Tuesday, May 25, 2010

here comes the bride....

By the end of my first day in Hamburg, Germany I had managed to stay awake for nearly 40 hours and had been drinking for most of them. Like all my arrivals with a new host, I needed the next day to sleep in, wash the shame off, and attempt to be a human again. Good thing Maria knows me well and was not surprised.

This next leg of my journey was the most important one. It was the entire reason I had to come to Europe at all. I was attending the wedding of Maria and Johannes, something I had been planning and looking forward to for over a year. I met Maria in Malta and since then she has visited me in the States, I’ve visited her in Germany, and I’ve met Johannes both times. While I knew I was going to be well taken care of, I was also the only non-German speaking person attending the wedding. I anticipated an interesting experience.

Germans are stereotypically organized and plan well. Maria is very German and on the first day arranged for a friend of hers to take me out for a night on the town. I already knew this friend from my previous visit and was appreciative he volunteered to show me around Hamburg. So he picked me up, brought me into the city, we grabbed some bottles of beer and went out on the town.

One of the best things about Germany is the fact that you can legally drink in the streets, whenever you want. Wonderful, no? So we ended up in this very hip alternative area and went for tapas at a Spanish/Portuguese restaurant. When I ordered a glass of wine, they brought a rather large jug. I tried to explain I only wanted one glass, but it turns out they had this clever marketing gimmick where they leave the jug at your table and you can pour yourself as many glasses as you want. They can tell by level of wine left in the jug how many glasses you had. Bloody brilliant.

So we drank, ate, and laughed a lot. His English was so much better than I hoped for and remembered. The truth is all young Germans can speak English, whether they say so or not. They’ve usually taken around 9 years of it in school and while their grammar might not be perfect or they get lost for specific words sometimes, it’s still a hell of a lot better than they ever lead on. And they won’t speak English unless you make them. Or unless they’re drunk.

Now the reason this whole thing was set up was for me to check out the Reeperbahn, aka the red light district filled with prostitutes, sex shops, and racy clubs. Fun! Unfortunately, this was a Wednesday night so it was not at its best. But we did check out a sex shop and drink at a bar playing pretty decent live music. And yes, my ride home in the morning was already arranged days in advanced. Damn Germans and their planning.

The next day we drove to Anklam; Maria and Johannes’ hometown and the location of the wedding. My Reeperbahn date drove whilst me, Maria, and another friend (a cop nonetheless) drank sparkling wine straight from the bottle the whole way. And yes, this is on the autobahn which means no speed limit for most of it. Gotta love German style road trips.

Once in Anklam, the wedding festivities began. A week before the ceremony is the Polterabend, a huge party where everyone and their mother is invited to celebrate the marriage, mostly because you can’t invite everyone and their mother to the actual wedding. More alcohol than what should actually be expected to be consumed must be purchased. Since returning bottles of beer and champagne isn’t a problem, they loaded up. Family started pouring in around 6:30 and filled a large table with lots of food. Friends started coming over the next few hours and a very large roasted pig, head and all, was set on the table to admire its glory and then carve into.

Outside the party laid a large tarp on the ground; this was for all the broken porcelain. There is this tradition that every guest must bring some old china to break and at midnight it is up to the bride and groom to sweep it all up. It represents the hard work they must put into their marriage and will bring them good luck. So as the guests all arrived they threw down mugs, plates, and even a sink was tossed. Nothing like breaking shit before the party starts. And by the way, the table broke at the end.

So the night progressed nicely; the drunker everyone got, the more they spoke English willingly. When the older people started clearing out is when the dancing really began. And since Johannes and Maria love bad early 90’s dance music, it was damn good fun.
By the end of the night, all 30 bottles of schnapps had been drunk which might explain me slapping Maria’s back, her crying about it, then me crying about her crying, and then me entirely forgetting it all the next day.

Another HUGE horrible mistake I made: I deleted all 300 pictures I took at this event. I know, I know; such an epic failure of mine, I still haven’t forgiven myself. I did this towards the end of the night while drunk and can’t explain how or why. To make up for it I did take some pictures later on, but they’re only from the end of the night which means none of them are pretty, but pretty funny. Check my facebook for eventual postings. Eventually.

Thank God Johannes’ family (who I was staying with) had a sauna and massage chair. I’ve learned this is the best way to recover from a hangover.

