Three cities in three weeks, without even traveling very far -- I got to really appreciate the density of my home country recently.
The first weekend after my return from Canada brought my physicist friend from MIT up to Essen, and we visited Cologne on his first day at my house. He arrived from Munich at 7am, we ate breakfast with my parents, and then caught a train to the big city. Cologne is the posh part of our parts, but still not posh on the grand scale of things: Most of the buildings are grey, recently built. Like much of the region, the city was bombed out during the second world war. Still, there is a feeling of air and openness surrounding the Rhein, and the inner city is lively and picturesque. Although my Colonians aren't the most hospitable of creatures. On the subway I got yelled at quite rudely by an old fat lady with a local accent upon resting my feet on the seat in front of me. Then, she turned to her companion and complained loudly -- in German -- about "those foreigners"; evidently she'd heard me speaking English with my friend.
The best part of that city though is indubitably its grand cathedral. For a few Euros you can climb the gothic towers over 600 or so steps, and get a beautiful view both of the structure itself and of the surroundings. We got caught in a major downpour just as we were approaching the Dom, and -- quite luckily in my opinion -- had the chance to ascend all the way up through curtains of rain, something I'd never done before. Meanwhile my fellow countrymen on the streets were looking very disgruntled, seeking shelter from the water; we Germans are quite humorless concerning our weather.
A day later, I followed my college friend down to Munich. Much prettier, much more antique looking. Also, much more full of tourists. The Bavarians here are lovely, open, friendly people. My main reason for visiting however was not Munich, but the Max Planck Institute just north of it, in Garching. The place is dominated by the technical university and the various branches of the MPI located there, grey, surrounding a commuter parking lot. The cafeteria food turns out to be awful, vegan is an unknown concept. The physicists seem friendly enough.
The remainder of my day I spent wandering around Munich, taking pictures of Municians in their natural habitat, and finally having a few beers and a little picnic with my friend in the English Garden. (That park, by the way, is the world's largest inner-city green patch, larger than Central Park in NYC.)
The week after, I found out that another Cambridge friend of mine, artist by profession, was in Berlin. And one of the few high school friends I am still in touch with lives there now. The decision to just go to that loveliest place in the world on a whim was easy. (My high school friend then turned out to be sick, and unable to meet with me, what a shame.) I figured the cheapest and most convenient way to go was by ride share -- how wrong I was!
The ride share to Berlin gave me the wrong meeting time on the phone. On Tuesday morning, on the train to the meeting point in Wuppertal, I got a call from him, yelling at me for not letting him know I was late. Then he said he had to confer with another co-traveller to see if we could leave later. Then he didn't pick up his phone at the number I had for him. Then when I got to Wuppertal, he was nowhere to be found. I sent a few irate text messages, decided I was a rich bourgeois, and got on an ICE train to the capital.
On the way back on Wednesday, I decided not to make the same mistake; an hour before the agreed upon departure at 15:00 I texted my ride share to confirm. In response, I got the message "leaving from the main station at 16:30" -- much too late to get home from the drop off by public transport. Calling the guy didn't work, either. Who knew if they were even actually going to leave at four thirty! So, again, I opted for a 100 Euro train ticket, bringing the total cost of my trip to about thrice what it was supposed to be.
Berlin though was amazing as always, and more surreal than usual. I stayed in a soviet prefab flat right in Alexanderplatz. At night, sitting on a stoop with the Cambridge artist and two computer-filmographers, drinking beer out of bottles, I learned about the Great Northern Pacific Garbage Patch. For about 10 minutes I was sure they were messing around with me, until I finally accepted that there is something of the size of a continent forming out of plastic trash in the northern Pacific. Just as I was getting over this absurd fact, a fox showed up, scurried across the street a few times, and disappeared under a car. "Yeah, that little guy lives around here, we've seen him before" -- this may have been the first time I've ever seen a live fox. And that in the middle of Berlin.