I arrive in Bavaria on a crisp fall day and history has come to greet me. Everywhere are people in traditional clothes, leiderhosen and dirndl, and the mood is wonderful. The people are off to Munich for Octoberfest to celebrate beer and their history while I have arrived in cow country to enjoy some nature. A dear friend Florian, whom lived in Kansas City for a study abroad, has returned home to southern Germany and like our last adventure we are going to climb a mountain. Unlike that trip we will not get altitude sickness, but we will make many more memories.
*3 years ago in Colorado at 14,000 feet
If the mildly charming smells of cow pasture do not alert you to your present situation the constant ringing of bells will. Every cow has their own bell, a matter of tradition now, and thus their merry wanderings ring across the rolling hills of vibrant green. Green is the grass here, second only to Iceland I think. Cows play an important roll in Bavaria and are a source of pride. The young cows are often sent to the alps for grazing before winter and return to the farmers adorned with a giant bell, flowers and all cleaned up if the whole herd makes the journey intact. It’s a parade where everyone gets dressed up, even the cows, and shows off.
Florian’s aunt has a dairy farm and I get to experience milking up close and personal. It’s amazing to watch them line up to get washed and milked. Looking into their large eyes, these cows seem to stare back, trying to convey their sense of being. They are very well taken care of and seem to enjoy a nice country side lifestyle. The amounts of milk while varying from cow to cow average 22 liters a day. That’s roughly 500 gallons of milk a day for the 100 cows that get milked. Among the young cows, they vary from extremely shy to licking my hand with their rough tongues. There are some barn cats new to life and an extremely agile dog. As a special treat a young lady cow was going to get pregnant today. Florians cousin took special training to be able to tell when an egg was present and how to insert sperm right next to it with a long tool. Pretty interesting, but not so much excitement for any party. I’ll stick to traditional methods.
His aunt invited us to a simple dinner after having finished their daily work while we watched. A few questions were offered my way, but Florian got to catch up with his relatives in German for the evening. After the initial odd looks upon discovering I neither ate meat or alcohol, and a joke that I should join the cows, we all settled into smiles. This was another excellent experience to practice understanding people without words. I expect more of this as I travel of course and it is quite amazing how well one can communicate with feeling alone. We might rely on words too much sometimes to express ourselves when a long hard look into another’s eyes will do more justice. Obviously when you have no words to offer and the burning desire to express yourself remains all that is left is to center yourself and radiate whatever glow you have. Such a skill is one I wish to practice and hone, so that no matter where I go I can fill a room with my presence and understand all and be understood in the only way that matters: your presence in the world.
Florian myself and two friends hiked siplinger hof mountain on an extraordinarily nice day. Through dense woods, across narrow points and with the amazing scenery of 3 different countries we strolled. We stopped for a traditional lunch at the top where there exists a large cross, as is customary for German mountains. This consists of bread, cheese, and sausage and I added some carrots and baby tomatoes to round out my non meat cravings. Florian’s friends were glad I preferred the traditional food to a hamburger and fries. At the end I enjoyed a burst of energy as I ran down the mountain in my toe shoes to great delight. We gathered and enjoyed a radler, a mix of lemonaid and beer. Very refreshing.
After climbing the mountain we celebrated Florians birthday. This was the circomstance that decided for me to head to Germany first rather than Belgium. Of course everything worked out perfectly. I met many of his friends, and after they drank a bit, the broken english came out and we all shared slurred stories of travel. The authentic Bavarian dish I was able to try was a wedding/funeral soup with a salty broth and noodles made from a German pancake made the day before and cut up. It was quite delicious.
On our last day we visited neuschwanstein (new swan stone) castle. This is the fairy tail castle that inspired Disney’s castle. Built by king Ludwig II to satisfy his romantic dreams and lifestyle. It is every bit the magic castle you could imagine. We had rather a lot of fog on our trip so enjoy the postcard photo. I’ll hopefully be back to see it again on a clear day. After all this excitement and hospitality it was time to head up to Berlin and visit another friend.
Winter is coming and that means 6 hours of sun in Berlin or nostalgic thoughts for me depending on how you count time. Bundling up, cups of tea and Christmas shopping are a few of the warm thoughts bubbling up today, but more pervasively are thoughts of my time at work. The actual work when I think about it thankfully runs from my memory, but the plesant moments and more importantly the feelings have stayed. I’ll always remember my first 6 months of work with my father for the amazing learning experience it was. I had responsibilities that extended beyond myself, I was learning the business and how to speak with people on the phone and get what I needed. I started in October so 6 years later on the mark I remember most the warm feeling of learning from my father, imitating his lifestyle, and learning to drink cappuccinos. That was our midday ritual, find lunch and finish with a cappuccino. I remember those days fondly right now, the warmth of the drink coupled with the warm environment of family and belonging to something outside myself. It is of course the romantasised memories that bring up these wonderful feelings. Those pure moments of feeling that linger over the years is all that is remembered, not the doing and so it is vital to remember that all you do should be done with great feeling and vigor. When action lacks feeling and becomes dull, moments of your life slip away into the ether never to be recalled again. Stay awake and love what you are doing and your days will be filled with joy and warmth.
