Well, for the first time in ages, we're finally getting decent rain. Apparently, it's been the dryest spring since the Ming Dynasty, or at least since records began, which is, surprisingly, not so long ago - only about a century here. Makes you wonder where America's obsessive record keeping came from - maybe the Germans? Anyway, we had a very exciting day buying silly amounts of things at Ikea. Robin drove the van and we only nearly had two accidents. Not bad. I made sure to wear clean underwear, just in case. I'm pretty sure it's still clean... just... ;-) David is now doing his butch thing and putting together shelves, whereas I am doing my level best to avoid any Ikea related assembly, as I'm pretty sure it says somewhere in the instuctions that I am not to touch the product until it is safely assembled.
Let's see - I applied for a British passport, which will make coming back through Heathrow more enjoyable, though, admittedly, I've kinda gotten used to the goats and chickens line every time I come back into the UK (I'm pretty sure it's officially called the Goats and Chickens Queue - Non EU and other Icky Foreigners, but I've not actually checked).
Right - the other thing I keep meaning to do is to write down my entries from Germany, where I escaped for a mini-break last week (by myself - went off to visit friends and take many trains to silly places).
There's something more impressive about stepping off a train into a foreign country than off a plane - especially when the borders are porous. This morning I was waiting for the 0727 train at our crappy local station. I connected to the Eurostar, which, two hours later, dropped me off in the heart of Brussels, at the very station where a very naive 20 year old suddenly clued in to why all these nice men were lingering about on train platforms late at night (definitely a Eureka moment). I wiled away two hours, trundling my suitcase around in a big circle, and then I was off for another two hours to Cologne on the Thalys - a much shinier, but noticeably slower international train.
The cool thing about travelling around the Continent is that, with the open borders, it only becomes clear that we are in Germany because the little towns suddenly become insanely neat and the license plates change. I'm now sitting outside a Starbucks, across from the Cologne Cathedral (Dom), watching Japanese tourists take pictures of themselves taking pictures, and enjoying the late spring sun. Sometimes, globalization is cool. I'm off to Bonn in a bit, to meet a friend I met on the Internet about seven years ago, and then, Saturday, it's off, by train, to Berlin. I haven't done many random trips by myself over the past few years - I've not felt settled enough. Neither David nor Robin especially understand why I like to do this (though David is, admittedly, much better than Robin) - sometimes it's nice to just float along by oneself, though it's also true that I'm very glad I'm meeting friends in Bonn and Berlin.
So, Britain has a bit of an inferiority complex about its trains. They are pokey and old and always late and break down and blah blah blah. I'm sitting on the (very pretty) ICE train, somewhere east of Hannover, randomly stopped for no particularly good reason. How very British. Anyway, I'm taking the train today from Bonn to Berlin. I stayed two nights in Bonn - a rather sleepy but very pretty city on the Rhein. Apparently - it wasn't bombed much - too boring. Lots of big old houses, huge trees, and a general (and very German) sense of order (of which I approve). We went to a bar last night in Cologne, where I had four of probably the smallest beers I've ever seen - 200ml if I'm lucky. No steins there! Cologne is very multi-ethnic, very "happening", and, thanks to the allies, very ugly. It's too bad that WW2 didn't happen at a more aesthetically pleasing time. Interestingly, it was rebuilt in the same sort of pan-European style I've seen from Spain to Sweden (with the notable exeptions of the UK and Ireland). Anyway, I think it's interesting how a similar (but not identical style) is found in such disparate countries. But then, I guess the pics of buildings I've seen in Japan remind me of those in South San Francisco and Daly City. Well, I thought it was interesting, anyway.
So, three nights now in what I've been told is a pretty spartan guest apartment in Berlin. My travelling companion (friend from Bonn) wants to paint the town red, whereas I'd be happy with a light shade of pink. Nothing quite like a fun flight home after an entire weekend out partying - ugh.
Hmm - when you cross into the former East the only real obvious difference now is a dropoff in the general hyper-tidyness. The field edges are a bit messier, the houses, while of the same general design, sag a bit here and there (like England!) and there are the occasional rusting hulks of disused factories, train stations, etc. It's like Germany but unshaven.
They sort recyling into three bins on this train. My God.
