Last Saturday I went to the theatre for the first time in a bazillion years. Just being in theatres, I feel like the air is buzzing — it’s always been a totally magical place for me, and it was the same a week ago.
I had stayed away so long because of language, of course. Having spent relatively little of the last two years (where did that go?!) in the UK, I just assumed that theatre in a language I could understand was something I wouldn’t have for a little while. I mean, my German is improving…but if it was a race between my German improving and a drunk snail, there’d be a snail wearing a gold medal, that’s all I’m saying. 🍺🐌🥇
When a friend told me that Gorki Theater have English surtitles for EVERY play, my reaction was a cocktail of ‘Why didn’t I think to check before?’, ‘YAY!’, and ‘What actually are surtitles, though?’
Surtitles are little words magically floating (*cough* projected) above the stage. I didn’t need them as much as I thought though, because a lot of the play was in English – and Hebrew, and Arabic, and German! So why is The Situation in mixed languages? Language is something of a starting point for the play. The Situation centresaround a German class: geeky German teacher Stefan – whose well-intentioned but simplistic need to ‘rescue’ people had me cringing until more of his story was revealed; bickering, separated couple Noa and Armir; reluctant new Berliner Hamoudi; aspiring actress Leila and parkour- and rap- fanatic Karim. Apart from Stefan, every character is from Israel, Palestine, or Syria, and although the story inevitably touches on each character’s history — and therefore the history of their country — but it doesn’t reduce the characters into 2D representations of their situation; as in real life, each character’s identity is far more complex than their passport, residence status or religion. For me, some of the funniest moments were moments of recognition, in seeing how different characters behaved in the German class — from the student who won’t let anyone else get a word in edgeways, to the one who is overwhelmed and says nothing, to the teacher who realises that they’ve opened a can of worms and tries to backtrack, it all felt real and flawlessly depicted. That said, I also loved how these scenes were broken up by soliloquies where each character told a little more about themselves — these moments switched between wry humour and heartbreaking honesty.
The juicy bits of the play were all in the words – the set itself consisted only of raked seating on castors – seats facing forward, it was a classroom, seats facing back, a wall, pushed to the side, it could be an apartment. But through the words of the characters, we see the world through the eyes of a 12-year-old boy who wants to go to the beach in Israel to do parkour, a Kazakhstani family moving to Germany after the end of the Soviet Union, a documentary maker from Eastern Syria, stranded in Germany after winning a prize at a film festival. All these stories and more, meeting in Berlin.
By the end of the play, I wanted to give every character a hug and join their German class (well, maybe not, they spent most of the time speaking English!), but I definitely didn’t want it to end. The play was too sensible to suggest an answer to the larger problems raging in the background of the play, but it did at least point to a hopeful future for these six individuals in Berlin. In the final scene, they weren’t arguing or railing against the complexities of German grammar, but eating together while Noa explains that she has hope for her marriage, because the things we think are unimaginable, can and do happen.
The Situation is directed by Yael Ronen and is showing again at Gorki Theater on 2nd July.
Since I landed back in Berlin last Wednesday, each day has gone increasingly less to plan! By the weekend I was feeling a bit like the world was moving faster than I could keep up with — how dare I not have reached my financial, German learning, career and fitness goals within five days? What a slacker!
I haven’t really been slacking, except of course on Sunday I allowed myself most of the afternoon and the whole evening completely free. (Reckless indulgence, I tell you!) I went to my normal German practice Meetup and since it was one of those mild days that hints of spring and makes you wildly happy to be in Berlin, I decided to walk around afterwards. I had nowhere to go in particular, I just walked for the sake of it, and when I finally looked up at a street sign, I realised I was on the street where an exhibition I had heard about was happening. I had seen the event on Facebook and although I hadn’t heard of the artist, I was arrested by the bold, playful lines of his work. To find myself hours later on the street was just too good an opportunity to miss even for my laziness!
GH36 was not so much a gallery as a cosy little shop with clean, blank walls. The streets around Große Hamburger Straße are lined with small shops in beautiful old buildings, now converted to cosy boutiques, trendy open-plan cafes and lots and lots of spaces of all sizes where, as in GH36, art is exhibited. Not the kind of art you see on Museum Island, but the kind by living artists hoping to sell their work. That being the situation, you’d think it would be too-chic-for-you; all pressure to buy pieces and not a relaxing atmosphere for just looking at and appreciating art, but I didn’t find that at all.
