In which the varied topography of mountainous Switzerland aptly mirrors the oscillating emotional environment; and in which Paul is joined by a dear friend

Hello all,

I’m in Lucerne, and it is totally beautiful here. The streets are leafy and the buildings old and leaning. The lake is magnificent turquoise, and seems to capture sunlight then fragment it into a million hues of awesome. Only staying overnight, and loads to sort out, then a five day march to Konstanz and Germany! I realised that it is six weeks today that I set out. Wowzer. My mileage is now 744.72.

Ok, so before I bore you with events, there are two interesting bits of news to share. Firstly, I shall be joined in Konstanz by my friend, Chloe Loftus. She seemed keen on some adventuring, and after some discussion has decided to join me for an indeterminate period of time. I think it’s very brave to come and do this so off the cuff. Me, I took months of preparation and umming and arring before I finally got my bum off the island. So if you see her in the next couple of days, wish her luck! I’m not sure how it’s going to feel having company. I’ve got so used to being on my own, barely speaking for days, cooking for one etc. But then, I guess that will be an adventure in itself, a departure from what has become my norm and routine.

Secondly, a bit of slightly crap news. I may well not make it to Prague, and there is a very distinct possibility that I will bring the finish line forward to Munich. This is for a number of reasons. For a start, I have covered about 150 miles more than I expected to at this geographical point. My body is starting to really hurt. Just outside of Geneva, I tweaked my hamstring, and a double dose of Nurofen and a hefty splodge of Deep Heat is about all that makes it bearable at the moment. I am very worried it will tear or snap or whatever it is that hamstrings do when they go wrong. Added to that, my knees are pretty bad, and Switzerland has no flat bits, so they’re taking a pounding. And I have just shaken off a horrid cold, which I walked with for the best part of a week. Moan moan winge shut up Paul, you lucky bastard. Also, financial considerations (I can’t keep borrowing from mum and dad!), and I would like to be home in time for my mum’s birthday at the end of September. I’ve decided to make a final call on it in Konstanz. Basically, if I think I can make Prague in no more than three weeks from there, then I’ll go on. If not, as long as I will hit 1000 miles by the time I get there, twill be Munich. Believe me, this will be one of the hardest decisions I ever have to make. I’m so desperate to make it all the way, to complete what I set out to do. And I don’t want to let anyone down, and there is still so far to reach my charity target (HINT: http://www.charitygiving.co.uk/paulholder) (just to recap that’s http://www.charitygiving.co.uk/paulholder). Anyway, that’s how it is.

I didn’t really get a chance to describe the hike over the Jura Mountains on the French/Swiss border last time I sent a message, and there was one particular moment I quite wanted to share. The whole four days I was up there were amazing. Grueling, but amazing. The night before I hit the highest peak (Cret de la Neige -1720m) I stayed in a refuge hut with a group of guys and a little girl (don’t worry, they were related – I think). I made a big fire outside after we had eaten, and we sat round.

One by one, they went in and I was alone beside the fire for some time, just watching its motion and the embers flitting off into the mountain night. And as I stared into it, it became hard for me to find where I stopped and it started, if that makes any sense. I found that the way I was feeling was identical to the fire. I had a moment of absolutely, utterly, beyond any doubt or refutation, knowing that everything really is ok, and happening the right way and order. And I realised that, like the fire, parts of me have been burned off in this journey. I knew then that no matter what happens to me in life, there is a line that I shall never drop below again. There is no need for me ever to feel crap again, because there is a mountain hut in a beautiful place I can escape to whenever I want, for 5euros a night (honesty box job). Anyway, that was pretty much one of the best moments I can recall. And there were shooting stars that night.

So what can I say about Switzerland. Well for one, THERE ARE NO FLAT BITS IN SWITZERLAND!!! It is all up and down, threading through valleys. But it is a spectacular place to hike. Rarely out of sight of mountains, clear lakes, forests and always Buddha cows with their jingling bells.

I wasn’t so keen on Geneva. Was full of banks and commerce and other such silly unnecessary things, and stink of money. Was glad to leave and walking along Lake Leman (known as Geneva to you uneducated foreigners) for two days was one of the highlights of my whole trip. Cannot convey how vast it is. Was so wanting to go for a swim, but time and fear of leaving my kit kept me bone dry. One night, I slept about two metres from the water, and awoke to dancing light on crystal water. Happymaking.

