In 2004 I traveled in 12 days from Amsterdam, Holland to Berlin, Germany to Munich, Germany to Budapest, Hungary to Vienna, Austria to Frankfort, Germany to Ottenberg, Germany to Freidburg, Germany then back to Amsterdam, Holland.
The red light district of Amsterdam reminded me of animals in a zoo. Some of the most beautiful and attractive specimens of humankind trapped behind glass dressed in almost nothing going about living their lives, reading magazines talking on cell phones or in some cases dancing. I felt strangely uncomfortable as I often do in the zoo. I had a freedom inside my heart that most of these women would never know. They have found an easier way, where money was never short and they could use their body to get money to buy themselves things so that they would feel better about their lonesomeness At least for a little while. In Amsterdam sex is a commodity to be bought and sold, not a special thing to be shared between 2 people who feel strongly about each other. It seemed cheap and commercial, it reminded me of fast food franchises like McDonald’s and Burger King. You pay the very little money and in return you get enough to barely sustain your hunger or sexual appetite. Sometimes it feels like everyone is waiting behind a pane of glass waiting to be discovered and loved.
Everyone in Amsterdam rides bicycles, its pretty scary to be a clueless foreign pedestrian because the bikes cruise silently along at 20Mph just waiting for you to step out in front of them. You learn to look both ways and behind you when you intend to do anything other than walk forward in a straight line.
As I sat on the steps of an old church in some back alley in the dark, I felt an overwhelming feeling of lonesomeness I think it was very similar to what those prostitutes must feel. Suddenly I really felt a strong desire to try to help them, yet I felt quite powerless to do anything.
The canals here are very reminiscent of Venice, but there are much fewer boats. The people in this hostel are nice, I have a good mattress on the floor that I can actually stretch out on instead of being cramped on a bed. Everyone is very quiet and whispers so people can sleep. Wait until I go to sleep and their peacefulness is disturbed by the loud echoing sound of my thunderous snoring. The dorms here are coed which is also nice to meet younger women, many of whom are quite independent and strong willed. Its basically one big room with 20 beds. Most of the places in the Netherlands do not take Credit Cards so my cash is vanishing fast. I probably spent almost $100 on my first day which is bad because I only brought $300. I would like to hit Germany, Belgium and Austria and Hungary too. We’ll see what happens.
At the modern art museum there were 2 interesting things. A steel frame in the shape of a 1/2 dome with large pieces of broken glass attached to all the sides by heavy steel clamps. There were also large pieces of slate that were attached here and there. Its was interesting to me because it reminded me of when I was very young and me and my brother would make a forts out of branches in the woods. It was pretty silly because you could see right through the makeshift forts but when we imagined they were real fortresses it was really cool. This sculpture reminds me of that. Being inside made me feel safe. That was a really cool feeling because when I was young I never felt safe. In some ways the dome reminds me of life. Its like who we are, a bunch of broken shards of glass held up by a flimsy structure.
There was another piece of art which was a large canvas with lots of squiggly paths on it. They were brightly colored. It reminded me that there is always countless different paths we can choose in life and that each of them is beautiful and colored in its own way. I miss my son.
There was a neat Neon sign which alternated between the words eat and Death with a video of some silly homeless woman touching herself in a very sexual way. There was also an interesting room with some really obscene neon signs showing couples ‘going at it’ and in that room there was a video of someone washing their hands. It brought more than a few chuckles to museum tenants. Art that makes you laugh is always good. There is really cool vents in the floor at this museum too that have heating elements under them. Very cool.
Berlin is an amazing city. At the aquarium I was watching the seals and I suddenly had a very powerful realization. The seals looked and act very much like humans, in fact they are not very far off on the evolutionary tree. They have five “fingers” and five “toes”. They found a new environment and just evolved to learn how to survive. I feel like I’m at that point in my life. With my counseling, with Jocelyn and Marlo. I’m in this environment and I just have to figure out how to evolve & adapt to survive. When I first started traveling I got lost all the time, bit now I’ve developed a sort of intuition. I got off the train too early this morning but instead of fretting about it I just got on the next train into Berlin and everything was fine. Life is like that. You miss the train, you just get on the next one.
