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Schlagwort: Europe (Seite 2 von 2)

How I found Europe in Chicago

Even before I came here, I noticed in my travel guide that Europe is ever present on the map of Chicago: The Ukrainian Village. Little Italy. Greektown. Pilsen, as in the Czech town. The Holstein Park, as in the region in Northern Germany. Not only were there geographical allusions, but many places were named for famous Europeans: Humboldt Park. Goethe and Schiller streets. Pulaski Park. Dvorak Park (yes, they have a LOT of parks in Chicago!). I thought it was interesting how a country whose population is traditionally made up of immigrants to some extent tries to reconstruct its heritage this way, and I was curious if I would find Europe elsewhere in Chicago, too. I was not disappointed.

The neighbourhoods that take their names from Europen countries or cities are not only named that, but many are inhabited by immigrant population. This leads to funky combinations, like the neighbourhood with the Czech name of Pilsen being inhabited mainly by Mexican Americans today. Also there is the Old Town which used to be the German neighbourhood – and not only do you find a big European grocery store there, said grocery store also has a rooftop terrace on which you can have beer and, brace yourself, Currywurst!

Currywurst, Old Town, Chicago, IL

Germany in America: Currywurst with Sauerkraut…

Maibaum, Old Town, Chicago, IL

… and a Maibaum!!!

You also can hardly fail to come across signs of the Polish population. At the blue line stop Division, you will find the so called Polish triangle, and there is the renowned restaurant Podhalanka, a place that supposedly has really good Polish food. Along Milwaukee Avenue I saw several Polish Restaurants with Polish names that Americans who don’t share this descent probably cannot even pronounce – or how would you say Czerwone Jabłuszko (Little Red Apple)?

Polish Triangle


And at the Polish Triangle another piece of Poland: The Chopin Theatre! (Yes he was Polish – NOT French!!)

 Not only do you see the Polish influence in the cityscape, you can also hear it. I went on the blue line one morning and waited at my stop for the train to come in. Two middle aged guys next to me were chatting animatedly in Polish. The first thing I noticed was how much they cursed. Every sentence was generously lined with the word „kurwa“, Polish for whore or bitch. While that amused me only slightly, my face split into a wide grin when they started discussing about Germany and what a dirty country it is. Sweden, yes, Sweden was clean, but Germany, kurwa, unbelievable, the amounts of rubbish in the streets. I chuckled.

Obviously, all of this stems from immigration, like I already said. I found this noticeable not least at Graceland Cemetery, a beautiful graveyard well worth a visit which I have written about here. A lot of the tombstones displayed foreign heritage, like this one showing that the deceased had been born in Hungary.


Also, the Germans were here again, not only with their names: Many tombstones did note say „born“ and „died“, but „geb.“ and „gest.“ – short for geboren and gestorben. It means the same, obviously, but I found it quite remarkable that the Germans kept their own culture alive to the point of having their tombstones signed in their own language rather than English.


Austria came into play when we went to a cute coffeehouse called Julius Meinl that saved the famous coffee and had interieur that resembeld classical Vienna coffeehouse furniture. The coffee was fantastic, and the menue carried things such as Einspänner, Melange and Verlängerter – with the umlaut writing!



Finally the immigrants have not only named places after people and brought parts of their culture in food and drink and architecture, but they also saw to the fact that their greatest heroes would be commemorated in the city. There is a memorial for Alexander von Humboldt, one for Kosciuszko, one for Copernicus, one for Havlicek, one for Hans Christian Anderson, one for Goethe and one for Schiller – and I would have been bound to find more if I had been able to stay longer, I’m sure.






Have you ever found Europe on another continent? Where was it and what made it so European for you?


Everybody’s Darlings – and Why I Don’t Usually Like Them

I will now talk about places I have travelled to and did not actually like that much. This is something that doesn’t often happen on travel blogs, as Andrew recently pointed out to me. His words were something like: „Everybody always writes about places they like. No one ever says: ‚Don’t go there, it was horrible!‘ That can’t possibly be true.“ He’s got a point. Now I won’t tell you not to go anywhere, because everyone has to decide for themselves. But when you hear which places I do not like, you won’t believe me anyway.

