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Brückenschläge und Schlagworte

Tag: act of travelling (page 1 of 3)

Bridge, somewhere in Bosnia & Hercegovina

This bridge is random. It doesn’t have a name. I don’t remember exactly where it was or which river it crosses. But look at this beauty: Bosnia & HercegovinaThe bridge is not even entirely in the picture, it is more like I’m on it – in fact, crossing it on a bus – taking the photo. When I went to Bosnia a few weeks ago, I travelled there on a plane for the first time. Approaching Sarajevo, the plane went lower and lower above the green hills, my heart grew wide, and as we touched ground, tears shot out of my eyes with great force. I was coming to collect part of my heart that is tied to that country. Forever. I had to leave it again when I left.

From Sarajevo I took a bus to Mostar. It took me through the landscapes of Bosnia and Hercegovina, and I couldn’t take my eyes away from what opened up for me outside of the window. It wasn’t the first time I was in awe facing the different shades of green in the hills and the emerald colours of the rivers, but I was enchanted yet again. Was it the Bosna we crossed here, or the Neretva? I don’t know. I just know there is a bond tying me to that place as strong as any bridge made from stone, steel or wood could ever be.

If you have read My Mission statement, you know why I love bridges. To me they are the most universal symbol of connection, of bringing people together and overcoming anything that may seperate us. I want to present to you pictures of bridges that I really love in places that I really love on my blog every Sunday. If you have a picture of a bridge that you would like to share with my readers as a guest post, feel free to contact me!

Moltke Bridge in Berlin, Germany

Like probably every decent traveller, I love airports and I love train stations. Berlin has one of the biggest train stations in Europe, and when you exit toward the Spree river and walk towards the water, this view is your reward: Moltkebrücke, Berlin, GermanyWhen I’ve spent a weekend away inside of Germany, I often take an early morning train back to Berlin and walk from the main station to my work. I could public transport instead of walking. But I love arriving in Berlin and being welcomed by the river, the bridges, even the government buildings you see in the background of the picture. This is also part of the pulsating, thriving capital I love, even far away from cool hipster neighbourhoods like Kreuzberg and Neukölln.

The bridge in the picture is called Moltkebrücke. Helmuth von Moltke was chief of staff of the Prussian army in the late 19th century. The bridge certainly shows Prussian grandeur with its red sandstone structure and its delicate ornaments. If you google it, you will find pictures of it with the old Lehrter Bahnhof in the background – the beautiful historicist train station that once stood in the place of what is now the modern, steel and glass main station. Berlin, a palimpsest made up of different time layers – if only you want to see them.

If you have read My Mission statement, you know why I love bridges. To me they are the most universal symbol of connection, of bringing people together and overcoming anything that may seperate us. I want to present to you pictures of bridges that I really love in places that I really love on my blog every Sunday. If you have a picture of a bridge that you would like to share with my readers as a guest post, feel free to contact me!

Fieldstone Churches in Brandenburg

Last week I had a day so bad that I knew right away that it was time to take some distance, get out, and leave my job and my life behind for one day of discovery and enjoyment. I rented a car, not knowing where I wanted to go. Just out.

Blossoms, Lindow, GermanyI picked up the VW Polo at Alexanderplatz and took random turns through the city. Finally there was a sign directing me towards the Autobahn. I took that turn. On the Autobahn there was a sign toward Stralsund. I knew I probably wouldn’t make it that far, but I love that town, so I followed it off of the Autobahn. And then all there was were rape fields, lakes, forests, and a horizon so wide that it made my heart jump.

Rape Fields, Brandenburg, GermanyThere is something about rape fields. The bright yellow spreading for miles and miles like an overdimensional carpet. I’ve often met southerners who think Northern Germany’s landscapes were boring due to the lack of hills and mountains. Well not to me they aren’t. There is nothing like the tree lined alleys and the  contrast of juicy green grass, the intense blue skies sprinkled with white cotton clouds and golden yellow rape.

I felt so wonderfully free, there was music on the radio, and the day awaited me with nothing but beauty to show. I spotted a gorgeous small church in the distance – so I took a few turns and went there to take pictures. The signs told me I was in Herzberg – wasn’t a village that had the word Herz, heart, in it, the perfect first stop.

