Wonderland

Wonderland

Some uphold
that mirrors
map the world
in honest light

While windows
in the eyes
reveal the visage
vision hides.

What then are
ghosts and
shapes that
resonate in glass

Refracting
partial truths,
turning windows
into masks?

Staring elsewhere
through a film
of self
reflection

Mirrors folly
of the simplest
nature, of
self direction.

To glance and
in an instant
see the world
outside and in,

Makes manifest
the err of
each and every
human sin.

Wisdom in this life
can be explained
discerning a dusty mirror
from a glossy window pane.

BW 7/22/16

Provided I had German language skills and I wasn’t such a country boy, Berlin is a city where I could live. The district we are staying in, courtesy of Ben’s generous friend Maya Markwald, is unassuming and diverse. There are delicious kebab places, hipster coffee houses, affordable organic markets, and vegan ice creameries around every corner. Having Maya to recommend the best versions of everything has proved invaluable. Ben and I are feeling a bit taxed by our wanderings, so having choice establishments picked out for us is a god send.

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Just the other night Wormwood got to play in Körner Park just a few blocks from our stay. Maya invited her friends and acquaintances to meet for a concert, and a really wonderful crowd of locals turned up for a bit of evening relaxation. We were very flattered by the audience. We realized just as we sat down to play that this was technically Wormwood’s very first independent concert!

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In daily routine we’ve spent a few hours here and there wandering around the city. We’ve completely avoided the downtown center and the hub of monuments. We might make a short trip into that region soon, but we’ve learned enough about ourselves to know we won’t last long amidst crowds and manicured shopping streets. We spent one afternoon in a big park south of the city center called Hasenheide. Families and couples stopped to listen as we played beneath a tree. You can enjoy the handstand workout happening in the background of this video, which we’ve dedicated to Kristin Anderson.

 

Another of our excursions took us even further south. We’d been told that an abandoned airport was open to public use. We had no idea what to expect, but soon we were trudging along dirt paths in beautifully wild sections of land. There were homemade fire pits and haphazard couches strewn throughout the acreage and wonderful public art on ever brick edifice.

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Eventually we stumbled through a gate and out onto a giant strip of land that could only be explained by an airplane runway. Except, the grass was mostly prairie and there were groups of people as far as the eye could see, sitting, dancing, barbecuing, kicking a soccer ball – it was an unpolished public space, unprecedented in size. We walked all over and noticed public restrooms in good condition, bike/running paths on air-lift tarmac, and even a sprawling community garden complete with handmade, wooden seating and a canopied stage for concerts. Here was San Francisco in the heart of Germany! Here was repurposed paradise! Combine that with the rich history of the Tempelhofer Feld as public parade, military base, a U.S. relief drop point, and you have yourself a recycled, re-imagined, activist-empowering hippy wonderland.

 

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Here’s the funny part. Ben and I were dragging so hard that day we visited Tempelhofer that I felt like I was back in Montessori Teacher training. We could barely muster the enthusiasm to lift one leg in front of the other, let alone revel outwardly in the impressive nature of the park. That said, we did record a video, and I’ve dedicated it to my good friend Cristina Celis. See if you can spot the moments when my (and Ben’s) train of thought gets derailed and we lose the ability to speak words…oh boy. Needless to say, that day included a generous nap!
I want to say an extra word of thanks to Cristina for supporting my travels. She encouraged me to “get out of my country” from the moment we met, and I’m grateful for that. Abrazos, Cristina.

 

Czech Underground

Czech Underground

In what way do
humans resemble
candles,
burning down
to wax and
exchanging their
shape for
brief periods
of illumination?

In what way do
candles give
grief to darkness
and comfort
to shadow,
pulling back
the veil and
tucking it into
corners?

In what way do
all things shine
with tarnished
silver glare,
brandishing a
noble purpose
muddled by
the compromise
of entropy?

BW 7/15/16

 

It seems to me that Prague is an old city with a young spirit. The paving stones and mortar arches that greet us everywhere we wander show the re-furbished nature of the districts. We’ve explored most of the tourist attractions and some of the residential zones in walking distance. The city continues to live up to our expectations.  We’ve switched to a different hostel in the Vinohrady district and are enjoying the quieter parts of the city. We got Vietnamese stir-fry for dinner yesterday and realized it was the first time we visited a restaurant that was mostly locals. True residents of Prague, it seems, are nearly identical to Minneapolis folk. “They don’t eat sausage and goulash for every meal? Ridiculous? Of course, Minnesotans only eat tater-tot hot dish!”

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With the recommendation of an online review and a hostel staff person, Wormwood ventured out to find an underground music club known as Vzorkovna. We even got two friendly strangers (Bethany and Amanda) we had met the day before and a couple of gentlemen from Turkey (Ömer and Mehmet) sharing our hostel to meet us at this hard-to-pronounce hipster den. We went bearing instruments in hopes of a jam session. We were not dissapointed.

