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The Things I Love About Poland – Part I

My self-imposed focus when it comes to travel and thus, to writing (since most of the time one means the other for me) is Eastern Europe. How that came about is a long story. But one part in it is certain: that it all starts – and possibly ends – with Poland.

I would be lying if I said I had always had a fascination for that part of the world. When asked on a study trip in high school, I distinctly remember saying: „What in the WORLD would I want to see in POLAND?!?!?“ I went to Greece instead, which was nice. But it is no Poland.

Pasym, Poland

Pasym, a beautiful small town in the Mazury Lake District

How did my love affair with Poland come about then? In college I needed a second major adding to the one I had always known I wanted to get – German literature. I chose Polish. One of the questions I must have been asked most in my life is certainly: „Why Polish???“ – usually asked with an undertone of utter disbelief. Well, it was a mixture of random reasons, but really, most of it was gut feeling. And the older I get, the more I believe that this is a better reason for decisions than most others.

From then on, it all just added up. Poland and I are, in a way, meant to be. I’ve come to love it more and more. And here is why.

1. The Cities

Poland’s cities are special. They are different from the cities I have seen elsewhere – they are beautiful and ugly, and full of atmosphere and history. And they are very different from one another. That is best displayed in contrasting Warsaw and Cracow – without feeding on the rivalry between the two. They compliment each other in the best possible way – Warsaw is grey, progressive, and full of hipster culture and modern art. Cracow is traditional, conservative, and insanely pretty.

Palace of Culture, Warsaw, Poland

Warsaw’s Palace of Culture – a gift from Stalin to the country and an impressive example of socialist architecture

Sukiennice, Cracow, Poland

Cracow’s main market square, the largest medieval square of its kind in Europe, with the beautiful Sukiennice (Cloth Hall)

Travelling in Poland, one should obviously not neglect the other urban gems, though. Wrocław might be the most accessible city for foreigners, and it somewhat combines the best of the two previously mentioned cities. Gdańsk has the added selling point that it is right by the Baltic Sea and, as an old hanseatic port city, has a tradition of being very open-minded and down-to-earth. Poznań may have the prettiest market square I have ever been to. And I haven’t even been to Łódź or Lublin. Indulge!

Market Square, Poznan, Poland

Poznan’s beautiful market square

2. The Sense of History

When travelling in Poland, it is impossible to miss the active memory culture that the country has. Memorials are all around. For a history freak like me, that is just plainly wonderful. Poles generally know their country’s history much better than Germans from my experience. They are aware of their country’s proud past as a mighty kingdom in the middle ages, and their painful loss of territory which forced them to exist as a nation without a country between 1795 and 1918. They have been in an unfortunate geographical position in the 20th century, wedged between the Germans and the Russians, and it has shaped their identity. They have fought for their culture time and time again, and they are proud of it while still being critical of it. And they know that it is important to remember the past.

Shipyards, Gdansk, Poland

Memorial to the victims of the strikes in the Gdansk shipyards in 1970. Most of the fight against the socialist regime was yet to come. The memorial was one of the early achievements of the Solidarnosc movement that contributed significantly to the downfall of socialism in Europe.

3. The Hospitality

None of the above would mean a lot if it wasn’t brought to me by the most hospitable, caring, genuinely kind and wonderful people. If for a woman the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, for a country the way to my heart is through its people. Hospitality in Poland is of dimensions that were unknown to me before I came there. They are so much less distrustful than Germans are. Don’t be surprised if you ask someone for directions and they walk you to your destinations. Don’t be surprised either if they invite you to their home for dinner – and don’t say no. I’m getting to the food in the follow-up post! In short, it is easy to make friends in Poland – and you will want to make friends there if you want to truly see through the more complicated dimensions of the country’s history and culture and get to taste the truly amazing vodka.

Friends, Grudziadz, Poland

My friends Agnieszka and Karol are among my favourite people in the world. I met them in Gdansk, but this was when Karol took us on a roadtrip to visit his hometown Grudziadz.

4. The Language

Ah, that singsong sound of the Polish language with all the freaky consonants and a few nasal vowels. That grammar that drove me up the wall when I learned it, but is capable of expressing things so precisely, so uniquely, most of all so differently from German. The germanisms like wihajster, literally whatshisname and used for any random thing you can’t find a name for; and the anglicisms with their weird spelling that turns manager into menedżer.

I have been learning Polish for ten years, I cursed it and loved it, and was always pretty sure I’d never actually be able to speak it. But I’m getting there, one tongue twisting hell at a time, and loving every step of the way.

Signs in Gdansk, Poland

German – Polish – English. How I love it when translations come out all weird and funny as they do in this German sign outside a ramshackle building. It sounds as though the building was a person, verbally threatening to cripple or kill the visitor.

5. The Music

When learning a language as twisted as Polish, music is of huge help. I know about half my Polish vocabulary from song lyrics – singing along, trying to understand what’s going on, sometimes actually translating the lyrics at home at my desk. Over the years I have been in touch with Polish pop, rock, rap, reggae, folk, and basically everything in between. I will just give you a few examples here. The Polish equivalent of the Rolling Stones is the rock band Dżem. Their song „List do M“ was the first Polish song I knew by heart, and it is a beautful and sad rock ballad.

A specific kinf of music I got to know in Poland is Klezmer. It is a Jewish musical tradition, not so big on lyrics, but mainly instrumental, using different instruments to make beautiful, yearning, sighing, swinging music played often at celebrations of any kind. The band Kroke may be the most famous Polish Klezmer band.

My personal favourite is the Polish singer / songwriter tradition that brought forth many wonderful artists I listen to almost every day. It is quite folksy, and if we translated the lyrics, most would run away screaming for they drip with Kitsch – but in Polish, they somehow work. There is a tradition called Poezja śpiewana, Sung Poetry, that is especially well known for its poetic song lyrics. Jacek Kaczmarski, whose most famous song „Mury“ I put here for you, is a bit of a special case. His songs are much more political, and he is often referred top as the Barde of the Solidarność, the trade union and political movement that brought down socialism in Poland.

If you find I am missing things, rest assured that I will probably mention them in my follow up post on more things I love about Poland. It will discuss the landscapes, the food (and the vodka…), the literature, the beauty of Polish swearwords, and the incomparable Polish sense of humour.

Have you been to Poland? What do you love about the country? Or was there anything you didn’t like at all?

Bridge in Leipzig, Germany

Last year, I wrote a bridge post about a bridge in Stuttgart where I met up with three friends from grad school. We are making this meet-up an annual thing, and this year it took us to Leipzig.

Bridge, Leipzig, GermanyJust like last year, the weekend with the girls left me inspired, grateful, and all in all fulfilled. I have never had a stable group of „my girls“ that has accompanied me through me entire life. Funnily enough, the girls and I didn’t even hang out all the time when we were studying, and we are not the kinds who speak on the phone every week. But out meetings have come to be something I look forward to all year.