I went to one of the biggest churches I have ever been to and felt very inspired to build a structure that is 60-80 ft high in a dome shape. There was circular windows all around letting in light from stained glass windows and it was spectacular. I could use Lexan bubbles and the have stained glass or fused glass underneath. When I was in the crypt I felt called to light a candle for Matt who recently committed suicide, which is a calling I have never felt before, so I just did it without trying to analyze why I wanted to do it. It reminded me about how one life begets another and the powerful cycle that is humanity. Thinking of the candle burning out also reminded me of the transient nature of things. There is no way to keep the candle burning forever that is our life. But we can make sure that it burns as bright as we can let it.
I’m at some fancy pants art museum in Berlin. There is a painting here with only a small portion of it painted, the rest of it is thin outlines. It is very appealing to me and reminiscent of Rama’s works from Italy. Thinking about math and music I am coming to the realization that although I am smart, I am not particularly gifted in either. I am trying to come more to terms with my own personal mediocrity, but I must say it is difficult. I want so much to believe that I am something special, and in a way I am, but not when I constantly am weighing myself against other people. As long as I do that my personal potential will never be realized.
I’m still starving but I finally got to eat in a Thai food restaurant. The word for water is ‘Vasa’. I have to remember that. From the faucet is ‘avul’. Most people here drink beer. They get pretty big mugs of it too from the looks of it. There was a painting at the last museum I went to that was a dark tree against a moonlit snowy mountain background. I know there is plenty of natural beauty out here but because I’m staying in the cities I’m not really getting to see any of it. This Tom Kha soup tastes unbelievably good after wolfing down nothing but Nutragrain bars and water all day. Finding a grocery store is so hard sometimes. If you can learn one word in another language before you go make sure its ‘grocery store’. Its funny how when you travel there are people from every culture that have permeated every other country. There are so many Asians in NY, especially in Ithaca that when I travel often times it amazes me how little ethnic diversity there is in the world. Especially in Germany where so many of the people here that were minorities were really prosecuted during both wars. There is something really special about this place but I can’t quite put my finger on it. I’m convinced that the only reason Thai food is so damn good is because they actually taste it while they are cooking it.
The dichotomy of love, once you find comfort in this awful cruel world you want to hold onto it. That’s the strange thing about love, the more you try to hold onto it the more it just slips through your fingers. Love isn’t about having something, its about sharing something. If only one person is sharing themselves then love has a really hard time surviving.
I’m in Munich now and its an unbelievably wonderful place. I was pretty half-hearted about Berlin, probably because I spent most of my time walking around in the rain, but Munich is great. I spent all day in the science and tech museum which is the biggest in the world. It would take me three days to really enjoy myself here. It was awesome. I’m sitting by a river now feeling very emotional. There is so much beauty in the world.
Its funny because Germans as a rule know very little English whereas the people in Holland’s English is impeccable. It’s probably because the Dutch are used to speaking English whenever they go anywhere whereas the Germans are a much more homogeneous culture. Its amazing how much they’ve rebuilt after getting the shit bombed out of them in WW II. But then again so did everybody else. Its funny now how the US tends to bomb people like Afghanistan and Cambodia where there isn’t really any big buildings to bomb to begin with and there is little risk of retaliation. Iraq is a lot like that as well. I doubt most of the Iraqi solders would even choose to fight for Sadam. Iraq doesn’t know how to train soldiers, the Americans do. Especially the Marines. Soldiers rarely don’t fight for fear of reprisal and a court martial. The Marines take normal boys and turn them into blood thirsty killers. You really have to rearrange a soldiers mental state to get them to pick up a gun and kill like that. This punk rocker I knew said he was going to join the marines so of course we threw a huge party for him and I told him it was the stupidest thing he had ever done. Two people died in his squad, one from a tragic misfiring accident and another from exhaustion/dehydration. He came back pretty quick with his tail between his legs.