Descending a ramshakle wooden staircase into a labyrinthian set of tunnels, we found ourselves in the grungiest, most incredible bar either of us have laid eyes upon. In place of posh chairs and couches, this establishment opted for upturned logs and plywood benches. The tables were adorned with red-wax candles that melted down right into the wood. The walls were festooned with artwork and tags and every anarchist mantra imaginable. To top it off there was a massive Irish wolf hound roaming around the place and lounging where he pleased! My mouth was literally agape with wonder.

Though it was a loud crowd, Wormwood set up on a small stage in one section of the club and played to the space. The bar’s owner introduced himself casually and told us to “do whatever we like.” We played for about a half hour and then set to sampling different common Czech liquors. One of the women that joined us for the evening was a Canadian now living in Prague. She recommended we try Becherovka, Slivovits, and Fernet. Our clear favorite was Becherovka (which has an herbal, cinnamon flavor) but Slovovits was also enjoyable. Fernet was a bit like cough syrup. Perhaps we should buy some the next time we’re coming down with a cold?

The footage of our playing is gritty at best. It was a dark bar and our microphone had trouble filtering the joyful noise of the crowd. This video gives you a glimpse, though, of the small space built for impromptu jam sessions.

We had a great time chatting with new friends early into the morning (when a shirtless Czech man cheerfully but insistently ushered us out the door.) Vzorkovna was a home-run for Prague in our books. Liquor, beer, and cider in various sized Mason jars at ridiculously reasonable prices made this dive a near-perfect hangout. This city has a lot to offer wannabe Bohemians like Ben and me. The presence of unpretentious modern culture is like a litmus test for the health of local humans – at least, that’s what Ben believes, and I agree with him because most of the time we are the same person.

The Here and Now

The Here and Now

Honoring the dead

is best achieved,

 

it seems to me,

 

by spending time

with the living.

-BW 7/12/2016

In our last post, Wormwood shared some heavy thoughts on tourism. Since then we had a few experiences that fertilized our love for new places. We did a one-night trip to Budapest on recommendation from several people. Then we connected with some awesome locals in Austria.

Budapest was a whirlwind 24 hours. We trained in and immediately went to the public baths. There are several around the city and all use natural hot springs to deliver warm pools of varying temperature. The  experience is incredibly unique. The Szechenyi Baths that we explored had multiple outdoor pools, all around 30 degrees Celsius. Then there were saunas and steam rooms, some with medicinal herbs. One basement sauna maintained a temperature between 80 and 100 degrees Celsius! We lasted about three minutes in that room. It’s a unique experience, sweating from every pore, but feeling dry because the sweat evaporates nearly instantaneously. Don’t worry, immediately after we plunged into a pool of 10 degree Celsius water. That wasn’t shocking at all…

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Nightlife in Budapest is thriving. There seemed to be a good mixture of nonchalant bars and posh restaurants, which reminded us of Minneapolis. Combine that with a record setting number of V-neck T-shirts and man buns (haircut) and you’ve got yourself a Twin Cities in Europe! Buda =  St. Paul. Pest = Minneapolis. There’s a river that runs through both, and enough “third wave” coffee houses to turn the Danube brown.

Wormwood went to a few bars and ended the night at a dance club with multiple music rooms. Needless to say, two midwestern boys were a bit out of place on the Pop, Disco, and RnB floors, but then we found the House music. Ben instantly lit up like the Fourth of July (which we sort of missed this summer.) Both of us enjoyed the repetitive and predictable flow, so we shook our tail feathers a bit! We danced at the nightclub until far past our bedtime and then spent the next day walking around the city looking for further “hipster infrastructure” and enjoying much needed quiet. We found plenty of bike-happy zones. Go Budapest!

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Wormwood spent its last evening in Ausria in the company of two lovely locals. Barbara and Vincent were introduced to us by Baylen’s roommate, Julian. We travelled to the Beethovengang once more to meet this friendly couple and share some Viennese wine with them.

As it turns out, Viennese have never been proud of their vino, and the traditional way to drink is to mix the fermented white juice with sparkling water to help it go down. We liked it! but when the company is good, it doesn’t much matter what you drink, eh?

The four of us shared a meal and exchanged notes on the cultural differences between Minnesota and Austria. While we chewed on dumplings and schnitzel, the group agreed that Midwesterners are the caricature counterpart to the Viennese. There is an equal and opposite to “Minnesota Nice” and we laughingly called it the “Viennese Scowl.” Note to other travelers: If an Austrian frowns at you, it does not necessarily mean they are angry!

After dinner the group went down to the Danube and Wormwood played a set of music for our new friends. The river is not particularly blue, but with evening sun it gleams like molten silver. Das ist gut! Several passersby were happy to stop and listen. They even paid our tram fare with some loose change. Thank you!

As we bid our friends goodbye and began preparations for our travels to Prague, we reflected on our week. One thing is clear: A city is only as great as it’s people. Budapest showed us a vibrant modern culture of “refurbished and repurposed” living. Vienna eventually revealed its simple charm by the grace of two locals. Thank you, Barbara and Vincent for reaching out to these two crazy Americans! Our German is terrible, but I think we are starting to make some sense of the world.

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