin.
All the structures are so impressive. Massive, solid, square, smooth. The city is so huge. The streets are wide and open. Beautiful bridges and museums lined with columns. Old churches and tables in the sunshine of biergartens. People laying in parks and drinking beer on the trains.
There is so much history in this city. I spent much of the day learning about the east/west divide in society post WWII and how it physically separated this city. I started my day at the Brandenburg Gate. The gate between east and west at one time. A place where JFK and Obama spoke, and where Hitler and Napoleon celebrated victories. A ground that was heavily bombed during WWII. After the war a wall went up. There are pieces of the Berlin Wall still standing throughout the city, and there are reminders of it everywhere. There are plenty of memorials and museums around the city. I really liked the post-WWII and Cold War era museums and stayed away from the holocaust ones. I think I had seen enough genocide history recently. I couldn't handle any more.
Just walking around the city was great. The city is full of art. A lot of it in the form of graffiti, but it's different from graffiti in America. It's much more about art and expression. Maybe it stems back from when people wrote and painted on the Berlin Wall to express their views. But the tradition continues in the city. There are walls dedicated to public graffiti in small alleys. The East Side Gallery, a section of the wall painted and transformed into a public art display, stretches for over a mile. There is some really awesome art all over the city, free to the public if you just look around.
After a day in Berlin I headed down to Munich. As soon as I arrived, I was greeted with thousands of drunk and merry people wandering through the streets in lederhosen after a day at Oktoberfest. It was a fun sight although a little overwhelming when I was trying to figure out where I was. I finally made it to Avinash's apartment where I stayed for a few days and was treated to good conversations and delicious Indian food.
I never planned on being in Munich for Oktoberfest. Sometimes life just works out. I was told by everyone, "Get there early. It's fills up fast." So I was there at 10:30am. Found a seat at an empty table at the Augustiner tent and ordered breakfast: a mass beer and a cheese pretzel. Maybe getting there this early wasn't so imperative. It wasn't until about 1 :00 or 2:00 that the place really started to fill up. But once you are there you don't want to give up your seat and there isn't anything to do in the beer tents except drink large beers and eat German food. So that was the pickle I was in. It was a lot of fun. I met people from all over. Everyone there enjoying beers and singing songs. There is a house band playing traditional music. Several times an hour they play the little Oktoberfest jingle where you raise your glasses and toast your neighbors. By later in the day I was singing this in perfect German. At least that's what it seemed like in my head.
That day ended pretty early for me. Eventually I left my table, said goodbye to all my new friends, and wandered around the festival to check out the scene. The whole area is a big carnival complete with rides and food stands. The tents are HUGE and colorful. Inside they don't feel like tents at all. There are wooden beams and columns, windows for natural light, and row upon row of sturdy picnic style tables. The bands were really starting to get down when I headed out, playing some popular music and putting on a show. Eventually I made it back to Avinash's place after a few snacks around the festival, don't know what time but not late, and fell asleep before dinner. Don't expect to do much on an Oktoberfest day. Lifting all those heavy beers will wear you out.
The next morning I woke up ready to do some walking. Waking up groggy or tired, feeling bored or lonely, catching a cold... Walking cures me of everything. I'm no doctor but I would prescribe it to everyone. So I walked around Munich. Very different than Berlin. The city seemed more humble. Happy to be not so grandiose. It's a smaller city than Berlin, and it's the capital of Bavaria. You get the same sense of north vs south in Germany that you get in America. The south seemed a little happier and friendlier. Maybe that's because everyone was drinking beer 24/7 during Oktoberfest, but I also get the impression that everyone is drinking beer all the time all year long in Bavaria. Put that in the pro column. I can't blame them either. The beer was really good. Simple and good.
Walking around Munich you see all sorts of interesting things. 16 year olds drinking in the streets, 60 year olds sunbathing nude in the park. There's the turning of the glockenspiel in one of the squares in the center of town and the Nuremberg palace and gardens a little further out.
The big cities of Germany were a great shock into Europe. Like jumping into a really cold river in Maine. Takes a bit to get used to, but you quickly warm up. Especially with a little help from the beer.