The bridge metaphor I used on last year’s post still holds true – we are crossing through stages of our lives together, and once a year we meet and discuss what is going on, how we see the world, what is on our minds. We are alike enough to understand each other, but different enough to learn from each one’s perspective. On my way home to Berlin, I thought: „Well, now we’re going to make new experiences for a year, and next time those experiences will help us explain life to each other, as they do every year.“ I have to say I can’t wait.

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!

A Hidden Gem in Pomerania – Grudziądz

When I came to Gdańsk in February, my friend Karol suggested that one of these days he’d show me his home town Grudziądz, some 120 kilometers south of Trójmiasto (Tricity, the city complex Gdańsk is part of). Grudziądz is one of the countless middle sized towns in Western Poland with a long and difficult Polish-German history – and in that sense it might not be immensely unique. However, I have come to find out that each and every one of these places has their own charms and their own stories to tell; and all the more so when you get to discover them with a local. I never had to think twice. So on this beautiful day in May, Karol and our mutual friend Aga pick me up at the hostel. We pack up our umbrellas – it is supposed to be a warm but rainy day – and board Karol’s little old Opel to leave Gdańsk in bright sunshine.

I have already described my very first impression of the town in this post. We approach the city via Malinowski bridge and the cityscape touches upon those places in my heart reserved for a feeling of home. I love it instantaneously. As we pull into town, we park the car in the parking lot of Karol’s old school.

Liceum, Grudziądz, PolandBeautiful red brick stone buildings abound, and students dressed up in suits and fancy dresses – Aga walks up to them and asks them how their matura went, the final exams in Polish high school. They smile shyly and say it went okay, and that the subject was English. I’m reminded of my own high school days. None of us really dressed smugly for the finals. I like it, it adds meaning to the occasion.

We walk back to the main street and buy tram tickets at the machine to take a little round trip of the city. The tram is old fashioned and cute.

Tram, Grudziądz, PolandIt goes right through the narrow and tiny cobble stone streets in the old town. As Aga points out, in Gdańsk it only goes along the large alleys in specific tram trails. Here, cars drive over the tram tracks as well, the ride is thus very lively and gives you a good idea of city life in Grudziądz. We pass by beautiful old houses, in Polish they are called Kamienice which derives from the word kamień, meaning stone.

Kamienice, Grudziądz, PolandThere are so many of them, the historic structure of the town is amazing – unfortunately they are not too well kept. I personally love the morbid charme that this entails, but Karol rightfully points out that the city deserves to be beautiful to its full potential, and that is not nearly reached. Many buildings are empty on their ground floors where there should be little shops and buzzing life. But I only notice that because Karol and Agnieszka point it out much to me. I revel in the towns gorgeous scenery and in its liveliness as people are walking down the streets in bright early summer sunshine.

Kamienice, Grudziądz, Poland

After the tram ride, we walk through the narrow streets lined with Kamienice towards the Rynek, the market square.

Rynek, Grudziądz, PolandIt is your typical Polish market square with pretty old town houses and a monument in the middle. I love these wide open spaces in the middle of an urban area. They give me breathing space and let me see the sky, the add light and freshness to the comfort of narrow streets and tiny alleyways.

Karol then takes us up the castle hill and shows us beautiful views of the Vistula river to one side and over the town to the other. It smells like spring, and everything’s in blossom. The leaves on the trees haven’t sprung to their full-fledged green splendour yet – they are still young and light and careful, like symbols of hope.

View from Castle Hill, Grudziądz, PolandAfter a walk through the botanical garden and a delicious lunch at a Chinese restaurant, we come back to the water front. It may well be my favorite place in Grudziądz. The granaries and the city gate Brama Wodna, Water Gate, sit proudly and eternally next to the glistening river that flows on ever so steadily, ever so calmly, with a certainty I wish I had when it comes to planning my own life.

Waterfront, Grudziądz, PolandNext to the raftman’s monument, there is a collection of street signs nailed onto wooden posts of streets all around Europe named after Grudziądz. There is one in Gdańsk, one in Hamburg, and one in Berlin:

Street signs, Grudziądz, PolandI find it once more ever so meaningful how in German towns, the streets will be named after Graudenz, which is the German name of Grudziądz, when in Poland they will obviously use the city’s contemporary name. Of course there is German heritage in the city – many of the mentioned Kamienice were surely built when the place was German, and the granaries and the castle area remind of the Teutonic Knights who reigned here in the middle ages. Still, Grudziądz is nothing but Polish to me. I had a short conversation about this with a German guy in the hostel in Gdańsk who said he felt a certain melancholy in the presence of the German heritage of this area, and a sense of loss. I have no idea what that must feel like. This is not lost to me! This is more than accessible, and it is part of me in a new, great way, it is home away from home, it is Polish, but it is not strange or foreign.

To finish off the day, as we drive out of town, Karol turns soon enough after the other side of Malinowski bridge and takes us to the other shore of the Vistula river to show us this stunning view of his home town:

Grudziądz, PolandThe sun has gone down a little, clouds are collecting. The Polish obłoki, tiny cute white fluffy clouds, have turned into chmury, big grey rain clouds, so the promised windstorm may come upon us after all – but for now the sky is still blue, and the summer’s day’s light is still bouncing off the glistening surface of the river. What a blessing to have friends to live through days like these with, and what a gift to be able to visit places like this one in this world.

St Paul’s Cathedral the Non-Touristy Way

Dieser Post basiert auf diesem deutschen Originalpost.

Sometimes the reasons that make me want to see a place are not the most rational. The reason I wanted to see Prague, for example, was a Donald Duck pocket book that had an adaption of Franz Kafka’s „The Metamorphosis“. It started by the words: „Prague – the golden city by Vltava river…“ I read it when I was 9 years old, and I imagined golden rooftops and a golden river and golden sunshine, and I heard in my head the sound of Smetana’s Vltava, a piece I had already learned to love back then, and I wanted to see this magical place more than anything. When I went there 12 years later, it was every bit as golden as I had always pictured it to be, and the music played in my head and heart all the while I was there.

I had a similar reason I had wanted to see London for a long time. Not because of Big Ben, or the London Eye, or the Houses of Parliament, or Westminster Abbey. Not because of Oliver Twist or Peter Pan. I was always just drawn to one place – St Paul’s Cathedral. And again the reason was musical: Walt Disney’s Mary Poppins and her song about the little old bird woman selling breadcrumbs to feed the birds with.