There are these places in Europe everyone loves. When you mention them on a twitter chat, or at a hostel, or on your facebook page, or just randomly over dinner with travel-loving friends, the reaction will always be along the lines of: „Aaaah, I LOVED [insert place here]. It is so lovely in [insert season here]. I could totally live there, especially in [insert trendy neighbourhood in said city]. There is a place on [insert famous street here] that serves THE best [insert local food here].“

I have a confession to make: These places are usually the ones I am not so keen on.

Oberbaumbrücke, Berlin, Germany

Berlin sure is everybody’s darling, eh? I’m not debating this one.

Of course there is exceptions. After all, the city I live in, Berlin, tends to be in the list of said places. So do a couple of places that I have never been to, such as Paris, Barcelona, or Venice. While I do want to see these places at some point in my life, I am not all too fussed about them right now. I am sure they will be nice and all, but I’m just not feeling a great passionate urge to see them very soon. Because in the past, Everybody’s Darlings have not necessarily worked for me.

This especially goes for the three I am about to discuss now. I can already hear everyone screaming „Sacrilege!“ and „Impossible!“ and „How could she!“ Ah well. Please disabuse me of my notions in the comments. Here go the places in Europe that everyone seems to love except for me.

1. Prague, Czech Republic

There, I said it. I am not a huge fan of Prague. As is usually the case with things like these, I suppose the circumstances weren’t entirely in my favour. I went there as a weekend trip from my voluntary service in Poland with five other international volunteers. I was heartbroken at the time for several reasons and while I liked the group, I didn’t truly connect with the others as much as they did with each other, and they set much focus on the consumption of loads of beer while I wanted to see the city. Also the weather was quite chilly and grey that March of 2007.

Prague Astronomical Clock, Prague, Czech Republic

People dream of seeing the Prague Astronomical Clock in the Old Town Square. I was semi-impressed.

While all that made it difficult to enjoy being in the moment, I found the famous Old Town Square to be ridiculously overcrowded and the famous clock to fall short of my expectations. I also noticed I should have done more research – relying on my travel buddies had not been a good plan because they basically just wanted to go from beer to beer. Generally for some reason I couldn’t hear the music in my heart that I had expected to.

I think Prague was overladen with expectations from my side that it could not live up to. Because of that, this one is probably at least partially my fault. I am willing to give Prague another chance. It’s just not very high up my list right now.

Prague Castle, Prague, Czech Republic

Prague Castle is an admired and cherished place for many travellers.

2. Dubrovnik, Croatia

For most travellers who have been to Croatia, Dubrovnik has been one of their highlights. For me it was different. The first couple of times I went to Croatia, I didn’t even make it down there. I had planned on seeing it on my great trip through the Balkans and was always sidetracked by other places that struck me as more interesting – Bosnia, Montenegro, or even just the smaller places along the Dalmatian coast. I finally went to Dubrovnik on my way to the island of Korcula and stayed there for three days in late August 2011.

Dubrovnik, Croatia

You think this is gorgeous? So do most people.

Bad circumstances to add to my dislike in this case: It was unbearbly hot. I had been travelling for 10 days and hadn’t found back into the rhythm of it, I probably should have started out with just some chill-time. And then I got ill and spend a considerable portion of my stay there between my hostel bed and the bathroom.

But all these things aside, there were many things about Dubrovnik that just weren’t down my alley. For one thing, I found it ridiculously overpriced by comparison to what else I knew of Croatia, and have been around that country rather much. I also found the street vendors to be particularly aggressive. There was a moment of peace when I stood in the market and smelled the lavender that people were selling. At once I was pressed from three men in English and Italian to buy some – and the moment was over. No one spoke Croatian, and in general I didn’t see why people were so much more taken with the small alleyways and red roof tops here than in any other Dalmatian town, like Makarska for example – I had visited that in the midst of high season and totally crowded, but I still liked it loads better than Dubrovnik. I think Dubrovnik doesn’t live up to the beauty other Croatian towns have to offer. It is overrated.

Alleyway, Dubrovnik, Croatia

Cute alleyways in Dubrovnik – but hey, not any better or worse than those in Sibenik, Makarska, or Zadar.