Everyone in Germany drinks a lot, the waitresses act really weird when you ask them for a meal without anything to drink alcoholic. I’ve given up on asking for a glass of water. I mean no one in Europe drinks normal tap water. I mean they all drink this spring/sparkling/mineral water that tastes like water is never supposed to taste, not at all. Personally I prefer the chemically processed chlorine soaked irradiated fluoride treated stuff that most big cities try to pass off as water. I especially like water in places like NY city where you have no idea what you’re getting. They probably try to process that sludge pile that some folks call the Hudson river into water. In fact they probably end up having to filter and treat it a couple of times to get it so that human beings can drink it and it will be viscous enough to flow down their gullet. Its obvious that I am a foreigner here, everyone notices because they all have these huge beer mugs in front of them and I have some sparkly fresh mineral water they only break out for tourists.
I’m getting pretty good at getting around without speaking more than 6 words of any given language. When I was a kid I wondered how people like Cortez and Columbus didn’t get burned at the stake when they showed up in America, now that I’m older I understand a lot better what the capacity is for two human beings that want to communicate, but don’t speak the same language (or don’t want to communicate as is the case with the French). Those French every one of those people knows how to speak English at least as well as the Scottish and trying to get them to say a single word in English is like trying to win the Alaskan sled dog race with a couple of Chihuahua’s. I feel strangely at home here, as if my ancestors from hundreds of years ago used to hang out in these dark pubs and taking their drinking habits way to seriously.
There was this really cool little motorcycle thing with big tank treads. It looked bad-ass I wonder how it steered, probably there were actuators in the steering handlebars so when they turned it one way the one track on that side would slow down . It could not have possibly been steered by the front motorcycle gear alone. Or at least its seriously doubtful. The cool thing about this machine was that it could seat 3 people and it could mount a huge gun on the back because of the treads. I doubt it could go much faster than 45 Mph though. There was a bunch of really nice WWII airplanes there too. They were way ahead of their time with flap engineering. They were using a design that they basically copied almost exactly on the big 747’s. I checked out the V2 rocket too. The first long range ‘missile’. It was pretty amazing that they came up with a guidance system and gyros a full 20 years before the advent of digital computers. This thing used and entirely analog computer system. I mean you just dialed in the coordinates and the thing would just go-go-go and bomb the living crap out of the target. I mean how the hell did we do that, or even go to the moon for that matter without computers and just using slide rules.
Got harassed by the cops again, either it was the cops or army guys, who can tell, they all wear these stupid berets like they’re all in the green berets or something even though they are obviously rent-a-cops. They all seem antsy about having an American in their country. Probably because we’re about to bomb the living shit out of the craziest Muslims whatever-passes-for-the-NRA-in-Iraq-card-caring loonies on the planet. America makes white people look bad all over the world.
I spend much of my time when I first go to a new place trying to find the soul of the city. All too often I find that the city’s soul has been lost among the glitz and the glamour. Titillated mannequins with Gucci underwear on and silly tax free diamond stores. These things do not indicate culture at all, rather they represent a failing in the system, a loss of purpose and meaning. The real soul lies in the back streets and in the alleys. In the smoky bars, the non touristy areas. Ripe with locals who struggle with real life issues like how am I going to get my next meal. I’m not talking about the asshole bums at the train stations who try to scare you and get your money, but rather the real people. The ones who have good hearts and know what it means to survive. In one of the museums they talked a lot about the cruise ships of old where the guys that worked stoking the boilers would shovel 1500 lbs of charcoal per shift. These guys were hardcore, I mean can you believe that? I don’t think I could move that much coal if you gave me a week to do it. It was a startling contrast to the 1st class passengers who bathed in beautiful marble bathtubs and dined under luxurious candelabras. They said the suicide rate for these coal stokers was high. No kidding, if I had to wake up every day and shovel 1500 lbs of coal, choking on that coal dust every day I think would be upset too. Everyone else on that ship was enjoying themselves and having a gay old time and there I was shoveling coal into the boiler to keep them moving across the ocean.
There is a work of art in Budapest which is really interesting. There is a statue of a man made in black looking like he is being hit by an explosion then there is a wall sized piece behind glass of a city block (Brooklyn?) that has one building totally leveled. There is like TV’s and concrete and a bunch of stuff all flowing out into the street. It is very well done, the thing that amazes me is that the artist used a combination on charcoal and black acrylic paint and the result is quite astounding. Also having them framed in glass like they are part of the wall is a pretty good idea. Its interesting because he spent so much time rendering the rubble and there are forms that can be made out in it. That of a head or a mangled body.