ZiBEZI was the only gallery ‘staff’; playing music on his phone and chatting to a friend, he greeted me cheerfully and encouraged me to take photos if I wanted to, which I shyly did (it still feels wrong, taking photos of people’s artwork, even if they tell you to!) ZiBEZI’s work looks a little like the characters from Disneyland ran away and made street art in Berlin; thick, bold, flowing lines and bright pops of colour look abstract at first glance, but in the pieces eyes, robot-like figures, birds, animals and people are often hidden. I walked slowly round the small room twice, trying to take everything in.
Finding this exhibition was such a lovely reminder of why it’s sometimes nice to wander without a plan. Also, since my budget doesn’t quite stretch to regular visits to the bigger Berlin museums, some of these smaller venues could be a good way to get my art fix and discover new names without going bankrupt 😉
You can catch ZiBEZI at Große Hamburger Straße 36 until the 15th — 4 more days!
It was running up to Christmas and I was living in the capital city of the most Christmassy country in the world – I must have been camping outside Berlin’s Christmas markets before they opened, right? Weeeeell…. not quite, because as much as I love Christmas, I hate the cold, dark, wet, midwinter nights. Unless my house is on fire, or I’m being paid to do something, I ain’t leaving my house. Hard to believe that a year ago I was living in 18-20 degree temperatures and also complaining about the cold. What can I say? I’m the nesh-est person ever. You could basically drop me on the equator and I’d still be whingeing that I need a thicker cardi but there’s no M&S around here.
But on my last weekend of 2017 in Berlin, I braved the elements TWO NIGHTS RUNNING! (I know, there’s no holding me back) in order to find some Glühwein (‘Glowing wine’ = mulled wine) and Christmas spirit. I visited the Green Market Winter Edition on Saturday and the Christmas Market at Alexanderplatz on Sunday.
The Green Market
What: Food, handicrafts, cosmetics, live music
Entry: 4 Euros
Where: Funkhaus Berlin
I finished cleaning for a customer at 4. The light was fading and I was hungry – absolutely ready for some of the vegan street food promised on the posters for the Green Market Berlin, a quarterly vegan/sustainable food and lifestyle market. Imagine my dismay then, when Google maps unceremoniously informed me that the market was over an hour from my current destination. The lure of Glühwein was more powerful than the lure of bed (And that’s pretty amazing for me,the 20-something grandma…especially considering it was drizzling and biting cold!)
The Green Market is held in a warehouse in the east of the city and, if there hadn’t been a stream of other assorted hipsters trickling towards the warehouse complex, I might have been a bit scared that I was in the wrong place and about to be eaten by (very NOT vegan) Rottweilers. Soon though, we came to a bit where we paid our €4 in exchange for a stamp on our wrist and were greeted by a horseshoe of stalls cooking delicious food: Indian, Thai, Egyptian, East German/Polish, the obligatory falafel stand… I bought my first Glühwein of the season and used it as a tasty handwarmer while I mulled over my choices (sorry not sorry there is no way that pun wasn’t happening) and eventually plumped for a vegan kebab from Vöner. Expecting a few bits of fried tofu flung in a bun with some salad, I was amazed when I saw them actually shaving the ‘meat‘ off a vertical spit, just like in any döner kebab place. I can’t comment on the authenticity of the flavour – I ate kebab once, as a 16-year-old in my pre-veggie days when a friend offered me some of his, claiming it was the best food ever. I took a bite and politely agreed, although I privately thought it was sticky and greasy and all kinds of no, but that was in Borrowash, not Berlin 😉 – but Vöner definitely had the novelty factor.
Vegans are so healthy #1: kebab from Voener and mulled wine
Vegans are so healthy #2: Doughnut from Brammibal’s
The rest of the market was like wandering around an art gallery for me, or some of the neighborhoods where I clean, which have rows of gorgeous independent shops; lots of nice things to looks at, but nothing I could justifying parting cash with for. Bailey’s Almande were giving out free samples (rude not to then, really) which worked as a yummy liquid dessert, but there were also a fair few stalls of the obligatory ‘raw’ sweets and chia this and that…(you probably know my opinion on ‘healthy’ vegan desserts).
There were also some gorgeous jewellers, textile artists, and vegan cosmetic stands, so it wasn’t all pretentious nonsense…it was, however, geared towards people earning more than me, so I felt a teensy bit of a fish out of water. It was cool to do something a bit different after work anyway; plus, I now know that it is absolutely worth getting my hands on some of that vegan Baileys at some point.
