Monday, July 30, 2012

Running in Serbia

Travel beard in full effect

I'm now in Belgrade, after having taken an overnight train from Berlin to Budapest, Budapest to here.

Running this morning was pretty bad.  I only knew one route - to and from the train station - which took me down a busy street and then back up it.  The incline was pretty rough coming back up, as was the constant starting and stopping at each intersection.  30 minutes done.

Walked around a fair bit today and have discovered some other viable running routes, so tomorrow should go a lot better.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

On change

The average person will look at the picture below and see a simple fast food stand in Berlin, home to one of Berlin's culinary specialties: currywurst.  And nothing more.

I look at the picture above and see it as a symbol of the unrelenting pace of change in Berlin over the last 22 years.

But first a history lesson.

The Berlin Wall stood for 28 years as an attempt to keep East Germans from escaping the harsh conditions of the Soviet-controlled sector.  When Hungary opened its borders to the west in 1989, however, tens of thousands of East Germans fled via Hungary, setting the stage for change.  The East German government, powerless to stop them, finally capitulated and opened its own border on November 9, 1989.  11 months later, East and West Germany officially reunited, and capitalism barreled east.

10 years later I moved in around the corner from the above curry stand, back when it was just a tiny place that no one had ever heard of.  As mentioned earlier, I took quite a liking to currywurst, and ate there several times a week.  When I lived across town the following year, I still came back to this stand, dragging friends with me.

It seems I was on to something...

In the intervening years, Curry 36 has expanded significantly, and thanks to mentions in Lonely Planet and other titans of travel, it now hosts gaggles of tourists around the clock.

Also in the intervening years, the idea of "ostalgie," (a play on the German words for "nostalgia" and "east,") has crept its way into the national zeitgeist.  It is a feeling - one could call it nostalgia in East Germans and perhaps curiosity in their West German counterparts - a desire to understand the way things were during the 40 years that East Germany existed.  This has since been marketed to tourists, and once they've finished their currywurst, the hordes who have descended on Berlin can indulge in the new DDR museum, visit the former headquarters of the Stasi, rent a Trabi to tour around Berlin, visit a permanent exhibit at the Germany History Museum on the DDR, and so much more.

Gone are the days when Hitler, WWII and the Holocaust guided German tourism.  It seems people have discovered this fascinating chapter in Germany's history, and now three simple letters rule Berlin as big business: DDR (the abbreviation for Deutsche Demokratische Republik, East Germany's official title).  It is, in essence, a rather ironic end to a regime that fought so hard against capitalism in the first place.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Running in Berlin

6km run around Berlin

Another run through downtown Berlin.

Like in any city, constantly stopping at crosswalks to wait for traffic is a pain, but what can beat running through the Brandenburg Gate and Checkpoint Charlie, for decades the sites of Cold War tension, and now easily passed?

Definitely finding it tough to leave this city.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Berlin diet

Döner Kebab, Currywurst, and beer

When I lived in Berlin for a year and a half of college, I subsisted almost exclusively on three things: currywurst, döner kebab, and beer.  All three were quick, cheap, plentiful, and conducive to the late-night, student lifestyle.  It's no wonder, of course, that I gained weight while here and got very out of shape.

Now that I'm back in town for a bit, I'm easily falling into old habits.  At least I'm running almost every morning, though.  But as nice as it is to revisit the döner and currywurst, it will be nice to return home soon and resume more normal eating habits.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Ich bin ein Berliner

I'm now in Berlin for a few days.  I first met Stevie here when she flew in a little over a week ago, and now we're back.  We've turned in the rental car, booked a hostel, and are checking out the city for a few days before she leaves on Monday.  In the meantime, I went for a run this morning and brought my camera along for your viewing pleasure:

Running near the Brandenburg Gate, which lies just before the finish of the Berlin Marathon

Running near the German Reichstag

I'm so pretty when I run I should be arrested.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


When I was a senior in high school, way back in 1998, I received a government scholarship to study abroad in Germany.  I ended up in the town of Obertsdorf, a small ski town in the Allgäu region of Bavaria, ten minutes from Austria.  

To make a long story short, I loved the town, loved my school and friends, but simply didn't get along with my host family.  Towards the end of the year, I took up running the trails of the town's surrounding mountains and pastures, just to get away from my host family for an hour.  Trails like these:

My running path today

I last visited in May of 2002, but haven't been back since.  Which brings us to this week.

Now I'm back, for the first time in ten years, showing Stevie my old haunts, staying with old friends, and meeting with one of the English teachers at the local high school to prepare for our exchange next summer.  Yes, in a complete coincidence, this town is the very town with which my school in America conducts its German exchange every other summer.  So for the forseeable future, I will be returning to this apline paradise every other year.

In the meantime, I've enjoyed retracing some of my old running routes while here.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Miles and kilometers

As an American having been raised on the U.S. system of measurement, I find the metric system particularly vexing.

Being a runner helps with calculations, though, as many races are measured in kilometers.  I know that the marathon is 26.2 miles but also 42 kilometers, so as we passed the sign above, I thought, oh. we're only a marathon and a half from Kempten.