There were some bathhouses in Budapest that were really amazing. They give you this little towel that’s the size of a handkerchief with 2 strings on it and they call it your bathing suit. They give you a private locker to change in then you wander into this huge chamber with 100 ft high stained glass ceilings and a bunch of hot mineral springs. I was the youngest guy in there by about 30 years. I alternated between the hot springs, the freezing cold tub and the sauna with my body going into shock countless times. By the time I left I could barely walk.
So when you look at good art you begin to recognize that a good artist can make you feel something, hate, love disgust, awe. Hopefully it is close to what the artist himself was feeling when he created the piece. When I look at pre 20th century stuff the only thing that I feel is boredom .
Today has been pretty hellish. I’m stuck in Budapest. I raced to the train station for the morning train and could find a train leaving at 9:40 but for the life of me I couldn’t find the baggage check. I remember it being this shady dingy back place where the guys took your luggage and your money and I wondered if these guys were even affiliated with the train station in anyway whatsoever. As it turns out I was at the wrong train station. You see Budapest has 3 major rail stations all of them on the outskirts of town. The funny thing was that they all look exactly the same. I can just imagine the people in charge of designing the train station. Well we already have the plans from this other station, why not just use these. No matter that every clueless tourist will have no clue which station is which especially considering all three of them are within a few city blocks of each other. With the exception of the baggage check place of course. In any case I got harassed by cops yet again wandering around the rail station looking confused. I asked them for help, they checked my passport and then ‘let me go’. For being a “touristy” centered place I’m amazed at how unbelievable dirty everything is, there are no English signs anywhere and nobody here speaks any English at all. Its weird, everywhere I go everyone hates Americans except maybe the Canadians and the Australians who at least pretend not to hate us. I don’t understand where this prejudice comes from. Just because we can nuke them all off the face of the planet, and the world currency market is based on the US dollar and because we basically bomb any country that looks at us the wrong way back to the stone age. What’s the problem with that? They’re all just jealous I guess. Now I’m finally getting some peace and quiet in what looks like a huge cemetery with lots of big statues of dudes who look like communists. Hungary must be like all the other soviet block countries that became Democratic, or more pointedly capitalist. These guys are falling over each other trying to make a buck here, a buck there. I mean like 10 guys tried to get me a taxi or carry my luggage as I was leaving. and I don’t even look like someone who would take a taxi. I’m some weird ass orange pants wearing, hasn’t cleaned his clothes in 5 days and smells like a dung heap scumbag with purple combat boots who has probably hiked 200 miles in the last couple of days.
I stayed at the nicest youth hostel I’ve ever stayed in Budapest called the Marco Polo hostel. If you take away the loud techno music that played till about 4:00 AM in the morning the place was great. Clean rooms, I hooked up with a bunch of Canadians who were super friendly and nice. It was weird. Its funny because these guys were into hockey and things I’m totally not into, but this one guy and me got into a lot of really deep and meaningful conversations of several hours. I really enjoyed his company and I’m glad I met them on my trip. I was sad to see them all go, I snuck out of the Hostel without saying much of a goodbye for fear that I would forget why I was going on this trip to begin with and end up following their group to Prague. I’m doing this because I want to be frustrated and get lost and be pissed off and get harassed by the cops countless times by myself. How can I do that with a bunch of friendly good natured Canadians?
There is this bathhouse in Budapest in this Hotel with huge 50 ft high ceilings and beautiful inlaid tile everywhere. I almost didn’t go in, but I got up my gusto and went for it and had a very nice time. Everyone there was a local and for just 3-4 bucks you get to go in the big tubs full of hot mineral water for as long as you want. I alternated between the extremely hot Sauna, the refrigerated pool and the super hot steam baths. It was the best and most relaxed I have felt in years. There was a free massage you get to, but I skipped that. Its funny because when you go in they give you this handkerchief with two string around it. You tie it around your waist so your butt is hanging out and just your privates are covered. It was funny because I was the youngest guy there by about 30 years and weighed less than most of them, even though I’m 6’10” and they were significantly shorter. It was cool watching these guys move around and talk to one another.