Originally I had wanted to visit a service at Westminster Abbey that morning – but there was security and a lot of people in uniforms moving about in a concerted way that struck me as rather funny and not as awe-inspiring as it maybe was supposed to. At any rate the service could only be visited if you held a ticket. Sometimes fast decisions have to be made. I ran to catch a tube, and another, running up the streets, and I reached St Paul’s having to catch my breath.

St Paul's, London, EnglandThe service hadn’t started yet, but it was high time, and so my first impression of the building was very different from what I had envisioned. I had seen myself carefully approach the church and slowly take in all the details, I had pictured myself walking about, barely being able to keep myself from humming the song about the old bird woman. Instead I ran and rushed up the stairs, „To the service?“ someone asked, I nodded, had a leaflet stuck into my hand, the sound of the ringing bells in my ears, and only found it in myself to calm down when I had already crossed through half of the nave. Finally slowly, I took step upon step forward to finally reach the dome, lift my head and let my eyes wander across it. Instantaneously, tears were running down my cheeks. I never even noticed the moment when I started crying. The beauty, the sublimity of it was completely out of this world. An usher approached me and asked: „Alright?“ I stammered: „It’s so beautiful!“

I sat down in one of the benches rather shyly. I love going to church in foreign countries, because every service in a different language or of a different confession that I have seen has only made my belief stronger that faith is universal, and spirituality transgresses the ideas of different religions. In this place of such great festivity, however, I was a little uneasy at the thought of someone realizing that I was somehow different, somehow not part of this. After all I had – and, as I shamefully must admit, still have – practically no idea about the Church of England and their principles.

As soon as the service started, however, all of this went away. There was a men’s choir all dressed in frocks. Their singing was unearthly, the sounds resonated with something deep inside my soul, and the melodies stretched out into the church dome and felt eternal. They were more solemn, more mighty than I knew church music at home to be, and they seemed to dissolve barriers inside of me and allowed me to fully give in to the entire emotional range that was at my disposition.

The sermon on the other hand was a graceful combination of philosophical depths and true-to-life happiness. It was about equality, and there was one sentence that has never left me since, and that said: „We are all one in Jesus Christ, whether we are male or female, black or white, straight or gay.“ I had never heard someone speak about matters of sexual orientation equality in a church, and I was equally impressed and touched. I do not think the sentiment of that sentence only holds valid for those who believe in Jesus. Equality is a value that is rooted in humanity, not in Christianity. This phrase is just a specifically Christian way of saying something that is bigger than any specific confession.

I left the service happier than I had gone in. I think that is what I like about religious services. They keep me from becoming cynic and restore my idealism somewhat – however much religious institutions may also have the power to destroy that same idealism when I look at other actions they take every day. Is it phony of me to concentrate mainly on those parts of it that go with my own belief system? I don’t know – what harm can it do if it may help me to be a better person?

Karlshöhe in Stuttgart, Germany

The bridge I am showing you today may not be spectacular, but I absolutely love how the picture turned out. Karlshöhe, Stuttgart, GermanyThis weekend, I met up in Stuttgart with my girlfriends from grad school. Even though I used to live very close, I never saw much of Stuttgart before. My friend lives here now, and being shown around by her I got a whole new perspective on the city. As if it hadn’t been enough to be around wonderful people and feel that great sensation when you haven’t seen someone in a while, but it still all feels as though you had seen each other yesterday, we were also really lucky with the weather. Spring was definitely coming about yesterday as we strolled through Stuttgart’s fairer corners.

After we had taken a beautiful walk through a forrest that was still wintery, we came back down into the residential areas of Stuttgart’s South. Beautiful houses lined the steep streets, and the sun was bright and warm to a degree that it really felt like winter was over. We decided to get a drink on Karlshöhe, another small hill that had a cute little restaurant. In search of the place, we came across a dent on the hilltop. The bridge in the picture led over that dent, and as my friends crossed it and I took this picture, I had so many associations once again that dealt with transgression. Me and these girls, together we’ve crossed over from being students to having jobs. Maybe also from being girls to being women. Now together we were crossing from winter to spring. And I really hope they’ll be around for more crossings into the next stages of my life.

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!

What’s one more Identity?

A couple of weeks back I was having drinks in Berlin’s Prenzlauer Berg district with Adam of Travels of Adam – if you haven’t yet stumbled upon his great blog you should make up this oversight as quickly as you can. We had a great evening of drinking wine and chatting about travel, life in Berlin and blogging. We finally left the bar to walk to the tram stop together, and when we had just one more pedestrians’ traffic light to cross, we saw the tram get in to the stop. The traffic light was red. It was obvious that we’d miss the tram if we waited for it to turn green. Adam asked: “Wait or run?” I said: “Run!”, and so we did. As we got on the tram, Adam said: “You are so unlike any other German I know, I love it!”

This got me thinking back on all the times my German identity has been questioned – even if in jest.

In Bristol, England, I walked into a coffee shop to buy a latte. After taking my order, the barista asked: “So how are you today?” I replied: “Really grand! Enjoying being away from home for a bit.” He asked: “Where’s home?” I said: “Germany.” He looked up puzzled: “I thought you were Canadian! You don’t have a foreign accent in your English!”

In Mostar, Bosnia, hostel owner Bata gave me advice on how to get into one of my favorite sights, Blagaj’s Tekkija, without having to pay an entrance fee. He said: “You’re almost local, you just tell them ‘Gdje si, legendo!’ [which roughly translated to ‘What’s up, my man!’] and pass right through.”

Tekija, Blagaj, Blagaj, Bosnia and Hercegovina

The Tekija of Blagaj, one of my favorite places in the world

In Rijeka, Croatia, we were having a lovely night in someone’s back yard singing, dancing and, again, drinking the night away. I sang songs in Croatian and was totally in my happy place. My friend Nina said: “You have strange hobbies for a German girl, Maki. Shouldn’t you be working in a Hypo Bank and have a boyfriend that you see just once a week?”

In Nis, Serbia, I was hanging with hostel people in the smokers’ lounge when the phone rang. The hostel owner, Vlad, ran to get it, leaving his cigarette in the ashtray. When he didn’t come back after a while, I took it and said: “Vlad won’t finish this, eh, I might as well.” His co-worker by the same name looked at me in awe and said: “When you try to get back into Germany, they won’t let you. They will think you’re Serbian.

Hanging out in Maribor, SloveniaIn Novi Sad, Serbia, we were singing, drinking and eating Ajvar in my friend Lazar’s kitchen well into the night. Ajvar is a delicious paste made from egg plant, tomatoes and peppers. There was a large jar of it and one spoon, and it circled. When the jar was almost empty and Lazar was scratching remains from the ground, I advised him to do it with the spoon’s narrow end to get even the last bits out. His face split into a grin. “You blend in very well here.”