The path I am on is so well signposted, which is a relief after the hassle of staying on track across France. Though there have been a couple of moments, especially in Lausanne, where it took me over three hours to find the route. Weather is temperamental. It can be over 30 degrees, clear skies, then ten minutes later, blazing thunderstorm with end-of-days style clouds. But so many picturesque villages to keep me happy. Willisau especially good (will post up pictures when I get time). Had to stop in Fribourg overnight, which I didn’t plan to do, because I was so ill I had stars dancing in my vision. Lowest point so far. Couple of days where my head went completely blank, and I walked in a kind of goofy euphoria, neither feeling pain, nor thinking thought. I became the no-minded nomad, which was nice. Just to be a creature engaged in the most basic of activities is very, very fulfilling. Henry David Thoreau wrote that the cost of anything is the amount of life that has to be exchanged for it. There are times when I would give my all just to stay this way all my days. People in Switzerland are super friendly. I have had people going into shops and coming out with water for me, an old man gave me the best chunk of Emmental cheese I have ever tasted, and even the farmers generally give me a wave. I am in the German speaking region of Switzerland now, so good practice for the road ahead!

I better go and get on with finding a cheap hotel for the night and washing my filthy rags and body. Just to leave on a positive note, here’s something that happened as I lay in my tent beside Lac Leman: I had just eaten my dinner, was lying in the tent listening to the lapping water and the cicadas, when a thought popped into my head: I have never felt more at home. I probed this – did I just mean in the tent, or there beside the lake? No. I realised that I was feeling for the first time that I am at home in the world, the whole thing. Only now that I have knocked down boundaries do I feel a sense of home. I, all of us in fact, was not made so robust and capable to box myself/ourselves in. And in one of those awesome moments of pure synchronicity (there are no coincidences), I opened Thoreau’s Walden (read it) at random and this was the first passage I came across, with which I shall say farewell for now (and please donate, those of you that haven’t, it will mean so so much to me) :

“The very simplicity and nakedness of man’s life in the primitive ages imply this advantage at least, that they left him still but a sojourner in nature. When he was refreshed with food and sleep he contemplated his journey again. He dwelt, as it were, in a tent in this world, and was either threading the valleys, or crossing the plains, or climbing the mountain tops. But lo! men have become the tools of their tools. The man who independently plucked the fruits when he was hungry is become a farmer; and he who stood under a tree for shelter, a housekeeper. We now no longer camp as for a night, but have settled down on earth and forgotten heaven.”

Paul x

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Hello all,

I’m in Lucerne, and it is totally beautiful here. The streets are leafy and the buildings old and leaning. The lake is magnificent turquoise, and seems to capture sunlight then fragment it into a million hues of awesome. Only staying overnight, and loads to sort out, then a five day march to Konstanz and Germany! I realised that it is six weeks today that I set out. Wowzer. My mileage is now 744.72.

Ok, so before I bore you with events, there are two interesting bits of news to share. Firstly, I shall be joined in Konstanz by my friend, Chloe Loftus. She seemed keen on some adventuring, and after some discussion has decided to join me for an indeterminate period of time. I think it’s very brave to come and do this so off the cuff. Me, I took months of preparation and umming and arring before I finally got my bum off the island. So if you see her in the next couple of days, wish her luck! I’m not sure how it’s going to feel having company. I’ve got so used to being on my own, barely speaking for days, cooking for one etc. But then, I guess that will be an adventure in itself, a departure from what has become my norm and routine.

