I am sitting on a bed, suffering from a cold. I think a friend gave it to me, but this weekend certainly didn’t help. Berlin has this insane way of making time disappear—suddenly it is sunrise and the cafes are opening and wouldn’t coffee and a 50 cent pastry be better than sleep? This weekend was all mornings like that, and when I returned to my home on Sunday at 6PM, I instantly fell asleep, not waking till late Monday morning, feeling very well rested but also congested.
I live in the south of Prenzlauer Berg, in a beautiful apartment with my host family. I must say, the home stay aspect of this trip was certainly what I was most nervous about, but so far everything has worked out really well, and I don’t think I would have every lived in such a cool neighborhood if we were in dorms. My whole street is filled with cafes and restaurants and shops, and I’m a very short walk to Mauerpark, where every Sunday there is a giant flea market, filled with brightly patterned clothes, dusty trinkets, cheap food and lots of music. My friends who are living in Prague right now came in for the weekend and at the flea market collectively bought some of the most absurd sweat suits and sweaters I’ve ever seems (neon pink and nautically striped) and I hunted for the perfect pair of black boots, but was overwhelmed by the sheer number of options, and gave up. I’ve got a lot of time to search.
In the rest of the park next to the flea market, hundreds of people listen to karaoke and occasionally sing along with whoever is having a rockstar moment at the base of the hill. There’s not much like listening to a couple hundred Germans shout Bon Jovi’s “Livin' on a Prayer.” We sat up a hill and listened for a while with a couple of people from southern Germany that we had met the night before. It isn’t that hard to meet people in Berlin, but it is harder than I expected to meet anyone actually from Berlin. Everyone seems to be a tourist or traveler or someone who moved here a couple years ago.
Right next to Mauerpark is a memorial to the Berlin Wall. The memorial stretches across several blocks and has broadsides with historical information about the wall along the walkway, which serves as a narrow alleyway between buildings. I walk through this memorial fairly often, as my U-Bahn stop is in the middle of it, and I’m always surprised by the life I see around it. For example, half way through the memorial, you are rerouted through a parking lot, as someone has set up a gated backyard (complete with a Ping-Pong table) in the middle of the natural route of the memorial. A wine shop empty but for a few fashionable women over looks the memorial in it’s third block. And there is a trampoline that always seems to have at least seven kids in it faces the memorial from an apartment building’s backyard.
Whenever I have an odd moment, I like to wander around Prenzlauer Berg. I buy cheap pastries at the bakeries or snacks at the corner store and walk until I seem to be in a primarily residential neighborhood. I come from New Orleans, which is a small city, I’m coming to understand. I mean, I always knew it was small—I’ve known since middle school the relative size of my city (New Orleans has a population of about 400,000 and New York is around 8.4 million). But it is only living in such a city as big as Berlin (about 3.3 million) am I finally realizing what a difference it makes. I know so much about New Orleans, every restaurant, every street, every park—I might not know them well, but I feel like they are within my reach. But even if I lived in Berlin for years, I’m not sure it would be possible here. There is so much. No matter how much I walk, there’s a couple of blocks I could have turned down instead and who knows what I’m missing out on?
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Ruth Marie Landry
<p>Ruth Marie Landry is a junior majoring in the Writing Seminars at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD. On campus, she works in the library and as a tutor for high school students. She is also a DJ for WJHU (Johns Hopkins' only student radio station) and the co-founder and co-editor-in-chief of Vector Magazine, an online literary magazine. While growing up in New Orleans, she developed a love for spicy food, dancing to live music, and long, poorly planned road trips. Ruth enjoys big cities, Sphynx cats and Brutalist architecture.</p>