In Gdansk, Poland, I was visiting a conference, but hanging out nights with my friends who use a lot of swear words, especially the infamous “kurwa”, an approximate equivalent to the English f-word. Finally one night I told them: “Guys, you gotta stop it with the swearing. I almost said ‘kurwa’ at the conference today!” They all broke into laughter, and my friend Karol said: “Marielka, I think you may have deserved the right to Polish citizenship now.

Sejm, Warsaw, Poland

This is me at the Sejm, Polish parliament, in 2007. I wouldn’t have thought back then that anyone would ever attest me a Polish identity…

It looks like I’m not your prototype German. I’m not sure what that would be, but apparently not someone who crosses red traffic lights, speaks foreign languages, tries not to let food go to waste, sings Balkan songs, finishes a stranger’s cigarette, or swears (in Polish at that!). When writing about this, I noticed how many of these stories involve people in foreign countries that I consider friends. It also brought to mind that I have a Croatian nickname, Maki, and a Polish one, Marielka. I realized how integrated, how much at home I feel in so many different places.

Lake Skadar, Montenegro

When I posted this photo of my Australian friend Steve and I, taken at Lake Shkodra in Montenegro, on facebook, my German friend Stefan (who speaks approximately every language in Europe) commented it in Bosnian by the words: “Ti ces nam vratit kao prava Bosanka” – “You will come back to us like a true Bosnian girl”.

When someone attests me a new cultural identity, it is the ultimate step from being a traveller to being a part of the culture in some small way. It makes me very happy to think that I am a little Canadian, a little Croatian, Bosnian, Serbian and Polish, and of course also a little German. I like to think that I have been drawn to Middle Eastern and Eastern Europe because part of my soul has always been there, because there is something inside of me that has always been Slavic – while that doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate and identify with my German heritage. Don’t get me wrong, I’d never want to get rid of that! I throw on black, red, gold colors when we play international soccer tournaments just like any other German, and I am ready to sell Germany as a lovely travel destination to anyone who wants to hear it. I am most certainly German, and as difficult as it sometimes feels to say this: I love my country.

The beauty of all these little anecdotes, however, is that I don’t have to be exclusive on this one. This isn’t a monogamous relationship. In a globalized, fast paced, cosmopolitan world that asks of young people to be flexible, variable, willing to adapt and open to new things, I seem to have taken on multiple identities already – and with every new one that is added to that, the only question that comes to mind is: “What’s one more?” I have a beautiful summer love affair with Croatia. I have a strange fascination, an infatuation if you will, with Serbia. I have a difficult, but serious relationship with Bosnia. The US are like an ex-boyfriend who I still think very fondly of – in other words, yes, we’re still friends. Poland is something like the love of my life. I well think I could get married to Poland. And Germany – Germany is my parent and my sibling. Germany is family.

What do you think? How many identities do you have? How do they show? And do you strive for more?

Street Art in Polish – Gdańsk Zaspa

One of the things that I love about Gdańsk is the fact that every time I have been there so far, I have discovered new places and yet more incredible things. I owe this largely to the wonderful people I have met there and that have taken me to see things I wouldn’t have thought of myself. My latest visit gifted me with another hidden gem of the city – the quarter called Zaspa.

I sit in the hostel common room in the morning attending to my blog when next to me someone says: „Przepraszam!“ – which is Polish for „Excuse me“. I look up mechanically, and my friend Karol is standing next to me smiling. I’m up hugging him within split seconds. He is one of the people who, when I leave Gdańsk, ask me not if, but when I will come back. Having made friends that look forward to my returning there – that is a gift that I truly treasure.  Karol is off to show a bit of the city to two hostel guests, and I am totally up for joining them. So we’re English Terri, Belgian Dries, Polish Karol and German me as we set off for the discovery of Gdańsk beyond the Old Town.

After having shown us the university and the cathedral and the park of Oliwa (which I have written about before, but in German), Karol parks his car here:

Former airport, Zaspa / Gdansk, PolandDoesn’t look so spectacular, eh? But Karol is not only passionate about showing people around, he is also knowledgeable about the city’s past. This used to be the landing strip of an airport. Immediately things fall into place in my head. My dad has asked me a few times if the airport in Wrzeszcz still existed. I have also read about that airport in some of the novels that are set in Gdańsk and that I love. I never knew where that airport used to be, I was just sure that it didn’t exist anymore. Now all of a sudden I’m there, on the pavement of a former landing strip. And this is an important moment for me, because when my father, who was born in Eastern Prussia, today’s Mazurian Lake District, was five years old, in 1945, he fled from the Russian front with his mom and his sister, and they fled on an airplane that left from the place that I am right now standing on. Have I mentioned that I am in love with places that are densely filled with history? Gdańsk is paradise for me.

But the airport is not what we came here for. I have passed by Zaspa on the SKM, Gdańsk’s version of a metro, many times before, but I never seem to have made much of looking out the window – I figured this was basically just a residential area with socialist blocks. Seen those. Lived in one in fact. Not a huge fan. Now that we approach those blocks, I can’t understand how I have overlooked their beauty so far – which lies in the murals.

Zeppelin, Zaspa / Gdansk, Poland

A large part of the residential block buildings are dressed – yes, that is what it feels like, they are dressed up in enormous wall paintings. Socialist block residential areas have always freaked me out a bit – I find it so strange that they are really just residential. No shops. No life, really, at least not nowadays. Just house beyond house beyond house. Now what I see here, with the art surrounding us every step through the area, is very very different from that impression that I had so far.

Fingers, Zaspa / Gdansk, PolandThis must be one of my favorites. I love how it is hard to tell if the fingers are putting thet puzzle piece into the gap or if they are taking it out, and how that central dominant part of the picture is red and white – the colors of the Polish flag.

Budowa Jednostki, Gdansk / Zaspa, PolandThis surely wouldn’t be Gdańsk if not at least one of the over-dimensional works of art referenced the Solidarność movement, the trade union established in 1980 (notice the number in the mural!) that played a significant role in bringing down socialism in Europe and that originates here. The writing says „Budowa Jednostki“ – „The Building of Unity“. This is not just graffito. These walls ask to be looked it again and again. Karol tells us that their coming about was inspired by street art in the style of Banksy – cheeky, funny, yet deep. I find most of the pictures to be very Polish though, and very original and typical for this country.

Chopin Mural, Zaspa / Gdansk, Poland

This one is dedicated to Chopin, or Szopen, as the Polish spell him. Yes, he was Polish, not French. In fact he was so Polish that even though most of is body was buried in Paris, his heart was taken out and buried in Warsaw, as he had requested before his death. And while we’re at it, just for the record: Marie Curie? Also not French. Polish. Her name is Maria Skłodowska-Curie, as street names in Poland will proudly tell you.

