Helpful Hinderances with maps and iphones
There have been two ways I've gathered my bearings around this city, maps and, when I am with D, an iphone. While it's been great to get off the Ubahn subway and have a convenient little map that tells me where I am and which way I should go, I fear the reliance on him and his technology had thrown my sense of place and direction into one of those tiny little German wastebaskets (seriously who shrunk all the trashcans?). Recently, however, as I go out on my own I've begun to rely on other means of orientation.
First, the maps. Like New York City, I find myself constantly staring at subway maps. While the Bahn, the name for the subway, is more efficient, glossy, clean and pleasant than any other subway I've ever been on, the maps inside it are in no way easily readable. Furthermore, the lines do not exactly run north-south, east-west, or in any one direction, but rather zig-zag across the city. The names of the stops are in German, obviously, but please just stop to think about what that means. The names, most which I can barely yet understand, much less pronounce, all sound like an angry goat-alien with a cough. Take Französische Sraße, for example. Try saying that three times fast. For some reason the difficulty of pronunciation makes remembering the names very hard for me, and to be honest, it makes me feel really stupid when I can't figure out where I am or where I am going.
Thankfully, I haven't found myself lost very often. Once or twice I get off at the wrong stop or go the wrong direction on the Bahn, however, they've been in laughable circumstances. I haven't been frustrated or scared in this city, yet! The “middle of nowhere” doesn't seem to exist, compared to the deserted nothingness I sometimes found myself in when I lived in Arizona. That said, I haven't ventured into the neighborhoods the program directors urged us to only explore in the safe light of day. I love finding my way around here, and if it were warmer I'm sure I would take more chances at getting lost more often. As reliant as I tend to be on others for affection, direction, and entertainment, I do love getting a little lost by myself.
All of Berlin is covered in graffitti, and I've been told that it's literally made up of combined villages. This makes me imagine a bunch of angry-talking, punk, minimal architects must have ruled the villages at some point in the past. It's the most beautiful ugly city I've encountered. It's been said by the mayor before, but it fits too-perfectly, "Berlin is poor, but sexy." Like me, this city is in debt, but hey, we're pulling it off.
Asking directions has been nothing but a pleasant experience. Many people are polite and speak English, and also because there are only 90 people in the program, it's easy for me to ask my fellow students for help. They seem happy to tell me, or show me, and the seven or so returning students, those who were here last semester, are some of the most helpful people I have found.
While this is all formal and lovely, I think the most amazing thing I have discovered about myself in this experience is I'm probably more reliable getting back somewhere drunk than any other person I know. As long as I walked there conscious I can get back, even with a few hooligans on tow. I know I'm bragging, but let's be real: this is a good skill to have when the iphone dies at 6 am in Kreuzberg.