Pilgrimage

In Berlin you think about your great-great grandmother and how she lived there over 100 years before your size 8 and a half foot stepped off the plane.

Get picked up from the airport and stare out the bus window as it takes you (along with 29 other students) to your hostel in Mitte. Go on a walking tour and establish a context for the next five days. You will remember the next five days more vividly than the past five days simply because you make a point to. And maybe because you remember foreign things more easily than the mundane.

Eat the local foods. Wurst, sauerkraut, that cake with all the layers. Is this how your ancestors ate? Were they too poor to eat like this? Isn’t that why they emigrated to America, to live a better (and more delicious) life? In six months you’ll be vegan, but you don’t know that yet. One day finds you eating a chocolate croissant for dinner. That’s French, you think, but no matter. Isn’t that the world today? All cultures bleed into one another. The World Is Flat.

Go to an art house on the street with all the prostitutes– the one that has a bar and is full of squatters. Take pictures of graffiti’d stairwells and TVs-turned-fishtanks with your 35mm disposable camera. Hope they turn out decent. Feel like you’re intruding; feel embarrassed of your status as an American. Buy earrings made out of wood and bone. Wear them twice after and relegate them to your jewelry box once the art house is taken over by The Bank a year and a half later. All the people you met were evicted. How Long Is Now?

Explore an abandoned theme park on your day off– the singular day untouched by predetermined educational activities. You’re tired of the tourist bullshit. Ride the U-Bahn to the city limits. Find out the park isn’t as abandoned as you expected. People walk their dogs through the woods along the Spree. A cop rolls by and you’re too chicken to hop the fence surrounding the dilapidated remains. Settle for pointing your viewfinder through the holes. Inside the enclosure, a ferris wheel rots. It’s still taller than everything else. Stare back at the all-seeing eye carved into a tree.

Leave feeling satisfactorily cultured, you think. Bring back porcelain souvenirs for family and friends; a finished-off disposable for yourself. Think about your great-great grandmother on the bus back to the airport. Did she walk any of the streets you’ve walked in the past week? Did she eat any of the same foods? Come to terms with the fact that you will never know much of anything about your great great grandmother, much less her shoe size.