Monday, July 31, 2017

From East to West via Berlin

The Berliner Dom and the diversity of people enjoying a nice summer day
For two years, Caleb and I have been living in the eastern part of the world in the unique Asian country of Mongolia. Eastern culture is vastly different from life in the States or, as we are experiencing now first hand, in Europe. I spent a month in Berlin in 2011, so this isn’t an entirely new experience for me, but coming here from Mongolia versus from the States creates a completely different perspective.

Last pic of us in Mongolia
(in the airport)
Caleb and I’s last week in Mongolia was surreal. It didn’t feel like we would soon be leaving. It didn’t feel like we were finished with our Peace Corps service. It didn’t feel like this plane was going to take us out of the country to the exciting world of Europe. I didn’t believe it until we landed at the Berlin airport.

As we were exiting the plane, Caleb was in the aisle moving forward and I was still working my way out of the seat. I had resigned myself to waiting for a number of people to pass before I could insert myself into the line, but then something amazing happened. The woman directly behind Caleb noticed me, saw that I was with Caleb, and LET ME IN FRONT OF HER.  This may not seem like a big deal, but this simple act of kindness made my eyes well up. I almost lost it right there in the plane. I really wasn’t in Mongolia anymore.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t kind people that do nice things in Mongolia. It’s just a different mentality, a different culture and way of doing things. I had gotten accustomed to swarms of people around ATMs with no regard to that personal “bubble” so many of us Americans require, or the knowledge that everyone will push and shove to get off the bus first. It’s just the way it is. But not here, where regular people take a second to notice others around them and offer up a considerate gesture. At that moment, I finally started to believe that we were moving on into the next phase of our lives.

Our dinner view

We arrived in the afternoon on Friday and took a taxi to our hostel. I practiced my German with the driver and was able to have a decent, albeit broken and ungrammatical, conversation. After a brief time of settling into our room, we went out in search of food. At the closest S-Bahn station, the tempting aroma was far too much, so we caved and got subs from Subway. What can I say. It had been a while, and it was well worth it.

We ate at a little park near our destination for the evening: the Berlin Cathedral (Berliner Dom). And guess what. No one stared at us. No one cared how we were dressed and what we were doing. No one bothered us at all. After eating, we went inside the church to buy tickets for the organ concert that evening. We were a little early, so we went back outside to laze about on the green space directly in front of the church. The grass was thick and plush, and we could feel the humidity in the air, something we haven’t experienced in over 2 years. There were no cows wandering around, and no feces in the grass. No one was drinking vodka, but a ton of people were out playing Frisbee, or taking a nap, or walking their dogs, or spending time with family. And no one was judging anyone.

We are here!
On the outside of the Berliner Dom
I don’t know how many languages we heard during the 45 minutes we were hanging out on the lawn, but there were all kinds of people from all over the place all moving through this one space in harmony. All ages, all colors, all religions. This city is “multi-kulti” – multicultural – which is why it is so beautiful and easy to fall in love with.

The organ

The sanctuary
The organ concert began on time inside the intricately ornamented sanctuary, and all the ticket-holders were present within five minutes of the start time (WHAT???). Everyone knew when to applaud and when not to. There were only rare hushed whispers during the hour-long performance. Caleb and I enjoyed it, even though we were both fighting to keep our eyes open. Neither of us slept during our travels, so at that point, we were going on 20 hours awake.

When we returned to the hostel, we were content to go right to sleep. What a lovely day it had been as we transitioned from East to West in a city who is an expert at bridging such a divide. 

From Berlin,

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