Category: On the road

BERLIN: A SHITTY GUIDE

This was originally written as a miniguide in the “Stories” section of Shitty Guide, a publication based out of Antwerp. Though it has not since been edited, you can read the original here. There are some pretty good memes on the website.

We’re standing surrounded by police cars, eyes locked on the very angry Rottweiler rolling its eyes around and routinely lunging at us between foaming snarls, as the Berlin police copy down our information. Our mission had been relatively simple: a routine jaunt over a fence into an eerie abandoned theme park, to lounge about on decapitated plastic dinosaurs or try to get stuck at the top of the big creepy Ferris wheel like one nostalgic 90-year-old woman did in the summer of 2013. (source)

The Berlin police, however, don’t take so kindly lately to these harmless fence-hoppers, as evidenced by their unleashing of the killer dog, which chased us through a field and was called back just before it tore a man’s asscheek off.

________

This summer Shitty Guide went out and about to discover what shit lies beyond, in the obscurity of the European ether. Turns out there’s lots to choose from.

Berlin, for example, is the notable historic home of lots of really bad shit. Fortunately there’s some left over, and it probably won’t get you killed anymore (police dog chases aside.) Perhaps due to the flourishing fascism and division that once held Berlin and its inhabitants so firmly by the proverbial balls, the city has since rebounded in the opposite direction and helixed itself into a graffiti-covered, anti-fascist, punk-rock, electro-hipster paradise. It is often stupidly, unsufferably cool, crammed with freshly-tattooed youths and bad-but-hip conceptual start-ups, fancy clubs that fire off confetti and darker clubs where you can bone for as long as you like on the sofas, but of course, these things require access to money, and for this visit we shot for some shit of lower cost.

SPREE PARK

The Kulturpark Plänterwald was opened in 1969 to celebrate the German Democratic Republic’s 20th birthday, but the fall of the Berlin wall and the dissolution of the GDR eventually dropped it into the hands of one Norbert Witte, a carnival operator with an unfortunate history of accidentally killing people with cranes.

Unfortunately, the park failed to perform as Norbert had expected, and he moved his operations to Lima, Peru in 2002. This ambitious venture evidently took a turn when he was imprisoned for eight years for attempting to smuggle 181 kilos of cocaine back to Berlin inside the ‘Flying Carpet’ ride. (source)

The park went up for sale on ebay (seriously) after Witte went to prison, but in the end it was purchased back by the city and, as evidenced by our very brief visit, security has since been ramped up. Fortunately, the German police don’t have many options for prosecuting trespassing offenses by non-Germans, so we were released with little more than a slap on the wrist, fond memories of the eerily murmuring park and near-death by murderous Rottweiler.

TEUFELSBERG

Atop the Grunewald Forest on the crusty rim of West Berlin suburbia, there lies a cluster of white globes struck up on the horizon like a suspicious crop-up of warts. These land-warts are the towers of Teufelsberg, German for “devil’s hill” – a man-made hill reaching 120 meters above sea level, constructed from 75 million cubic meters of post-war rubble lugged out of Berlin and dumped over the incomplete remains of a Nazi military-technical college — making Teufelsberg essentially just a really, really massive pile of shit.

Due to the superb listening abilities atop the shit pile, in the 1960’s the U.S. National Security Agency chose to set up shop and construct one of its most massive listening facilities to monitor Soviet and East German military operations, thereby forcing the shut-down of two massive ski jumps that had opened on the hill (depressing both deviant Soviets and ski bums alike.) The remaining globes are military radomes that comprised a NSA spy station, though the rest of the facilities were broken down and removed after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

Teufelsberg Field Station has since been unofficially adopted by the Initiative Kultur-DENK-MAL and reconstituted as an urban graffiti wonderland/artistic shit zone. The raised woodland property is lined with trails and alcoves sometimes occupied by squatters or artists. The shit pile has become the collective brainchild of innumerable artists and muralists, littered with sculptures and discarded home fixtures, freestanding bathtubs (for lounging, we suppose,) deconstructed furniture, pallets, plantlife, recyclables, and piles of bare materials owed to unknown projects in the works.