3. Vienna, Austria

The last one on my list of only-okay travel destinations everyone else loves is the Austrian capital. I have been there twice each for a couple of days and while I suspect that if I hung out around more locals, I could have seen a different side of it, it all comes down to this: Vienna is too pristine for me.

Karlskirche, Vienna, Austria

Karlskirche is beautiful, sure – but I just feel it could be anywhere.

There are not even really any bad circumstances to this phenomenon – no connected bad memories of an emotional kind, no sickness, no weather issues. Vienna just doesn’t speak to me. It has this specific kind of beautiful that seems to me like the majority of the girls on Germany’s Next Top Model. Pretty on the outside, hollow on the inside. No edge, no character. Just this very neat, preppy, clean appearance. I never quite got behind it.

Now what probably didn’t help was that I had fallen in love with Krakow before I met Vienna. Now that Polish little sister of Vienna has the same Austro-Hungarian architecture and coffee house culture, the same turn-of-the-century morbidity and grand artistic tradition – but it is just ever so slightly more run down and truly old. I find it to be authentic. In Vienna I always feel like I wasn’t pretty enough. In Krakow I can be myself, out of style or out of fashion, and still love the city’s beauty and originality. Vienna is like a living room out of a magazine – pretty to look at, but who wants to live in the constant fear of spilling red wine on the white couch cushions. Against Krakow, it was bound to lose in my book.

Schloss Schönbrunn, Vienna, Austria

Schönbrunn in Vienna – a fairytale kind of palace. I find it too clean.

I think all of this just proves how much about travel and discovery is about the chemistry between the traveller and the place, and how very much it is like falling in love. Some places – as some men – are perfect. But they’re just not for you.

What do you think? Do you disagree with me on my picks? Are there any places everyone loves that you don’t see anything in at all?

On Solo Travel and the Benefits of Being Selfish

Many bloggers have written their pieces on why they travel solo. Blogs by „solo female travellers“ have come to form a whole niche of its own. I guess I am part of that category, although I never much perceived myself as such. I would hope my blog’s selling points are mainly its focus on Eastern Europe and my writing style – not the fact that I travel solo or that I happen to be a woman. Regardless of this, I will share my thoughts on discovering the world on my own, why I love it and what it has given me. Because it has truly made me a better person.

My faithful Backpack, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaMy five month trip to Central Eastern Europe and the Balkans in 2010 started off by a conversation with my sister that went like this:

Me: I’d love to travel after my Master’s…
Her: Why don’t you?
Me: Well no one wants to go where I want to go, no one wants to go to Eastern Europe. I don’t have anyone who would come with!
Her: Why don’t you go on your own?

At this point I had a whole speech in my head within split seconds that offered a gazillion reasons of why that was completely impossible. I never delivered it. Instead I said:

You’re right. I should go alone!

And henceforth, I never wanted a travel partner. I wanted to do this all on my own. Because I could. And I did.

On that trip, my first station in a new country was Budapest in Hungary. I remember getting off the train at Keleti Station, looking around and wanting to take in everything that I saw. I remember distinctly how sunlight fell onto people and trains, and I remember how much I loved the fact that old men were playing chess in the rail heads.

Keleti Station, Budapest, HungaryMost places that I arrived at – in fact most places I have visited at all – in someone else’s company have not left such a vivid imprint on my soul. Later that day I sat by the synagogue, and next to me a group of eight German girls were discussing their next move. Every single one of them wanted to do something different – have lunch. Go shopping. See a museum. Have lunch, but at a different place. Their fussy discussion and indecisiveness annoyed me. Not enough to spoil my mood, but enough to thank God for being on my own. I loved it from the first second.

Travelling solo, essentially, is a very selfish act. In many ways it erases necessity of consideration, compassion, compromise. My solo trip was all about me. Does that sound horrible? I think it should not.  I think this great focus on myself allowed me to be the best possible version of myself.

Rose - could be anywhere in the Balkans...For the first time in years, I listened to my inner voices. I got re-acquainted – or should I just say acquainted at all? – with my physical and mental needs. When I felt exhausted, I stopped. When I felt energetic, I moved on. Every new place I came to, I had the opportunity of liking or disliking it by my very own standards. I did not feel forced to like a place just because everyone marvelled at it, or hate a place because the guide book made it out to be less than perfect. I just listened intently to what was going on inside of me. The more I listened, the better I could hear my inner voices and the more I came to terms with them. I had so much time to spend with myself that I got to points when all the thoughts were thought, when a gigantic silence filled me whole and I managed to live and exist completely in the moment. Those may have been my happiest moments.