Terri, Dries and Karol go on to do more exploring after Zaspa, I have to be back in the Old Town. Karol drops me off at the SKM stop. As the train moves through Zaspa on its way toward the main station, I pass by a bunch of the murals again. Going through here won’t be the same anymore. Another stop on the SKM route has gained its own specific face. I am getting to know this city better and better, and I am loving it.

I love you Mural, Zaspa / Gdansk, Poland

Thinking of Kraków…

Dieser Post basiert auf diesem deutschen Originalpost.
My first visit to Poland was when I was 8. The second visit of this place that I would come to love so truly didn’t happen until 13 years later. I had been learning Polish for two years and was excited and curious for this country that I had but a dim and distant memory of. After all, I had decided to make it part of my life by studying its language, culture and, above all, its literature. I signed up for a four week language course in Kraków.
Krakow Panorama, Poland
Back then, one rather chilly day in early March, I got off the bus from the airport at the main station just by the Planty, a green belt, a little park that encircles the old town. Looking up to a grey sky and breathing in Polish air for the first time as an adult, I was full of anticipation and a giddy nervousness, as though I was going on a first date. The church towers led the way, and I walked towards them in the direction I supposed the old town’s center to be in. I walked down Floriańska Street towards the Rynek, the main square. I didn’t know that Floriańska was a famous street. I didn’t know it led to the Rynek. My legs carried me on as if they knew they way, as if they’d walked it a hundred times. A feeling, nay, a certainty came over me that I had been here before. There was music everywhere. Pictures flashed in front of my inner eye, pictures of heavy red velvet curtains that I would see at Cafe Singer in the Jewish quarter Kazimierz later during my stay. My soul seemed to recognize the city from a former life. Until today I feel sure that this first visit to Kraków wasn’t actually the first. Instead, I was coming home in many strange, yet very natural and sensible ways.
When people ask me today why I love Kraków, this experience is really the only answer I have for them. To be quite honest I don’t understand the question. Kraków was the first city I ever really fell in love with. I have been there many times since, and every visit just makes my love for it grow.
A collage of memories:
Sitting bei Wisła (Vistula) River, just below Wawel, which is the castle hill. A sunny day in early April. The river is making a large bend here, and it runs calmly and proudly as though it couldn’t ever run wild and burst its banks. In this moment I realize that I have never felt like a stranger in this city.
Or having my first Zapiekanka at Plac Nowy (New Square) in Kazimierz. Zapiekanka is the Polish version of fast food: a baguette, essentially with mushrooms and cheese, grilled in the oven and topped with lots of ketchup and chives. Yum! And there’s no place in all of Poland where they are better than at the Okrąglak, the funny looking round building inmidst of the square that used to be a market hall. So say the locals, and so say I.
Okraglak, Plac Nowy, Krakow, Poland
Running across the Rynek, hurrying to meet someone or other, and from the tower of Mariacka, St. Mary’s church with the two unevenly high towers, the melody of the Hejnał is sounding out to my ears, falling right into my heart, and I have to stop and listen to it. „Hejnał“ (which funnily enough is pronounced something like „hey, now“) is derived from a Hungarian word for Dawn. It is a very old Polish signal melody. Legend has it that when the Mongols tried to invade Poland in the middle ages, a guard was keeping watch on the tower and sounded the Hejnał to warn the people of Kraków when the army approached the city. He was shot mid-melody so that he couldn’t finish. Until today, every full hour an interrupted Hejnał is sounded in all four directions from Mariacka’s tower. Yes, even in the middle of the night. No, it is not a record. Listen to it here.
Mariacka, Krakow, Poland
Having a kosher* dinner at Klezmer Hois in Kazimierz and accidentally stumbling upon a Klezmer concert in the room next door. I’m standing in the door way, covertly hidden away. In front of a  delicate dark red curtain with golden ornaments, there is a man with a double bass, one with an accordion and a young woman with a violin. Their play is sweet and snappy, lively and melancholy. Hava Nagila. Bei mir bist du scheen. The woman will at times put down the violin and start singing. Her voice is deep and velvety, it sounds like the dark wood boarding on the walls. Like the stone pillars and the lace doilies on the tables. From dark depths, the voice is softly climbing up, sighing high, desperate, the way Klezmer clarinettes usually do. I feel like sighing myself. Magical, magical Kraków.
Klezmer Hois, Krakow, Poland