In the center of this maze of half-realized creative structures are the towers themselves, rearing up to 80m above the forest, comprised of multiple exposed floors devoted exclusively to graffiti and murals, and capped with three massive white globes of peeling white plastic canvas. The top tower is mostly intact, so after a climb of six to seven flights up a pitch-black staircase above the roof, you emerge in the darkness of the top radome. The radomes are impressive echo chambers and notably bad places to pass gass. Save the grumpy old dude at the gate that wants seven euros for entry (though there’s beer and chocolate cake on donation) and quite a few lost-looking Germans wandering around on acid, the site is nearly bare of touristic traffic. Plus the view is nice or whatever, if you’re into that shit.

MAUERPARK KARAOKE

Every Sunday at 3 PM, Joe Hatchiban treks his massively powerful portable sound system out to a stone amphitheater in Mauerpark, a large stretch of park behind during the flea market. This has become one of the largest public karaoke sessions in existence, meaning a massive horde of people gathers together to make each other suffer in unison at the same time every week. Sounds a lot like church! Maybe Sundays just aren’t supposed to be good. A crowd of hundreds crams a stone stadium on the backside of the Berlin wall and is generally fairly supportive of its victims, though bad performances notably get preference. The spectacle is apparently a Berlin tradition, all thanks to Joe and his unmatched passion for shitty singing.

The market itself is crammed end-to-end with Berliners selling all their old shit, ranging from boxes of rummage and detritus from innumerable dead grandparents to more upscale small business owners hawking their wares to tourists. We found a bunch of plastic dinosaur skeletons for 5€ and a paperweight in the shape of an ass with ears for 2. Whatever strikes your shitty fancy.

RENT-A-BIKE 44

We owe a notable shout-out to a not-so-shitty guy named Alexandros, who helped us get around the city for next to nothing.

Alex loves shitty bikes. He was the neighborhood repairman for upwards of twenty years in Neukölln before he saved up enough to buy himself five shitty bikes and start renting them out to people for four bucks a day. Now, he owns hundreds of shitty bikes and rents them out daily on the basis of trust, with a host of helpers from eight different countries. Yunus, his right-hand-man on the day we stopped by, explained Alex’s ascension from neighborhood handyman:

“I think this should be mentioned – he didn’t have the ten or twenty thousand euros to start the business. He started piece by piece. He was working from the opposite, from the cellar. This is our first year where we have the rental business in priority, before it was a mechanic – like a repair store.

“Today we have 230 bikes. That means Alex made something good, and now we are not only colleagues anymore, we are also workers for this – well, let’s say good guy. My deepest respect, you asshole,” he says, kicking Alex in the leg. “But he lost all of his hair during the time – look at that.” Alex doesn’t say much, rolling a cigarette and smiling. Up rolls an older woman on a commuter bike, and she stops to talk to Yunus in German, clasping his arm affectionately.

“That’s our grandmother,” Yunus says when the woman rides off. “She’s 82. She can’t walk, but she can cycle. It’s her mobility. She says without that shitty bike, she’d be dead.”

For more information about abandoned shit in Berlin, check out the excellent resource www.abandonedberlin.com

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VIENNA: CAFÉS, SCHNAPPS AND BLOOD WHERE IT SHOULDN’T BE

Vienna. Wien. Wiener. Ha ha.

A pulse in the dead heat. Espresso with cream.

Who are you reading? (Hustvedt and Foer.)

Gothic churches, pointed spires, Flak towers that fired 8,000 rounds a minute at Allied forces, including my paratrooper grandfather. Did you know, he would say, that I went up in an airplane twenty-one more times than I came down in one?

Wind. Lots of it.
The fading gloom in Fabian’s massive modern office-turned-flat and his cologne, clearly he has spruced up. He talks of schnapps, good for a stomachache.

A dim, colorfully lit Hungarian café, a nude female mannequin wearing the head of an unknown antlered mammal with eyes on the wrong side of its head — “probably some art piece,” says Fabian, and shrugs.
Onion soup and tea and a seconding of the schnapps notion from the owner of the restaurant (did I ask?), a thin, dramatic woman with spiked bleached tips and a long brown skirt. Fabian drinks three beers and uses Facebook on his phone.