Secondly, a bit of slightly crap news. I may well not make it to Prague, and there is a very distinct possibility that I will bring the finish line forward to Munich. This is for a number of reasons. For a start, I have covered about 150 miles more than I expected to at this geographical point. My body is starting to really hurt. Just outside of Geneva, I tweaked my hamstring, and a double dose of Nurofen and a hefty splodge of Deep Heat is about all that makes it bearable at the moment. I am very worried it will tear or snap or whatever it is that hamstrings do when they go wrong. Added to that, my knees are pretty bad, and Switzerland has no flat bits, so they’re taking a pounding. And I have just shaken off a horrid cold, which I walked with for the best part of a week. Moan moan winge shut up Paul, you lucky bastard. Also, financial considerations (I can’t keep borrowing from mum and dad!), and I would like to be home in time for my mum’s birthday at the end of September. I’ve decided to make a final call on it in Konstanz. Basically, if I think I can make Prague in no more than three weeks from there, then I’ll go on. If not, as long as I will hit 1000 miles by the time I get there, twill be Munich. Believe me, this will be one of the hardest decisions I ever have to make. I’m so desperate to make it all the way, to complete what I set out to do. And I don’t want to let anyone down, and there is still so far to reach my charity target (HINT: http://www.charitygiving.co.uk/paulholder) (just to recap that’s http://www.charitygiving.co.uk/paulholder). Anyway, that’s how it is.

I didn’t really get a chance to describe the hike over the Jura Mountains on the French/Swiss border last time I sent a message, and there was one particular moment I quite wanted to share. The whole four days I was up there were amazing. Grueling, but amazing. The night before I hit the highest peak (Cret de la Neige -1720m) I stayed in a refuge hut with a group of guys and a little girl (don’t worry, they were related – I think). I made a big fire outside after we had eaten, and we sat round. One by one, they went in and I was alone beside the fire for some time, just watching its motion and the embers flitting off into the mountain night. And as I stared into it, it became hard for me to find where I stopped and it started, if that makes any sense. I found that the way I was feeling was identical to the fire. I had a moment of absolutely, utterly, beyond any doubt or refutation, knowing that everything really is ok, and happening the right way and order. And I realised that, like the fire, parts of me have been burned off in this journey. I knew then that no matter what happens to me in life, there is a line that I shall never drop below again. There is no need for me ever to feel crap again, because there is a mountain hut in a beautiful place I can escape to whenever I want, for 5euros a night (honesty box job). Anyway, that was pretty much one of the best moments I can recall. And there were shooting stars that night.

So what can I say about Switzerland. Well for one, THERE ARE NO FLAT BITS IN SWITZERLAND!!! It is all up and down, threading through valleys. But it is a spectacular place to hike. Rarely out of sight of mountains, clear lakes, forests and always Buddha cows with their jingling bells. I wasn’t so keen on Geneva. Was full of banks and commerce and other such silly unnecessary things, and stink of money. Was glad to leave and walking along Lake Leman (known as Geneva to you uneducated foreigners) for two days was one of the highlights of my whole trip. Cannot convey how vast it is. Was so wanting to go for a swim, but time and fear of leaving my kit kept me bone dry. One night, I slept about two metres from the water, and awoke to dancing light on crystal water. Happymaking.

The path I am on is so well signposted, which is a relief after the hassle of staying on track across France. Though there have been a couple of moments, especially in Lausanne, where it took me over three hours to find the route. Weather is temperamental. It can be over 30 degrees, clear skies, then ten minutes later, blazing thunderstorm with end-of-days style clouds. But so many picturesque villages to keep me happy. Willisau especially good (will post up pictures when I get time). Had to stop in Fribourg overnight, which I didn’t plan to do, because I was so ill I had stars dancing in my vision. Lowest point so far. Couple of days where my head went completely blank, and I walked in a kind of goofy euphoria, neither feeling pain, nor thinking thought. I became the no-minded nomad, which was nice. Just to be a creature engaged in the most basic of activities is very, very fulfilling. Henry David Thoreau wrote that the cost of anything is the amount of life that has to be exchanged for it. There are times when I would give my all just to stay this way all my days. People in Switzerland are super friendly. I have had people going into shops and coming out with water for me, an old man gave me the best chunk of Emmental cheese I have ever tasted, and even the farmers generally give me a wave. I am in the German speaking region of Switzerland now, so good practice for the road ahead!

