10.28.2015

Every Man Has a Pony-Tail - And Other Observations from Berlin


The Reichstag
Greetings from the land of pony-tailed men walking dogs. I'm definitely not in Cameroon anymore, although it hasn't completely sunk in yet. Despite being off the African continent for the first time in 27 months, I was nonetheless reminded of Cameroon many times today when a restaurant was out of everything we wanted to order, and another time when a Syrian refugee wanted to collect our glass bottles. While I may be out of Cameroon, I'm not completely rid of Cameroon yet! But let me not get ahead of myself, let me start at the beginning.

After a final dinner out and a few glasses of wine in celebration, Spencer and I headed back to the Yaounde case to pack and get ready for our 5am flight. Before long we arrived in Rabat, sunk our teeth into a croque-Monsieur in all it's cheesy glory, and boarded yet another flight. After 8 hours of flying, my feet were swollen and my broken foot made me believe it might burst my plaster cast.

Flying into Berlin was surreal. The sight of autumn leaves, paved roads and steel buildings was quite the opposite of the green, dirt road and mud brick environment I've been in the last two years. After a bus ride, a U-Baun ride and a walk later, we arrived to our cozy hostel and our clean dorm room.

I was eager for my first bite of non-African food, so we set out in search of dinner. It was a Friday night, so we figured we'd have no problem finding something. Unfortunately our neighborhood, Kreuzeberg, doesn't have much in the way of restaurants. Every bar and cafe we passed was closed, which gives the impression the steel stomached Germans don't go out on Fridays?

After aimlessly walking for a half hour, we finally found a Mediterranean restaurant, Sufis. As we perused the menu, Spencer kept asking "I wonder if they have this in stock?" to everything on the menu. Cameroon restaurants are usually out of or don't carry 90% of what's on the menu, but I reminded Spencer that this is Europe, they've gotta have everything. I was, surprisingly, wrong. We inquired about many items only to find them all not available. Oh well. In the end I kept my two year promise with myself that my first non-African food would be a veggie and cheese loaded salad, and believe me, it didn't disappoint.

It was strange waking up on Saturday to the sound of silence, which I can honestly say hasn't happened in 27 months. In Ngatt I woke up to either roosters, Quranic recitations or goats making all kinds of weird noises. After thoroughly enjoying all the non-bean and egg options at the breakfast buffet, Spencer and I set out for exploring the city.

I can't wait to see the Berlin Wall, oh, wait a minute, this is it?
First stop was Topography of Terrors, a museum on the violence of the Nazi regime. Outside of the museum was a section of the Berlin Wall, which, in all honesty, was a bit anticlimactic. It's basically, uh, a cement wall. Who knew so much history can be kept in something so banal.

After that brief letdown we visited Checkpoint Charlie, the major border crossing between East and West Berlin. While the history is interesting, the checkpoint is now swarming with throngs of tour buses and Malaysians with selfie-sticks. Also at the checkpoint were fake American soldiers charging 4 euros for gullible tourists to take pictures with them. While the touristic nature of the area was nauseating and honestly overwhelming after living in a village for two years, the history was nonetheless cool.

That chunk of the Berlin Wall is more like it
Spencer said he was up for a hike, so I recommended we walk an hour to the East Side Gallery, the best preserved section of the Berlin Wall which stretches 1.3km. Not long after, Spencer started complaining his feet hurt and that he was tired (but I should mention, not a peep came from the girl hobbling on a cast!). After more than an hour of walking we finally made it, and this section of the Berlin Wall was far more what I had in mind when I imagined the Berlin Wall. Graffiti adorned the length of it and it was right along a large park and river, making it a truly perfect place to relax on a sunny autumn day. Unfortunately Spencer's feet hurt too much for him to enjoy the scenery so we made our way to the hostel (so he could change shoes) and then out to search for Berlin's most famous Currywürst joint.

We attempted to use public transit back to avoid walking, but that ended up being an awful mistake. I'm a Chicago girl accustomed to public transit, but I guess after living in Cameroon I've forgotten some of the intricacies of city navigation. In short, as Spencer was completely helpless in helping us find how to get back, I struggled to map out our transfers, but despite my assurances, we got lost. After a while I managed to straighten it out, and in my defense, Berlin's public transit system is the most confusing I've been on (and Germans have told me the same thing).

Ohhh yes, please
Shoes changed and un-lost, we set out for Currywürst at Curry36. I'm likely the worst vegetarian for admitting how delicious stuffed pig intestines doused in ketchup was, but hey, I'm not gunna lie. The 39 minute line to even order was well worth the wait. We commented about how nice  it was to eat in peace without people yelling "blanche" or trying to ask for money, but just as we said this, a little Syrian kid came up and asked (kindly and non-intrusively) for our bottles, which was a pretty common occurrence in Cameroon, so I guess we can't completely escape Cameroonian-isms quite yet. Bellies full and feet sore, we called it a night and headed back to the hostel for drinks to celebrate surviving through our first day outta Africa.

Brandenburg Gate
The next day we quickly packed, ate breakfast and prepared for a quick day of sightseeing before our 6pm flight. We made our way bundle up in layers upon layers under the steel-colored sky and light mist to Brandenburg Gate, a triumphal arch commissioned by King William II of Prussia in 1788 and  the most known symbol of Berlin. Brandenburg gate is situated on a large park that also has the Soviet war memorial and the Berlin Victory tower.  Also in the same area is the Reichstag Building, which houses the parliament. As the mist turned into a light rain, we found a cafe to rest our feet and enjoy a latte before heading to Berlin's best döner kebap joint, because food is perhaps the second best attraction in any destination.

Berlin has a large Turkish population and because of this, there are some great Turkish eats. We waited 40 minutes in line for a little döner sandwich and though our feet were screaming, our stomachs were happy. This is likely the best dish I've had in Berlin. If this is a sneak peak into food in Turkey, we are in for a treat!

We should've ordered two....

Our quick sejour in Berlin has been fun, but overwhelming, especially for me. Having not left Cameroon in 27 months and then abruptly throwing myself into the 4th largest city in Europe has been exhausting and overwhelming, but why take the time to get my toes wet when I could just jump on into the reintegration process. The non-stop activities and delicious food has kept me from missing Ngatt, which is a blessing. As our two days in Berlin come to an end, we now head to Sofia, Bulgaria, where we will now know neither the language nor the alphabet, so we are quite likely to have our fair share of gaffs while exploring some of the oldest cities in Europe. Bulgaria, bring it on!

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