Herzberg, Germany

Fieldstone church in Herzberg

There is fieldstone churches galore in the Northeastern part of the country. A lot of them are not well-kept, but this one must have been recently restored. The little cemetery was lovingly cared for, fresh flowers lined the graves, and daisies and dandelions drew patterns on the lawn. Someone was laying new bricks on the steps from the street to the church, he was listening to well-known German hip hop singer Jan Delay on a portable radio which seemed unfitting for work on a cemetery – but I didn’t mind, I thought it was funny. The guy eyed me suspiciously as I entered the church yard. Surely they don’t get many visitors. I just smiled at him and he shyly smiled back. I booked that as a success. To my surprise, the church was open, so I took a look around.

Church, Herzberg, Germany

„I am the light of the world“ – the church altar and pulpit in Herzberg

The inside was every bit as pretty as the outside. The beautiful wooden ceiling with its dark red, yellow and grey colours was intricately done, and had me look up at it for a long time. Of course I was overcome by the powerful urge to sing, and so I did. It’s not like anyone would have been disturbed by it. It was just me and the presence of that unseizable something that is bigger than all of us – call it God, call it fate, call it life itself, I don’t care. I just know that there was something there when my voice rung through the tiny church.

Church, Herzberg, Germany

Levitating angel in the church in Herzberg

There were two levitating angels, one of which I stood eye to eye with for quite a while. Presenting his stoup, it had a mysterious look on its face. I say it, because it was weirdly genderless which I quite liked. Angels aren’t male or female. They are bigger than the dichotomies we use to grasp our lives. I felt like it was there to give me a small blessing and reassure me that I was watched over, but that I nonetheless had all the power I needed to prevail inside of me already. I left the church feeling stronger, smiled at the construction worker at the steps again, got in my car and drove on.

A few rape fields and shadowy alleys later, I found another church that prompted me to stop.

Radensleben, Germany

Church in Radensleben

I had missed the town sign, so I had to check my smartphone to see where I was (and I loved the fact that it was of no real importance whatsoever, but just my curiosity that made me do so!), and it was a village called Radensleben. The churchyard was much more overgrown than the one in Herzberg, but I loved its romantic atmosphere. The church was closed, so I just aimlessly wandered around the church.

Chapel, Radensleben, Germany

Chapel at the church in Radensleben

There was a brick stone chapel on the backside of the church. The low walls with the cross pattern in them allowed for a beautiful play with light and shadow, and of course all my avid readers know that I love red brick stone more than any other material. Moving on, I found a wooden gate behind which I spotted a small cemetery. As I pushed down the handle, thick cobwebs tore on it, and the door creaked loudly as though I was about to enter the Secret Garden from Frances H. Burnett’s childrens‘ book. Magic was about to happen.

Church, Radensleben, Germany

The cemetery behind the church in Radensleben

The small cemetery was partially buried in deep black shadow, but the sun still shone hotly on most of the pretty tomb stones. The daisies were so big that they bordered on marguerites. While from the front the church had looked somehow bigger and cooler than its sister in Herzberg, from this angle it radiated the simplicity I find so inviting about field stone churches. They are down to earth. They don’t look to impress with pomp and grandiosity. They just are.

Walking out of the creaking gate and making my way back to the street, my eyes lost themselves for a little while on the cute cobblestone street that the village arranged itself around. Deadstraight it ran into the distance, as though it lead right into eternity. Dusty, empty. Peacefully sleepy. No one about. The moment was perfect. But I think it was so only because the road promised so much more to be ahead.

At the next rape field outside of the village that lined the country road, I stopped, got out of the care and walked into the rape. The smell of nature embraced me, and I realized how very far away my very bad day was, even though it was only two days ago.

Point proven. Travel heals.