I better go and get on with finding a cheap hotel for the night and washing my filthy rags and body. Just to leave on a positive note, here’s something that happened as I lay in my tent beside Lac Leman: I had just eaten my dinner, was lying in the tent listening to the lapping water and the cicadas, when a thought popped into my head: I have never felt more at home. I probed this – did I just mean in the tent, or there beside the lake? No. I realised that I was feeling for the first time that I am at home in the world, the whole thing. Only now that I have knocked down boundaries do I feel a sense of home. I, all of us in fact, was not made so robust and capable to box myself/ourselves in. And in one of those awesome moments of pure synchronicity (there are no coincidences), I opened Thoreau’s Walden (read it) at random and this was the first passage I came across, with which I shall say farewell for now (and please donate, those of you that haven’t, it will mean so so much to me) :

“The very simplicity and nakedness of man’s life in the primitive ages imply this advantage at least, that they left him still but a sojourner in nature. When he was refreshed with food and sleep he contemplated his journey again. He dwelt, as it were, in a tent in this world, and was either threading the valleys, or crossing the plains, or climbing the mountain tops. But lo! men have become the tools of their tools. The man who independently plucked the fruits when he was hungry is become a farmer; and he who stood under a tree for shelter, a housekeeper. We now no longer camp as for a night, but have settled down on earth and forgotten heaven.”

Paul x

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English Paul’s Transcendental Trans-European Trek

My dear and handsome friend English Paul has recently taken it upon himself to journey across the Dark Continent, Europe, by foot—an arduous and thoroughly badass 1000 mile trek from La Rochelle, France, to Prague, Czech Republic, in about two and a half months. This is awesome, needless to say, and is not merely the internal journey of self-discovery the way you might think. Paul is accepting donations (here) on behalf of the Marine Conservation Society, a UK-based charity for the protection of its shores and wildlife.

From Paul’s donation site:

“It would greatly warm my belly if you would consider sponsoring me in this undertaking. It doesn’t need to be much; as little as £10 will go a long long way towards protecting our coastal ecosystems, cleaning up our beaches, and encouraging more sensible fishing practices. I will be doing somewhere between 1000-1200 miles, so think of it as approximately £1 per 100 miles, or about 5pence per blister! Needless to say, if you want to give more then that is most welcome.”

Hear, here. This is a tremendous undertaking, a throwback to the quests of the Icelandic Sagas,  the search for the Holy Grail, the Beat Generation’s exploration of the self in the context of one’s milieu. Please join The Anti Tourist as we support Paul’s efforts wholeheartedly.

At the time of this writing, Paul has so far “managed to cross France in 30 days, covering 555.82 miles. Mental.” He is documenting this on Facebook, mainly through letters written periodically to members of the Facebook Group founded for this purpose. He gave me permission to post his updates on The Anti Tourist; they will be updated here as soon as he sends them out. They will appear exactly as he writes them. He is a fantastic writer and I have thus far enjoyed his updates, even though I am kicking myself for not accepting his invitation to join him.

Learn more about the Marine Conservation Society.

Give donations here.

So far:

In which Paul readies himself for the trip, and ties up some loose ends

In which Paul prepares to travel to London by coach, and expresses regret at the consequences of recent lifestyle choices

In which Paul, having safely arrived in France, embarks on the physical portion of this largely introspective journey in search of the Self; and where he discusses injuries and physical malady whilst the French, as they are wont, celebrate Bastille Day

In which the tired and footsore English Paul reaches Limoges, France, and expostulates on the value dichotomy of physical stress

In which half of France is conquered, though not without sacrifice

In which the weltschmerz is more keenly felt than usual, where modern alienation becomes mere kitsch and loneliness is just a way of being, and where majesty crumbles

In which a short break in the relentless march toward the Bohemian lands allows Paul to take in a bit of sport, and to convalesce slightly from physical and spiritual maladies

In which the varied topography of mountainous Switzerland aptly mirrors the oscillating emotional environment; and in which Paul is joined by a dear friend

By: Ben Britz

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My dear and handsome friend English Paul has recently taken it upon himself to journey across the Dark Continent, Europe, by foot—an arduous and thoroughly badass 1000 mile trek from La Rochelle, France, to Prague, Czech Republic, in about two and a half months. This is awesome, needless to say, and is not merely the internal journey of self-discovery the way you might think. Paul is accepting donations (here) on behalf of the Marine Conservation Society, a UK-based charity for the protection of its shores and wildlife.

