Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Scotty and I: Burning down Berlin

A dome somewhere in Berlin
Back in 1999, while I was taking my Grand European Tour, I met up with an Australian named Scotty in Stockholm, Sweden. Scotty was doing his "walkabout" through Europe before returning home to Melbourne to get married and start his job as a chef.

He and I quickly became friends in that way that travelers do, and after a couple of days of partying in Stockholm, we set out for Berlin and points south, taking the train from Stockholm to Malmö, then catching a ferry over the North Sea, to Sassnitz and thence to Berlin.

Scotty and I on our way to Berlin
We arrived in Berlin and had to scramble to find a room. Our arrival coincided with the Berlin Marathon and rooms in the central part of the city were scarce. After some frantic dialing and some help from a hotel clerk that took pity on us, we managed to land a room in what was formerly East Berlin, unloaded our gear, and hopped on the U-Bahn for downtown looking to party.

Let me tell you, Scotty knew how to party. That evening was a blur of loud bars, blaring music and lots and lots of booze. As we wandered around that fast-paced city, its streets alive with young people, cars, trains, and bicycles, we encountered many different people, all of whom are, I'm afraid, little more than blurry memories.

Dade (quite drunk) and Cristina, the Brazilian bartender
At one point in the evening, I remember sitting at the counter of a small bar, having a conversation with a very drunk local. Scotty spoke only English, I spoke English and Spanish, the bartender, a beautiful young woman named Cristina from Brazil, spoke Spanish and German, and the drunken local spoke only German. The conversation worked like this: The German said something to the bartender, who translated to me in Spanish, which I then translated to English for Scotty. The process was then reversed when Scotty replied. Whether or not the original thought that was uttered on one end of the chain even remotely related to what was translated on the other is probably a question for the ages. But, as so often happens with conversations between drunks, voices grew louder and more boisterous, and the entire scene ended with the German local being asked to leave by Cristina.

Much later, around four in the morning, I told Scotty, "I've had enough. I'm going back to the room."

Scotty was deep in conversation with an Australian woman, a fellow traveler whom we had met somewhere along the line in our drunken procession. He tilted his glass in my direction and gave me a wink and a nod. "Cheers, mate," he said. I stumbled back to U-Bahn, somehow found my way to our room and crashed.

Some enchanted evening...
I awoke around noon the next day to find that Scotty had, in fact, made it back. He was sleeping soundly in his bed. Even though he was asleep, he looked hung-over. God knows I was.

I showered, then went out to mail some postcards and get some breakfast. I returned to the room a couple hours later. Scotty had not yet risen, but when he heard me come in, he threw his feet over the side of the bed, blindly groped for his cigarettes and lighter on the bed stand, got one in his mouth, lit it, and took a deep drag. Only then did he open his eyes and blearily look over at me. "Let's go get a beer," he rasped.

As I said, Scotty knew how to party.

Checkpoint Charlie
That day, we went on a walking tour of Berlin. We went through the Checkpoint Charlie museum, climbed to the top of the new Reichstag, and saw the bullet-scarred colonnades, still marked from the apocalyptic battle for Berlin in 1945. The Red Army suffered some 5000 casualties in the quarter mile advance from the Spree River to the Reichstag as the Third Reich convulsed in its final death throes.

At the time of our visit, Berlin was a city very much in a state of reconstruction. As I looked out from the top of the Reichstag, the cityscape was a veritable forest of construction cranes. One of the results of the reunification was that the seat of government was now this mighty city, the center of a nation of some 80 million people. It was an impressive sight.

Bullet-scarred collonades
As we made our way around Berlin, I was struck by a certain incongruity. It seemed to me that Berlin, during the daytime, is a very different place than Berlin at night. In contrast to the crowds of partying youngsters and the loud, boisterous characters that roamed the street at night, the diurnal Berliners were an unsmiling, down-to-business lot.

A remnant of the Berlin Wall in the Checkpoint Charlie museum
Scotty and I caught a glimpse of that legendary Prussian discipline and conformity as we wandered around the streets that day. One thing we noticed early on, was that the locals would stand patiently on the sidewalk, waiting for the signal to change before crossing, regardless of whether the street was clear. Scotty and I had no such inhibitions. If there was no traffic, we crossed regardless of the signal.

Well, no one ever said a word to us, but the pressure to conform was palpable. By the end of the day, Scotty and I found ourselves waiting on the sidewalk, just like two regular Germans. And here's the rub: we waited even if there was no one there to observe!

The wee, wee hours...
Well, of course, nighttime came again, and things loosened up. That night, Scotty and I went to a free concert by a Japanese rock band underneath the Brandenburg Tor. More drunken revelry ensued.

We spent another day in Berlin. It was a great time. But my travels with Scotty weren't over by a long shot. We eventually decided we'd had enough of Berlin and hopped the train to Prague. But that's another story...


Ridwan said...

I am hungover just reading this fun post.

The Berlin Blitz hey ;0)

Peace Dade,

scotty the chef said...

hey dade, great post! i am not sure if it was the amount of alcohol i consumed or just the fact is was ten years ago, but i struggle to remember the trip as clearly as you!!thanks for sharing your memories on your blog, scotty