The sounds of winter are the reverberating shuffle scrapes of shoes in empty courtyards and stair cases, with the sniffled overtone of breath catching the shock of chilled air. Sounds and touch are amplified in the chilled silence of winter air asking each person to notice the starkness of change before the impulse to hurry on and retreat into warmth. A beam of sun catches you in mid stride and you can almost agree that it’s not half bad. Then the shade comes back and you shudder to remember it’s actually only fall and winter is a ways off.
Berlin is a unique experience due to its history. Once liberated, east Berlin was behind the times and this made it an idea place for lovers of freedom to congregate. Rarely do you find an authentic Berliner as artists and eccentrics from the world over flock to Berlin to live cheaply and express themselves. The going slogan is “poor but sexy” and it shows. It’s a haven for eternal sub culture, the parents are over in West Berlin perhaps and not wanted here.
Often in bombed out buildings these people would squat and over time they turned into communities focused in art or gardening and many other projects. As money flows into the city, these spaces are now worth quite a sum, which leads to many legal problems today settling ownership, and as the city grows the atmosphere is changing. Money tends to bring with it the conservative touch of conformity. Berlin is perhaps the last modern city where a thriving culture of poor, but free creative people exist in such boundless numbers with such freedoms and space. The people I met look back on prices and freedom of mobility 10 years ago and see that Berlin will be much different in another 10 years as unparalleled growth happens and this city rushes to meet the fate of all cities.
Sexuality also flows freely as the normal stereotypes of repression have been set free. This was evident on the highlight of the trip. My good friend Shauna whom I was crashing with took me and some friends to Wasteland, an offshoot from the worlds biggest fetish party in Amsterdam. I only knew to expect latex and rubber and keep an open mind. I was prepared for that, but I wasn’t prepared for just how comfortable the whole thing would be. After rummaging through a friends wardrobe, it was decided I would be wearing a PVC skirt, red thigh high stockings and a fishnet shirt.
It was suggested I go in my underware only as it gets quite hot in this place, but I was needlessly hesitant to be that naked as I would soon understand that just underware would be quite conservative. Thankfully the skirt gave me some sort of costume and added a nice flare to my dance style. Besides just being comfortable I totally understand why women wear them now. The costumes at the party were magnificent and I wish I could have spent some more effort on mine, but at least my compatriots had full rubber outfits of the kind you would expect. (In hindsight I am thankful I was not living in a river of sweat)
The club is billed as the place for consenting expression of sexual freedom. The age range was more in the mid 30-50’s, but every age group was represented. Perhaps it was this added maturity that added a pervading calm and easy going flow to the whole place. There were half naked people of all sorts, men, women, tops and bottoms. There were people who seemed they couldn’t decide to dance or masterbate and kept switching between the two on the dance floor. Others were having various types of sex in other spaces. And this was very natural and okay. Many people not used to this may have been gawking and picking their jaws off the floor all night, but being there, seeing people interacting with such care and affection, even when using whips, was the biggest surprise of all. Freedom comes when you express and explore who you are and what makes you feel good. I suppose if this was too much you would have just left and thus everyone here was on the same page. I’m glad I got to see what being open with your body can look like in the extreme. Nudity and sexual expression in Europe has always been ahead of our more prudish nature where showing violence doesn’t make as much of a stir as naked bodies.
The rest of my time in Berlin was spent exploring a little, but mainly learning Acro Yoga. I dont know the exact definition, but Acro invoves two people performing a mix of acrobatics and yoga, with one person on the ground as the base and the other supported in the air as the flyer. I spent 3 of my 6 nights going to practice and meeting people so I would say Berlin was like going to circus school for me. I had been introduced to this yoga before by a couch surfer in Kansas City, but I really got to learn some things and find my balance. I was fourtunate enough to learn both base and flying. Experiencing both sides of this movement cultivated an amazing respect for perspective. As a base I saw the whole movement and balance one way, then as a flyer as a completly different way. It was quite schocking, after explaining to my flyer what I needed as a base, to have it flipped around on me and experience the reverse. A perfect and immediate lesson in understanding that your perspective is not reality, but only your interpretation of it.
I enjoyed my time in Berlin and all the amazing people I met. Many of whom struck an immediate chord as someone I would continue to get to know better. As for the city, while providing a context for these personal encounters, I wasnt really moved particularily by its beauty or presence and thinking about spending winter there chills me to the bone. But like all the amazing people who endure the winter to experience the rest of the amazing seasons, its the community of interesting young people expressing themselves and what they love that gives Berlin its unique charm.
See you next year Germany.
P.S. I got to do 200 on the autobahn.