Café Kafka (real), Café Jenseits (smoky 1920’s), Café Sperl (just old), Café Europa (three levels, each one murkier than the last — here Fabian orders a Frankfurter, tells me to “punk up” and drink more Fernet Branca), Café futurgarten (predictably trendy, as a name without capitals will always indicate), Café Phil (for sophisticated hipsters), Café Espresso (a dim bar packed with cool chainsmoking millennials: all seats taken, so Fabian decides to lean up against the doorjamb. I make eyes with a fella in the window. We watch each other, then he watches me walk away.)

Fabian, now drunk, launches upstairs into the swanky wine-and-cheese event of an elite facial reconstruction academy. It is quite small, private, a suit-and-tie affair. Fabian bursts in, raincoat dripping, and shouts (in English, for my benefit) about wanting to eat their “tiny breads” (appetizers.) I am behind him, an actual homeless person. The man who chases us out wears a beige paisley suit worth more than any dwelling I might ever aspire to own.

Hi, I’m Viennese. I study architecture. My grandparents were Nazis, but I’m a vegan socialist. I climb mountains effortlessly, speak English fluently, and my university is paid for. Now you decide, who won the war? 

For those too ill to eat:
Sobriety: an unreasonable choice.
Jägermeister: a solid choice.
Fernet Branca: a safer choice.
Averna with lemon: a poor choice.

Café Kreisky and vomiting discreetly into the bright red toilet, Café Bukowski with Charlie himself gazing out from all angles, daring me to do it again (but this time with gusto!) Hey ladies, I think perhaps we should take a cab home. No worries, I’ll pay for it! I’m fine, just going to the toilet. Just real quick.

Small red flecks in the water. Scheisse.

Only one night in the Wien ER (Wiener. Ha ha.) I have become an avid hospital tourist. Thricely stabbed before anyone can locate my artery, as usual, then the waiting room until I’ve been bleeding backwards into the empty IV bag for a while. I sleep in a chair because my friends have to sleep in chairs. We’re there from 1:30 to 5 AM. Stomach virus, Gastritis, the docs tell me. Non-fatal, in spite of the blood in your vomit. Take some carbon. Where shall we send your bill, Miss Worley?

A couple of shows: DOA, a handful of unknown Viennese punk bands at Venster99, Midnight Priest from Portugal way out at Erdberg, me jogging through the industrial district to catch the metro before midnight as I’m still too ill to crash on an addict’s living-room floor. Sometimes I still feel like a phoney — not dirty enough, certainly not a satisfactory alcoholic, sometimes I walk into vintage stores — sometimes I even buy jeans at H&M. Gasp, don’t tell the punks that. But look, I gotta buy pants somewhere and fitting this ass ain’t easy.

One failed departure from the city leading to a short campout at the Westbanhof station and a re-assesment of my mental capacities (Westbanhof is not Hauptbanhof, whether or not you speak German, you scheisskopf.) So back to the house I trudge, and as I am “well” it is high time for a drink — make that three beers — during a Quebecois film about two lovable virgins aspiring to bone each other in public places — 3x4cls of Jäger for 7.50€ (bargain) on the steps of the Volkstheater with Lia and her lipsticked Viennese friends — then one last café to top it all off, tucked under the Gurtel, blacked out on all that Jäger, a couple hours of Actually Dancing to an American swing playlist, and a trek home that I do not remember.

I catch a ride out of the city the next day with a sculpture artist and an atheist physicist Syrian refugee who’s into heavy metal. We listen to the Cypress Hill Black Sunday album on repeat.
That was my Vienna.

“Life is too short to learn German”
–Oscar Wilde

DENMARK, OR PISSDUST AND THE DELICATE ART OF MUCUS-LADEN SEDUCTION

The why

A frigid night in Lyon. I lay in the routine position: awkwardly inclined like a sausage propped against a toaster, neck strained forward, sweating into my body brace. It’s the nightly ritual: a wistful trail of martini with lime (affordable and effective!), google searches, flight scanners, sound clips and calendar dates. I haven’t travelled since I made it to France and promptly broke my spine. Mobility lurks in the distant future, and in my fervent, drunken dreams I seek vengeance for lost time: travels awaiting, work to be done, things to be lifted, reckless thrashing at concerts, less-awkward coitus.