Mariella in a rape field, Brandenburg, Germany

From my Travel Playlists

There is a playlist on my iTunes that I treasure dearly. It holds the music I had on my iPod shuffle when I travelled the Balkans three years ago. A limited selection of songs that accompanied me on many bus and train rides through the beauty that is South Eastern Europe. Tunes so familiar to me that I know every change of rhythm and every funny note, and for most of them, the entire lyrics. Some of them I started out with, some of them I added while on the road. I picked a selection of them to share with you – because when I am having a melancholic day, I put on some Bosnian coffee and this music and I am transported back to Balkan sunshine and the soft rocking of a bus on a scenic route. And also because right now, it is summer in Berlin and I am happy, and this music makes this feeling ten times more intense.

1. Regina Spektor „Better“

If I kiss you where it’s sore
Will you feel better?

I love this song especially for its piano intro and for Regina’s slightly strange pronunciation of English. While the lyrics are actually quite blue, the melody is wide open. If songs had a colour, to me this one would be as turquoise as the waters of the Bosnian rivers I love so much.

2. Dixie Chicks „Not Ready to Make Nice“

I’m not ready to make nice
I’m not ready to back down
I’m still mad as hell and
I don’t have time to go ‚round and ‚round and ‚round

I downloaded the Dixie Chicks album because of a different song, but this one came to be ma favourite. I learned the whole history behind it only later, but it spoke to me as a fight song from the beginning, as a song that encourages you to stand by your anger and not surpress it, to admit to feeling hurt and misunderstood and treated unfairly. I sometimes forget that it is important to allow these feelings their space.

3. Bijelo Dugme „Tako Ti Je, Moja Mala, Kad Ljubi Bosanac“

Jesi l‘,  mala, ljubila do sada?
Jesi, jesi – al‘ Bosanca nisi!

Have you kissed already, little girl?
You have, you have – but not a Bosnian man!

This song is on a Bijelo Dugme album that I bought in Rijeka in Croatia. Bijelo Dugme are something like the Yugoslav Rolling Stones, and quite a few of their songs just put a huge smile on my face because they are playful and silly and fun. I also learned quite a bit Bosnian / Croatian / Serbian by listening to their music.

4. Edward Maya „Stereo Love“

When you gonna stop breaking my heart?

There are no lyrics of any great depth to this song – what is so catching about it is the instrumental part. It was played in countless beach bars and night clubs I went to on my trip, and while at home I probably never would have liked it, on the trip it encaptured that feeling of relaxation, summer heat and freedom of care.

What do you think? Do you have travel tunes that remind you of a certain trip? Does music ever transport you back into a situation in the past?

Bridges Endangered – Flood

The situation in Eastern and Northern Germany in the past weeks calls for a post about bridges in danger.

1CIMG9996 I do not know how much the European flood is in media outside of the countries that are affected by it – although it already has its own wikipedia-entry. Heavy rain falls have led to the Danube, the Elbe and quite a few of their tributaries having significantly higher water levels than normal and flooding cities, towns and villages along their banks. Some of the affected regions suffered from significant flooding only eleven years ago, in 2002, when the same rivers burst their banks and caused severe damage of financial, material, and, as it now shows, also of emotional kind. People are afraid to lose everything again when they have just already been through it. I also remember the flood of the Oder river in 1997 and the pictures on the media back then and how they struck me as so incomprehensible.

To me in Berlin, I have to admit that the flood this time was reasonably far away, and although I followed it in the media and heard stories from friends and colleagues who work or live there, I had no truly emotional reaction to it. In a way, it was something that was happening in a whole different place. Now this weekend I travelled from Berlin to Bielefeld. The Inter City Express route between Berlin and Hannover is now closed down due to the floods, and we were redirected via Magdeburg which is right by the river Elbe.

As we pass into it, we cross a bridge that doesn’t even feel like one anymore. We pass right over the water. At the shore, pathways disappear into the water that under normal circumstances must lead to a path that goes by the waterfront, and trees appear out of nowhere in what looks to be the middle of the river.

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We go on and cross a few of the Seitenarme. Or so I think – then I see the tip of a street sign, fixed, yet disfigured, displaced, not being able to direct anything, and I notice that it must be a street that is flooded. A bit down the river I see sandbag dammings and the signs that say „Technisches Hilfswerk“ (Federal Agency for Technical Relief). Suddenly this has a dimension of reality to it.