An meinem Geburtstag wache ich morgens auf, drehe mich im Hostelbett, schlage langsam die Augen auf und mir gegenüber sitzt Wiebke, in der Hand ein Obsttörtchen mit einer brennenden Kerze und grinst mich an. Mich überfällt ein großes Gefühl von Dankbarkeit, Glück und Liebe, für diese Freundin und für alle Menschen, die auf dieser Reise um mich sind. Ich strahle. Im Common Room des Hostels hängt an der Tür ein Zettel, dekoriert mit einer Traube von Luftballons, darauf steht: „Happy birthday, Mariella!“ Ich könnte die ganze Welt umarmen. Man sollte an jedem Morgen Grund haben, sich so zu freuen – und wenn gerade kein Grund in Sichtweite ist, sollte man sich an Dinge erinnern, die einem einen Grund geben. Denn das Leben ist herrlich, heute besonders.
Um 10 müssen wir an der kleinen Touristeninfo sein. Dort wartet bereits eine kleine Menschenmenge, die sich ebenfalls für den Ausflug in den Lahemaa-Nationalpark angemeldet hat. Wir werden in zwei Gruppen zu je acht Personen aufgeteilt und in Minivans verladen. Unser Guide stellt sich vor: „My name is Yevgeniy, but that’s difficult to say for many people, so just call me JJ.“ Jewgenij, denke ich, das klingt aber nicht estnisch. Wenig später sagt er beiläufig, dass es vielleicht interessant sei zu wissen, dass er Russe sei. Einige Fragen kommen daraufhin aus der Gruppe – ob er die estnische Staatsbürgerschaft habe? Natürlich, er habe die russische nicht. Was er von Putins Politik halte? Das habe nichts weiter mit ihm zu tun, schließlich wohne er nicht in Russland und für ihn sei etwa die Politik der Europäischen Union von weitaus größerer Bedeutung als die Russlands. Trotzdem fühlt er sich als Russe. Ich überlege, ob er jetzt ein estnischer Russe ist oder ein russischer Este. Ich frage ihn, ob er zuhause nur Russisch spricht. Ja, aber seine Eltern seien so klug gewesen, ihn auf die estnische Schule zu schicken, so dass er beide Sprachen gleich gut spricht. Ich muss lachen. Mit den seltsamen Vokalen im Estnischen und der Menge an Konsonanten im Russischen, sage ich zu ihm, muss er ja in der Lage sein, fast jeden Laut zu produzieren, den europäische Sprachen so hergeben. Er grinst verlegen.
Die Autofahrt führt uns zuerst durch eine große Plattenbausiedlung mit riesigen grauen Hochhäusern. JJ beschreibt sie als eine Art Russenghetto, und er spricht von den Vorurteilen gegenüber der russischen Minderheit in Estland. Die Kriminalität in dieser Gegend, sagt er, folgt nicht aus der Nationalität, sondern es handelt sich um ein soziales Problem. Die Menschen hier können oft kein Estnisch, sie haben einen niedrigen Bildungsstand, finden keine Arbeit. Ich freue mich sehr, dass wir einmal die russische Perspektive auf die ethnische Spaltung des Landes bekommen. JJ ist sicher nicht der typische Russe, er ist nicht einer von denen, auf denen die Vorurteile basieren, er ist einer, der die Vorurteile zerstreuen kann. Er äußert sich naturgemäß sehr differenziert zu den Belangen der Russen in Estland, und es ist spannend ihm zuzuhören.
Es geht an der Autobahn zum Jägala Juga, dem größten natürlichen Wasserfall Estlands. Es ist Hochsommer, deswegen führt er nicht so viel Wasser und füllt nur die Hälfte der Kalksteinkante. Das sieht lustig aus, ein bisschen abgebrochen.
Wir bleiben hier nur kurz, um anschließend im Nationalpark ein Stück durch den Wald zu spazieren und uns eine alte sowjetische Wasserkraftanlage anzuschauen, die dort unbenutzt vor sich hinmodert. Die schweren Betonplatten sind moosüberzogen, eine Industrieruine am Grunde des tiefen, dichten Waldes und ein eindrucksvolles Denkmal estnischer Geschichte. Hier erzählt JJ auch noch einmal etwas über die Sowjetzeit, und er sagt etwas, von dem ich nicht behaupten kann, dass ich damit uneingeschränkt einverstanden bin, was mich aber dennoch zum Nachdenken bringt: „Hitler was a horrible man, but in my personal opinion, he killed people he thought were his enemies, and he did it in public. Stalin killed his own people, and he did it secretly.“ So einfach ist es natürlich nicht, und Vergleiche soll man sowieso nicht anstellen. Es zeigt vielleicht nur umso eindrücklicher, wie in diesem Teil Europas historisches Leid gewichtet wird.
Der Kontrast zur nächsten Station könnte nicht größer sein. Wir machen Halt an einem der alten deutschen Herrenhäuser in Sagadi. Was Epp gestern über die deutsche Bevölkerung gesagt hat, hier gewinnt es Gestalt: Die Deutschen waren zuhause vielleicht arm, hier waren sie Herren über wunderschöne Anwesen.
Am Eingangstor sind zwei Platten mit Inschriften auf Deutsch in den rosa gestrichenen Stein eingelassen – Bitten für die Altvorderen und für die Nachkommen, aus dem späten 18. Jahrhundert, in altmodischer, feierlicher Sprache. Sie erinnern mich an die Grabinschriften auf Friedhöfen in Niederschlesien – aber hier findet sich deutsches Erbe mal nicht auf einem Friedhof, nicht im Zusammenhang mit Krieg oder Vertreibung oder Unrecht, sondern einigermaßen unschuldig. Oder denke ich das nur, weil ich nicht genug über die Geschichte der Baltendeutschen weiß? Zumindest rühren mich diese Tafeln irgendwie. Wir schreiten in der Gruppe durch den Garten des Anwesens. Wunderschöne Blumen, ein hübscher, etwas verwilderter Gartenteich, und die Sonne wagt sich vorsichtig durch die graue Wolkendecke. Architektonisch bildet die Pracht des Herrenhauses wirklich einen Kontrast zu dem, was ich bisher in Tallinn am eindrucksvollsten fand – den hübschen kleinen Holzvillen in Catherinenthal. Wir schauen uns das Haus nicht von innen an, vermutlich hätte mich das auch völlig aus dem Bewusstsein, in Estland zu sein, herausgerissen.
Weiter geht es mit dem Auto über Võsu, eine der größeren Siedlungen im Park mit etwa 500 Einwohnern, nach Käsmu: ein entzückendes kleines Fischerdorf auf der östlichen Seite der gleichnamigen Halbinsel. Hier gibt es im kleinen See-Museum Mittagessen – frischen Lachs mit Pellkartoffeln und einer herrlichen Joghurt-Dill-Sauce. Ich habe vielleicht noch nie so guten Fisch gegessen. Dazu stehen große Karaffen mit Blaubeersaft auf dem Tisch, in dem die Früchte obenauf schwimmen, und zum Nachtisch Butterkuchen. Die Tafel ist entzückend hergerichtet mit blauweißem Porzellan und einer hübschen Tischdecke, und durch das Fenster, das mit blauen Glasflaschen dekoriert ist, hat man einen traumhaften Blick auf die Bucht, die jetzt unter einem strahlend blauen Himmel leuchtet.
Wir bekommen auch eine kleine Führung durch das Museum mit ein bisschen Seemannsgarn und hübschen Anekdoten zur Geschichte der Fischerei in Käsmu. Anschließend schauen wir uns draußen noch um. Ein kleiner Leuchtturm aus Holz schmiegt sich malerisch in die sanften Hügelchen am Ufer, und dann steht da noch ein abgerissener Aussichtsturm. Wiebke und ich klettern hoch. Der Blick ist einfach bezaubernd schön, die Sonne lacht, und ein leichter Wind weht uns um die Nase. Das Meer… Ich kann mir nicht helfen, Berge können mit dem Meer einfach nicht mithalten.
Schon wieder müssen wir in den Van klettern. Bei der nächsten Station habe ich ein bisschen die Orientierung verloren, aber ich vermute, dass wir zwischen Virve und Hara in dem Gebiet sind, dem gegenüber die kleine Hara-Insel liegt, die früher Militärgebiet war. Am Strand tut sich vor uns erneut eine Industriruine auf. JJ erklärt, es handle sich dabei um eine Demagnetisierungsanlage für U-Boote. Es dauert ein bisschen, bis ich das Prinzip verstanden habe. U-Boote können über das Magnetfeld, das sie erzeugen, geortet werden. Die Sowjets haben deshalb ihr U-Boote an diesem Ort mit Hilfe von Elektrizität so präpariert, dass sich das magnetische Feld unter Wasser verändert und sich nicht mehr von dem der Umgebung unterscheidet. Natürlich ist die Anlage inzwischen seit vielen Jahren nutzlos und verfällt ebenso wie die Wasserkraftanlage im Wald. Über Scherben und verrostete, abgebrochene Stahlträger klettern wir auf dem Rest des Gebäudes und auf der Mole herum.
Wir schauen auch einmal kurz in eine der früheren Hallen hinein. JJ weist uns darauf hin, dass sich diese zwei Inschriften auf den Trägern direkt gegenüberstehen:
Nicht rauchen!
Über sowas kann ich mich königlich amüsieren. Ich komme wieder mit JJ ins Gespräch. Es geht um die Sowjetzeit, die ich bisher hier im Baltikum ja einhellig aus einer Perspektive geschildert bekam: Als Okkupation, als Zeit der Unterdrückung und des Leids. JJ ist der erste, der, wenn auch vorsichtig, davon Abstand nimmt und sagt, dass er durchaus glaubt, dass nicht alles schlecht war. Seine Großeltern erzählten zum Beispiel durchaus auch von schönen Momenten aus der Estnischen Sozialistischen Sowjetrepublik. Eine Perspektive, die ein „estnischer Este“ sicherlich niemals über die Lippen bringen würde.
Unsere letzte Station ist der Viru-Sumpf am südwestlichen Ende des Parks. Ein Pfad aus Holzplanken führt über den weichen, bemoosten Grund, der fest aussieht, es aber an den meisten Stellen nicht ist. Am hölzernen Aussichtsturm verlässt uns JJ, um uns mit dem Auto auf der anderen Seite des Sumpfes wieder abzuholen. Nach dem Blick vom Turm über die weite Fläche aus Wald, Seen und Moorwiesen ziehen Wiebke und ich auf einem Steg unsere Badesachen an und springen in einen der eisenhaltigen kleinen Teiche mit dem rotorangenen Wasser, das sehr gesund sein soll. Das Wasser ist nicht gerade warm, aber es ist angenehm, und ich ziehe so meine Bahnen und bin gefangen von der Landschaft um mich herum. Die Farben sind von großer Intensität – der Himmel, der gleichzeitig hell und tief ist, die verschiedenen Grüntöne des Sumpfes, und das Wasser, in dem meine Haut eine orangebraune Tönung annimmt.
Wir kommen wieder in Tallinn an, die Stadt wirkt plötzlich laut und urban nach der großen Ruhe in Lahemaa. Im Rathaus gibt es ein kleines Mittelalterrestaurant, wir essen Elchsuppe und Blätterteigpasteten und trinken einen herrlichen Rotwein. Danach ziehen wir noch durch mehrere Cafes und landen schließlich im Kehrwieder am Marktplatz, wo die heiße Schokolade zwar teuer ist, aber dick und sämig wie flüssiger Schokoladenpudding. In meiner geburtstäglichen besinnlich-glücklichen Stimmung sprechen wir über Ziele, über Träume und Pläne. Mir scheint heute alles möglich, alles gut, und ich bin froh, dass Wiebke da ist, um diese Stimmung mit mir zu teilen. Bevor wir ins Hostel zurückkehren, liegen wir noch auf dem Harjuhügel auf einer der Holzliegen und schauen in den Sternenhimmel auf der Suche nach den angekündigten Sternschnuppen. Sie wollen sich uns nicht zeigen, vermutlich ist hier in der Stadt die Lichtverschmutzung zu groß. Es stört mich nicht. Der Tag war so wunderschön, dass er mir wie die Erfüllung eines Wunsches vorkommt, von dem ich nicht wusste, dass ich ihn hatte.