A second martini, a third martini, a realization: I am in an optimal situation to make a bet with myself.

Buy a ticket somewhere, make yourself go. Come summer you’ll be able. Pick a place.

The place is Copenhagen, the challenge an eight-day music festival, camping on private farmland, a very eclectic setlist (see below.) I’ll have no friends, no contacts, maybe even no tent (will I even be able to carry one by then?) The ticket price isn’t bad; this month I can skip meals. I hardly eat anyway, too depressed. It’s December. The festival is in July. I am four martinis deep. I buy the ticket.

Roskilde

Alone on a train crammed with day-drunkards lugging cases of beer back to the plots of land they had fought to stake off a day in advance. Other festival-goers were traveling in close-knit social groups and possessed advanced technology such as human food and beer coolers. My mission: infiltrate a group. Gain its trust, gain a patch of its grass to sleep on.

Niko was chubby and slouched back in a blue folding chair. His camp, notably playing decent metal, had regurgitated itself into the staked-off walkway between blocks of tents. At first I thought he might be dead of alcohol poisoning, but he reached out to me as I passed with my pack, slurring in Danish and throwing up bullhorns. I stopped for a beer. Danes speak beautiful English and carry beer with them everywhere.

I pretended to look for a different spot to pitch my single tent, then came trotting back to Camp Niko. “Guess I have to live with you guys,” I shrugged. Didn’t give them much of a choice.

Potential expansions to this blog post included:

Planking every morning for my back, much to the amusement of other campers.

Peeing in my tent accidentally – trying to aim into a bag?

Almost tipping over an employee trailer, from the inside (employee was present.)

The time I woke up with a video on my phone of an uncircumcised penis wearing sunglasses and laughing — no recollection of this being recorded.

Names — Niko, Lasser, Chris, Christina, Bender? The one always wearing overalls with no undershirt, what was his name? Biscuit?

Spoke at length with Chelsea Wolfe and Amalie of Myrkur, nearly peed myself a second time.

Camp Red Warszawa was a camp of female punk rockers and their pleasantly drunken male cohorts. I stopped in and noticed Dunner immediately. He was nearly seven feet tall, had crappy tattoos, was wearing socks and slip-on sandals. He held a water fountain on for me while I rinsed the salt/dirt/beer/urine from my face.

I taught him how to pitch a tent properly. He had propped it up, damn city fool—what did he do? Poles inside the tent? Man, if that whole ordeal wasn’t to become a really effective metaphor. He gashed his hands open on the metal stakes, I tasted his blood in my mouth, tasted his mouth on my mouth.

Eight days. Survived.

København

Journal entry
August 5, 2015

Kristina, smexy red-haired hot-blooded sugar mama waitress wonder woman, booked us a night in a swanky hotel called The Phoenix where all of the highbrow employees didn’t even bother to hide their confounded staring — what the fuck are these muddy brokeass chicks doing in our establishment? We got stoned, delineated The Friend Zone, shared our ex-boyfriend histories start to finish and fell asleep to late-night Danish television: documentaries on hawks, strange compilations of sleeping people dressed as animals, surveillance videos of empty hallways. There are so many questions about the Danes that will never be answered.

Sick in the shitty hostel: Lame efforts to get out (invent a tolerable mucus metaphor?)

Not worthy of further elaboration.

Ishøj

this is why I haven’t written about any of this

Dunner’s apartment took me a bit aback. I hadn’t expected a 35-year-old seven-foot Danish metalhead to be so neatly organized or so devoted to such a strict color scheme (purple and orange — how thoroughly metal of you.)

We had agreed to one (1) weekend visit. By that I mean we were both drunk in the dark in his dilapidated, bloodstained ten-person tent on Night Eight Of Roskilde and I straddled him on the twin inflatable mattress and said, “Can I come visit you when this is over? Just for a weekend,” to which he (presumably) agreed.