From Paul’s donation site:

It would greatly warm my belly if you would consider sponsoring me in this undertaking. It doesn’t need to be much; as little as £10 will go a long long way towards protecting our coastal ecosystems, cleaning up our beaches, and encouraging more sensible fishing practices. I will be doing somewhere between 1000-1200 miles, so think of it as approximately £1 per 100 miles, or about 5pence per blister! Needless to say, if you want to give more then that is most welcome.

Hear, here. This is a tremendous undertaking, a throwback to the quests of the Icelandic Sagas,  the search for the Holy Grail, the Beat Generation’s exploration of the self in the context of one’s milieu. Please join The Anti Tourist as we support Paul’s efforts wholeheartedly.

At the time of this writing, Paul has so far “managed to cross France in 30 days, covering 555.82 miles. Mental.” He is documenting this on Facebook, mainly through letters written periodically to members of the Facebook Group founded for this purpose. He gave me permission to post his updates on The Anti Tourist; they will be updated here as soon as he sends them out. They will appear exactly as he writes them. He is a fantastic writer and I have thus far enjoyed his updates, even though I am kicking myself for not accepting his invitation to join him.

Learn more about the Marine Conservation Society.

Give donations here.

So far:

Ruhr 2010 – Dortmund, Germany: HirschQ Punk

This year Ruhrgebiet, an industrious region in western Germany, is Kulturhaupstadt (Culture Capital) at Ruhr 2010, an event created to celebrate the cultural and historical offerings of the cities in the area, including Dortmund, Essen, Duisburg, and Bochum.

In DortmundACHTUNG: Weltreisende Punks, hör zu! This is the most punk place I’ve ever seen outside of the East Village. (Ha ha.) The bar is in Dortmund, called HirschQ, and subtitled “Asozial aus Tradition” (“asocial by tradition”). From the bottled Astra beer (brewed in Hamburg and popular with hip young people—think about PBR’s place in NYC only imagine PBR tasting like actual beer ) to the snarling visages of blue-haired, overweight young people, to the punkrock and skacore blaring on the ancient sound system, the curling blue cigarette smoke chokes your raucous, shrill punk laughter in direct rebellion against German anti-smoking laws. As my guide explained to me, smoking is not allowed in public places any more, but, as my guide explained further, you can’t really tell a German what to do. (Most bars still allow you to smoke, usually through a loophole in the law where they classify themselves as “Smoking Lounges” even though it’s obvious to everyone they’re just your average dive bar on the corner.)

The atmosphere of HirschQ is great, though, loud, messy, broken, dirty, a real rat’s nest of a place. Back in my high school days, “touring” with my skacore band, the venerable and popular Jake and the Phat Men played in many places with a similar aesthetic. It brought back many adolescent memories of undirected anger and antisocial behavior, of piss, of vinegar, of hormones. It’s has a certain beauty—go here for the music if nothing else.

On the way out, there’s a döner stand with döner for sale, of course, but also beer. I stopped there to get one more for the road, for the walk back to the apartment. In Germany they have no open container laws, so this option is available to those of you who can’t wait for the next bar. Hansa Export cost 60 cents for a half-liter bottle—not too bad, I thought, but Christoph, my guide, said it was a little pricey, about twice what it would have cost in a store. It’s really a nice way to walk around town, with a beer bottle in hand, and beer flows here like water, it rains beer, the rivers gurgle and spit pure beer, so it never runs dry, the bottle in your hand need never be empty as long as there is another kiosk or imbiss or döner stand nearby, and there always is.

By: Ben Britz

Ruhr 2010 – Dortmund, Germany: A Sunny Place

This year Ruhrgebiet, an industrious region in western Germany, is Kulturhaupstadt (Culture Capital) at Ruhr 2010, an event created to celebrate the cultural and historical offerings of the cities in the area, including Dortmund, Essen, Duisburg, and Bochum.

