I have been in Berlin for almost 6 days now and I have mostly been quite content to explore the city and meet people and find my feet, etc. But I have to admit that whether it is due to sleep deprivation or heat exhaustion or the fact that in truth I can be quite a princess – I have been thinking some nasty thoughts quietly to myself along the way.
I mean I know that readers want to be inspired and everyone wants to hear the fairy tale story of magic and mystery that international travel is cracked up to be. But the truth is that if you have a relatively comfortable existence back home, there are going to be some jarring moments.
Now don’t get me wrong. I didn’t come to Berlin for “comfort” and “familiarity” and it is exactly the following travellers’ grumbles that I actually signed up for when I decided to go on this trip. But I thought I would share these with you now anyway. Perhaps it will make you laugh or maybe you’ll get some insight into the kind of person I am. But above all I would like you to take a moment to appreciate your home comforts as you sit in your living room or office, surrounded by the things and humans you know.
1. The smells
I have an extremely sensitive nose and an even more sensitive gag reflex. The one thing I could do without when it comes to travelling, is the assault on your olfactory system. Whether it’s faeces (not sure if dog or human) on the street or blocked drainpipes, there is most certainly the smell of shit in the air here at times. I don’t know if it’s because of the lower population density in spacious South Africa or perhaps it’s because of the cheap manual labour meaning more street cleaners etc. but I cannot remember ever experiencing this level of pong before. I mean, I’ve been to India before where it is way worse but it’s a poor, developing country with over a billion inhabitants – it’s kinda what you expect. Whereas Berlin is the capital city of the greatest European country –it hardly fits with the German stereotype!
2. The heat
I guess it’s a lot like South Africa but the opposite way around. In SA, all houses and buildings are geared up for the heat and so it’s common to find really good air conditioning everywhere but in winter we freeze our proverbial balls off and wear coats in our living rooms. Here, they are geared up for the cold but literally do nothing about the heat. I have been sweating like a pig! What’s more is you go on the underground and get plastered with engine-heated trapped air that leaves you feeling sticky and grimy in a way that probably only miners in South Africa have experienced before.
3. The grunge
So I totally expected Berlin to be filled with tattooed hipsters and maybe some mohawked punks but I didn’t anticipate finding everyone so grungy. By grungy I mean dirty, crusty, always slightly inebriated or deathly hungover. It’s like everyone has just returned from a 4 day festival in the desert. For anyone who has ever gone, it’s a little bit like day three of Oppikoppi minus the Afrikaans accents. I mean I honestly feel like an over-manicured, fresh, clean little princess in comparison. For anyone who knows me, that is certainly not how I feel when in South Africa. I am the chick that doesn’t talk nails and hair or which shampoo to use. But here, I feel like I’m little miss priss. And my aesthetic is all wrong. I have clean, natural-coloured hair. I don’t have a single tattoo. My face is not covered in yesterday’s black eye liner. It’s like a reverse ugly duckling experience.
4. The public drinking
A part of me feels like I visited Berlin about 5 years too late. My former self would have loved the parties and the mayhem way more! Although I experienced similar levels of public inebriation in London, I think Berliners take it to new heights. I sat on the train the other night at about 1am surrounded by a multitude of accents escaping from drunk, slurring mouths and I thought about South Africa. There are mountains of problems in SA – unemployed, AIDS, extreme violence, crime. And yet our government doesn’t allow public drinking. I looked around me at civilised Europe and suddenly felt quite disillusioned. “Is this really what y’all are doing with your liberty?,” I thought. When we look at the West, is this what civilisation can offer us? I don’t know if it’s the life I want to lead forever. I might prefer the wild, spacious, and humble life in South Africa?
5. The graffiti
One of the first things you notice when you leave the airport (which I might add is puny and could be any airport in Africa it’s so outdated and badly maintained) is the amount of graffiti that is absolutely everywhere in this city. Don’t get me wrong, I am a sworn graffiti and street art lover. It has always been one of my favourite art forms and seen so irregularly in South Africa, it has always given me a thrill. But here, it is so common that it loses its appeal very quickly. I mean, yes, I have taken lots of photos of amazing murals. There is some of the best street art in the world here. But it’s the tagging that really gets me down. Whole buidings covered in tags and ugly black spray paint just really makes everything look quite ghetto-esque. And at the risk of sounding completely white and atrocious, I am just going to leave it at that.
6. The dirt
Everything is old and grimy. Much like London and Barcelona. But I am now 6 years older and used to living in comfortable, modern homes in South Africa. I am also used to having a cleaner at least once a week. Without the cheap labour we have in South Africa, people don’t keep things as clean here. The bathrooms and kitchens have grime-covered tiles and the entrance halls in buildings look like they need a good sweep. It’s just different standards of cleanliness from what I am used to! I know this makes me sound like the South African princess that I am but it’s the truth. For anyone who has travelled out of South Africa and not stayed at hotels the whole time, you’ll get what I’m saying.
Okay I think that’s just about enough complaining and whining from me. I hope you take this post with a pinch of salt. I wanted to share some of the instagram-unfriendly moments so that you see the different sides to this European Adventure story. Stay tuned for my Travel Guide Through the Eyes of an Optimist coming out tomorrow for Gratitude Wednesday.
Yours in not-so-pretty-truth,