So, I never understand how exactly people finish up a trip not exhausted. As far as I'm concerned, a mark of a good holiday is the desperate need for an immediate holiday after. By that measure (actually, by just about any measure), it's been a good holiday. I'm sitting here at Berlin's Tegel Airport, exhausted and feeling slightly surreal, eating a sandwich containing some sort of mystery meat, pink stuff, some brightly coloured things I think are veggies, all nested into a roll with the consistency of moist Wonder Bread. Yum. At least there aren't any killer cukes! I spent the past three and a half days in Berlin, staying with friends in a bargain-basement, 1970s, very square holiday apartment. It's gay-owned and caters to gays, which meant that it was tastefully decorated with pictures of beefy men with unusually well develped pecs and penises gracing the walls. These complement the lumpy beds, the bowls of somewhat dusty plastic fruit, the futon with quesionable stains and the carpet that was last vacuumed sometime before the Wall came down. Ah well - it was cheap. The building is under renovation, which meant that people started hammering and drilling (not that kind of hammering and drilling - I'm shocked!) at 8am. Nice - very nice for going out the night before. It's on a quiet cul de sac with an Eastern European hooker that posts herself at the intersection every night. She is (also tastefully) dressed in some skin tight microscopic thing that lets her ass spill out for general public consumption, and shiny black boots that nearly cover what her shorts miss. She also has very perky tits. I figure that's probably important. Yep - high class establishment we found. Apparently, the apartment building itself used to be a male whorehouse. I know this because I talked with someone in Berlin who, apparently, used to work there, and laughed when I told him where we were staying. Yeah, well done us. Anyway, it was fine, and a modicum of sleep was had.
I'm not sure how many times I've been to Berlin at this point - 7 or 8 maybe (and still keine hablo Deutsch), but I really like it and have two good friends there. Oddly, in some ways it reminds me of Barcelona, another city I really like. I always think of the irony that Berlin, the capital of what was one of the most rightwing regimes of all times, is now one of the most progressive cities in Europe, if not the world. It is simply dripping with gay men, random nudity in parks, free art, etc. But then, the Weimar Republic was pretty forward thinking - it was just taken over by numbnuts. Hmm - sounds like another place...
Anyway, the first night I met up with Frank for dinner at the restaurant where he works, and we planned the weekend. Met the other two guys (the Bonn ones) after for drinks. Sunday, after an emergency gym (I am a notorious homosexual, after all - these things are important), I met Frank and his new boy toy (20 years his junior - apparently he has now reached a "certain age") - for outdoor karaoke in a park along the former wall. There were a few thousand people packed into this sort of amphitheater, and an Irish guy with a bicycle, a computer, and some very big speakers. As usual, some of the entrants sucked (including some old boozer who belted out some German oompa loompa song) but there was this nerdy Irish girl who did a very (very) good rap (muthafucka!) complete with all the gang signs, and a little Chinese girl who did an extremely convincing Lady Gaga, complete with all the moves. The crowd loved it and I nearly peed myself laughing. Lotsa fun!
After that, suitably beered up (and with a very very full bladder) we went over to Frank's for a bbq on his balcony (illegal, apparently). I like Germany bbqs - lots of random meat and no vegetables or starch in sight. Yum! The new bf - Rob, showed me where he had been doodling on his leg with his new tattoo machine (hon, you're going to regret that...). The scary thing was that this twenty year old has done things, and is into things that still make even me squeamish. Kids these days! Went to a few bars again after that - they do all sort of blend together, which is slightly distressing.
Yesterday, I went for a morning run, across the former border (I always like to do that), and we had schnitzel for lunch - very yummy and very fattening. I also ate a slice of cucumber - dancing with danger... Shubh (Bonn) and I then walked along Kurfurstendamm (Kudamm), the main shopping area in western Berlin and sat outside a coffeeshop, making rude commentary about passersby. It was for their own benefit, I'm sure. Met my friend Rogger for ice cream and a chat after that. He lives right in Schoneberg, the main gay area in western Berlin, and knows absolutely everyone, it seems, which made walking down the street a very slow endeavour. He showed me one of the kinky holiday apartments he rents out to tourists - very nice - easy clean floor, cage, handcuffs on the wall, a pommel horse (for what I wasn't entirely sure - gymnastics?). More power to him - he makes good money off of tourists who want to pay more for the, um, fully equipped apartment. Rogger is a sweetie. Met him (also) online. I've met many people online - I'm a big fan. Met Frank in a club about 7 years ago.
I think this, more than anything, is why I so love living here. I can just pop off to wherever, and it's a totally different city in a totally different country. Yet, thanks to the very interconnected, very international nature of gaydom, assisted by the connections possible on the Internet, I have made friends all over. Just on this little short trip I saw people I recognized from London (all screamingly gay, of course).
Anyway, finally, today - another long run in the heat, another morning being woken up early by workmen, who, are, of course, only loud first thing in the morning. I went today to the East Side Gallery, a 1.3km section of leftover Wall that has been turned into an open air art gallery. Pretty damn moving. I had lunch - pretzel bread (it has some German name that means something like, "Don't even try to pronounce it, you silly foreigner"), Hungarian salami and some kind of sinky cheese, sitting in a grassy park, full of sunbathers, in the middle of the former death strip. A little odd, admittedly.
And now, I'm on the plane back to London, which, being not an American flight, was taxiing away from the gate as people were still sitting down and closing the overhead bins. It is so much less hassle flying outside of the United States. Much more efficient, just as thorough and minus the feeling that one is automatically viewed as a criminal. Sigh.