I don’t think my pictures can do it justice. I just took them with my phone out of the window of a moving train. But going through that area I think of what my colleague who works in Passau has said: „Now I know what a natural catastrophe is.“ And in Passau it is so much worse because it is located where the three rivers Donau, Inn and Ilz meet – and they are all flooding. I am just glad that here in Germany, there is mainly damage to property. Still some people have lost the basis of their lives, and I am sure to them it is quite existential.

What I cannot help to think is that we always try to relate and compare stuff like this. I think about how horrible this is – and then I think about the Tsunami or Katrina and think that we are so lucky to only have such small problems. But then can you really ever compare? Probably not. All you can do is be grateful if you and your loved ones are safe, show compassion for the victims, and try to help.

There is a picture gallery at this link that I found that should show the dimensions of the flood. If you speak German, this is where you can find out how to donate money to help in the damaged areas.

Pitfalls of Train Travel – a Horror Story

I love train rides. Really, I do. Julika of Sateless Suitcase has recently written a super thorough post on the beauty of train travel if you need convincing. Yes, it is great. It is absolutely lovely. I can’t get enough of it. I’m serious. I am genuinely excited about my overland travel from Berlin to Nottingham. That said – train rides can be the most aggrivating thing in the world. I wish it weren’t so, but it is. Luckily the circumstances in which this is true are limited, but they do happen. Boy, don’t I know it. I hope my story saves some of you some grief when travelling overland in Western Europe.

Being on the train can be great – or not…

I get to Berlin central at midnight with some thirty minutes of time to kill before my night train to Cologne leaves. I’m looking forward to snuggling into my seat and be rocked to sleep by the moving of the carriage on tracks. I’m travelling – nothing else makes me happier than that. When I look to the annuncement board, however, it says my night train is over two hours delayed. It is to do with the flood in Poland and Czech Republic. I’m alarmed. This means I will miss my connection at Cologne to Brussels, and the follow-up from there to London, and I will definitely lose my connection from London to Nottingham. Domino effect… I am going through options, and I have a quick moment of panic.

Now, none of this would have happened if my train went through from Berlin to Nottingham. This way, I’m going to be anxious at every station if they let me go on or if they won’t accept my ticket, because it was supposed to be valid only for that specific connection. Having to change much is always a risk. Try to always travel short distances if you can and avoid connections with too many changes! Also, if I had a lot of time, this would be a much smaller deal. The delay will cost me at least half a day. Given that I only have three days in England anyway, that is quite a high percentage. Calculate your time generously and don’t reckon with five minutes being enough for changing ever! Of course all of that would also be less of a problem if I had enough money to just buy another ticket at any given moment. If at all possible, have a financial back-up in your account for cases like this!

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Passing through Liege train station

Basically it comes down to this: Do I take the risk of this not working / costing me tons of money, or do I get my ticket refunded and go home. But what kind of a traveller would I be if I let this scare me away (athough I must admit that talking to Andrew on the phone and having him reassure me most definitely helps!). I do take the delayed night train to Cologne and hope for the best. Take it one stop at a time. Every train is taking you closer to your destination. Don’t think about the final stop just yet. At Dortmund they make us get on a different (if also marginally delayed) train to Cologne, because the night train is trying to catch up time and won’t call there. Too late do I notice that it does not stop at the main station in Cologne, but only at two smaller ones. Because of this, I have to change again in Düsseldorf to a train that is twenty minutes late. I am starting to just feel cynical about this, and I feel bad for travellers who don’t speak German and might not get by in this mess. I help a Taiwanese girl find her way and hope that other international travellers also find helpful locals. If they don’t approach you themselves, ask locals on the delayed trains for help, especially when you don’t understand the announcements! Thankfully at the service point in Cologne, my ticket is re-issued for the next connection to London without extra payment. Now all I have to worry about is getting from London to Nottingham. I relax a little. My train to Brussels is 15 minutes late. I have no words. In Brussels at check-in for the Eurostar train to London I am still a bit anxious, but it all goes smoothly.

