One word to describe Berlin is MASSIVE. Everything about Berlin has this massive quality about it. How about Tempelhof, a huge open space in the heart of the city? It used to be an airport providing supplies for West Berlin but now is just a gigantic mostly empty park that has landing lanes instead of trees. Absolutely marvellous. Or Teufelsberg, an abandoned American military radar again in western parts of the city? Massive naturally. If you make it all the way to the top, you will find yourself in a spherical echo chamber with amazing acoustics. If Hamburg is full or rivers and canals, Berlin has railway tracks everywhere. Indeed, S/U-bahn tracks are akin to rivers – wide, massive and require proper bridges to cross.
Map of Berlin can be treacherous, as short distances on the map turn out to be long rides. You feel like making a lot of progress, but the map says otherwise. Nonetheless I was happy to have my bicycle with me, as the city is best to be explored this way. Another pitfall of the Berlin geography is identically named streets in different parts of the city. I found out this fact the hard way. A short 30km ride from Potsdam took almost five hours. It rained like there was no tomorrow for hours with proper floods on the streets. Confusing geography did not help my cause either. After an exhausting wet ride I made it to Siegfriedstrasse in Liechtenberg, only to find that I was after Siegfriedstrasse in Neuköln. The rest of the stay was much more pleasant though. The city was explored, Friends were met for the bi-annual symposium of discohippies in Berlin. Parties were attended. And delicious food was had. Fun times without a doubt. The highlight of this visit to Berlin was Peristal Signum, a bizarre labyrinth like installation in an equally bizarre club Salon: Zur Wilden Renate. It is strange, it is fascinating, it is mind-blowing, it is popular. It took us more than two hours of waiting to experience it against the promised half an hour (never trust a hippy!), but the result was well worth the wait. A little bit of Alice in Wonderland like world in the real life that makes you totally believe your experience and totally forget about the outside world for a moment. Just like virtual reality, minus the virtual part. Borrowing the language of Apple, it is magical. Enough spoilers though, it is best to be experienced without any prior ideas.
Berlin is an alpha city in its truest sense. The city that has got everything. The only problem is how to find it. A week is not enough to experience Berlin, nor a month, nor a year I presume. I spent six days in Berlin (more than in Denmark!) and was tempted to stay in Berlin longer. Accommodation was sorted for the next week and Air Berlin had a regular sale. I felt I would lose either way. Lose by abandoning the journey and lose by missing out all the great things Berlin had to offer. The law of dukkha in action. After a lot of hesitation I continued with pedaling only to be treated with rains for the rest of the journey. Oh well…
Berlin is still there though and one day I would love to make it my home. I love Berlin, but then again who doesn’t?
I visited Copenhagen three years ago in the winter of 2009. It was cold, it was stylish, it was expensive. This time it was different, at least in terms of temperature and general vibe. As with all the Scandinavian cities Copenhagen truly comes to life in summer. There’s life on the streets, bicycles bustle back and forth and terraces are packed never mind insane prices. Combine this with the stylish architecture and the famous Danish design and it almost made me to move here.
I longed for a company, but the days of “forestation” had left a mark. I felt lonely in the city full of people. Urban alienation at its best (or worst). I was not mad enough to strike conversations with random strangers. So I spent time cycling around admiring the excellent cycling infrastructure and pretty buildings. Cycling in Copenhagen is an experience itself. Bicycles are of all forms and shapes, can be found everywhere and thanks to the flat landscape they move fast. There is no room for solo cruising or interpreting try traffic laws in a creative manner here, you are part of the traffic. Rules are to be obeyed and your manoeuvres to be advertised using hand gestures. An intense experience, which requires your undivided attention, just like driving a motorbike in Vietnam.
I went to Christiania in the morning, but found only an unkept and messy area. Just llike a hippy commune that has not be cleaned up for ages, a strike contrast with the rest of Copenhagen. In the evening I rendez-voused with Teppo and I got the company I had longed for. We talked and the signs of the untalkative mood were completely gone. It is so true that in order to get into a talkative mood you just have to start talking. We visited Christiania again and this time it was full of people and there were no signs of the dirty hippy commune I had found in the morning. Just warm, laidback and cozy atmosphere. I stroke conversations with strangers and asked for tips on what to see in Copenhagen. Invariably the answer was always the same: Christiania. Well, there are definitely other worthy things to see in Copenhagen (the Little Mermaid status is not one of them, though), but Christiania is a truly liberal oasis in the heart of Scandinavian order and structure.
I enjoyed Copenhagen a lot and wished I would have spent more time there, but once again the journey had to be continued towards Germany and Fusion. Copenhagen to be filed under the “to visit again” category.
I did the west coast very quickly and reached the point where I just wanted to get out of the country. The reason was the wind. This soul sucking, hope crushing wind. It started winding since I had left Uddevalla and went on all the way to Denmark. At times I regretted the whole enterprise and just wanted to stop pedalling and magically transport home. What is the point in keeping on, when you put so much effort and get so little result. I developed an aversion to open areas as well. I felt like a small animal in the field and just wished to escape to the forest. Alas there were only a few forest routes on the way. As a side note I solved the mystery of why the wind is always the headwind. The reason is trivial. Tailwind is unnoticeable apart from the effortless pedalling. No sound and no clothes fluttering in the wind.
Enough about wind and other unpleasantries, though. Tjärebro and the surroundings were pretty amazing. It is called the most beautiful road in Sweden for the reason. Some nice fortress and castles were encountered on the way: Bohus, Tjolöholm, Varberg. Bohus was particularly bad-ass. Built to be invincible, it has indeed never been captured during its long history. At that point I had not seen enough castles yet, so anything medieval was a welcome sight. I exited Sweden in Helsingborg by taking a ferry to Helsingør. I spent only a couple of hours there, but it made a good impression. Slightly bigger than an average Swedish city, more walking streets, more history, more pretty architecture and an overall good sunny vibe. In fact it is the third city in Sweden I would like to visit again after Stockholm and Göteborg. Another side note: what is the deal with Helsing* and why Helsingfors is so far away? The moment I crossed the strait the sunny weather turned into the rain, but the wind changed the direction, but this is a story for another time.
Solo cycling is a lone affair. I’ve been on my own most of the time. Most of the covesrations I’ve had have been with cashiers in supermarkets.
“Hello! How are you?”
“I’m fine, thank you”
“Is there anything to do/see here?”
“Not really. It is a very small place”
Not much of a profound conversation really.
When I left home, it was sunny and hot. In Sweden I expected even warmer weather and beautiful blonde bikini girls, but found neither. Cold and windy. I had hesitated to bring a fleece pullover with me, but luckily I did. I ended up using it along with woollen socks almost all the time. Space blanket was intended for emergencies, but I’ve been using it every night. Two first nights spent in the forest with extremely early wake ups due the coldness and was almost ready to go back home.
So this is how I felt, when I arrived to Lyckebygården for vipassana: cold, aloof and sleep deprived. Ironically all this misery prepared myself for what was about to come. At least for the time being I had a warm bed and a hot shower and I didn’t have to cycle anywhere. Suddenly the prospect of ten days sitting did not seem so bad.