When finding yourself in Dortmund, an industry and university town in Nordrheinwestfalen, Germany, you have a few choices on how to entertain yourself: there are a ton of crappy bars, cheap döner kebab stands, and several bewilderingly decorated clubs which pulse with the beat of European house music. Geil! (German for “super-duper”.) It is a great town, a real straight forward German city where people live and work and put on no show for tourists. Here, you avoid the glossy facade of the usual European Culture Capitals and you see a true picture of Germany uncluttered by souvenir stands.

Earlier, Dortmund was known for its many and varied beer breweries; at one point in the last century there were 30-odd breweries in town; today there are fewer but at one bar, they all come together in spirit, as well as quite literally, in your glass at least. Platz an der Sonne (in English: A Place at the Sun, or a Sunny Place, or Sun Space, etc—in any case, the irony is lost on no one) is an amazing, loud, cheap, sweaty, smoky, cheap, crowded, cheap bar in the German student tradition. It’s cheap, out of the way, a little hole in the wall tucked away behind something and under something else—you’d never find it without someone pointing it out to you. (That’s what I’m doing.) The night I was there, as rumor had it the town’s breweries were getting rid of the leftover beer sitting in the bottoms of all the barrels, mixing it into a delicious cocktail of various beers, creating something brave and new and cold and delicious enough for 1 euro. In your glass swirls the leftover beer from countless barrels and breweries in beautiful unity, a symbolic offering of the deutsche Einheit des Bieres.

Platz an der Sonne is the perfect place to get drunk if you have no money. Each day of the week there’s some special or another—Wednesday is 1 euro beer day, Thursday is some cheap cocktail day, Friday is probably 3 shots for 5 euros or something; regardless of the day there is some cheap way to get silly. It’s a great time! Lass uns mal da biertrinken alda!


Photos and text by: Ben Britz

The Foot Hangout: Berlin

Cassiopeia, a combination nightclub/skatepark/performance space in Berlin, is a standing proof that childhood pipe dreams can actually be realized.
I was probably around 8 years old when I first heard about the Make-A-Wish foundation. My response was probably similar to any other healthy kid who heard about the concept for the first time: I spent the entire afternoon fantasizing about the idea of having one of my many childhood dreams fulfilled. To me, the whole idea of terminal illness seemed irrelevant, so I was much more focused on the wish than on the thought of chemotherapy or having to do my math homework in a hospital bed. My list of wishes was extensive: I wanted a pet snow leopard, a motorcycle that I could ride on water, and especially to be a member of the X-Men. Though I would have gladly exchanged my health for any of these wishes, nothing was as enticing as my wish to have a membership to The Foot Clan’s central headquarters from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I’m convinced that Cassiopeia in Berlin is the closest thing to The Foot’s Headquarters that I will ever be allowed to set foot into without having to steal a television to prove myself.

If punk rock mentality were radiation, everyone would grow an extra limb upon entering the grounds of Cassiopeia. Like many places in Berlin, Cassiopeia rose from the ashes of an Axis military hub—originally an old train station that was heavily bombed during WWII. This post cataclysmic aesthetic is something that Cassiopeia manages to keep very alive in every aspect of its property. The first thing that you will notice going into Cassiopeia is the lawless amount of street art that decorates every possible surface in the compound. Cassiopeia seems to be a very public scratching post for some of Berlin’s, and the world’s, best artists. If you are a young, up-and-coming street artist, I’d be willing to bet that you could develop some chops at Cassiopeia, and maybe even ask some of your favorite artists for some help.

The social epicenter of Cassiopeia is an old WWII warehouse that has been converted into the largest indoor skate park in Europe. As you approach the entrance, you’ll inevitably be introduced to the warehouse by attractive, cigarette-smoking hipsters standing outside the front door. Then, you will then enter a bar/café, which leads into the skate-park. Obviously, this is where the crux of my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comparison comes from. If you remember the scene in TMNT1 when you are first introduced to the Foot Hangout, you see teenagers skateboarding, spray-painting, smoking cigarettes, drinking booze, and practicing karate, all within about 28 seconds of screen-time. As you enter Cassiopeia’s old warehouse that holds the skating complex, it is likely that you will see all of the above—don’t hold me to the claim that you’ll see karate, but don’t be surprised if you do. In the Foot hangout, the hoodlums were skating on sort of quarter-pipe slalom. Unfortunately Cassiopeia lacks any such slalom, but it does have a 15-foot half-pipe and more than enough rails, boxes, stairs, etc. for you to destroy your entire facial structure on. I’m guessing that some of the best skaters in the world have done exactly this.

