We’ve only been here a week and already I am concerned about what to blog about .. everything I think about this place will surely spark negative sentiments from some back home and that isn’t my intention at all. I don’t have any good stories of putting my foot in my mouth .. yet .. No interesting missteps due to ignorance or lack of planning.. No incredible historical discoveries because Europe’s history is pretty common knowledge .. at least the big stuff. Sylvie and I have simply been walking around getting to know the local transit systems, viewing the major sites, sampling the local cuisine and burning many calories from walking. Amazing for us, but mostly boring if you aren’t here. All the photos I have snapped can be found by the thousands in Google images .. We’ve broken no new ground here but rather walked a very well trodden tourist trail.
It all comes back to my personal opinion on this place .. after a week of observation.. which I am reluctant to share.. Carefully we go ..
I love Canada .. I dislike the U.S. No secret. From across the ocean though, these 2 are the same. One trying desperately to be like the other. The American Dream right? But the truth of the matter, or my truth on the matter is, we (North America) are children of our parent, Europe. This is true in the metaphorical sense that Europeans discovered and colonized the modern version of North America.. yes, the Asians came long before and make up the indigenous people north to south of this side of the world .. but they have been, and continue to be, suppressed top to bottom.. unfortunately. We were “born” from European colonization.. but also, it would seem .. that this parent/child comparison is very effective in most practical applications of everyday life .. This is where I duck down for cover of thrown objects.
Our parents know what is best for us .. our parents know how to do things we haven’t a clue about .. our parents “try” to teach us the best ways to do things .. our parents have made many mistakes in their lives and they have learned from them. Do we always listen ? Sometimes .. but for the most part, people are going to try things for themselves rather than take advice from someone else and trust that it will help them. As a teacher, I’ve seen this way too much .. And as a friend, I’ve seen it just as much.. I am slowly abandoning offering advice to friends about things I have experience with because I am slowly realizing that no one wants to hear it .. people want to make mistakes and have a hard tale to tell. Personally, I seek out people who know more than me about something, and I pick their brains and follow in their ways.. I have no time to waste on fucking up. Then again, there is always the unforeseen .. I hit those walls regularly. But if it can be avoided, then why not seek out the solution from those who know about it?
See where this is going? It is my firm opinion that we (North America) are making way too many practical mistakes that take decades to recover from .. that we do things that lower our standard of living and makes life difficult and challenging for no reason .. that we do things that harm our environment and have long lasting effects. That we are essentially doing so many things wrong, I am losing count just walking down Frankfurter Allee here.. and this is after 1 week, in 1 European country.
I will give one very mild example that everyone can relate to and take no offense from ..
Sylvie and I have been taking the bus .. no surprise, we are becoming bus masters! So cheap .. Between cities .. from Berlin to Hamburg and from Hamburg to Bremen. Within the cities, we have been taking the transit train .. which also runs above (S-Bahn) and below (U-Bahn) ground. When we arrived in Bremen, we made our way to the train station thinking it was part of the local transit system, but we were wrong. Bremen only has tram and bus service for public transport. So this train station was the actual “train” station for regional travel. Oddly enough, there was a regional train stop near our hotel .. We got on this very nice train, similar to the controversial GoTrain in southern Ontario, and settled in for our ride.. The train starts it’s run like any other train we’d been on in Canada .. a sluggish acceleration .. but it’s somehow different. It’s quiet like a library .. not just the people being quiet, but the train itself is completely silent while moving.. no CLA CLUNK CLA CLUNK of the tracks or grinding and squealing of the wheels and suspension .. silence. Also, we feel nothing .. no bumps, no swaying side to side, no jerkiness .. smooth like a brand new car. We are rather impressed at this point .. We get up to speed .. standard train speed .. watching the houses go by .. content with our 2€ train ride … after 30 seconds, it changes .. The train starts accelerating ..hard.. can a train do this?? what the %^&*? Next thing we know, the passing houses are giving us a headache and we can’t believe how fast we are going … in town. I pull out the GPS and see that we are doing a cool 135 km/hour. Wow .. I can only imagine what this train does in the country side.
So, to make the comparison to our archaic train system .. which we have downsized in our region ( Ontario Northland ) .. or we are expanding on in Southern Ontario.. The trains in Europe utterly destroy our lumbering, seemingly steam powered, trains.. The tracks are better, and the train cars and engine are better .. way better. Germany is quite small compared to Canada .. about the size of one of our provinces and yet they have this advanced technology in full operation. Canada is humongous and would benefit from such high speed travel, and yet we are pouring more money into the old system .. the slow system .. Will we make the leap in the next century perhaps? Do we really need to learn the hard and long way? Why not take a peak at what mom and dad are doing and just DO IT. From what I just read, Canada is the only G(7,8?) country without high speed rail. One mild example we can all relate to..
