Three friends and I took a weekend trip to Berlin. I was the only boy in the group. This is the summary:
We leave on Friday and take the 18:00 train departing from Prague to Berlin. Two guys from London join us on the train. They give us beer and wine. They call Prague an embarrassment and then try to put a line of coke on my jeans. They do bumps for the next hour until they’re smashed and stumble away.
Our hostel is brand new and smells like paint. I walk under the Brandenburg Gate, through the Jewish Memorial which is haunting in its simplicity, eat a chili dog, see museums, see concert halls, walk across Hitler’s Bunker which is now a gravel parking lot, take a nap. When I wake we drink vodka, shitty rum, Red Bull and Coke. We go to club Tresor, a gigantic factory that stays open for days. Eat two hot dogs on the way and drink beer that is better than in Prague.
In the club they play house and deep house and it’s filled with smoke and dudes. We dance and drink cocktails. There is a strobe light and I make chopping motions in the air. Hit on a girl dancing, she walks away, hit on a bartender, she ignores me, hit on a girl on the stairs, she laughs, and then walks away. Spend all my money and walk around looking for drinks to steal. A German guy follows me and I sprint through the dance floor to lose him. We leave in the morning and I’m not tired when I lay down.
We wake in two hours to pack. I’m hung-over and gag in the bathroom. We see the line for the Reichstag and say ‘fuck it.’ The girls are cynical. We visit a museum, which is full of ancient ruins. They’re massive, and I wonder how they got here. Try to buy lunch with a credit card but no one accepts them. I eat peanuts out of a vending machine instead.
Ride the metro to the main Berlin train station, which is much nicer than Prague’s. We eat Burger King, find a nice train car, and make ourselves comfortable. The girls are no longer cynical, and I’m glad I came, because I’m happy to be home.
“Oh, fuck,” I say, as I get off the tram. I have been coincidentally following this girl for the last fifteen minutes. It started on the metro when I was sitting next to her: we exited at the same stop, I followed behind her to the next tram stop, boarded the same car, and now we’re both getting off at my final stop. I’m tempted to just turn around and explain to her that I’m only going home. But she has her headphones in, and I can only imagine how that could go wrong.
I’m relieved when I look behind me and see that she is gone. She is on the other side of the street. That wasn’t so creepy. I’m thinking about getting something to eat in the little Korean corner store. No, it’s late. A few steps past the store I change my mind. When I turn around the girl is right behind me. I could pull her hair. She almost jumps backwards with surprise. How the fuck did you get over here? She walks fast, so much for not looking like a creep.
There’s something of a mall at the Budejovica metro stop, which isn’t interesting because there are malls everywhere in Prague. But in the food court at this mall they serve Mexican food, and while never great, it has become easy to be satisfied after being away for so long.
Budejovica also contains what could be called Prague’s skyscrapers. I use the term loosely, as it’s always relative to the city. The two largest are close to the metro, the Raiffeisen bank and Česká spořitelna Towers. Everywhere there’s construction, and by the end of the year there will be more.
Further down the road is the BB Centrum, which openly claims that they are ‘the choice of multi-nationals.’ That’s bold. There are offices for Microsoft, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, CEZ the partially state-owned Czech energy conglomerate, and others. Sometimes a company has their own building on the campus, other times they share it, but always it is a mass of glass and modernism, which is depressing for what it is, but not extremely distasteful once you’re inside.
On the walk to BB Centrum there is a billboard with drawings of small faceless soldiers herding small faceless people in Middle-Eastern garb. There’s a tank, and a fire raging, in what looks like a mosque. Its presentation is cartoonish: black and white, macro with few details. What strikes me is the lack of any language. Someone, or some organization, paid to have this put up here. And did so without any recognition.
I left Prague for two weeks to go home to the States for Easter. This writing and the next three are about this time:
I have a four-hour layover in Amsterdam. I took all my perishable food with me, which is really just tortillas and candy. But I’ve eaten enough tortillas I could puke so I buy overpriced pizza in the food court. When I empty my tray I meet a very cute, very small, German girl. She speaks almost no English, which surprises me, but for the next few hours we walk around, talk, listen to music, drink coffee, and take pictures.
Asking to kiss someone seems childish, but I still ask to kiss her because it’s the middle of the day and neither of us has any alcohol in our systems. It scares her, and she tells me she has a boyfriend, and then tries to communicate that she is faithful without knowing the word ‘faithful’.
“You don’t have a girlfriend?” she says with a surprised look. I go on teach her the difference between ‘faithful’ and ‘unfaithful’.
“So you would kiss girls?” she asks.
“Uh yeah, but a little bit more than kiss.”
We say goodbye at my gate and I stand for over an hour to board the plane. On the plane, when the dining carts are in the aisles, I have to go to the bathroom so bad I almost piss my pants.
A cliché in movies today is the mid-air collision. The next time I see a mid-air catastrophe with the top flying off and the seats being ripped out I will laugh uncontrollably.
“Wow, you’ve really confronted man’s innate fear of flying in this scene.”
The days are longer in Minnesota than in Prague, because the latitude here is about the same as Paris’s. But there’s snow on the ground, and as the snow melts everything turns to mud, and the garbage that was buried in the snow can be found everywhere.
In the Twin Cities there is a phenomenal public radio station called The Current, but in my small hometown all I can get is: Christian, Country, and radio so safe and generic that it’s blessed by Clear Channel. ‘Hey this sounds like Maroon 5. You like Maroon 5, right? Right?!’ They also have DJs that enjoy listening to themselves talk, but never have anything funny to say.
