Greetings from sleep-deprived me, resting up back in Rennes. What a week it’s been!
Before launching ourselves into Germany for a week, my friend R.R and I slowly made the transition from French to German with a stop in Strasbourg, one of the main cities of France’s Alsace region. Alsace is different from the rest of France in many ways. It has a history of flip-flopping allegiance, getting handed back and forth between France and Germany over the years thanks to a couple of wars. In addition to certain legal exceptions granted as a result of their split origins, the Alsaciens have their own dialect and almost all the children speak some amount of German (in addition to French and English).
When we visited, the weather was super nice. Coming from the almost constant rain of Brittany, I was shocked to see the sun but it helped me feel like this was actually spring break :). In Strasbourg, we visited briefly but still manage to squeeze out one day of solid sightseeing that culminated in a surprise 18th birthday party for a friend of mine who participated in an exchange with my school last year and hosted my SYA classmate R.R while we were in town. Though it was unlike American parties in many ways, I still had an amazing time and met some neat people. Yay French friends 🙂
Despite having been supposedly eased in with Alsace, Germany was a bit of a shock from the start. I’ve never before been in a country where I don’t speak the language and it was also weird to switch from addressing others in French to English.
As a city, Berlin is a mixture of old and new, with a notable history and a vibrant present. In my mind, this contrast is best captured by the East Side Gallery, a modern art/open-air mural exhibit on a 1.3km stretch of wall that sits on the site of the old Berlin Wall. This colorful artistic tribute was one of my favorite things we saw and we spent over an hour snapping hundreds of pics. Impromptu photo shoot anyone? 😛
Interestingly enough, my visit to Berlin coincided with multiple reunions, lending it some of the same old meets new aspects that the city itself so deftly balances. On our first night in town, we met up with L.Z, a friend of mine from when I was very little who now lives half in Germany and half in Thailand. She took us to an open mic that was held in what used to be a brothel but has since been converted to a quirky “upside-down” bar where even the signs and coolers are upside and occasionally nailed to the ceiling. Later in the week, we also went night-time rock climbing at her gym, a former brick factory and an abandoned water tower. In addition to meeting L.Z, R.R and I stayed with an aunt of mine whom I haven’t seen since I was two. It was fantastic to see parts of the city through the eyes of locals and in that vein, she recommended we rent bikes to take advantage of Berlin’s city-wide bike lanes and explore the city the way many of it’s residents do.
Biking around led to us getting slightly lost in a foreign city, a feeling I’m slowly getting accustomed to, given how many times it seems to happen to me nowadays. In fact, I’ve embraced it: there’s something exhilarating about wandering around with no final destination in mind. It’s like I’ve always said, the journey is just as important, if not more so, than the end point. Plus, this year abroad experience has shown me that aimless roaming isn’t at all a bad thing (and I’ve become quite skilled at map reading as a result :P).
Finding our way through Berlin, sometimes expertly, other times a little less cleanly, reminded me of one of my favorite quotes: “Not all those who wander are lost.” Thank you J.R.R Tolkein for so nicely capturing my second (and sadly, last) week of Spring Break.