This is also why I hardly ever felt lonely on that trip. I was alone a lot, but it did me nothing but good – and loneliness, to me, is a forced, involuntary state that I connect with feeling left out and unloved. Being alone, on the other hand, is about finding yourself and learning how to be your own good company. I have written about this when I discussed bravery in travel.

I think some people manage to be in perfect balance with themselves with someone else around. For me that has always been very hard to do. Solo travel has taught me how it feels to be in balance with myself, to have come to terms with myself, to be okay with myself. It is not only something that I still benefit from in my daily life and of course in my travels. I think it is also something that my friends, family and travel buddies benefit from. Not to say that I manage it every day – but I have been there, and that means that I can get there again. If necessary, I will just throw in a quick solo trip somewhere. I know that it will do the trick.

Veliko Tarnovo, BulgariaSolo travel might not be or everyone, and it might not be the ultimate and only travel mode – because no such thing exists. I don’t think I will want to travel solo to the end of my days. I mentioned recently how discovering a place together with someone else was a new, exciting and beautiful experience for me. In my personal case, though, I had to go through being alone with myself, I had to go solo, before I could truly come to appreciate the company without losing myself. It was never about loneliness. It was always about self-discovery and personal development – as will be the case when I give up solo travel and go to places with someone else.

What do you think? Do you travel solo, with a partner or with friends? Do you think there is a difference between being alone and being lonely?

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.


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.

Hanseatic Beauty – Pearls Along the Baltic

On my blog I have repeatedly referred to the „hanseatic beauty“ of certain places. I have also frequently linked back my passion for this specific beauty with my home town of Hamburg and the stamp it has left forever on my soul. Now I don’t know how much anyone who is not acquainted with Northern Europe might be acquainted with what I mean by hanseatic, but I think everyone should be, because really, if a city is a Hanse city, in my book it is pretty much down as a must see travel destination.

Lübeck, Germany

Lübeck, Germany – the city called the Queen of the Hanseatic League

The Hanseatic League, or Hanse, was a trade union in the Middle Ages that linked together different port cities mainly in the Baltic, but also in the North Sea. Between the cities that were part of it, there were beneficial trade regulations and diplomatic privileges. They formed a network of support all over Northern Europe. In some ways, through their mutual history, they still feel obliged and connected to one another today. There used to be very many of them. In Germany, seven cities carry the name Hansestadt, Hanse city, until today: Hamburg, Bremen, Lübeck, Rostock, Stralsund, Greifswald and Wismar. In other countries, well known cities that used to be part of the Hanse are Gdańsk, Toruń and Szczecin in Poland, Riga in Latvia, Tallinn in Estonia, Stockholm in Sweden, Antwerp in Belgium and Groningen in the Netherlands.

What all these cities share is that they have been places of trade, mainly sea trade, for centuries. That means one thing above all: They are all connected to the water. Every Hanse city is located either directly by the sea or at least by a river, and in every one of them water plays a great role when you look at the city’s general build-up.

Skyline, Tallinn, Estonia

View to Tallinn’s dowtown over the Tallinn Bay in the Gulf of Finland

Where there is water, there are certain other things. Like bridges!! Hamburg, they say, has more bridges than Venice. That might be due to the fact that Hamburg is just a lot bigger than Venice, but it only makes sense that Hanse cities should have a lot of bridges given that their key feature is being built close to water. I have written about some of them in this post on Riga and this post on Greifswald.

My second favourite symbol after the bridge may be the ship, signifying travel, movement, and freedom, and yes, of course there are lots of ships in Hanse cities. I love the port atmosphere of Hamburg’s huge and bustling port, the second biggest in Europe after Rotterdam, with its cranes and its overall industrial charm, just as much as I love the cosy and cute museum port in Greifswald with its old sailing boats and wooden masts. Size doesn’t matter in this one, as long as the sound of seagulls is to be heard.