The next week was filled with small wedding errands, but nothing too crucial except on Wednesday which was the actual legal paperwork. This was then turned into a mini ceremony in which only immediate family was invited, and me, by default. Not gonna lie though, I did tear up. And I’m not the kind of girl who cries often, enjoys romantic movies, or thinks babies are always cute, no matter what. But when Maria teared up, then her father and Johannes’ mother, well, I just couldn’t help myself. These two were so happy and in love they wanted to share it with the world and commit to each other forever. Somewhere inside me I knew this was incredibly right and these two actually would make it forever. Alright, that’s enough cheesiness.

After the short ceremony there was champagne and cake back at the house and by this point I was well used to not understanding anything going on around me. Rarely were things translated and I’d become very good at spacing out and smiling as if I knew what was going on. Really though, more often than not I was tired slash hung-over and several times a day someone would always ask me what was wrong or why I was so tired. For fuck’s sake people, you’re speaking a language I do not know for the last hour. How long can I pretend to follow the conversation and not look bored? But really though, it didn’t bug me most of the time. And as for me learning German, it’s pretty damn hard. The only things I’ve learned are dirty and inappropriate. Big surprise.

Thursday was another interesting holiday I feel compelled to share. Referred to as ‘Father’s Day’ and originating from some religious reason, truly this day was Man’s Day. Every man, father or not, gathers with his fellow man buddies and gets drunk starting very early in the day. Often there are bikes and adventure involved and I even saw a motorized wagon honking its horn and the men cheering as they drove by. Quite the ridiculous day.

While most of you would expect some feminist speech at this point about the absurdity of Man’s Day, I must admit it’s not a bad idea at all. In the end, all the men get out of the women’s hair and it’s Woman’s Day as well by default. So Maria, myself, and a couple of her girlfriends sat out all day drinking sparkling wine and eating cake. Can’t argue with that day.

In the night was another friend’s birthday so we all made our way over to his house to meet up with the boys. We were all already drunk in our own ways before the sun went down. Schnapps and drinks were consumed and I must admit this could be the drunkest I had gotten in all my time in Germany.

On the walk home I decided it would be fun to ride Johannes’ bike (not a surprise to most who know me). The one thing I didn’t consider was that I still had a full bottle of beer in my hand. A bottle my friends, not a can. Obviously at some point when everyone was shouting at me to turn I couldn’t maintain staying upright and slightly tumbled to the ground. Luckily the fall wasn’t hard but unfortunately the bottle shattered everywhere. Yes my hand was cut up and bleeding, but the entire beer was lost in the process which was more devastating. And I’ve decided to quit drinking and biking. Finally.

And so came Saturday, the big wedding day. Now the weather leading up to this day hadn’t been pretty or warm but at least it wasn’t raining. Of course this was the one day rain came down all day long. In some cultures this is a good sign for the marriage which was a sweet thought, but not any less annoying.

Maria is Catholic which meant an hour long ceremony with a priest rambling on, obviously in German. To be honest, it was interesting as this was my first proper wedding ever attending, regardless of the language barrier. The only unfortunate thing was how cold it was inside and the fact that I was the only female not wearing tights. Everyone seemed to notice and comment on how cold I must be. Yes, it was cold and I in particular was freezing. Thanks for reminding me. Constantly.

At least Maria looked absolutely stunning. Her elegant strapless dress was all handmade embroidery and she literally could take your breath away when she first appeared walking down the aisle. Seriously, I think this was the most beautiful wedding dress I’ve ever seen. Well done, Maria.

Soon enough the bus collected everyone and brought us all to the hotel a little ways out in the country where the reception was held. Before 4 pm everyone had a glass of champagne in their hand ready for the first toast. The first of the many planned activities was a tradition performed at every German wedding, and they all seemed a little surprised we didn’t do the same.

Everyone went outside to watch the bride and groom cut, not the cake, but a large log of wood. That’s right. They had a massive saw and had to work together pretty hard to cut it in half. Nothing special is done with this log afterwards. Its symbolic meaning is similar to that of the breaking and cleaning of the china at the Polterabend. Congrats were given and we all stepped back inside because it was still freezing and raining.

The wedding festivities ringleader was Johannes’ brother and his girlfriend and let me tell you folks, this was quite the task to take on. Pretty much the entire evening was organized and filled with activities (I seriously wasn’t kidding about Germans and their planning). First were some speeches which I’m sure were touching, funny, and heartfelt but all I could get was that they were in German. There was much to this wedding I’ll never entirely know.