Where: Alexanderplatz. Bet you didn’t see that one coming.
Being THE Christmas market in the toursity-est bit of Berlin, I thought that this was 100% going to be expensive, possiblly hellishly busy and with as much security as an airport after the awful events last year.
In reality, this was a lot less vegan but no more expensive than the Green Market, at least not for Glühwein (priorities) which was still 3.5 Euro. We strolled in with no security checks and no entry to pay, spent ages in a hut which sold baubles in basically every shape you could think of, giggled over a Glühwein and just generally admired the Christmassyness. My friend teased me about all the delicious non-vegan things she could have that I couldn’t. It was drizzling rather than snowing, and it was a Sunday evening, but wandering between the glowing huts of overpriced chips and ‘I ❤ Berlin’ T-shirts felt cosy and kind of low-key exciting. You could go ice-skating, too, but we were both too lazy for that. Depending on whether you prefer more people around or not, going at a non-peak time could be a win because it was festive and busy enough, without it being impossible to move anywhere.
Over a year ago now I made this post on my old blog, about all the lovely adventures I wanted to have in the (then) intervening 3 and a quarter years between the post and the end of my 3rd decade (sounds grand, doesn’t it? Maybe I will wear a diamond bracelet and go to cocktail parties and laugh heartily with a cynical glint in my eye, like a character in a novel by F Scott Fitzgerald. Or maybe not. Place your bets now…)
The really lovely thing about the original post was that it sparked some nice conversations with people. My sister-in-law suggested a bible app and one of my former colleagues revealed that she’s a dab hand at lemon meringue pies. (Unfortunately lemon curd is available precisely nowhere in Hanoi and judging from other interns’ experiences with uncooked eggs I, erm, wouldn’t make my own out there 😉 )
Here’s the little ‘get out of jail free’ clause I gave myself in case I don’t manage everything 😛 and below I’ve put the original list with my updates in red. <> indicates a swap has taken place.
“I know the first one is cheating because I’ve already started it, but if you tell me that you’ve never started a list with things you’ve already done to make yourself feel better then you’re a liar.
NB: This is an aspirational list, not a realistic one. I fully expect some of these things to take longer than three and a half years and others may simply not appeal to me in a few months time, but mainly these are things I’ve wanted to do for years.”
1.Teach English abroad— as admitted in the original post, including this was sort of a cheat. I feel like I’ve challenged myself one step further though, by taking the infamously stressful full time CELTA course and then putting what I learned into practice teaching much smaller classes of much more attentive students (adults!) in Berlin. I’m still veeeeerry much a novice teacher and I cringe when I think back to my Vietnam days but oh well, no time travel yet 😉 I miss working part time with kids, although I also love having students who are not a physical danger to each other so, you know, swings and roundabouts. 2.Be able to make small talk in Welsh
3.Go sailing again <> I have swapped this for the much warmer but less glamorous idea of developing a strength exercise routine. I hate doing strength exercise, but I love having done it, and I love how my body feels when I get into a routine of it. Also just running alone is a recipe for injury; much as many of us loathe to admit it, runners need to work on strength too.4.Go on a camping/trekking trip self-navigating
5.Go to Northern Ireland and see the Giant’s Causeway
6.Put my best poems in a collection to publish and illustrate it
7.Find out the name, place of birth and occupation of 4 ancestors born before 1900 — I have done this! In between Vietnam and Berlin I got one of those free two week trials with ancestry.co.uk. I was a woman possessed for two weeks, seriously. We have a bunch of coal miners, a domestic servant, and I think a locomotive driver?! Something to do with locomotives.
8.Start teaching writing workshops <> I think this was on the list because I thought it was the kind of thing jobbing writers ‘should’ do, to be honest. I still find teaching really stressful sometimes and I’m still in the process of working out whether it’s just standard novice teacher self-doubt or whether it’s just not the job for me. I’m replacing #8 with developing a network of other writers who inspire me, who critique my work and get my (writing) goals. This is a massive thing for me because my writing output rockets when I have a sense of duty to do it. When I was in Mouthy Poets I wrote and edited more than I had at any point in my life since uni, and more than I have since. It’s not that I don’t enjoy writing, it’s just absolutely terrifying.