In Brussels, behind security

In London St Pancras, the train that my ticket is issued for has left hours ago. At information they send me down to the booking office, where I somewhat hysterically explain my situation to the nice motherly lady. She looks at the ticket and says in a deep voice: „Nothing I can do about that…“ I feel tears rising. „Nothing at all?“ I ask, probably looking very upset. A standard train ticket  here would cost almost 80 pounds. I don’t have that money. My last option is to take a bus for a much more affordable price, but in that moment all I can think of is how weird and unfair it is that I should lose my ticket in England due to a delay caused in Poland that is absolutely not my fault, and how they expect someone who even goes through the planning ahead and who looks for cheap options to deal with a situation like this. I apologize to the nice lady for crying, when she utters the magic words: „Do you have a stamp at all that a train was late?“ I’m not saying you should cry, but, well, if you actually are desperate… what can I say, it helps. I carefully say: „Yes, but it wasn’t the Eurostar train to London that was late…“ „That doesn’t matter, darling.“ I show her the stamps I got in Cologne when my ticket got re-issued. She looks at them and says: „Sweetheart, dry those tears now. You’ve done yourself a big favour. Now I can act.“ And then she gives me a ticket marked SOS that I can use for any train to Nottingham on that day. I am so relieved I am now almost crying more, not less.

When finally I get off the train in Nottingham I have a total delay of 4 1/2 hours – it could be much much worse. I am a bit ashamed to think that my tears at the London ticket office probably played a role in this, but what’s more important is that I learned that you must always get a confirmation that your train was delayed if you want a chance for rebooking or refunding!

What are your experiences with delayed trains? Do you stay calm or do you go crazy when your journey is challenged? Any advice on what to do when you miss connections?

A World of Its Own – Kosovo

This post is based on this German original / Dieser Post basiert auf diesem deutschen Original.

While I figured fairly early in my big Balkans trip three years ago that I probably would not get to see all the countries I had originally thought about, I also knew that there were certain countries that I would most definitely not skip. Mainly those that my mum would have felt better if I’d skipped them. „Honey, you sure you need to go to Albania and Kosovo, all by yourself?“ Hell yeah. I’m not going to go to Serbia and not also go to Kosovo! There was a story there with those two countries, and one I had not the slightes understanding of, and I was not about to let that be the case for much longer. So I did go to Kosovo. And the country surprised me in all the right ways.

Prizren, KosovoI went into Kosovo from Skopje in Macedonia. If you enter into Kosovo from Albania, Macedonia or Montenegro, you won’t be able to leave the country straight to Serbia, and if you enter it from Serbia, you won’t be able to leave straight to Albania, Macedonia or Montenegro. Getting into Kosovo from Skopje was certainly the easiest route in my time, if only for the direct bus connection between Skopje and Prishtina, but that may have changed and other options may be available. So why is it so complicated again?

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, after there had been war there from 1998 through 1999, followed by a long UN administration period. I won’t go into detail because I don’t know much about it myself, but as is custom in the area (note the irony!), it was mainly a conflict of ethnicity, religion and possession. Serbians see Kosovo as an area of their cultural heritage, with beautiful Serbian orthodox monasteries and the site of the Battle of Kosovo – a founding myth of modern day Serbia, if you will. It took place in 1389 between the Ottoman Empire and the Serbians and delayed the Ottomans taking over the area for a little while. Today, however, Kosovo is mostly populated by Albanians who are Muslim. And that is where the problems start. Serbia does not recognize Kosovo’s independence, so if you enter Kosovo from, say, Macedonia, through Serbian eyes you have entered Serbia already, but don’t have an entrance stamp which is why you cannot cross the boarder from Kosovo to Serbia. And if you enter Kosovo from Serbia, in Serbian eyes you have never left the country.

Going to Kosovo was, considering all of this, not at all a big deal. The boarder police asked me if I was coming on holiday, and bid me good day. I never even got a stamp, which I chose not to mind because I wanted to return to Serbia at one point and knew that a Kosovo stamp might give me trouble. I am still a bit sad though that I have no sign of having been there in my passport.