London – City of London, East End, Hyde Park und South Bank

Manchmal hat man seltsame Gründe dafür, einen bestimmten Ort sehen zu wollen. Ich wollte zum Beispiel immer nach Prag. Ich hatte nämlich mit etwa 9 Jahren mal ein Lustiges Taschenbuch, in dem es eine Comic-Adaption von Franz Kafkas „Verwandlung“ mit Donald Duck als Gregor Samsa gab, und dieser Comic begann mit den Worten: „Prag – die goldene Stadt an der Moldau“. Vor meinem inneren Auge sah ich goldene Dächer und einen goldenen Fluss und goldenen Sonnenschein und wollte unbedingt nach Prag. Dieser Wunsch erfüllte sich im Jahr 2007. Nach London wollte ich auch schon sehr lange. Aber nicht wegen der Dinge, von denen ich schon berichtet habe. Ich wollte immer nur zur St. Paul’s Cathedral. Wegen des Disneyfilms „Mary Poppins“, in dem Mary Poppins Jane und Michael das Lied von der uralten Vogelfrau vorsingt, die jeden Morgen auf den Stufen der Kathedrale sitzt und Vogelfutter verkauft.
Eigentlich will ich an diesem Morgen in die Westminster Abbey zum Gottesdienst. Aber dort ist Wachschutz und alles ist voll von Menschen in seltsamen Uniformen, die diese künstlichen steifen Bewegungen machen und häufig eher lustig als ehrfurchterweckend aussehen. Man kommt nur mit einer Karte in den Gottesdienst. Ich pese über verschiedene U-Bahnhöfe und komme etwas außer Atem an der St Paul’s Cathedral an. Der Gottesdienst dort ist noch nicht losgegangen, aber es wird Zeit, deswegen ist mein erster Eindruck des imposanten Bauwerks nicht von der langsamen Freude des Entdeckens geprägt, die ich mir ausgemalt habe. Stattdessen eile ich die Stufen hinauf und lasse mir einen Gottesdienstzettel in die Hand drücken, um dann, endlich langsam, das Kirchenschiff zu durchqueren und schließlich unter der Kuppel zu stehen – und mir schießen die Tränen aus den Augen. Ich bin völlig überwältigt. Ein Kirchendiener fragt mich: „Alright?“ Ich stammle: „It’s so beautiful!“ Der Gottesdienst ist von einer wunderbaren Feierlichkeit, die Kirchenlieder getragener, mächtiger als zuhause, die Predigt dagegen von einer so anmutigen Mischung aus philosophischer Tiefe und lebensnaher Fröhlichkeit, dass ich fast noch einmal weinen muss. Es geht um Gleichheit, und ich gehe glücklicher aus dem Gottesdienst hinaus als ich es vorher war, und wieder ein bisschen idealistischer. Vielleicht mag ich das an der Kirche. Sie nimmt mir den Zynismus, den mir der Alltag aufzwingt.

Ich sitze nach dem Gottesdienst noch eine Stunde vor der Kathedrale um dann gemütlich zum Tower Hill hinüber zu laufen. Vor der Tower Bridge lasse ich ein klassisches Touristenphoto von mir machen von einem freundlichen Passanten, und am Tower Hill bestaune ich die uralten mächtigen grauweißen Mauern von außen. Es ist sehr lebendig hier, Eltern mit Kindern, junge Paare, Freundinnen, ältere Herrschaften, alle sitzen und laufen durcheinander, man hört alle zwei Meter eine andere Sprache und Londons ganze Lebendigkeit wird vor der Kulisse des ewigen alten Steins und der 2000jährigen Geschichte nur noch deutlicher.