9.Start making most of my own jewellery
10.Start drawing every day
11.Finish reading the Bible — my sister in law recommended an app for this. You can do it in one year but I won’t because some days it just doesn’t happen. I’m slowly getting there though.
12.Start reading the Quran — No but I mean…I only put ‘start’… I should basically just go into Waterstones and read the first page. Boom, done. ‘But won’t you have to read it in the English translation?’ Yes, dear. And I can assure you I ain’t reading the Bible in the original Hebrew/Aramaic/Greek/Latin, either 😉 13.Go to Sapa — Done 🙂 I spent a few days here after my internship in Hanoi ended. It was bliss.
14.Meet an Orangutan <> learn about 10 species living in/ migrating to the British Isles which I hadn’t previously heard of
15.Try street food in Penang <> learn to cook 5 new dishes really, really well.
16.Go back to Nepal <> go on holiday somewhere I haven’t been before
17.Go to Myanmar or Laos <> find a meaningful way to serve the community I live in
18.See Arctic Monkeys live <> go to a festival I haven’t been to before, where a band/singer I love is playing and discover new artists I like.
19.Write a stage play
20.Develop a daily writing habit
21.Start a PhD <> I have an idea for a little writing project I want to do instead. It’s funny because I used to be so, so convinced that I would do a PhD, and now I really don’t think I want to. I think when I say ‘I want to do a PhD’ what I mean is ‘I want to return to the last place I excelled at something (university) because then I felt validated.’ Just NO, Beccy. That way madness lies.
22.Go to Cornwall, Pembrokeshire, the Outer Hebridies, York and Winchester
23.See the Aurora Borealis/Australialis
24.Run another half (sub 2 hours) <> develop a regular, manageable running routine which I stick to (except for illness, injury, storms etc.)
25.Make a lemon Meringue pie <> Learn to make 5 vegan puddings (Americans: I mean dessert 🙂 ) so well that I would happily serve them to non-vegans. So I never did the lemon meringue pie, and then I went vegan in June. The recipes for vegan lemon ‘meringue’ pie look, frankly, crap. (Why does being vegan mean you have to have ‘raw’ pie base?! Stop trying to make healthy pudding happen, Gretchen, it’s not going to happen.) The specific lemon meringue pie thing was because my Granny apparently made an amazing one. My new goal is a way for me to carry on my Granny’s legacy of baking bloody well and making people happy in my own way.
26.Move out of Mum and Dad’s…permanently! (My parents are lovely. But I graduated 4 years ago…) — I now graduated 5 years ago. I’m going to say yes, I’ve done this *frantically touches wood* Wherever I go though, Derby feels like home. I wish I was joking. I am like an excitable puppy on one of those leads that just extends and shortens as necessary. England gives me a long leash, but it never completely lets me go 😉
27.Read poetry every day
28.Print off more photographs!
29.Read a book in German — I mean, yes, but it feels kind of hollow because it was an ‘easy reader’ aimed at German learners…Tbh I am going to keep trying to read German books until I can read poetry by Rainer Maria Rilke. And then I’m just going to carry on. IMAGINE HAVING TWO LANGUAGES OF BOOKS TO GO AT?!?! 😍😍😍😍😍
30.Keep seeing loved ones regularly” — Umm….I mean regularly is relative? Considering I live in another country I see my parents a fair bit. To be honest a lot of my close friendships have commuted to social media now and it’s not as lovely as actually sitting in the same room as someone and hearing their laugh or reading their poems but hey, it does the job for now.
So there you have it. I’ve just clocked that the word count would make Tolstoy jealous (sorry guuuuuuys! Thank you if you made it this far!) so I’m going to add #31 to be completed a very long time before my 30th birthday; learn to write a bloody 500 word post! This is the Twitter age!
No, but thank you if you did 🙃 Let me know what you think, what are your life/5 year/ 5 hour goals, and what do you think of the changes I made?
Get the bus from Berlin on a rainy November Friday. As opposed to the plane from Luton in August. Yes, you won’t be breaking out the bikini but Prague’s central European fairytale architecture is kind of charming in winter and there’s no beaches there, anyway.
Arrive to yet more rain and utterly fail to understand the metro system first time round. You need to buy a ticket (using coins) from a machine that was probably built by Lenin’s nan, and then you need to validate it using a slightly more fancy piece of technology. The plus side: a ticket for half an hour costs less than a Euro and you can’t possibly get lost with only 3 metro lines.