In the physical center of Cassiopeia, there is a giant bomb shelter that has been converted into a climbing wall and boulder like playground, analogous to the Foot’s martial arts training facility. It is also possibly the most punk rock thing that I’ve ever seen. Nothing says “fuck off” to the government more than climbing all over something that was once used for military defense. As is the standard protocol for Berlin, there is also a nice beer garden beside the skate park and climbing wall. Fitting metaphorically between the old bomb shelter and visible rubble from the war, it’s a good place to pretend you survived the apocalypse, and are living on a punk rock commune. If you are highly photosensitive, are a vampire, or just a dedicated hedonist, you can skip all of Cassiopeia’s daytime shenanigans and head straight for the nightclub. Though I can’t personally attest to the quality of the music, from asking around, Cassiopeia features quality dub-step, hip hop, electro, and minimal nights. If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll even catch a “hip hop from 1990” night and really bring my TMNT analogy to life.

Even if you aren’t interested in the street scene that Cassiopeia is flooded with, it’s worth a visit. Apart from the fact that it is the embodiment of my childhood dream, Cassiopeia is a great example of a very unique and important aspect of Berliner culture. As I was watching people climbing the giant conical Nazi bomb shelter like children on a play set, I had a sudden sense of hopeful revelation. I was sitting at a picnic table, surrounded by slabs of broken concrete, and drinking a beer quite literally in the rubble of the aftermath of one of the worst tragedies the world has ever seen. Cassiopeia is the embodiment of the Berlin revival, a testament to the ingenuity and tenacity of those who brought about this rebirth in the face of destruction. And as far as achieving my childhood pipedreams, it’s a good start—the next step is finding that snow leopard.

By: Ben Majoy

Film Noir: A (really nice) Hostel, Berlin, Germany

Berlin is the Romantic city of the 21st century. It’s the kind of city that when I walk around Friedrichshain or Kreuzberg, I feel like I could be in the movies (movies meaning films like Style Wars or Kids). It’s a lot like the city in the end product of Caden’s play in Charlie Kauffman’s new film, Synecdoche, NY, only except for the fact that his version is filled with depression and death and Berlin is filled with young artists riding banana bikes and punk rock kids with dogs (meaning = happiness). Actually, the only real similarity I suppose is that both Charlie Kauffman’s fake city and Berlin both really like vandalism. Even in that though, the Kauffman city is filled with the kind of “Bush sucks” and “Satan Rules” type of graffiti that looks stupid and in poor taste, and Berlin’s vandalism is some of the most impressive and interesting street art I’ve ever seen. As far as I’m concerned, the Berlin city government issues complimentary spray paint cans in the weekly mail and street art is a regular part of the high school curriculum. With this in mind, I expected my hostel, Pfefferbett, to look a lot less like a newly renovated and sparkling clean mariachi bar on the border of Mexico and Arizona than it actually does.

I walked into my hostel early. It wasn’t hard to find, being that it’s literally right in front of the Senfelderplatz subway station. I entered to see the bartender wiping down the green adobe bar–like the night had just ended and the last of the weekly salsa dancers were catching taxis home. If I remember correctly, Norah Jones was playing over the stereo system, but I am just going to round up and say that it was actually soft Spanish guitar playing bossa nova music, since later in the night, that was actually the case. I hold a series of assumptions in my mind about places like this. Pfefferbett, even if it’s only themed Southwestern in Berlin instead of being a genuine Mexican hometown favorite, has a certain specific Romantic appeal. It’s the same sentiment that I feel towards bars where I can imagine old New England fishing boat captains grabbing a pint after a long trip in the Atlantic, or old VFW’s in small Midwestern towns. It’s the idea that the regulars in places like this are probably filled with experiences of unnoticed heroism that I want to pretend actually happened to me. After I got the opportunity to wander around Pfefferbett for a little while, I quickly realized that the place was a lot less of a simulation Mexican bar where old masked wrestlers could happily drink Dos Equis and reflect on the golden years and a lot more of a very new and super nice hostel with a vaguely Southwestern décor.