Now it might be bad enough that I was the only English speaker there, but unfortunately I’m vegetarian and that made me high maintenance on two counts. So basically this amazing high class three course meal was planned and I was the only one who needed something special. Maria didn’t even know what I would be eating. Luckily when the first course came I was well impressed and must admit that grilled veggie tower thing might be some of the best food I’ve ever had. Being vegetarian in Germany was never as hard as it sounds. Of course I felt like such an idiot the whole time being so “special”. The good news is I was placed at the designated party table and I already knew everyone I was sitting with. And the wine never stopped coming around.

I mentioned earlier that there were loads of activities and I’m not going to bother explaining them all, seriously there were too many. There was a “Who wants to be a millionaire” game with videos and pictures form Maria and Johannes’ past, ‘which person does this more’ question game for the bride and groom, a day in the life of their baby thing, a song performed by friends, and more speeches. Basically anyone who wanted to say or do something could and it was Johannes’ brother that ran it all and made sure it went smoothly. In the meantime, guests were given a small piece of a picture of the couple and asked to paint only that tiny piece on a large canvas. Collectively, the picture came together but with about 30 or so different artists. Actually that turned out really cool even though it looked quite odd. Dancing games were played as well and of course the traditional throwing of the bouquet and garter.

At midnight Maria’s veil came off and went to the girl with the next wedding and they all had a dance. This was also the time I was permitted to take off my heels and we all finally began to really cut loose. The older crowd started to drift out and us young hooligans were dancing and drinking all over the place. At this point everyone was speaking English to me and I was even totted around like a puppy being presented to family members on all different tables which was quite interesting.

The only people who were spending the night at the hotel were the bride and groom, their parents, and the brother and his girlfriend. And oh yes, a room had already been arranged for me in advanced. I’m telling you, this is the best VIP treatment I have ever received in my life and I am so grateful to Maria, Johannes, and all family members who took such great care of me and my “special needs”.

In the morning, less than 4 hours after going to bed, I made my way to breakfast with the family and found Maria unfortunately with a cold. I felt it was more of a hangover and a culmination of stress but only time would tell. (Luckily she is well now.) We headed back to the house with all the gifts in tow and the afternoon was spent packing and counting the thousands of euros given for their honeymoon to South America next year. I was sad to leave so soon after the ceremony but alas, I needed to catch a share ride and the couple was bound for a week at their country home on the water aka their honeymoon.

So a sad goodbye was shared and a promise to return when they have their first kid. “See you in 9 months!” I joked, but really, made them promise me a couple of years. And so I set off to take a 6 hour car journey with a complete stranger who didn’t speak any English. This ridesharing thing is quite popular in Germany being that trains are ridiculously expensive. On the bright side I slept most of it.

I arrived in N├╝rnberg at midnight and was picked up by my friend Anna whom I met in Peru. And this is where the story will end. OK, I’ve been here over a week but my laziness dictates that writing and posting this thing is slightly delayed. Hopefully you're looking forward to the next installment as I’m heading to Amsterdam in just a couple of days. You can anticipate too much drinking, smoking, and new and ridiculous ways of embarrassing myself. As usual.

Friday, May 7, 2010

london bridge is falling down

My time in London ended just how I began it: happy, drunk, and nothing working out as planned. From volcano ash to last minute plan cancellations; I never expected to meet Charlotte’s friend who was renting her the flat and I never suspected I’d leave it for a hostel. But twists and turns are all apart of the adventure while traveling and you have to learn to roll with the punches. Life will always give you lemons. You simply must then grab the tequila and salt and have a damn good time.

My first weekend in Londontown was a blur of alcohol, office meetings, and being introduced to various interesting people. Everything was comfortable and easy. I was staying with Charlotte, a friend I met in Bolivia and ended up spending a month traveling to Argentina with. Everyday we fought like an old married couple, but somewhere behind the abusive sarcasm was love.

Phil even made an appearance from Liverpool for a few days just to hang out with me and his other friend Becky he was staying with. During the week, Phil and I went on park crawls while Charlotte and Becky worked. We spent the sunny hours having office meetings in various parks, usually with a beer or bottle of wine. When it got too cold, we strolled to different museums; luckily England believes these places should be free. In the evenings we’d reconnect with our friends for drinks or dinner and life was damn good. I spent a couple of nights hanging out with Becky that week and I knew in a moment I could count on that girl as a friend.