Realise that all those months of dilligently learning German are of no use to you now. Nor is your ability to distinguish a 20 cent piece from a 50 cent piece, because the Czech republic has it’s own currency. This doesn’t help you avoid rowdy stag dos, but it’s good to know.
Spend waaaaaaaaay too much money. Because 20 something Koruna to a Euro plus a scraped B grade in GCSE maths do not make for quick mental conversions and sensible choices. Vegan chocolate cake for over 5 Euros? Sure! Double Espresso for 2.30? Why not!
But also save some, in unexpected ways. You may now be brave enough to eat in restaurants alone, but even the lure of craft-brewed Czech ale cannot lure you into the underground pubs where everyone is with their friends and the noise of merry company spills out into the streets. Instead, you walk along Charles bridge one clear morning before most of the other tourists are awake, when the sky is blue and there are more birds than people on the bridge.
In all seriousness, I have nothing against stag/hen dos or the like but if, like me, crowds stress you out there is definitely a plus to visiting places like Prague at a time which isn’t necessarily the busiest. In a couple of weeks I suspect that it will be cashing in on its Baroque charm with the Christmas crowds and its warm summers mean you can enjoy a drink on a terrace cafe before hitting the club scene or whiling away the hours in one of Prague’s many, many pubs and bars… and so can a lot of other people! For me, it was nice enough to get the heck out of Berlin and get a little art & wanderlust fix, even if it was November. Another tip would be get up early if you want to enjoy places like Karluv Most (Charles Bridge). Although I possibly took my own advice a bit too literally; after accidentally happening across one of the sites of the National Gallery near Prague Castle I had to awkwardly wait in the entrance for 10 minutes before it actually opened! The woman on the ticket desk either didn’t believe that I was a working 27-year-old, or thought I looked like a pitiable creature anyway, so she charged me the concessionary rate! The National Gallery was probably one of my highlights; although the staff didn’t speak so much English, everyone was super friendly and obviously proud of the artwork they had there. There was a temporary exhibition of some Renaissance era portraits, which along with some captivating still lives on the ground floor, were probably my favourite parts. Oh no, I tell a lie — the Flemish art was gorgeous too!
So….is Prague like Berlin then?
Not really. The architecture is similar (lots of tall, fancy, terraced buildings) and so is the climate (lovely summers, cold winters) but that’s it. Prague is much smaller than Berlin — on Saturday I didn’t buy a Metro ticket at all, and after only a couple of days I already felt like I was starting to get a feel of the place — but mind you I was just looking at the touristy bits, the actual area of Prague is much bigger. Unlike Berlin there aren’t shops and cafes open well into the evening; in that sense it’s quite a lot like Britain, only pubs and the odd supermarket are open at night.
What can vegans eat there?
Heaps of stuff. On my first night I was tired and everything was closing so I just grabbed a buffet near my hostel — kind of a rival version of Loving Hut. (There are loads of them, just check Happy Cow) I went back to the same place the next day for a vegan cheeseburger. The bread was kind of floppy, the vegan cheese looked like rubber — reader, I loved it. I loved it so much I even forgot to take a photo of it. I regret nothing.
Prague is a bit more expensive than Berlin in terms of eating out but you know, when on holiday… (also I basically had no idea how much I was spending!)
I found a more fancy restaurant simply called Vegan’s in the Lesser Town (the bit over the other side of Charles Bridge) and ate lunch there. They had a few veganised versions of Czech dishes to try, which was great because sometimes the payoff with being veggie or vegan is that it’s harder to try local food. I had a yummy root vegetable soup with cranberries and dumplings and smoked seitan, which was delicious. Sometimes when tofu or seitan or whatever is put in place of meat in a dish it just tastes like a replacement, you know? Like a protein-y side dish which really doesn’t fit with anything else. But the smoked seitan with the root veg soup was perfect.
To be honest I would recommend going to Vegan’s even if you’re not a vegan, the building is quaint and quirky, the staff are lovely and speak English and the food is yummy. A main course and a desert set me back about 18 Euros so not super cheap but good value for lovely food and service. Stuff like burgers and ‘Western’ food is more expensive than the Czech options. The major downside? Access is via many, many steps (about 4 not hugely wide flights of stairs) so it’s a no go if stairs are a problem.
