Notes from Afar 9: Berlin and Italy


Flew back to London from Peru, seem to be getting better at long distance flights etc. A bit hectic changing in Paris, as it involved getting from Charles de Gaulle to Orly, on opposite sides of Paris, and the plane was late, so the transfer time was super tight. A couple of days in London, catching up with folks and planning next steps. Came down with a helluva sickness the couple of days in London, not helped by spending a night in the airport on the way out, so when I arrived in Berlin, I was pretty unwell.

Stayed with my friend Jorri, who couchsurfed with me in NZ. Had a brief explore, then it rained. Went home and collapsed in a heap. Had an early night, which turned into a long night of fever and chills. Felt bad enough in the morning to go to a hospital to get checked for malaria, since I was just coming back from the jungle and it had been long enough to incubate, and I haven’t been sick enough to need a doctor in over a decade. Six hours and epic bureaucracy later, it transpired I didn’t have malaria, or dengue, or anything else, so it was probably just four and a bit months of non-stop travel plus switching hemispheres into a cold autumn all piling up. Made for some interesting paranoia, though. 

So I didn’t really get out and about much in Berlin. At least, not so much at night, and it seems like the nightlife is what makes the place. Like, thirty dance parties a night on the *underground* party listing website. In general Berlin has a nice lived in feel. It is covered in graffiti, and kind of shabby, but in a way that feels like people live there, rather than a way that it feels fucked up. That there are loads of artists and creative people is obvious. Crazy art is everywhere.

Yeah. A nice town. An easy place to be. Would like to return in better health someday, and go dancing. Seems like a place where you could have a hell of a lot of fun. It is just chilled out. Lots of stuff that shouldn’t be an issue just isn’t. You can drink beer on the bus, or train, or tram. People still smoke in bars, and smoke spliffs in bars. It is all a bit cruisy, and seems like it would be awesome to be in one’s early 20’s here.

Felt better after a couple of days, and started riding around town. It is a nice size. Berlin is about the least European looking city I have seen. So much is modern, rather than old, though there is still lots of impressive old shit scattered about. Crazy history all over the place. Holocaust memorial and Berlin wall remnants. Walking streets where Hitler once marched. (And Napoleon.) A museum – Topography of Terror – where the SS used to have its headquarters. Having to confront their history must be a truly weird shaping of the national psyche, and I can see how there is massive pressure for things to never get out of hand. (Though, weirdly, in the countryside, the neo-nazis are still strong. This was explained to me as being people in the country who actually were better off during the Cold War socialism, and miss the good old times.) Caught up with some folks from Nowhere, drank some beer.

One thing: on the trams and trains, no one checks tickets. Like, apparently there are undercover people who check sometimes, but it can be months between being checked. However, no one would consider not having a ticket. This seems a curious thing, a remnant of a culture of informers, and the Stasi; the fact that they are out there is enough. In NZ, if they tried it, lots of people would take their chances and not pay.

Italy. It is the little details and differences between the European countries. It started at the airport, where there was no passport check at all. Catching the train from the airport was weirdly chaotic. Then a train to the countryside, then a bus into the middle of nowhere. Then being picked up and taken to the Art Monastery project. Spent a couple of days there, then went to Italian Burning Weekend, the Italian decompression.

225 people for what becomes a three-day weekend party, actually a burn, there was a wee temple and a man. (And to be fair, that is about the scale of my first two Kiwiburns.) Was really excellent to reconnect with many faces from Nowhere, and people I had met elsewhere around Europe. It really brought home the community side of things. Nowhere could have been a one off random thing, but this solidified connections, and allowed new ones. So yeah. A tiny awesome burn, where, being Italy, they provide two meals a day in the ticket price, and the whole thing is really based around the kitchen (and the fire, as it was pretty damn cold.)

Also, IBW was in Narni. Which is where Narnia got its name. CS Lewis spent some time writing there, it seems. Funny. Has been a journey of collecting fantasy kingdoms. On the hill opposite the monastery is the medieval town of Labro, which is pretty like a fairytale.

Then back to the Art Monastery. Will get to that in a later post, as I will be here for most of a month. It has been amusingly hectic, with many visitors, and only now is getting into something like a rhythm. I have started rewriting the novel I finished a draft of just before leaving NZ, and hope to get another draft done before leaving… nice to have some stability after a lot of chaos, and nice to get into some focused work.

I haven’t actually seen much of Italy, and may well not. Went to the tallest waterfall in Europe, which is nearby, and an unbelievably good restaurant. But it is autumn, the countryside is very pretty, and I am with good people. As they say here, good times, good times.

3 Responses to “Notes from Afar 9: Berlin and Italy”

  1.   tatjna
    October 28th, 2011 | 8:22 am

    It’s good to hear from you.

    I would like to visit Berlin. And Italy. And..

    aw shit.

  2.   Michael
    October 30th, 2011 | 6:36 am

    It was good seeing you, Billy. Thanks for coming to Berlin. Come back sometime! I hope your remain travels are fantastic.

  3.   bruce
    November 2nd, 2011 | 9:23 pm

    Sorry we missed eachother in London, it would have been great to FTF amidst our journeys. I think I mentioned on facebook that I had just been with Nathan from the art monastery for a week at a meditation retreat north of san francisco… hooray for the strange small world we live in amidst the big one. Love the blog, thanks for keeping it up.