My imagination didn’t get the memo though, so ever since I arrived at Pfefferbett, I’ve been putting everything in the context of me staying above a swanky lounge in Tijuana. This has gotten increasingly difficult as I started discovering all these technological conveniences that Pfefferbett offers. Obviously free wifi and accessible computers for guests falls into that category, but the real difficulties came from things like the magnetic locking system that Pfefferbett uses, the book lights attached to the nightstand above every bed, and the corridor lighting that is motion- activated. Old hometown Mexican bars probably didn’t have any of these perks, so maybe Pfefferbett is a little more like what a Southwestern themed bar would be like in Blade Runner. The sushi bar that Harrison Ford is in at the beginning of the movie probably also had motion-activated corridor lighting.
Later on, after I had already spent two days in Pfefferbett and had written around 2,000 words on the place, I was told by a staff member that it wasn’t actually supposed to be themed Southwestern at all, but rather the interior designer was trying to get the nature “inside”, since they have such a nice porch area and a sizable beer garden. Woops. My bad. To go along with the theme of a noir-esque Mexican style hostel, I wrote a story that I was going to work into my review of the place, as an example of what could happen if you stayed at Pfefferbett, based on the Mexican theme. It was an entirely fictitious story in first person, about me coming to Berlin as an undercover detective for the United States government to find the man who killed the German Ambassador. As the story unfolds, you see my discouragement with the fake cues that the Russians have been throwing me since they clearly murdered the man who was putting so much effort into uncovering the Russian plan to monopolize Eastern Oil Rigs and drive reassemble the Eastern Bloc by economic force. My marriage back home starts to crumble as my tenure in Germany is elongated and my mission becomes more and more complicated. At the point where I begin the story, I’m a regular at Pfefferbett; just a broken American cop who’s looking for a new place to spread his wings and has a sweet tooth for cheap whiskey. All of this is based on this fake romanticism that makes me feel like I’m in Casablanca when I’m in Pfefferbett. While I’m sitting at the adobe bar, a sweet girl sitting a few seats away talks me into having a cigarette out on the Veranda, which I reluctantly accept. Eventually I realize that it’s the ambassador’s daughter, looking for a man to replace her father, and we have a serious moment, which reinvigorates me to bring justice to Germany and the whole eastern world. If you want hints on how to waste time, my handsome readers, I’d be the one to ask.

I suppose that the idea of taking nature “inside” is the same principle as Southwestern design. People made their houses out of clay for a reason–probably the same reason that Pfefferbett made their bar out of imitation adobe. I suppose I should have been tipped off that it wasn’t themed that way when the hostel was actually super comfortable and clean instead of dirty and constantly smelling of taquitos and cheap mariachi guitarist cologne (which is how I imagined the bar in my story).

Regardless of my assumptions, Pfefferbett still has a slight Casablanca feel to it that makes me feel like I’m in an important place doing important things. I’m not sure why this is. It could be the antique style “hostel” sign lighting the brick warehouse that is Pfefferbett, the surprising luxury that is ordinarily beyond the realm of imagination in hostels, or the central location in an exciting Berlin neighborhood. It could also be because I have the imagination of a 4th grader who grew up watching Humphrey Bogart films. Last night, immediately after being told that Pfefferbett wasn’t actually supposed to be Southwestern themed, it started raining. In an act of an attempted liberation for my delusions about my detective story, I put on my wool trench coat, turned some Miles Davis up in the ear buds, and took a walk around the block. I don’t know what I was expecting, but nothing important happened. I just got wet and cold. I looked up at the “hostel” sign and thought to myself how affirming it would be if it started flickering. It didn’t. It’s too new. I walked inside and felt the sudden warmth and comfort of having a warm place to stay and a secure room to sleep in. I can’t imagine feeling as warm and comfortable walking into my pretend dive Tijuana motel. I took a shower and went to bed, where I slept without the stress of thinking that Mexican/German hookers could have died where I was sleeping. Despite my romantic delusions, I guess I actually prefer it this way.

By: Ben Majoy