Port, Hamburg, Germany

View of the cranes in the port in Hamburg, Germany – from the ferris wheel at Hamburg’s funfair Hamburger Dom

Next to the water, there is usually another specific feature of a Hanse city – the granaries. Where there was trade, there had to be places where to store the goods. In Hamburg there is a whole district called Speicherstadt – granary city. Now, what could possibly be so interesting about a couple of old storage buildings? The architecture!! The typical hanseatic granary is built from red brick stone. It is my favourite material, above all because it looks different and equally beautiful in any weather. In sunshine it will glow fiery, and in grey and misty rain it will keep its earthy, honest feel.

Waterfront, Gdansk, Poland

Waterfront with granaries in Gdansk, Poland

Speicherstadt, Hamburg, Germany

Granary City – Speicherstadt – in Hamburg, with the brick stone granaries on the right

Not only the granaries feature red brick stone in Hanse cities. Most landmarks in any of the cities are made from this material. There is a style called Brick Gothic that is predominant along the Baltic Sea. This is of course because in this area, there were no natural stone ressources, but clay from which the bricks are burnt. Although this is not directly related to their hanseatic character, I love this style of architecture and it feels like home to me. Find a few iconic examples here:

Monastery ruins, Eldena / Greifswald, Germany

Monastery ruins of Eldena in Greifswald, Germany

House of Black Heads, Riga, Latvia

House of Black Heads in Riga, Latvia

Holstentor, Lübeck, Germany

Holstentor in Lübeck, Germany – Lübeck was called the Queen of the Hanse in the Middle Ages and the richest and most important city in the league

By these elements – water, ports, and red brick stone architecture – I would recognize a Hanse city at any given moment. But what also factors in my love for these places is the mentality of the people. We are talking about places here that have been connected to the world via trade for ages, and that have therefore acquired an international feel for an equally long time. The Hamburg coat of arms has a city gate on it – the Gate to the World, they say. The Bremen coat of arms holds the Key to this very Gate to the World. Hanseats take pride in being open, curious, and worldly. They are direct, engaging, honourable people who make their word count. Sometimes they come across as a little blunt or harsh, but the warmth they display given a little time is heartfelt and true. They will usually greet you with a handshake – but when they hug you roughly, you will know that they mean it. I know where I am at with Hanseats.

In my honest opinion, all of these cities that I have mentioned here are horribly underrated as travel destinations. Most of them are close to one or even several beautiful beaches that grant you delicious summer fun when you come at the right time of year and that won’t be as overcrowded as Mediterranean beaches. The cities all have a long and proud history and a rich cultural life, of course each in relation to its size. The people are generally friendly and curious for the world, used to visitors and open to whatever travellers have to contribute to city life. Personally, I may at times have trouble with German patriotism, and what I say now may go against all I have said about pride so far – but I am truly proud of being a Hanseat.

Have you been to any of these places? Do you think they make good travel destinations?

„Eastern Europe? Why???“

Ever since I have more seriously joined the travel blogosphere, I have met all kinds of great people, read very many wonderful stories, narratives and articles on all kinds of different destinations, been part of a few excellent twitter chats on travelling and gotten to know a lot of different travel ways, fashions and likes. I am learning so much and I really love the community. There is just one thing that strikes me again and again, and it is time that I took up the cudgels for something that is almost ridiculously under-represented in the travel blogging community – and that is my beloved Eastern Europe.

Sveti Stefan, Montenegro

Montenegro – did you know that Eastern Europe was this beautiful?

When I told people that I would travel for a while after grad school, the most common response was: „Oh cool. South East Asia or South America?“ When I said: „South Eastern Europe!“, faces went aghast and a little freaked out. The most common verbal response: „Whyyyyyy???“

I never really know what to say to this. I guess „Why not?“ is an appropriate response. Or more like „Why the hell not??“ I do notice that both in- and outside of Europe, a lot of people still think that Europe ends at the Eastern boarder of Germany. Travel bloggers write that they have been to Europe, but by that they mean Rome, Paris, London, Barcelona and Berlin. There are the few odd exceptions that include Prague, Budapest and Krakow. But while no one would have to justify why they want to see Bretagne or Andalusia or Tuscany, a lot of people don’t even know about Mavrovo, Tatra or the Curonian Spit (FYI, those are in Macedonia, Poland/Slovakia and Lithuania).

