Hello from Berlin
After an early evening nap, I headed back to the Amstel Tavern last night. The same barman from the other night was there again, and after chatting for a while I found out he was actually Scottish. You would never know from his accent he was from Aberdeen. I though he was Dutch who had learned English from American television. Anyway, he seems like a really nice bloke and we chatted because, aside from me there was only other person in the bar.
“Are you choosing the music tonight?”, I asked him, with a reply in the positive. “I know exactly how old you are”, I then told him, as he had played music which mostly matched my own history and tastes.
When the bar closed I went to the nearby Mix Cafe which had a strange crowd (so I moved on) and then The Red Spot Cafe (or something like that). On entering I was almost instantly befriended by a group of five Spanish guys who spoke almost no English. Still, they were good fun to hang around with, as we had the common language of European pop music. “Who needs Esperanto when you have schlager?”, I thought to myself.
As it turns out, the two bar-tenders were also singers, and in between pulling beers, they entertain the customers with their singing. “What do you think of them?” one of the only two Dutch customers in the bar (and a friend of theirs) asked me in response to their first duet. I don’t know what was going through my mind, but the words, “They’re just likely Kylie and Jason”, came out of my mouth in response.
And that’s when IT happened. In a bar that comprised only two Dutch bar-tenders, two Dutch customers, five Spanish customers and one Australian, it was time for a karaoke sing-a-long (in Dutch).
As it turns out, it was the final night of residency at the bar for Jason and Kylie, and we were encouraged to sing them a farewell serenade. The words (in Dutch) appeared on the television screen, and without evening thinking twice, we all burst into song. I can’t begin to imagine how hilarious it must have been for the locals to watch the Spanish guys and the Australian bloke sing a long to a Dutch language pop song. “I’m singing in Dutch”, I kept thinking to myself in between moments of laughter. So funny.
Anyway, we went to another bar, had a drink, exchanged phone numbers and I headed back to my hotel for a good night’s sleep ahead of today’s train journey to Berlin.
It shouldn’t come as to much of a surprise to discover I’m a little hung over today. Not too bad. But enough for a bit of a sleep on the train. I was awake, though, for the “Big Ticket Drama” that happened involving a group of young Italians sitting nearby who had failed to validate their tickets with a start date.
The validation is necessary so you only travel for the amount of time you’ve paid for. There was a lengthy announcement in four languages before we left Amsterdam explaining the reasons why. And, it was explained, if you don’t have a valid ticket, there is a 50 Euro travelling fee/fine.
As it turns out, this group of kids had already travelled twice without validation, and when asked by the conductor why their tickets weren’t validated, they claimed not to have known it was necessary.
Anyway, as these things do, it all got a little messy and one of the young guys started saying something under his breath in Italian. “Get out. Get off the train. You don’t insult me. I speak Italian too”, the conductor then told them. “Either you pay fifty euros or you get off the train now”, he then said more firmly.
So the upshot of it all was they left the train and the guy who I was sitting next to (who bore a remarkable resemblance to Ian Thorpe) and I suddenly ended up with double seats. It was a win-win situation because one of the guys was using his tray table as a drum-kit, which was starting to piss me off.
While on the train I slept for a while, wrote most of this blog, and read a little of Schlager Bog, the Swedish language book I bought in Stockholm several weeks ago. Having not spoken Swedish for about four weeks, I’m a little rusty and had to consult my dictionary quite a bit. In the end I gave up and just went back to sleep.
And so here I am in Germany, staying in a hostel in what was East Berlin for many years. Across the road there’s the Volksbuhne, The People’s Theatre, arguably the country’s most innovative theatre. The hostel is clean, the staff are friendly, and it’s centrally located for some sight-seeing tonight and tomorrow.
It’s funny being back in Germany after all these years. When I was last in Germany I was seventeen years old and learning German at school. It’s amazing how much of what I learned then is still with me: the result of having had a great teacher, I suspect. Or maybe just having learned it when I was young.
It was funny, though, being on the train, as the announcements and signs at the cafeteria suddenly went from Dutch to German. When the bloke behind the counter said “Bitte schon”, it was actually a bit of a shock. After spending a couple of weeks travelling in places where I understood none of the language, I suddenly found myself confronted (or comforted?) with something I did understand and could respond to. And of course I still remember that all important phrase, “Ich mochte ein bier, bitte”