But the weekend after the festival, the flu set in. Everyone said it was due to over-inhalation of the piss-dust for which Roskilde Festival is particularly notorious, which might be true. I spent the one (1) weekend visit collapsed on Danish Dunner’s Danish furniture, blowing chunks in his Danish toilet, sliming up his purple Danish shag rug. When the weekend was over, he headed down south with a group of friends, a trip he’d had planned all year. I bought a bus ticket to Berlin. He left the apartment, lingered down in the stairwell blinking up at me, wrapped in a blanket in his doorway.

My entire three (3)-week stay with Dunner was to be an eternal series of us saying goodbye for the last time, once, twice, three times. I repeatedly intended to leave, but was repeatedly too ill to go. Week One I passed locked alone inside his apartment, without a spare key to leave or go buy medicine or food. When he returned he found me red-eyed in a blanket fort re-watching his downloads of The Simpsons, having subsisted on canned tuna and corn for three days. On Week Two, he made me an offer: he’d cancel his family vacation if I canceled my bus to Berlin. We started Game of Thrones. Life was free and air-conditioned and Dunner cooked a good deal of dishes involving bacon while wearing nothing but his boxer briefs. On Week 3 he drove me to the hospital, where I was curtly informed that the antibiotics I needed were impossible to acquire in Denmark. We explored the Danish countryside, the harbors, the farms, the flatness, the city — through the remains of the destroyed Youth House in Norrebrø, in and out of squats, over public structures and playgrounds and cemeteries, where the trees smelled mysteriously of semen. I limped around and he limped with me, just to make me feel better.

When I was well enough he dropped me off in Copenhagen, his eyes rimmed with tears, pressing his spare apartment key into my palm for “just in case.” He told me he loved me. I told him I was late for my bus.

Ferry, København to Berlin

Journal entry
August 22, 2015

Yesterday I received my Spain placement. In IBIZA.

IN MOTHERFUCKING IBIZA.

Perhaps this is some kind of sick joke from the higher powers/malignant forces of evil in the world? The exact last place I would have chosen. Nasty tourist rave-kid madhouse in summer and a total ghost town in the winter. Mallorca (the bigger island) is covered in mountains, a cycling paradise, good climbing rocks. Ibiza is covered in used condoms, discarded bikinis and probably AIDS. Do I have to get a Brazilian now? Will they even let me access the island without one? I will trade my post with someone, if possible. Otherwise… I don’t know, I’m so conflicted. Who am I to moan and groan, homeless as I am? Beggars can’t be choosers, and at this point I’m only a step away from beggar. Might as well get the visa and see where it goes from there. Going back to the US is not a viable option. It’s not what my gut is telling me to do, but my gut is also not feeling Ibiza.

More good news — French debit card has been shut down, I just got a text that my phone usage rates have gone up to 3€ a minute, my bank login info is stuck on my computer, which is still in Milan — sometimes I am a dipshitty, rookie traveler. Another white kid with a backpack. I brought too many clothes and the wrong type of shoes, gave up on my only pair of pants too early (although the thigh holes have been giving me rashes and I already failed at fixing the shorts.) I’m too grubby-looking to avoid being surveyed with considerable distaste in public but not nearly grubby enough to be taken seriously by other hobos. I feel an urgent need to somehow turn all my shit a darker color, maybe sprout a couple of natty dreads for Street Cred. Darken my sleeping bag so I can’t be found so easily at night. Urban camouflage? Dirt is not dirty enough — I mean what can I use, like actual shit?? Certainly not DYE. That costs money and requires washing services (those cost money too.) Now I need a shit phone with some breed of prepaid plan. I’m the fattest I’ve ever been and my fucking back aches like a shitty ole bitch.

Tired fatty just wants to lie down.

HONEY I’M HOME

I needed you, and you needed me.

Maybe it was the tacos (actual Mexican tacos, not this pita-burrito-shaved-mystery-meat bullshit I’ve been victim of for two years) or the potential English-speaking sex partners (such potential) or the mountains (likely) or, actually, the text my younger brother sent me:

Hey Jessi. I hope Europe’s fun and all, but if you ever come back to the states, I’d like to spend some time together. I think we could be really good friends now.