Prishtina was grey and ugly, and the traffic was pure craziness – but downtown there was a pedestrian zone where the atmosphere was that of an on-going fair. Hideous plastic toys of all provenance where sold, and I immediatly felt the information to be proven that the average age in the country was 25. There were no old people – not even older people, it seemed to me. But there where children – everywhere! They ran and played and screamed with the joy of life, and they made me smile with the realization that beauty exists even in a grey, dull pedestrian zone with ugly plastic toys and socialist concrete buildings. And sitting or working in coffee places, the Kosovar people laughed just like the children of their country – open, untainted, honest.

Grand Hotel, Prishtina, KosovoPeja reminded me of Ulcinj in Montenegro and Novi Pazar in Serbia – formerly Yugoslav cities with a big Muslim minority and influence. I had a cappucino in a street cafe. It was pouring rain. Just outside the terrace that I was sitting on, there was a fountain. The waiter put the coffee on my table, had a water glass in his hand, went over to the fountain to fill it, and put it on my table where it was dripping water on the notebook I was scribbling my impressions into. The waiter gave me a big smile with this. Then electricity stopped going. I had heard the generator all the while. Kosovo runs on two power plants, and one had gone broke that morning, so half the country was on generators, and a bit overstrained with it, I take it. No one seemed to mind, though – and that fact calmed me with quiet joy.

Peja, KosovoPrizren, which I have written about already, was certainly the prettiest town there. I had met an American guy on the bus and we went to see the Serbian Orthodox church up the mountain. Meters of barbed wire and KFOR protection. We were not allowed to enter even the premises.

Serbian Orthodoc church, Prizren, KosovoBack down in the town, we passed the Catholic church, and two teenagers that saw us asked us right away if we wanted to go in, and fetched the priest. He spoke German very well and I translated to English for my American friend. „We don’t need military protection down here,“ he said, „but in my opinion the Serbian churches don’t need it either.“ In the yard, yellow and orange roses were in full bloom. There was peace.

Every coffee house had me meet someone who I had a quick chat with. I got asked on dates and invited to house parties in Kosovo, had delicious Albanian food and bought an English book in a great little international book shop. War? Please, that was more than ten years ago!! Still there were the occasional reminders. Bombed out Serbian houses. A long fence showing pictures of missing relatives.

Missing people's fence, Prishtina, KosovoAnd the big statue of Bill Clinton in a suit with a briefcase, waving fatherly – I almost broke into loud laughter at the sight of it because it seemed ridiculous, but it is a serious matter for Kosovar people. The States have supported the country massively in its fight for independence.

Bill Clintin, Prishtina, KosovoI had asked couchsurfing hosts in Serbia what the big deal was with Kosovo – a naive question that might have gotten me in trouble in the wrong company, but quite usually the answer to me was simply: „What would you say if a part of your country decided to break away and be independent?“  I didn’t say it, but thought: „Well, some Bavarians would like to do that, and to be quite honest, whatever, you know, let them do it, only the German economy would break down and not be able to handle it I guess.“ Kosovo is not economically relevant to Serbia though. So I still didn’t quite know what to do with that argument. I understood, though, that it was really mainly, if not purely, cultural.

One impression was particularly overwhelming in Kosovo: This was not Serbia. It was not Albania, either. It was Kosovo.

Comforts of Routine

Travel is the ever-different. Travel is inconsistency. Travel is the impossibility of planning. Travel is flexibility, spontaneity, restlessness. In short, travel is change. I love the feeling of living entirely in the moment while being on the road, the feeling of not needing to search the constant because I will not find it anyway. When I travel, every day brings new impressions and provides me with knowledge I did not have before. Every moment confronts me with myself in ways I haven’t experienced before, and I know that travel is always as much a journey to a new place as to the depths inside of me. The sound of trains, busses, ferries or airplanes moving through wide open spaces excites and calms me equally. I embrace the constant change that travel brings when I am out there on the road.

Train tracks, Frankfurt / Oder, GermanyIn my day to day life, however, I value a certain amount of stability. Yes, I like having a deli close to work where I go for lunch every day, and where after a break the waiters ask where I’ve been so long. I like knowing that the metro going downtown from close to my house goes on minutes 4 and 9. I like getting up in the morning, and going to the kitchen first thing to put on coffee and heat my milk, so my morning Caffe Latte will be done by the time I’ve put my make-up on. It can be very comforting to know that not every decision you make must be consciously made, but some are automatisms – at least as long as you know that travel will tear you out of your patterns again soon enough.