The list goes on .. important topics like Education where students learn multiple languages .. they learn world history .. they learn their history – In the first week of school we were surprised to see dozens of school trip groups visiting the Sachsenhausen Concentration camp .. Learning about what happened ..
Everyone here speaks German obviously .. and we have been hard pressed to find anyone who doesn’t speak English .. 2 languages by default .. what a concept! Rather than complaining about multiple languages, they learn them ..
Windmills everywhere! All along the coutry side .. more than we could count. All I read about back home is how the windmills are a failure and people are complaining about them .. animals dying because of some frequency they emit .. costing too much money and that they aren’t dependable .. on and on and on .. seems to be working pretty well over here unless of course I seriously uninformed.. quite possible!
There is a certain trust running through the veins of this society. And it can be seen everywhere .. from the free borders of Europe to once again, the transit system.. it runs on the honor system. The government trusts it’s citizens to do the right thing and pay the fairs. In the places we have been, we have not seen any ticket booths or employees taking or checking tickets. There are ticket vending machines that you purchase your tickets from and that’s mostly the gust of it. We didn’t want to write this and not be sure, so Sylvie and I tested the theory in Hamburg .. the idea that you could dishonestly ride the transit for free. Yep, for 2 days, we rode all over the city for free. We wouldn’t have had the gonads to do this on our own .. but we met up with our friend Lasse and he helped us with this social experiment by offering reassurances and motivation. Do you remember Lasse? He is the Danish fellow we met and travelled with in Indonesia. It was our first time meeting up with someone we had met on a trip. We chose Hamburg as a meeting place and we walked around the city soaking in the sites and by the time the sun had fallen, we were on Reeperbahn… the red light district where the Beatles got all their practice. What a place! Party party .. Sex and beer everywhere.. even the word “Reeperbahn” sounds sinister to my Canadian ears. This was similar to the red light district in Amsterdam, but more of a party atmosphere .. like Pub Street in Siem Reap. Lasse and I kept Sylvie out of trouble and just drank and chatted in one of the side streets of Sodom and Gomorrah. It was great to see Lasse again and we wished we had more time to spend with him, but he starts Journalism school shortly and we wish him all the success.
Airbnb!. These are great .. and the cheapest option for staying in Germany so far.. hotels are crazy expensive unless you book them in the countryside outside of the city and hostels have turned to capitalism around here .. just as expensive as the hotels. Airbnb is the way to go .. although it is a bit of work for us seeing as we move around quite a bit. You can’t just “book” your Airbnb .. you have to “court” your host before you can pay and reserve .. exchange a few emails first .. that means waiting and being near wifi .. it also means booking a few days ahead and keeping your bookings 2-3 places ahead of your plan. But it’s worth the extra trouble as you get to experience real homes and apartments .. you get to live as they do for a short time. We have used 2 such apartments and have had the greatest experience. We will be Airbnb’ing it throughout Europe we think.
The autobahn is real!! The autobahn is not a particular highway .. I think it just means “highway” and that all the highways in Germany are autobahns. And they all follow that awesome “no speed limit” system. I realized it on our bus trip to Hamburg when I noticed the bus was doing 100 km in the right lane and cars were ripping past us in the left … Yes, that’s right, left lane is for faster traffic and the right lane is for slower traffic for all you holdout non believers out there. They actually have a law that forbids passing a vehicle using the right lane .. what a great idea! You’d think that there would be more accidents, but after a bit of research I have learned that there are less traffic accidents here .. and the accidents they do have are mostly do to excessive speeds in bad weather .. interesting. There are also zones with more specific rules .. like certain areas of the autobahn will have speed limits because of … I don’t know why .. but I saw 120 km zones plenty .. and then other areas where buses, large trucks and trailers are not allowed to pass .. they must stay in the right lane .. another great idea. Another aspect of this is the work and money involved in getting your license in Germany .. apparently it’s not easy which I think churns out better drivers maybe? Able to drive under these fast conditions .. It was amazing watching Volkswagens and Mercedes flying passed and disappearing in no time.. Just like everywhere else in the world we have been, very rare to see a Ford, GM or Dodge vehicle .. very rare ..
Other than that, Sylvie and I are loving these German cities.. the beautiful buildings, the rich history which we have barely scraped the surface of, the many enlightenments and the delicious foods. We’ve eaten the many varieties of sausage .. the schnitzels .. the Turkish doner kebabs .. so good and so cheap. We aim to eat for about 10-15 Euros per meal .. breakfast for usually 5 Euros .. Travel is cheap .. walking around is free .. Airbnb is cheap. Europe has turned out to be less expensive than we had planned for and this is great news for us. The Czech Republic is next ..
A link to our video on Germany