Today was a very strange day. Yesterday right before I got on the train to Wein (my third attempt) I ran into Antonio and Adi who I had met at the hostel the night before. It was very nice seeing them and we had a pleasant 3 hr train ride through Austria. When we arrived at Vienna there was the typical getting lost and trying to find our way to the biggest Hostel in town, which usually is the one with the best services. The three of us finally found the right one and checked in. The woman in the room next door helped us figure out how to operate the newfangled digital lock which was quite fancy. Finally she got one to work right. As soon as we got there we hooked up with the girls next door to go to a bar. It was nice but the group was quite large and it took a long time to do anything or get anywhere. We ended up in this bar with a food buffet of Weiner Shnitzl and other tasty German morsels.
I saw a very moving exhibit at the tech museum here in Vienna. One part of it had one of the 64K Atari 400 computers that I learned to program on in Middle school. Those computers had a strange membrane keyboard which was very difficult to type on similar to the keypad of most modern day microwaves. Since we had to sign out time on one of the 3 computers and everyone wanted to use these computers often times I would write down my programs ahead of time on paper and try to debug them before they were ever put into the computer at all. Its funny how much extra effort we spent on it because it was so difficult to put data into those computers, and they didn’t have tape or floppy drives, so you had to type in your program and run it but there was no way to save it. This led to us writing mostly short programs for the first several years of my computing career. Once we got to the high school they had Apple II’s with floppy drives and that really changed everything. There was a TV commercial from apple saluting all the square pegs in the round holes, all the troublemakers. It showed people like Einstein and Buckminster Fuller and Martin Luther King. Then the commercial said that people who were naive enough to think that they could change the world usually did. It was so beautiful it made me want to cry. I really, really believe that I am one of those people. The ones who can change the world. I know that I have to follow my path, my true calling but its so hard to do. I keep hoping that something will happen so I will be able to see my path more clearly than I can now.
On the night train to Frankfurt I had the weirdest dream last night. I dreamed that I was living on a big farm and when I came home someone had been blasting away at the side of the rock mountain and building a huge house in my backyard. It was weird because somehow we got a bunch of sheep and when I pulled in the driveway several of the sheep got out. I don’t know why I am so adverse to wearing clean clothes and smelling clean, especially when I travel. I guess I feel like when you travel you should look and feel like a vagrant. Everything about what you do and say should have vagrant written all over it. Its not enough to go somewhere and blend in, you should look like you don’t belong. Or maybe its just a direct reflection of the way I look at life, like if you should be true to what you are.
I caught a train to Frankfurt then traveled south. I got off the train when I saw a mountain that I wanted to climb to the top of. It was a small town and the mountain was several kilometers away. It was a very scenic walk and the top of the mountain was quite beautiful. There as lots of small trails but not very many people. Now I’m at the top and a family has stopped and appears to be making a large campfire which I would guess they will be cooking hotdogs over seeing as how they are all happily carving their hot dog sticks.
One of the younger kids was trying to carve a hot dog stick and he accidentally cut himself. Actually what happened was that his father was trying to help him do it and he accidentally cut his son when he got too close. . His son acted like it was nothing big, but there was a lot of blood so I went over to him and then tried to get him to clean the cut. He looked pretty scared so I talked to his father and explained to him that he should clean out the cut so that it wouldn’t get infected. He asked me why and I explained I was a doctor which was the closest word I could think of that I knew. Its funny there is a certain skill with talking to people who know very little English which I am learning quite quickly. Its actually more important to know how to talk to someone using simple one syllable words and speak slowly than it is to be able to speak lots of languages. I am also learning to use hand gestures when I talk which really helps people understand what I’m saying, especially if their English is marginal. So anyway this family was very nice and as it turns out that he is a surgeon, him and his family took me to their grandmother’s house and feed me really, really good leftovers, the best that I’ve eaten on my entire trip. We really got into talking, it turns out he doesn’t really like being a surgeon but he went to school for 12 years to learn how to do it so he doesn’t feel like he can just give it up and do something else. His passions included Scuba diving which he only did on holiday and when I asked him what he really wanted to do he said that he wanted to go to Africa and dig up old skeletons of Lucy (one of our very ancient monkey ancestors).
