So I’ve covered language barriers, public transportation, the wonder that is Poland, the startling epidemic of vapid teenage travelers and Parisian riots. Therefore, the time has come. With only three weeks left and counting, I hereby devote this abroad column to the real Berlin and my two favorite subjects: food and music. In that order. For better or worse, they are my only real friends.
To begin, there is the crucial concept of the “Imbiss.” I dare not even describe this Imbiss phenomenon, for my petty words could never do justice. It’s not “fast food” in the American sense, because it transcends that sub-par stigma. The word “snack” seems insufficient and juvenile because I actually experience complex, adult feelings for this Asian Imbiss by my school. But emerging from some overcrowded club only to stumble upon a sweet kiosk with delicious deep-fried treats a mere 10 feet away is a godsend.
Really, I expected to be disappointed by the food in Germany. I think one of my “Questionable Tastebuds” friends who puts ranch dressing on pizza told me that it would be all sausage and potatoes. But yet (almost) all earthly delights taste better here.
Chocolate: Ritter Sport, or “schport” as the Deutsch pronounce it, is enough to keep me here forever. I think it costs like $15 to buy a Ritter Sport in the U.S. but it’s approximately negative 12 cents here. And corn flakes taste surprisingly appealing in a candy bar, but I think if Americans tried to combine the two it would only taste like a bowl of cereal that’s been sitting on the counter for five days.
Beer: it costs less than soda and you can drink it in public. In fact, you can do pretty much anything in public here.
Produce: there is a tense dynamic in Berlin between the Turkish immigrants and the native Germans. It creates a number of social qualms surrounding education, language, employment, etc. Maybe it’s because the Turkish are capable of growing produce that looks like it came out of an Expressionist painting. The natives are jealous.
Breakfast: I scored the single greatest host family in the history of host families. They are the only family that actually serves a traditional German breakfast every single morning. While it can vary, we mostly just have coffee, juice, sliced bread, rolls, butter, various jams and spreads, cold cuts, camembert cheese, bananas, apples, sliced tomato, avocados, grapes and hard-boiled eggs every morning. That’s all.
So while Germany lacks some essentials like free refills and Kraft Mac & Cheese, they basically get all other sustenance right.
And then there’s the music! In the land of Kraftwerk and, uh, Rammstein, all of my preconceived notions on music have been far exceeded. Truth be told, I’m a huge sucker for good pop songs and right now, these 14-year-old boys called Tokio Hotel are astoundingly popular here. So while Robbie Williams is actually Jesus in Europe, some pre-teens caked in eyeliner have a major lead and it’s not ironic at all. Is this my life?
The radio stations are the purest examples of Germany’s musical prowess. The first song I heard in Berlin was “I’ll Make Love to You” by Boyz II Men, shortly followed by “Achy Breaky Heart,” which pretty much says it all. Genius! But it just doesn’t stop there. Not only does the phrase “Clear Channel” invoke laughter, but there is little comprehension of genres or time periods at all. So while something is played out after two months on the radio in the U.S., anything goes in Germany. This very morning, I heard three songs intentionally selected just because they were on the “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” soundtrack, followed immediately with “Colors” by Donovan and then some choice Paul Simon cuts. So, radio here may just suck to the untrained ear, but it’s really like a handpicked personal soundtrack composed of un-guilty pleasures.
Furthermore, at any given show back in the U.S., there is typically a sea of stoic hipsters and snide remarks to wade through. But the crowd at a recent Of Montreal show in Prenzlauer Berg was more upbeat than the Jackson 5’s shimmering harmonies. While the lead singer hammed it up on stage, I guess it was actually refreshing to be the only person in the room making fun of his preening. And at the really, really intentionally obscure venues, you’ll see people dressed like your parents just jamming along with the noise and giant-screen projections of Russian Suprematist film, sipping on cheap wine and actually understanding this stuff because they did conceptual art in college, you dilettante. They all have the sincerest expressions of “You would not believe the night I just had,” and it’s true. I wouldn’t.