Prague has plenty of other choices; check out Happy Cow or the Vegan Prague Instagram page. You’re not as well catered as somewhere like Berlin for picking things up on the go or from a supermarket but if you’re on holiday there’s plenty of places to treat yourself! There’s also a few Loving Hut branches and lots of buffets where you pay per weight. (They weight your plate at the till)
How long is the journey?
Under 5 hours by coach from Berlin. It cost around 40 Euros I think.
Should I go?
It’s more of a bars/culture place than a relaxing holiday place. If you like exploring cobbled streets, shopping for crafts, sampling local brews or visiting tons of galleries, definitely go. I even found an art exhibition in a park!
I had been before, at 18, so a weekend was enough for me; you might want more if you really want to see all the historical sights or if you’re going with others. It started chucking it down on Sunday afternoon, and I realised my shoes had no grip, so I was definitely ready to get on the bus when I did! Now I just need to financially recover and decide where to go next…
Scroll down for TLDR (Too long didn’t read) version in English and terrible German // kurze Zusammenfassung ist unter, auf englisch und denglish ;P
I made two trips to the UK in rapid succession recently. At the end of September, two dear friends got married and my even dearer Dad had an important birthday (21st, obvs; I am secretly a precocious toddler 😜) and the weekend before last I just wanted a home fix (didn’t see Derby in September so it doesn’t count as ‘going home’).
The first trip was unique for me though, because I actually fulfilled a mini bucket list tick: going from mainland Europe to the UK by surface transport. Why on earth would you want to do that, Beccy?! I don’t know. The combination of living far away from many relatives and finding it difficult to sleep in cars as a child left me with a love of staring out of windows half awake, daydreaming, and watching the landscape change. That, plus my parents’ epic car tunes choices (Octopus’s Garden en route to Sunderland, anyone?) and my Mum’s magical way of conjuring up all sorts of car games (‘my grandmother’s cat’ almost made up for not having an actual cat. Or rabbit. Or spidermonkey. We could have kept Mickleover’s pet shop in booming business if I’d had my way…) equals basically an ingrained love of going places. So much so that I’m usually confused when I actually arrive, because when you arrive somewhere as a British person you’re supposed to start drinking and having fun; but, for me the transit was the fun part and without it I feel a bit like I’ve been abandoned by a friend.
So I guess what I wanted was to watch the landscape of Europe slowly changing as I edged closer to the island where I was born, to be able to savour the process a bit more than by plane.
Before I describe the changing faces of Europe, though, I’ll answer the nitty gritty questions you all want to know.
Wasn’t it expensive? I mean this depends entirely on your idea of expensive. More than a Ryanair flight booked 3 months in advance? Of course.
Berlin to Brussels: €39.90
Brussels to London: €56.00
London to Berlin: €129.90
Plus £3.40 for a National Express coach from London to Exeter. Yes the zero is in the right place, but it isn’t for people who are in a hurry or who have no coat (more on that later)
I booked through Trainline EU app. The earlier you book the cheaper it seems to be (usually) and obviously it’s even cheaper to go by coach (try Flixbus or Eurolines) but that takes a day or so. Basically you pay for speed, which I was happy to do because I didn’t want to have to miss any more teaching. Freelancer fun…. No paid holiday!
Did it take a long time?
11.5 hours from Berlin Hauptbahnhof to London St Pancras.
Weren’t you afraid about the channel tunnel leaking?
No. I didn’t have to dig it myself with spoons and my year 9 maths book; it was, thank goodness, made by people who actually know what they’re doing.
Would you do it again?
Yes absolutely, but probably either on more expensive trains that depart at friendlier times or sloooowly by bus if I had no time constraint.
Back in August when I booked the train, I honestly did not see why a 04.30 train would post a logistical problem. It was still getting light by 06.00, and besides, public transport basically runs all the time in Berlin, doesn’t it? I don’t live that far out of town right?
Weeeeeell….when it came to actually looking into it, I needed over an hour to get to Hauptbahnhof, including a 15 minute walk along a dark street in a not particularly chic part of Berlin (I mean, I lovemy area, and if anyone insults it we will no longer be friends. But there’s some interesting characters about at night 🙃 God bless ’em) So I caved in and, for like the 3rd time ever, got a taxi in Berlin.
Ordered the taxi through an app. It came no problems and played awful club music which I guiltily loved. It’s been a while since I’ve seen 3am Berlin and the streets were clear so — more staring out of windows, enjoying the ride. The driver showed me how to get a voucher code on my phone so the fare was a lot cheaper, too. I then found my platform and sat in the huge, deserted station. It was like I imagine sitting in a switched off machine would be; all the same components as usual, but none of the noise or colour.
