I feel every bit a stranger in a foreign land. I debate whether it is possible that people can identify me as an American from a mile away, or a kilometer as it may be. I haven’t worn blue jeans or sneakers, but I’m sure I have tells. Like absentmindedly crossing from the regular sidewalk onto the smooth sidewalk. Who wouldn’t rather walk on smooth pavement than irregular stones and tiles? Except the smooth sidewalk isn’t really a sidewalk at all, but a bike path, so it doesn’t take me long to realize my mistake. A bit of a bicycle evangelist myself, I am absolutely in awe at how many people rely on bicycles for transport here. People of all ages and body types cycle here, and it occurs to me now – I have not seen a single article of spandex since I’ve been here. Tongue firmly planted in cheek, I wonder how on earth they tell who the ‘serious’ cyclists are without bike shorts or riding jerseys to identify them.
Amidst all the hustle and bustle of German efficiency (wind resistance aside) I go about my business meandering and exploring. I notice they seem pretty observant of the walk left, stand right school of thought as I watch the escalators carrying people to and fro from the U stations. I’m seizing the opportunity to walk as much as possible and feeling pretty self-congratulatory on walking left myself, when a throat clearing cough behind lets me know I’m not walking fast enough left.
Woefully inefficient American that I am, I slow down even further to stop and smell the
roses lilacs. A flower stall catches my eye on my path out of the subway and I’m instantly derailed from my mission by shocks of yellows and bolts of purple. The contours of some of these flowers are wholly unfamiliar to my eye. They are clearly flowers but the shapes don’t match the flower shapes in my vocabulary. Although I’m positive some shopkeep is going to run out yelling at me to stop lollygagging if I’m not going to buy something, they never do and I methodically inspect each of their offerings, like an indecisive kid in a candy store. Meanwhile a street busker plays an accordion, which if you ask me, provides the perfect soundtrack for flower gawking.
Satisfied that I have thoroughly examined each and every bloom like some self-appointed quality control inspector, I return to my original mission of making my way to the Englischer Garten. I briefly encountered the Englischer Garten when we visited last fall, and I was in utter amazement. How could a park this big have like, no trash? I believe I read that it is actually bigger than New York’s Central Park, and yet, there are no tumbleweeds of junk food wrappers collecting along the edges.
I pass people playing soccer and having picnics on the expansive green. The lake catches my eye and I make a beeline for it as I am a water baby at heart. In my mind, I make friends with the water fowl as I make my way around the lake. It also occurs to me that I don’t think I’ve ever made out with someone in a boat before. It looks awkward. There is a lot of opportunity for it to end poorly with one clumsy move.
I round the lake when lo and behold, what is this? A bier garten? Don’t mind if I do! I walk up to the kiosk to find its older attendant having a bit of a snooze. He wakes long enough to sell me a beer and a sleeve of popcorn. I ease myself onto a rickety, child sized wooden chair next to a flimsy plastic stool overlooking the lake. I smile as the couple returns their boat. I gaze out on the little lake as the sun fades.
Bonus Travel Tips
- When becoming flustered that your brand new camera is suddenly not working, check to make sure you turned it on.
- Take your US coins out of your change purse so they don’t add any unnecessary confusion when looking for correct change.
- Don’t panic when the water turns off mid-shower because you’ve obviously used up your water ration you didn’t know existed. Calmly turn the lever back on when you realize you just accidentally pushed it with your bum and resume your shower.
- Don’t walk on the smooth sidewalk.