Monday, July 16, 2012

You can take the Partenheimer out of Partenheim...

Somewhere in Germany's Bundesland known as Hessen, in the vicinity of the Rhein River, lies a small village called Partenheim.  Of little note to the layman, Partenheim is of particular interest to me given its striking similarity to my own last name.  Indeed, my mother, with her passion for genealogy, discovered that our ancestors emigrated from this very town in the 1870's.  I'd been there once before in 1996, but was keen to go back.

And so, after meeting Stevie in Berlin, renting a car and seeing such towns as Hannover, Nordeich on the North Sea, Cologne and Trier, we found ourselves in German wine country on the way to Partenheim.

The town of Partenheim in Germany

Partenheim, a wine village that recently celebrated its 1,250 anniversary, has a population of roughly 1,000 people, two pubs with rooms available upstairs, a church, a castle, and of course a few wineries scattered about.  My goal was to obtain a few more bottles of Partenheimer wine, which my family uses for special occasions like Christmas or weddings.

As we arrived on a Sunday afternoon when everything was closed, we decided to stay the night above one of the pubs and get some wine in the morning before heading out.  I was itching to tell a local my last name, but felt awkward bringing it up out of the blue.  As I was paying the bill for dinner, though, a local called out that he had seen me taking pictures of the sign outside of town.  That's when I rather excitedly pulled out my passport, and the man was beside himself when he learned my last name.  The man, named Oliver, began calling out to the others at the bar, and yelling at the bartender, and soon all manner of gifts began appearing before us, including: a postcard, two bottles of wine, two shot glasses and two wine glasses, all bearing the name Partenheim or Partenheimer.

The night went on for three more hours as we conversed in German and Oliver's schoolbook English.  Oliver kept calling out to the bartender, ("Werner!  They need more wine!  Werner!  Someone clean those wineglasses!  We can't give them dirty glasses!") and then started calling friends to see if anyone could give us a proper tour of the town the following day, as he had to work.  Oliver never did find a tourguide for us, but his enthusiasm never died the whole evening.  Finally around midnight we were able to say goodbye and make our way upstairs.

Stevie with our new friend Oliver at the bar in Partenheim
The following morning we decided to visit one of the wineries to get a few more bottles, and upon hearing my last name, the proprietor gave us two bottles and another shot glass as presents.  This prompted the joke that we should visit all the other nearby towns and claim similar names in the hopes of earning more free swag.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The trip in pictures so far

Drinking a Guinness, reading  "Dubliners" in a pub in Dublin.
I'm told this should be my jacket photo when I write a book.

About to watch "Hamlet" in the park at King's College in Cambridge

A foggy night in Tynemouth, England

Drinking beers with Alan in a pub in Tynemouth

Hiking Hadrian's Wall in England, built circa 122 A.D. at the far reaches of the Roman Empire

On the coast of the North Sea, England.  A friend pointed out this looks eerily similar to the "I Am Legend" movie poster.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Tynemouth, England

I'm now in Tynemouth, England, just outside of Newcastle, on the coast of the North Sea.  I'm staying with my friend Alan from college, who is currently pursuing a PhD at Newcastle University.

I once mentioned that the town where I live is charming, but frankly, Tynemouth makes it look like a war zone inside a third world country inside Snookie's bedroom.  Tynemouth is a small village with a main street running perperndicular to the sea.  There are cliffs, and bays, and beaches, and quiet English pubs, and noisy English pubs, the ruins of a castle and church, and a lighthouse.

Today I ran out to that lighthouse and up and down the coast which was one of the greatest runs I've had in a long time.  Nice scenery makes all the difference.  

Can you see me?
Photo by Alan Hunt

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

By George, I think she's got it

Hanging out in London with George.

Me: Hey George, that pub has your name on it, let's get a picture.
George: Lots of things in London and England have the name 'George' in it.
Me: Looks like you're going to be posing for a lot of pictures, then.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Cambridge 4.5 Miler

Last spring I took Lee on one of my usual runs, and today he returned the favor.  We went on a 4.5 mile jaunt through English meadows and quaint, narrow streets.  In the rain.  When we got home, George took a picture of us in the backyard.

Lee is slowly building up to an October Marathon - his first - and his pace was incredible tonight.  It was all I could do to keep up with him at the end.  If he keeps up the intensity of tonight's run for the rest of training, he is going to kill it this fall.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Cambridge Punter

I'm now in Cambridge, England, staying with my favorite couple, George and Lee.

Trying to turn the boat

Today's exercise came in the form of punting along the River Cam in downtown Cambridge with Glee.  What's punting?  Just think of the gondolas of Venice with cooler weather and a lot less sun.  Or just look at the pictures above.

It was one of the nicest travel experiences I've ever had: gliding lazily down the river, taking in the various colleges whose buildings date back centuries, playing bumper boats with the other punts, all while working the abs and testing my balance.

We spent an hour on the river, Lee and I taking turns as Captain while George worked on her tan.
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