The most exciting parts between Berlin and Wolfsburg, I confess, were simply a) being on a German train (There’s Wifi! Oooh and actually enough room for my bags!) and b) being allowed to sit/lie somewhere and sleep. Wolfsburg was dark, and I only had 10 minutes there before another nap train took me to Cologne/Köln. I had a tiny bit longer there — long enough to take a peek at the cathedral’s exterior, which is impressive, even if it is covered in scaffolding.
Köln felt different to Berlin — no surprise really, since it’s the other side of Germany! But I really look forward to going back again one day and discovering it properly. One thing going overland put into perspective for me was how huge Germany really is. I mean it just goes on and on. We think we’re so cool here in Berlin; there’s a sense among Berliners of feeling sorry for people who don’t live here and I confess I fall for it, too — but to proud dwellers of Frankfurt, Aachen, Dortmund or Cologne…those places are their ‘Berlin’, their world. I kind of had this sense in Hanoi as well, but Vietnam being so long and thin and I guess having travelled up it over a few weeks when I was there the first time, I was always very aware that Hanoi was in no way representative of Vietnam and Vietnamese culture as a whole; that many cities up and down the country made their own contributions to the colourful melting pot which an outsider would perceive Vietnamese culture to be. With Berlin however, I obsessed over the city to the point that it took over all my other memories of what Germany was. I’d been walking in Bavaria with my family 10 years earlier, and I even had hazy memories of a school trip in year 8 to the Mosel valley, but even if you ignore the beautiful and diverse countryside, Germany also has loads and loads of really big cities, each one probably with it’s own type of delicious bread, it’s own architecture and own accent — maybe a trace of the times when each state really was its own little country.
After Köln I couldn’t sleep. I watched the graffiti get less regular, the hills get higher and then non existent again and the rooftops getting that funny curved-at-the-sides shape which I just think of as Dutch roofs. Rain dashed along the windows and I felt happily content and cosy. We passed through Aachen and slid seamlessly into Belgium. We didn’t need to show our passports until we reached the Eurostar terminal in Brussels.
I always pictured my first time going on the Eurostar as either the start of a big Interrail adventure with a backpack and my best friend or more recently, as a grown up going on a grown up holiday with a grown up partner where we would drink champagne and watch the sunset over London before having dinner in Paris (I pictured the outbound journey going the other way, and of course in the fantasy I always lived in London) dear reader: I don’t even like champagne. Seriously, if you sit next to me at a wedding breakfast or New Year’s Eve, you’re basically going to get an extra flute of champagne. These little unmet or half met expectations are why I love life. Here I was on the Eurostar; young, yes, professional, well sort of (I did do a little lesson planning on the train!) I was excited as a little kid and there was so much people watching to be done: some ladies who looked like some kind of nuns, business people, families speaking all different languages — it was brilliant. And yet, in every other way, it wasn’t the trip I’d dreamed about at all. I feel like in moments like these, life is prodding me and going dream if you want to. But I might not give you exactly what you dreamed of and it doesn’t matter, you’ll enjoy it anyway.
And then, from all these new experiences; one of the most familiar places in my world; London St Pancras station. Around here is where the length of the journey was talking it’s toll. My cheap holdall was ripping, my bags were cutting me and I forgot how £s and English worked. After we departed from London it was basically 4 straight hours of having air con blasted on us, but I was just about ok, sitting there in my raincoat! Eventually though, I was with my Auntie in Devon being fed beans on toast, and all was well with the world. As we watched a TV programme, my on-edge tiredness turned into a state of pure relaxation. They’re right, I thought, I probably am crazy — but I’ll never forget this day.
Went home in September by train, thought about how flipping big Germany is. Europe is lovely and home is lovely apart from coaches that blast out unnecessary air con; seeing family and friends is especially lovely. German trains have Wifi and are more expensive than coaches and Ryanair but more expensive and/ comfy than most other transport methods.
September: wegen der Geburtstag meines Papas und der Hochzeit Zwei guten Freunden, ging ich nach England. Ganz normal, aber dieses Mal, ging ich das ganze weg von Berlin bis London mit dem Zug! Die Reise dauert 11.5 Stunden und kostet nicht viel mehr als mit Flugzeug nach London. Ich sah viele schönen Orten in Deutschland, der sind außerhalb Berlin! 😛 Kein Überraschung, aber es gab mir Fernweh!