We all know those moments when we are shaken to the core, when life seems to want to let us know that we should never feel too sure about things going well, and it takes you and slaps you twice across the face. When that happens to me, I try to not let it numb me for more than a short moment, and I weigh my options: I then need either the constant change of travel to find myself again – or I can find myself in the stability of routine. While travel would probably always be my first option, it is not always possible; and the second one has got its perks; at least in a great city like Berlin.

I have a ritual of sitting at Tempelhofer Feld for a bit every day when I go home from work by bike. Only last year, I still used to have a cigarette during those ten to fifteen minutes, looking West toward the sun. Then I quit smoking. I have to admit I still miss that end-of-work-day cigarette, but the daily moment of peace and calm at the field is priceless.

Tempelhofer Feld, Berlin, GermanyCIMG9511

I really enjoy coming across the occasional crazies in my neighborhood. Like the funny Turkish dude I see frequently, about 60 years of age, who rides his bike along one of the large streets in Neukölln, sounding his bike bell and a whistle, carrying a large sign that says: “I have lived here for 30 years. Why can’t I vote?” He’s got a fair point. I like him. He’s fighting for his own interests. Or the guy who goes around in bars and asks people if they’d like to hear an „original entertaining poem“ and then gives out his whole marxist outlook on life. They are constants in this crazed city.

I love the way that in Berlin, you can see the TV tower from almost anywhere. This cold, damp and altogether quite horrid winter, its tip disappeared into fog quite often. Within the last week, it’s usually stood out clearly defined against a greyish sky. Yesterday the sun reflected in its metal beauty. I love how it looks different from the various perspectives, yet it always is the same.

TV-Tower, Berlin, GermanyI never tire of feeling elated when I cross the strip in the pavement that indicates where the Berlin wall used to be with my bike. Woah – there I go, to the East. Whoops – and back to the West. Unthinkable 25 years ago. A reality today. It never fails to put a smile on my face. The non-repudiation of history is of great density in Berlin, and it shows you how relative everything can be. I remind myself of that frequently also by stopping by Neue Wache or Jakob-Kaiser-Haus, places I have written about before.

Neue Wache, Berlin, GermanyI even take comfort in the way the S-Bahn is late sometimes, as it so often is. And sometimes I smile at the U-Bahn forcing me to the unspeakable Schienenersatzverkehr (rail replacement service) because, well, that obviously happens at a time when things aren’t really going your way. Stupid and annoying stuff like that can feel good because it feels normal, stable, known. Like so many things, it is a matter of perspective.

Travel owns my heart fully. But when something has shaken my day to day life in Berlin and made it crooked, askew; well, in those moments the first thing I do is look to those little things that do not change and choose to find them comforting.

Oderbrücke, Frankfurt (Oder) / Słubice, Germany / Poland

Bridges on Sundays comes to you from a place today that brings the Bridge as my symbol of connection between cultures to quite a literal level.

Oderbrücke, Frankfurt / Oder - Slubice, Germany - PolandThis photo was taken out of the train on Oderbrücke that connects Frankfurt / Oder in Germany with Świecko (Słubice) in Poland. The river Oder has only marked a border since 1945. Before, both sides of the river were German. After World War II Germany lost its Eastern territories, namely Silesia and Eastern Prussia, to Poland, while Poland lost large parts of Galicia, the Wilna and Nowogrodek areas to the Soviet Union. This map might make it clearer. In 1949 the Odra became the official border between the newly founded German Democratic Republic and the Polish People’s Republic. The Federal Republic of Germany didn‘t recognize this border officially until 1970 when Willy Brandt was chancellor. He had brought on a political course of rapproachment with the East. It was perceived as scandalous back then. Federal Germans felt that Brandt was giving up on land that was actually theirs to re-obtain one day. Thankfully those times are largely behind us, and hardly any German wants these territories back, but resentments die hard, and there is still mistrust between Poles and Germans when it comes to this, especially in older generations.