There are still many misconceptions about the countries that used to be hidden behind the iron curtain. I would really love it if I could eradicate some of them here. Most of the things I have heard are variations of the three things I discuss below.

1. There’s not really anything to see in Eastern Europe. It is ugly and has nothing to offer apart from relics of its Socialist past.

If you think this is true, you could not be more wrong. Eastern Europe has it all – thriving cities, gorgeous little villages, beautiful mountain ranges, beaches, swamps, forests, even what is widely considered the last European jungle (in North Eastern Poland, it is called Bialowieza). It is both for the nature lovers and for the culture lovers amongst us. It is extremely rich in history; from the Balkans that used to be under Ottoman rule and show the Muslim influence via Central Eastern Europe with its Austro-Hungarian grandeur to the Baltic Republics with their very own strive for freedom after being forced to be a part of the Soviet Union. Or would you say that this is ugly or uninteresting?

Sarajevo, Bosnia and Hercegovina

Bosnia and Hercegovina – in Sarajevo, you have a minarette and the towers of the orthodox and the catholic cathedral all in this picture.

Ohrid, Macedonia

Macedonia – at Lake Ohrid you have a gorgeous view onto Albania

Ksamil, Albania

Albania – yes, Eastern Europe holds beaches that can stand their ground in an international comparison!

Kosice, Slovakia

Slovakia – this beautiful town, Kosice, is actual European Culture Capital 2013!

2. People in Eastern Europe are rude and unfriendly. They don’t like Westerners there.

Ok, this must be the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. I have never experienced hospitality like this anywhere else. Couchsurfing hosts insisting on me sleeping in their beds and taking the floor instead. The genuine interest in any traveller and the smile on someone’s face when they learn that you are in their country just to see it for its beauty. The enormous amounts of food people will get from the most hidden corners of their houses when someone comes to visit. The bus driver in Albania between Tirana and Berat who didn’t speak English, but called his son, passed us his phone and had his son tell us in English that if we needed anything, he’d gladly be of service. The girl in the internet cafe in Plovdiv in Bulgaria that ran after me for two street blocks in 40 degrees heat to bring me my water bottle that I had forgotten. The boy in Riga in Latvia who took us to the train station personally when we had asked the way. Need I say more?

Mostar, Bosnia and Hercegovina

Bosnia and Hercegovina – Hostel hospitality with Bosnian coffee in the morning

3. Travelling in Eastern Europe is challenging because the living standards are low and they only speak those weird languages with the many consonants. 

Clearly anyone who says this has never been to Eastern Europe. Most of the countries that fall under this category are part of the European Union. Even if they aren’t, the Union is funding lots of projects in other European countries to maintain infrastructure and help growth and development. Out of the Eastern European countries that did join the EU in 2004 and 2007, Slovenia, Slovakia and Estonia have the Euro. This is where another misconception comes in – Eastern Europe is not necessarily cheap anymore. I found places like Tallinn, Estonia to have higher prices in their downtown coffee places than Berlin. Living standards rising is a complicated issue, and sometimes I wish my favorite places could forever keep their morbid, slightly run down charme (like the Wroclaw Train Station in Poland). It is a fact however, that travelling in Eastern Europe is hardly a challenge anymore. All the young people speak English, and if the lady at the ticket counter doesn’t, someone is sure to help you out (see above). And the languages are weird, but really, are the languages in Asia any better? At any rate, Eastern Europe is more Western than Western Europe at times. Capitalism has hit hard and fast. Coffee places, bars, clubs, restaurants, but also opera houses, museums and theatres will shower you with a diverse offer that you won’t even be able to digest so fast. How about a visit to one of these places?

Lviv, Ukraine

Ukraine – Opera House in Lviv

Belgrade, Serbia

Serbia – National Museum in Belgrade

Tallinn, Estonia

Estonia – having the richest hot chocolate ever in a living room coffee house in Tallinn downtown

Summing it up, I really don’t understand about the weird looks and shocked reactions. I can just strongly advice everyone to go and experience the amazingness of Eastern Europe for themselves. But hurry. Once word is out, the place will be flooded with tourists.