Two years, 1.5 years, doesn’t really matter. People figure some shit out in two years. They flip-flop their lives around and get new girlfriends and married and a dog. The stench of the change I was headed to witness, so dank and meaty like that of aged crotch, assaulted me through the Ibiza airport, the Barcelona airport, the Paris airport, the Turkish airport, all along the 30-some hours of flights, and when I arrived in SFR I was sweaty and anxious and physically weak. But it was just me, as it turned out. Much of what I came back to was exactly the same, or improved un poquito.

Maybe that’s it, that everything was the same.

I don’t want you to go, but I would never do anything to keep you. I am so, so proud of who you are.

Thanks, Mom. Hey, Aunt Jeanne told me you used to be a wildcat yourself.

Smiling. I was.

My old ex-boyfriend faked sick in Tahoe to come see me in San Francisco. We ate burritos in the Mission and drove up to Coit Tower and I sucked him off in his Subaru, parked on the street in some suburb. It was fine. I won’t miss him.

My friends in Portland are all depressed. Portland sucks now, they say. Flooded with shitty Californians and rich hipsters driving up the rent. We can mostly blame Portlandia for this. Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein, go fuck yourselves. Now I have to pretend your shit’s not funny.

It’s like that all over: rent is higher, apartments are smaller, college is cheaper for women with babies and Food 4 Less is always hiring. They ask me when I’m coming home, but what can I say? Home has never really existed.

We’ll talk about this next year.

WHORING ONESELF OUT IN AN AIRPORT FOR A FREE PLACE TO SLEEP: A STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE

STEP ONE: Locate victim. Optimal candidates include late-night construction workers with presumably overweight wives, wealthy solo tourists who don’t speak the local language, or beat-down counter guys about to end their shifts.

STEP TWO: The proposal.

Spanish: “¿Sabes dónde por aquí es lo mejor para dormir? Uno o dos personas, me da igual.”

English: “You might need some help finding your hotel. Or keeping warm in it.”

French: “Salut, tu veux niquer ou quoi ?”

STEP THREE: Repeat if necessary.

STEP FOUR: Reap your winnings — not sleeping backwards on a handicap toilet for the sixth time in three months.

 

Written at 4:23 AM backwards on a handicap toilet in Barcelona El Prat. Take note: a portable World of Warcraft poster adds an instant touch of homeyness to any public shitter.

barca

Instagram

SFR

Bukowski thought women were durable creatures who abstain from beer as it’s “bad for the figure.”

I’d better choose the seat facing out, I think, instead of hiding. Observe the white people.

The flock of shuffling girls all dolled up and traveling together, how fun, wonder if the fatter ones hate themselves compared to their friends, wonder how much envy is the meat of their relationship, then I lose interest, can’t care.

But those fucking red Starbucks cups.

I’m told not to tear other women down, it’s not right. We’ve got to build each other up. That’s probably true but it seems unfair to only tear down folks with dick. They were born idiots and there was never any hope. Women had hope once but chucked it out, cashed it in for red Starbucks cups and studded bags and Sorel boots to go grocery shopping in. I hate them all equally. I am no better, and so I hate myself.

I guess now I’ve reached an “attractive” stage of my life. It might be the way I look but I think more likely it’s the stench of my apathy. The men sense that I’d watch them crushed under the wheels of a Greyhound bus on the road to nowhere and would maybe smoke half a cigarette to calm the nerves hoping for a reasonably short delay, and they like that. I like that too. It’s sexy.

It happens a lot lately. People stare and stare. Men hold eye contact and my mother always notices. I give a light smile, I don’t necessarily mind the staring, though I should. I just want to do the same thing back. Brush my breast and I’ll honk your sack. Fuck mutual respect. We’re all dying anyway. So you undress me with your eyes and that means this “space” isn’t “safe”? I’ve got you nailed to a pole with a broom up your ass and a blindfold on. Your mouth is mine. There was never such a thing as safe space.