I only visited Frankfurt and Słubice for the first time last May and walked across a different bridge then that is open for cars and pedestrians. I remember feeling elated. There was no border control. There were no fences or gates or barriers. There was, simply spoken, just free access between the two countries. I thought “Schengen”, thought “European Union”, but this meant so much more than politics. It meant bridging the gap between two countries and removing all obstacles for people to come together and work through the hardships that history has burdened them with.

If you have read My Mission statement, you know why I love bridges. To me they are the most universal symbol of connection, of bringing people together and overcoming anything that may seperate us. I want to present to you pictures of bridges that I really love in places that I really love on my blog every Sunday. If you have a picture of a bridge that you would like to share with my readers as a guest post, feel free to contact me!

Back to Wrocław

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The train from Berlin to Wrocław goes through, I don’t need to change. As we are approaching the Polish boarder, we are entering Slavic lands while still in Germany: In a small train station a sign reads „Lübbenau (Spreewald)“, and another one: „Lubnjow (Błota)“ – the first is German, the second is Sorbian. The Sorbians are a Slavic minority in the Lusatia area in the easternmost corner of Germany. The letter ł on the Sorbian sign – it exists in Polish too, and it puts a smile on my face. I note down some of my thoughts in my journal. As soon as we have crossed into Poland, the train tracks are bumpier, I can tell from my own handwriting. It jolts and judders across the paper, not  looking like a chain of soft, round little living creatures as it usually does, but edgy like staples or tiny wires.

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Outside of the windown I see Lower Silesia pass me by. I entered this part of the world for the first time almost exactly six years ago. I’m trying to remember that day, but I can’t unearth too much from the depths of my memory. Back then I felt homesick for the first, maybe the only time in my life, and that feeling cast a shadow on so many things. It envelopped me in a large black veil that kept excitement and anticipation from coming to me like they usually do when I start a trip to the great unknown. The notion of „cudne manowce“ comes to my mind, an expression from a song by the iconic Polish poet and songwriter Edward Stachura. It means something like „the enchanting astray“. My co-worker Renata says that it can’t really be translated to German, because for the efficient and pragmatic people that we are, the astray can never be enchanting. If that is true, I’m afraid I’m not very German after all.

Now I’m looking at little villages with their Prussian architecture train station buildings and their white town hall towers reaching toward the skies with square-cut pinnacles in Tudor styled architecture. They look just like they do in Ziemia Kłodzka, which is the area I was on my way to back then, and I cannot believe that it is only – or already – six years lying between the person I am today and the person I was then.

When the train arrives at the main station in Wrocław, I can’t at first glance piece together where I am and what I am seeing. Everything is new, everything is different. The station building has been painted bright orange.

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Ther concourse is light and spatious. Everything has been renovated for the football Euro Cup last June. My memory paints such a different picture – a dark, manky hellhole with rude and unfriendly elderly ladies in the ticket boxes, and myself feeling panickstricken when one night I almost didn’t get a ticket for the night train to Szczecin and thought I’d have to spend the night on the cold and smelly platform.

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In the crossing underneath the platforms there used to be many kiosks and food stands – they are all gone, instead there are high tech lockers and everything is smooth and evenly tiled. I wonder what might have happened to the people who used to work in those little shops?

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This is not the same place. Everything is signposted – and what’s more, bilingually so! I wish I had some of the people with me who think of Poland as backwards, grey, ugly and cheap. They would not believe their own eyes.

Two days later my train is leaving the main station in Wrocław. My seat is rear-facing and so I look straight ahead as the large orange building is moving away from me.  In this moment I have the paradoxical feeling of looking aback and ahead at the same time –  back to the place I am leaving right now, and that I’m missing already in a feeling of reverse homesickness. And ahead to my future that may just be so kind as to gift me with a new Polish adventure, one without feeling homesick for Germany; to a future that may grant me to understand this country better, to explore it, and with any luck even to participate in shaping it in some way.

Why do I love Poland? I have no idea. Isn’t it the purest love that doesn’t require any explanation?

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