Have you been to anywhere in (Central, South or North) Eastern Europe? Did you love it or hate it? What other places are there that people are suspicious of travelling to?

Bearpit Karaoke – Mauerpark on a Sunday

When I find myself shaken with travel fever and I am really itching to get away, but I’m stuck in the grey, weird, awesome and stressful monstrosity that is Berlin, Bearpit Karaoke at Mauerpark is a remedy that has proven to be helpful every single time for several reasons. I’ll take you on a quick stroll through a Sunday afternoon at the pit to explain to you why that is.

On any given Sunday between sometime in Spring and the last halfway decent day in Autumn, I will get to the pit and there will still be a gymnast, a magician or a stand up comedian heating up the crowd that is bound to be sitting on the steps already. As long as they are still going, I will peform the art of choosing the right place to sit (not too close to the speakers, perfect distance from the stage, preferably in the sun etc.). When around three o’clock the artist of the day will have wrapped it up, Joe Hatchiban arrives with his orange bike that magically transports everything he needs to get the show started – including speakers specifically designed for the pit’s acoustic conditions, wicked!! And the cheering begins. And I cheer, too, for Bearpit Karaoke heals my travel itch, as it is a bit like travelling in itself. And here are the reasons why:

Mariella MauerparkReason #1: It is a place completely out of space and time. If you took this little patch of land and isolated it from its surroundings, there would be no way to tell where you took it from. The language that is spoken most is English with any given accent, and the German accent is not necessarily the most common one in the crowd. I could forget that I am not abroad when I am here. There literally are people present aged 1 through 80 from any country with any background. 


Reason #2: Everyone’s equal in the pit. Because the crowd – I am horrible with estimating numbers, but appearantly there are more than a thousand onlookers on a sunny day – will cheer with equal enthusiasm for someone who is really horrible and for someone who is just rockstar amazing. The people will reward what the performance manages to get across – and even someone who cannot sing can make a thousand people dance, or laugh, or just plain feel something.

CIMG9527Reason #3: When I am there, it is easy to believe that the world is a good place. There is an image that is among my most favorite memories ever. Joe always walks around with a tin collecting donations. The way that everyone stretches out their arms to him is getting to me every time. People are doing it not because they want to take something from him, but because they want to give something to him! There is this immense willingness to give back for all the joy that this event imposes upon everyone who is there. And it looks so beautiful when Joe is jumping up and down stairs and arms are reaching for the tin from every direction to underline the feeling of gratefulness that encircles the pit. Really I am not here to flatter, but Joe is a pretty awesome dude for making this all happen.

Reason #4: Unexpected things happen. A blind Brasilian girl is led to the stage, seeming insecure, and then she’s singing the Scorpions‘ „Rock me like a hurricane“ like an absolute pro. A plain, short, bearded man that in teh street you would easily overlook is coming into the centre and then singing a German version of Sinatra’s „My way“ with so much soul and ernest that you’re just completely taken by him (granted, he is not bearded anymore and also he does this every Sunday, but the first time it is really unexpected! And also, it doesn’t cease to be endearing). Most recently, four people are starting to sing „Gangnam Style“ and all the remains of the pit are storming the stage and starting to dance. There are marriage proposals. Declarations of Love. And just plain old good entertainment.

Reason #5: When I travel, I never have to care about tomorrow – just about the moment. When I am singing for an audience, I feel the same way. Yes, I am a sucker for the stage. I love singing, and I love the funny things that stagefright does to my tummy – especially when there is an audience that I do not know. I find it much harder to perform for people I care about, because I put a lot more pressure on myself. At the pit I go in there and I’m allowed to forget about my ambitions. I just let go and sing. And I return to my seat with adrenalin shooting through my body, and I am feeling alive. There really is no need to be afraid of a performance at the pit. Nothing to lose. Just a whole lot to gain.

As I make my way back to my bike through the park when the show is over, past all the people with their guitars, their drum sets made from cans and boxes, their artwork, their dancing, their hula hooping or whatever else they may have on display, I can’t believe that I am walking on what used to be the death strip. To my left – the former West. To my right – the former East. Today it’s multiculturalism at its best. And a whole lot of happy up for grabs.
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