I joked at the airport going back to the UK that the flight to Sharm-El-Sheikh and a week on the beach with a stack of books would leave me more relaxed than the snap weekend trip home that I was actually leaving for, but I was totally wrong.* Cups of tea and coffee sipped while catching up with lovely people, vegan chocolate microwave cake, an unexpected visit from my brother and more hugs than you could shake a stick at saw me right. Well. Less burned out than I was, anyway ;P
I’m going to major on talking about the ‘Meet the Publishers’ workshop, since that’s the part of my weekend which may vaguely interest other people.
It was in the workshop place of Malt Cross, a non-profit bar/cafe just off Nottingham Market place (They have vegan food options! Plural! Although, that’s not actually a ratiy in Nottingham…) The workshop space, despite being underground felt cosy and airy. The workshop is part of a series of four which are the last activities of Mouthy Poets. Not to be too dramatic about it, or anything…
My aims for the workshop were pretty simple:
See some familiar, loved, writerly faces
Remember that I should be flipping well WRITING because it’s my happy place and Mo Farah didn’t win umpteen gold medals by ordering pizza, watching prime time TV and thinking about how much he should really be running.**
Not give away how unwriterly and unsophisticated I am
So I basically sacked off 3. but 1. and 2. were definitely achieved. (I mean the remembering I need to write bit, not the Mo Farah bit, obviously)
and Nottingham’s new Young Poet Laureate, Georgina Wilding of Mud Press
Now don’t go running away with the idea that in the provincial backwaters of the East Midlands we only have five publishers; these are the five who were at the workshop but Nottingham alone has Candlestick Press,Five Leaves Publishing and, as it’s City of Literature, I’d be gobsmacked if there aren’t any more. There’s even publishers in Leicestershire. We don’t talk about Leicestershire, though***
The workshop began with each publisher talking a bit about their press/magazine, their outlook and what they publish. It was really nice that each publisher was coming from a slightly different place — admittedly all within the novel/short stories/poetry for adults genres, and all agreed that the quality of relationship between the publisher and the author was important ‘[it’s like] a marriage’. What differed was the path each publisher took into publishing, what exactly they prioritised when choosing what to publish and how they worked — some offering extensive editorial feedback, others more hands-off, for example. Rest assured, if your work is ‘the best it can be’ (Anne’s words) there will be an audience for it, and therefore a publisher for it…you probably won’t be able to give up the day job, though 😉
We spent the rest of the workshop circulating between the publishers and asking questions. It was a pretty small, intimate workshop and it was nice to meet new (to me) local*¹ writers. I got plenty of encouragement to keep flipping writing (see goal 2. above) from writers I know and those I don’t (particular shout out to Jacqueline Gabbitas, who as always was lovely, and full of clear-sighted, concise advice. Lovers of delicious poetry and short fiction, subscribe to Brittle Star! Do iiiiiiit!)
Little tips & reminders:
If you want to be published, READ READ READ other books from the publishers you are thinking of approaching; does your book gel with them?
If you are looking at magazines to place your short story/poem in, again; read the back issues to get a feel for if your piece exists. Don’t just fling your carefully crafted literary babies into the universe and hope someone will catch them. They probably won’t.
I mean, if you’re a writer, you’re reading like there’s no tomorrow anyway….right?
Now I’m writing this, I’ve realised that the best thing I ever read about submitting to journals (the fancy name for magazines that publish poems and short stories) is here and you should read it too.
*If the hand of fate, holding tickets to somewhere warm enough to swim outdoors and a 30kg luggage allowance for those books, is now retracting it’s offer then please PRETEND YOU DIDN’T HEAR THAT!!!! Derby wasn’t really relaxing….honestly! How could Derby be relaxing? They don’t even have a swimming pool…please give me those tickets 🙂
**I don’t really want to be the Mo Farah of Poetry. Except that’s kind of a lie. Maybe when I’m dead. Or just anytime as long as I don’t have to pose for newspaper photos and pretend to like singing the national anthem (‘Yellow Submarine’ is so much jauntier, damnit)
***Only kidding Leicestershire, love yooooooou!
*¹ I typed ‘local’ and then remembered that I live in Berlin. I think a part of my brain is stuck in the East Midlands — make of that what you will!