On St. Paddy’s day I’m still stuck at home and the town is quiet. There’s only one liquor store, but when I go I’m the only one in the store. I buy good vodka for myself, and shitty vodka for my brother, both of which are pretty cheap, and some beer, which is not cheap.
The woman working the register asks to see my ID. I go blank and stare at her until I realize she wants to see my license.
“Sorry,” I say and hand her the license with two fingers. She smiles and doesn’t seem to mind. Not used to that either.
The next night I’m in Minneapolis to meet a friend. On the street we meet a couple that lead us to the Gay 90s for a drag show. Instead of a couple, the two turn out to only be friends so I take the girl’s number. She’s at the apartment in St. Paul a few days later when I wake up, and find half a foot of fresh snow. I have to drive through it for several hours to get back to my brother home for tennis practice.
It’s snowing again on Easter Sunday, but this time the flakes are light and without wind. I was told this is the earliest Easter can be. It won’t be this early again for another two hundred years.
Three days ago, I heard a Tegan and Sara song called Seventeen that rocked my world so hard I haven’t been able to think straight since.
The church parking lot is filled so I park down the street in the dying downtown. Everyone comes out of the woodwork on Christmas and Easter. The same with me. I’m out of place without dress pants and a tie, but people don’t seem to mind.
Most of the friends I grew up with don’t make it home for Easter anymore. They’re stuck in their respective cities: Minneapolis, Denver, Chicago, New York. Everyone has to be at work on Monday, so I watch television with my brother and fall asleep early.
The last couple of days in the States were a blur of packing and tying up loose ends. The weather was nice for one day.
My final night in town I went out with the girl I had met at the Gay 90’s. There was nowhere to go, so we spent time in the back seat of her car, which felt like high school. The whole night we said to each other, ‘at least we’re not in high school.’
In the airport I felt nauseous and took Dramamine, which knocked me out for most of the flight to Amsterdam. When I was boarding my second flight the buzzer went off on the metal detector. The guard was friendly enough while he molested me.
I took public transit home: bus, metro, and then a long walk. It was a mistake, and I noticed that my big blue bag clattering across the cobblestones annoyed everyone. When I got home I had a surprising amount of energy, and I texted many people. An hour later I crashed for a long time, and woke up in the middle of the night.
The next day I went for a walk in Vyšehrad. The weather was beautiful, a real Spring day, and nicer than when I had left.
Sometimes you forget how beautiful this city is. Sitting in the park, looking over the parapets, it was so perfect that even the disgusting pickled sausage I was eating tasted good.
I stare at a glass case holding awards. Somehow the Chodov mall has won awards for its design. This is shocking to me because this thing is the most sprawling ugly monstrosity of a mall in the country. The sort of thing you would see thrown up with red painted plaster walls, P.F. Chang’s, and a Macy’s, if this were the States. So many coffee shops, but I really just want to sit down for a while. I order an espresso with milk.
“Voda?” she asks me.
“Voda?” she asks me again if I want water. She can’t seem to grasp the fact that I’m going to drink coffee without water. Yes, I would like some water but it costs more than the coffee so I think I’ll survive.
“Ne Děkuji,” I say again.
Sitting down, it’s nice, and I can write a little. But more importantly I can watch the people walk by. That is easily the best part about malls, the people watching. The women in this mall are in their late twenties, early thirties, and beautiful. When I’m finished I walk around until I find a bathroom.
Holy shit, there’s a woman in this bathroom! I should be used to cleaning ladies walking around the men’s bathroom, but it still surprises me. Especially when she’s just standing there, the first face you see as you open the door. The other men keep going in and out, not even noticing her with her brush and spray bottle, but I’m patient and I wait until she finishes cleaning the urinals.
Sometimes you go out and you know you’re going to get wasted.
We buy whiskey before going to Nebe, an underground bar between Old Town and Nardoni Trida. I drink a lot; it’s been awhile since I had hard alcohol. At the club I drink white wine, dance, fall down the steps, and hit on the girls that laugh at me. Then things get ugly.
I get the hick-ups so hard they shake my body. I try holding my breath, swallowing, everything. Finally I go into the bathroom and put my head under the faucet and drink. There is blood around the other sink.
“Sorry I can’t get rid of these motherfuckers,” I say to the boy standing next to me.
I take two steps out of the bathroom and realize I’m going to vomit. I push open the toilet door and spray vomit all over the bowl, the rim, the walls, my shoes, and even my jeans a little. It’s all liquid, and I wipe the seat clean. Someone is standing outside waiting to use the bathroom.
“I have no idea who did that,” I say. “Fucking disgusting.”
Round two: I resist the urge to spit on the floor, and drink a beer to get the taste out of my mouth. I hit on an older skinny Czech woman; she leads me to the dance floor. She falls and digs her nails into my hand. It draws blood. She walks past me, and doesn’t turn when I call to her. She’s pissed, but fuck her that hurt like a bitch. I put my fingers in my mouth. Someone is dancing by the coat check. Yeah right, right, right, right. For real I need a drink. There is an apple sitting on the bar. There is no one for the apple, its squishy and over ripe. But I know someone tonight wants to remember this apple.
My friends find me and ask me to dance. Jamiroquai comes on. The dance floor is mostly empty, but I go crazy. I meet an Iraqi boy, and we hit on two girls at the bar. I take the one that speaks better English. She is a bar-slut that is a little older than me, somewhat cute, but with a boyish haircut. We talk for a while, and then make-out. When I look around my friends are gone.
In the morning I remember when we came back to my place, but I don’t remember falling asleep. I’m happy to find that she has smooth skin and looks nice naked. I’m still drunk enough that I can’t feel anything for most of the morning.