Ich treffe mich mit Alexa am Trafalgar Square und wir gehen in Soho Kaffeetrinken, um dann ins East End zu fahren. Unterwegs treffen wir den Tod nicht auf Latschen, sondern auf dem Fahrrad – im Schaufenster des Liberty-Kaufhauses.


Im East End reizt ein kleiner Markt mit stylischen Klamotten, Taschen und Hüten zum Einkaufen, ich bin aber zu arm. Wir laufen durch die Brick Lane, anscheinend ist hier ein Festival, von überall kommt laute Musik unterschiedlicher Stilrichtungen. Wir gehen in einen phantastischen Plattenladen, der so viel Stil hat, dass Berlin mir dagegen vorkommt wie ein kleines Provinzstädtchen. Anschließend trinken wir Saft in einer Künstlerbar mit Lichtinstallationen und Filmprojektionen an den Wänden. Einer der Filme hat den Titel „Guilty Pleasure“. Der Schriftzug lautet: „My guilty pleasure is letting my girlfriend cut my toe nails. Don’t tell anyone though.“ Darauf folgt eine Animation mit blauen Füßen, einer Schere und riesigen Zehennägeln. Es ist großartig und ein bisschen abgedreht.

Wir fahren wieder nach Brixton und gehen bei einem kleinen, vollen Vietnamesen essen. Ich sage zu Alexa, dass in Berlin Inder, Vietnamesen und Thailänder doch häufig ziemlich ähnlich sind. Sie guckt mich entgeistert an. „Those are completely different things!“ sagt sie. Dafür gibt es in Berlin gutes türkisches Essen, denke ich mir. Das Curry schmeckt wunderbar, und ich habe danach große Lust, mir in einem Pub um die Ecke noch ein bisschen Jazz anzuhören. Das Pub hat Ähnlichkeit mit Irish Pubs in Deutschland, mit einer großen hölzernen Theke und bemalten Fenstern, die Jazzmusik will so gar nicht dazu passen, aber auch diese Reibung übt ihren besonderen Reiz aus. Wir kommen mit zwei Jungs an unserem Tisch ins Gespräch, einer von beiden macht Stand-up Comedy und redet auch so. Normalerweise, versichert mir Alexa, passiert sowas in London nie, die Leute kümmern sich lieber um sich selbst. Ich erzähle, dass in meinem Reiseführer steht, man solle keine fremden Menschen anlächeln, sie würden einen nur für verrückt halten. Der Comedian sagt: „If it was me, I’d be so grateful, it’d mean that you want to talk! I’d be like: What are your five favorite — food items??“ Der Cider schmeckt gut, und ich bin glücklich, als wir uns durch die sternklare Nacht auf den Weg nach Herne Hill machen.

Am nächsten Morgen frühstücken Alexa und ich zusammen Weetabix, dann muss sie zur Arbeit. Ich packe noch gemütlich meine Sachen, nehme einen leisen und fröhlichen Abschied aus der hübschen Straße in Herne Hill und fahre zur Victoria, schließe mein Gepäck ein und nehme den Bus zum Hyde Park. 
Der Park ist so weit und groß, dass man sich tatsächlich fast in ihm verlieren kann. Ich sitze am Serpentine Lake und betrachte die Morgen-Jogger, die Spaziergänger und ein lustiges Pärchen mit ungefähr 12 Hunden. Die Sonne glitzert auf dem Wasser, es ist ein bisschen kühl und schon herbstlich. Langsam gehe ich über die Brücke zu den Kensington Gardens. Dort steht ein Schild: „DANGER! Shallow water. Do not jump  from the bridge.“ Jemand hat Teile der Schrift weggekratzt, statt „DANGER“ steht sort nun „ANGEL“. Mir gefällt’s. Ich folge dem Ufer des Sees nach Norden und staune über die Fauna, da sind viele verschiedene Enten, Schwäne, von denen einige grau sind und viel schöne als die weißen, Kormorane und Reiher, die unbeeindruckt und stocksteif auf den Planken im Wasser stehen. Am Peter Pan Denkmal bleibe ich kurz stehen. Ich  möchte auch nicht erwachsen werden. Wenn ich reise, ist es leichter, Kind zu bleiben mit einer unbändigen Neugier und Begeisterungsfähigkeit.

Von Paddington fahre ich nach Hammersmith, wo ich mich mit Steve zum Mittagessen treffe. Wir sind letztes Jahr zusammen in Montenegro und Albanien gereist. Ich kenne ihn nur mit Shorts und T-Shirt, plötzlich steht er mir mit blauem Nadelstreifenanzug gegenüber. Es braucht keine Minute Eingewöhnungszeit und es ist, als hätten wir uns gestern erst gesehen. Reisen verbindet auf eine ganz besondere Art. Die Sonne scheint, so schön auf den kleinen Platz vor der Deli, das Essen schmeckt und wir sprechen von unseren Leben, die so unterschiedlich sind und von unseren Reiseträumen, die sich so ähneln. Viel zu schnell müssen wir uns wieder verabschieden. 

Nachdem ich vorhin einen verrückten Umweg auf mich genommen habe, weil ich dachte, dass nur die Hammersmith and City tube nach Hammersmith fährt, bin ich auf dem Rückweg mit der District Line in kürzester Zeit wieder in der Innenstadt. Ich fahre bis Embankment und laufe auf die Südseite der Themse hinüber. Herrliche Aussichten tun sich auf, aber die Sonne steht hinter den Houses of Parliament und ich kann sie nur gegen die Sonne photographieren.

Also beschließe ich, die Atmosphäre einfach zu genießen und höre eine halbe Stunde den Straßenmusikern zu, die Johnny Cash spielen und singen mit einer Gitarre, einem Cello und einer Kiste, auf der einer Töne produziert wie andere es nicht einmal auf einem vernünftigen Schlagzeug könnten.

Schließlich muss ich doch einmal wieder zum Bus und zum Flughafen fahren. Etwas hat mich nach England gezogen, bevor ich diese Reise unternommen habe, und etwas zieht mich weiter dorthin. Es ist so ganz anders als die melancholisch-entspannte, fröhlich-ausgelassene, tragische und herzliche Schönheit des Balkans. Vielleicht war es Zeit für mich in ein Land zu kommen, das nicht so viele offene Wunden zeigt. Und es ist wirklich wunderbar, einen Ort wie London zu entdecken, den man aus Liedern, aus Texten oder Erzählungen präsent hat, ohne ihn zu kennen. Meine kugelrunden  neugiereigen Kinderaugen sind wenigstens noch nicht, auch und gerade auch im Blick auf London nicht, vollends erwachsen geworden.

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