Replacement Therapy

Scuba diving group in Halkidiki, Greece

When our Athens trip was cancelled (at the last minute, without warning or consultation), we were all disappointed.  Some students immediately booked flights to Rome for the weekend, while others had to stop drinking and start doing homework.

This could be me. Or not. It's surprisingly difficult to recognize my own face WITHOUT glasses and WITH many pounds of obscuring equipment.

On Saturday we went to a boutique downtown, but it wasn’t really our speed.  So after a massive, delicious lunch, Em, Rox and I shopped in the open-air markets.  I bought a few scarves, and got to wander through a meat and fish market.  While definitely smelly, it was cool to see such a pedestrian part of Greek life that is so different from my own back home.

On Sunday we went scuba diving. I’ve never been before and absolutely loved it.  I had a brief moment of thinking I really needed to breathe, but then I remembered I was wearing several pounds of oxygen on my back.  The next day my jaw was killing me from clenching the mouthpiece, but I can’t wait to go again someday.

Sunday evening I topped off my day with a soccer game between PAOK and Aris, the two teams of Thessaloniki.  I had been warned that games can get violent, and that this particular one would be intense because of their rivalry.  But it was also the last game in Thess while I’m here, so I’m glad I was pushed to go in spite of my fatigue.  I went with Vinny, one of our students, although there were others there as well.  Everyone was in Aris black and yellow, and we were careful not to wear any PAOK paranalia.

We scalped some tickets and found our way inside.  Luckily, we strolled right into section 3, the craziest, most intense part of the entire stadium.  No one was wearing anything other than Aris colors.  It became immediately clear that we would NOT be finding any other NUin folks in this crowd.  People climbed fences and parking structures, everyone was singing and I saw road flares sticking out of pockets everywhere.  This was also the first time I felt like we were in Eastern Europe.  Either that or the early British punk scene.  Mullets, shaved heads and mohawks were everywhere, as well as military boots, acid-washed jeans and 1990s style sweatpants with the cuffs around the ankles.

a PAOK flag is held intentionally upside down. Later, several were lit on fire and thrown onto the field.To see a video of the madness that was the game, click here–it’ll take you to my tumblr.  There was no real violence, just a lot of shoving when Aris scored a goal.  No one seemed overly concerned that the flags or smoke were blocking their view of the game. And I have never heard such sustained, constant support.  From the songs that went on repeat for twenty minutes at a time to the screams, chants and constant use of the curse word “malaka” the place only approached quiet during the one PAOK goal to tie the game.  The smoke from fireworks, road flares and marijuana did a number on my throat, but I don’t think I’ve had a better weekend yet in Thessaloniki.

The Commercialization of Checkpoint Charlie

Vous Sortez du Secteur Americaine

As soon as we neared the area of Checkpoint Charlie it was clear: every cafe, restaurant and shops

"Guards" at Checkpoint Charlie

claimed to be official or to have some connection to the checkpoint or the wall.  T-shirts, old Soviet hats and the ever-ubiquitous Che paraphernalia lines the sidewalks.

On one side of Checkpoint Charlie there are two soldiers holding American flags in front of sandbags piled high and topped with the hats of military uniforms.  I assumed it was a nice memorial to those who had died or served there.  However, on closer inspection, I noticed their decidedly German accents, the costume-like flair to their uniforms, and the sign asking for 2euro to take a photo with them.  Across the street was a man in an old MP uniform selling visa stamps to the old German Democratic Republic, among others.  At one point he crossed the street and put a bunch of the money in the pocket of one of the “soldiers.”  I’m not sure what the back-story was behind them, but it certainly seemed sketchy.

"Visas"

At other places throughout the city, including the East Side Gallery, there were ads for similar visas and for pictures of tourists wearing the hats of current and former militaries.

I did participate in some of the commercialization, by purchasing a few souvenirs for family and a Solidarnosc shirt for myself, but I would like to think that since I bought directly from the museum I was supporting their work. I did love the museum, and for my full post click here.

Inside the Checkpoint Charlie/Berlin Wall Museum there were chunks, allegedly of the infamous Wall, for sale.  Everywhere in the city a person can buy a small chunk for 5euro or more, depending on the size.  Possessing a piece that was genuinely carved out in the joy of popular uprising seems to me to be a legitimate keepsake.  Something done in a moment of passion, excitement and freedom, instead of later by a vulture looking to make a quick buck.

Shirts, mugs and pieces of the "wall" for sale

And besides, a person can’t own history, even if they own an important object from it.  The awe and adrenaline of the fall of the wall and the collapse of the Iron Curtain are mine to keep forever, even though I was just a baby a world away when it happened.  I’m lucky that I had a teacher like Dr. Ryan who made the hardships and oppression of the SED and other authoritarian regimes come alive, so that during the class when he told of it all ending we could be a part of that happiness.

Book of Jubilations

It was a Saturday night and  was wandering around Berlin alone, soaked through in rain.  Canvas shoes were a poor choice.  The wind was inverting umbrellas, in spite of the German engineering that undoubtedly went into them.

So I turned up my music, pulled my scarf over my head and wandered back toward Alexanderplats Station.  Josh Ritter‘s latest album took me out of the cold, and kept me from hearing the solicitors on the street.  “Lantern” led me home and re-lit the streets so faces looked warm, the wind seemed gentle, and every minute in Berlin became precious again.

If there’s a Book of Jubilations we’ll have to write it for ourselves.”

It’s amazing the things that we see when we’re not staring at the ground, muttering angrily as we curl our bodies in against the cold.  I saw 15 year olds having a water fight, even though it was near freezing out.  I passed by the Dunkin Donuts that had given me so much joy earlier.

There are so many things to be happy about on a cold night alone in Berlin.  I was, after all, alone by choice.  That meant I was conquering all the million little fears that come along with traveling fully alone.  I may have picked up and gone to Cairo in a sudden, solitary fashion, but once I got their I was surrounded by love.  I had conquered the German metro, for the most part, even though I don’t speak a lick of German. My accommodations turned out well, even though I totally left that to the last minute.  I was able to catch up on sleep, and there was even good internet!  And every time I logged on, students were emailing or facebooking or chatting and saying they missed me.  Coworkers were leaving me messages, and the thought of returning to Salonica actually felt comforting and like home.  And in a few days, I would be greeted by hugs and the standard, “Hey, where the hell have you been?” from   floor boys I live with and watch over.

And then there’s the part where I was in Germany, a country most of the world, most of my world, will never see.  I got to see everything I wanted, without anyone giving me crap for taking a million pictures or wanting to spend three hours in a museum or not wanting to get hammered and make out with a stranger.  I even had my classes picked for next semester, and would graduate soon.  And at that moment in time, that was still a happy thought.  Which reminded me: I would be home in a week, with my own bed and a shower head that doesn’t require holding.

So I remembered my full meal, and the absurd “American” restaurant I had just left, and the great new tote bag I bought myself, and all the Christmas shopping I had got done, and wandered through yet another Christmas Village.  As “Long Shadows” picked up, I danced my way home, taking in my last moments of Germany with a soundtrack that is oh-so-preferable over whipping wind and stressed out shoppers.