When Phil left it was with the promise of returning for my final weekend in London, conveniently for Becky’s birthday barbeque I was eager to pencil in my very open schedule. The following week, Charlotte worked hard during the day but managed to save energy to go out for the evening. I’d meet her for drinks or prepare dinner at home. The days were long for her but since she seemed dead set on planning things for me in the evenings, I didn’t seem to think it was a problem.

The second weekend, there were plans for all days and yet nothing went just as it should. Not to say this was a bad thing; I love spontaneity and since I rarely care what I’m doing anyway, I never really noticed a difference. We did everything from dancing at divey pubs to dancing at swanky East London clubs. (Are you surprised? I’ll dance anywhere and everywhere. That’s the whole point of going out, eh?)

One notable trait about London I feel compelled to point out is they are stuck in the 80’s. From the clothes to the coke fiends, I was well impressed with the blast form the past. Couldn’t help but buy a couple of things, luckily cheap from consignment (amazing boots for only $1.50!!!). Really though, it seemed every night we were out, everyone was snorting up lines on toilets and coffee tables, in the club and at home. British people have a habit unlike I’ve ever seen before. And trust me, I’ve seen this habit before: I’ve been to Bolivia. But something about London was different. No one could go out without it.

So I gave it a whirl. When in Rome, right? Yup, just as suspected. Nothing. I never understood how people don’t get affected by marijuana or only get paranoid. Now I get it. Cocaine has no real affect on me. Allegedly, it makes you talk more, dance more, and be able to go all night long. Seems I already have a well-coked out personality. So there I was, yet again, the only one not doing lines in the group and yet I could dance harder and longer than them all. Of course once I have a spliff I would crash and burn in two seconds flat. But that’s another story.

So while the specifics of the partying weekend don’t need to be visited (ok, I had a massive gang of young boys chasing me…..every cougar’s dream…swoon) I’ll just skip to the good stuff. The unexpected downfall of a good friendship.

Throughout my last week I basked in the ability to sleep in, make brunch and eat it in the sun on the roof, go for a jog, and internet as much as I wanted during the day. I never had to meet Charlotte before 6 so I was always eager for whatever event she had planned. From drinks with old co-workers to meeting her parents, she had every night on lock-down. The only night she required staying in the flat was Thursday, to prepare for the weekend. Taking advantage of my freedom and giving her the opportunity to chill out on her own, I planned a couple of rendezvous’ with old friends. First, afternoon drinks with a friend I bartended and lived with in Bolivia. By the time he had to catch his train home to Bristol, I was off to meet an old Malta friend for dinner. We only had a drink but were able to gossip about the various marriages and divorces of everyone we knew.

On my walk home to the flat I was so happy I was actually skipping. For no reason in particular, I just felt that my life was overwhelmingly perfect; everything was just as it should be. I had a glorious, relaxing day and it was filled with friends from all different adventures in my life. I was thrilled to be able to walk back “home” to my dear friend, possibly have an office meeting, and call it an end to a great day. I had no idea what was actually in store for me.

Before I even walked into the flat I could smell the weed and hear music and chatter. I was surprised to find Charlotte awake but elated because that meant we could actually talk for a few minutes. A friend of hers was there and they were just wrapping up a dinner and smoke sesh I would have loved to have been apart of. Spirits were good; we all chatted for a bit, and then soon enough the friend was gone.

I asked Charlotte if she wanted to skin up one last one before bed but she said she already had too many. Slightly bummed, because we hadn’t had office supplies in awhile, I mentioned I was looking forward to smoking with her at the end of tonight. Then she went mental. To this day I’m still lost as to why.

The specifics of her tirade and the words said do not need to be shared with the world. In truth, I already wrote it down but have realized to share a personal fight that led to an unfortunate downfall of a friendship is petty. I know in the end what she said was cruel, fictitious, and she unnecessarily used me as a scapegoat for the anger she was feeling in general. I never responded to anything she said because it was so off the wall; truly I just stood there and got verbally abused. Unfortunately, this was not the first time I had received this treatment from her.

I knew in a couple of days when she calmed down we could talk about it and come to an agreement, but in truth, I was tired of it all. This was not the first time, nor I suspected the last time, she would ever release so much anger and negativity upon me. I simply couldn’t take it anymore; I was broken. I know in my heart I didn’t deserve to be treated like that. I’ve never let anyone speak to me that way, even my father, and I have (in the past) cut him out of my life for a period of time just for doing so. I realized it was necessary to do the same with her if I wanted peace and harmony in my life. Her flat was filled with so much negative energy and I only had one weekend left in London, I wanted it to be easy and fun.