I ended up going to a youth hostel up on a mountainside which was a converted castle. The rooms were really cool with big windows and lots of custom woodwork and brickwork. I couldn’t find anyone my age at the castle so I hiked 3 km into town and found a huge venue with lots of people waiting outside. it was strange being surrounded by happy energetic kids and to be an older not German speaking foreigner. The show was sold out and I waited patiently by the door for over an hour. It was weird waiting so long for a band I had never heard of when I had no clue about what kind of music they even played. my patience was rewarded when the manager of the even let me in even though the show was already sold out. It was really nice of him and I really appreciated it. The bands name was Patrice and it was American Reggae music which is probably my least favorite kind of music but still I had a really fun time and danced the whole night long. There was lots of paramedics there with really overly concerned looks on their faces. I’m not sure if they thought that these half baked hippies were actually going to start any kind of fight or if they were waiting for the place to burst into flames like the bar in Rhode Island. Being a volunteer firefighter for several years I must confess I’ve had more than my fair share of nightmares involving being trapped in a burning building and having my body bursting into flames, If I go out like that I want it to be glorified like wrapped up in the American flag and doused in Kerosene not trapped in a pile of screaming burying bodies trying to escape. In any case nothing happened except my overactive imagination and I ended up walking home 3 Km in the dark under the moonlight to my castle on the hill. Walking through those grape fields under the light of the moon was pretty magical, not to mention it was really cold.
The next day I headed down to Friedberg, the scenery there was amazing. I hiked up a big hill to a look out tower in the middle of town. It was very peaceful. I cried a lot that day. It was good to just feel whatever it was that my body wanted to feel. At one point I was sitting and I came to a very powerful realization. When I was conceived I was part of my mother. I grew inside of her for a long time and even after I was born I didn’t understand the differences between her and I. To me I was all one person. Once I grew apart from her it was very painful, I was stuck trying to come to terms with my own sense of loneliness . As I grew I felt this strong desire to try to find a woman who I could be close enough to so that we could bond and I could feel like I wasn’t alone again. Several times in my life I’ve thought I was there, but every time I was proven wrong, sometimes drastically so. I wanted so much to be close to someone and feel that lack of loneliness but I wasn’t willing to do the work. I wasn’t willing to try to learn how to win a woman’s heart and the women whose hearts I won quickly lost interest when I took them for granted and stopped working at making them feel special. For a brief moment sitting on a bench I was alone and I was OK with it because I realized that being alone was what I was meant to be. I was chasing a ghost, and no woman will ever help me to not feel alone. Even the joining by sex is only a temporary relief from the loneliness that is not real. This is something that the countless prostitutes of Amsterdam had already realized. Although I did not partake from [of] their services, I did see it in their eyes and I was jealous of it. They were at peace with their lonesomeness They realized that no knight in shining armor was gong to come and sweep them away and save them. They realized that they were a prostitute, someone who engaged in sex as a profession. They knew what they were and were OK with it. If only I could find that sort of peace with my life and my choices.
After my stay in Friedberg I started traveling back to Amsterdam. I spent most of the day on the train and spent the night at the hostel I had stayed in before. They pulled out a mattress on the floor which I shelled out a whopping 16 Euros for. The next morning I hit the Anne Frank museum which was also quite moving. I ended up rereading her diary and it was really intense. I cannot imagine the suffering of the millions of Jews who suffered and died under Hitler’s regime. Its funny because my genetic disposition is very much like Hitler’s and the stereotypical German. And yet every day I struggle against my nature and I truly believe in my heart that I can make a difference and do good things. Sometimes I feel like its absurd for me to struggle so much against my nature. Instead perhaps I should just accept and try to love who I am.
I ran around Amsterdam and had a great time checking out the different parts, then I bought a train ticket from some homeless guy and gave him all my spare change and got on the train back to the airport. My flight home was pretty uneventful. In Detroit I remember watching the president’s address telling Saddam to get the hell out of Iraq or we’re gonna kill like thousands of Iraqi’s. It was strange having this huge 30 ft high head of George bush and watching the 200 people that gathered under the TV to watch his address with blank expressions on their faces. It was very reminiscent of 1984 by George Orwell. People standing like empty shells. If they felt something they did not let it be known. The smell of fear permeated the airport, fear and a feeling that nothing they could do would stop or slow the war machine. I was very happy to finally be sleeping in my own bed after 2 weeks on the road. It was especially nice to see Orion.