I had also realized how extremely lucky I am to have had so many amazing hosts thus far and continue to have friends all over the world open up their homes to me and constantly invite me over to stay. My life is full of wonderful, generous, and positive people; I really don’t have the time or energy to waste on someone who verbally abuses me so.

So I ran away.

The next morning while Charlotte was at work, I searched the internet for couchsurfing hosts and hostels. Turns out, there was a fun-looking and cheap hostel in Brixton, the area of London I was already in, which meant I didn’t have to get on the tube or go searching about too hard. So I crossed my fingers, hoped for good luck, and asked the Universe to guide me wherever I needed to be. I never said anything to her about leaving; I simply packed my bag and left.

In truth, it was one of the easiest decisions I have made in a long time, and for everyone who knows me knows how indecisive I am. Yet something inside told me to run that night she came down on me and in the morning it was still obvious that I had to leave. With a quick phone call home, I had the support and understanding of my mother and knew it was time to go. I have never turned my back so easily on such a close friend and I hope one day it doesn’t become something I regret. Luckily for the time being it has proven to be a successful decision.

Hootananny hostel was located above a bar and while it looked a bit of a dive, it was perfect. I only had enough time to drop my bag and run out the door as I had plans to meet with another friend from my time in Bolivia. We had several rounds of drinks and a damn good curry dinner before she had to catch the last train home. It felt good to know not all my friends felt about me the way the Charlotte did.

When I made it back to the hostel, I found a large group of people hanging out and well into their drinking. I was pointed in the direction of a 24 hour liquor store and when I returned, I easily found my way into a game of Shithead. I’ve never been called ‘shy’ and this has helped me easily make friends in situations where I know no one.

The evening was fantastic. Turns out most people at the hostel were long-termers, meaning they’ve lived there anywhere from one month to one year. They had a sense of community and closeness that alluded to my Malta days and I instantly felt comfortable and knew I wouldn’t want to leave. I managed to drink and smoke my way until 5 in the morning when I finally crashed and burned.

The next day I wandered into the living room and found myself easily initiated into the group as if I’d been there my entire time in London. With a stroll and a nap during the day, I soon found myself staying in the hostel and drinking my ass off again in the evening. While I had only known these people for a matter of hours, I was convinced I should return, get a job at the bar downstairs, and live here, even if only for a few months. That’s how great it was.

My final day was bittersweet because I had to leave the hostel but was heading over to Becky’s for her birthday barbeque. Phil and his brother met me on the way and we got there in the early afternoon; just in time to start drinking. I had to bring all of my bags with me because I was leaving at 4 in the morning for the airport. I had already planned on pulling an all-nighter before catching my plane to Germany.

While the barbeque idea didn’t pan out because of the shit weather, the evening went off without a hitch. We ate, drank, and smoked beyond our heart’s content. I’d introduced the famous King’s Cup game and many rounds were played with me unfortunately drinking the cup. I’m happy to report after so many rounds with reminders of what the cards meant, I was not needed anymore. This means my American legacy will live on long after I go.

Right before 4 am came, there were still people up and partying and preparing to give me the best sendoff I had ever received. With a ten minute countdown, a spliff was rolled and the pink sparkling wine popped. I was given a to-go gift consisting of fresh hot pizza and a can of cider. By the time the taxi had dropped me at the train station I had just barely missed my train. Luckily I didn’t care because I was so fucked. So I just waited for the next one while continuing to drink and eat, and yes, I was alone (but not in spirit).

I somehow managed to catch my plane and when I landed in Germany at 10 in the morning I was still drunk. I was told I had ‘standarte’, which means wrecking of alcohol. I can’t help but wonder why immigration took one look at my glazed over eyes and let me through. Maybe that’s how I should have arrived in Ireland.

The story will end here, although the binge continued until nearly 11 that night. I’ve been in Germany several days now and already have plenty of good stories, but that will have to be another blog. I suppose I’ll attempt to be a decent writer and foreshadow or leave you with a cliffhanger or something like that. So know the next blog will include sex, prostitutes, and a wedding, although luckily none of those things are connected.

Epilogue: In case any of you were wondering about how Charlotte took my running out on her; not well. A couple of ridiculous emails later it’s obvious she’s still hurt and angry, and rightfully so. I’ve left the door to communication open though because while I felt it necessary to leave, I never wanted to lose her as a friend entirely. Maybe with time we can both forgive and move on. Maybe not. But you never know what the future can hold.