After three weeks of Fringing in Prague with my producer (and friend!) and mother (whom we put to work as a producer/promoter), Berlin was the first stop in our work-cation.
I’d always wanted to go to Germany. My parents divorced when I was eight years old and about when I was twelve or so, my mom surprisingly relinquished custody of us, enlisted in the Army and was eventually stationed in Mannheim. My two younger brothers and I didn’t see her for several years, as we were stationed in Wisconsin with our dad and second mom, where we sort of started our new family life without her.
As a kid, I’d had this romanticized idea of Germany. Like, Germany herself was an abstract piece of art you’ve hung on the wall that you try to get into; like, you just urgently want to climb into it, understand it, be a part of it, explore it and hold it’s hand, but can’t. Sometimes I loved Germany and sometimes I hated her for keeping my mom behind a piece of glass, out of reach.
So, there was some beauty in the fact that 30 years later, mom and I were in this country together. I was happy to finally meet her.
One of the best moments of this International trip, of my journey, was travelling by Eurail train from Prague to Berlin.
I love old movies, so Agatha Christie’s, “Murder on The Orient Express” was heavy on my mind, though I very much did not want to experience murder. I just wanted to feel glamorous. Real life, as it were, is never like the movies. I did not wear a smart pencil-skirt travelling suit, white gloves and a fab chapeau, veiling my mysterious amber eyes and perfectly arched eyebrows (I could have, I guess). We did not have some amazingly swanky private car, where we lounged in silk smoking pajamas for four and a half hours. For our $40.00, we were packed into one car that seated six people sitting directly across from one another like a roller coaster ride. I stayed in the dining car. The food was a bit crappy and the beer was overpriced and our server literally, like literally took ages to serve any of us and did so with a severe Czech Face. (ie. our made up version of Czech Bitchy Resting Face). But I LOVED it!
Side Note Tip: Currency: We could not use our credit cards in the dining car (system down, and there was no internet). As we had tried to use up all of our Czech Korunas and had planned to get new money, Euros, once we arrived in Germany, we had very little money to spend on the train. Bring cash or pack a sammie!
I also loved seeing the Czech countryside with its green flat lands, trees, deer and occasional farm house; in some ways, it was very much like Wisconsin. Like home. I wanted to jump into that picture, framed by my train car window, and run about in the grass just to see how it felt.
While in Prague, I’d been nervous-actor-girl and very focused on performing, which meant I didn’t drink as much Pivo (beer) or eat as much cheese as I would have liked (I was being responsible) and I’d gotten food poisoning early on, so my “vacation” started once I got on that train. Without any shows to consume my mind, I could relax and focus on the possibilities of what lay before me, which included city-shopping and getting the book in as many hands and venues as possible.
When we arrived in Berlin, at Hautbahnhof, the new main train station, I felt alive, senses on full alert inundated with new sounds and sights. It is strange and thrilling to travel a few hours, depart from your mode of transportation and become immersed in another language. (Yes, as American’s we feel different if we go from New York to say, Mississippi, but we still understand one another, Usually!) In Prague, none of us spoke Czech and we tried our damnedest to learn and use phrases like jak se máš (‘yahk szhee mosh”) How are you? We were excited for this leg, because mom spoke German. (My turn would come in France.) We put her in front for our first order: ice cream! We then headed to the exchange bank and ATM on the second floor with cones in hand. That was painful, considering we got so much for the dollar in Prague; however, this exchange was not as painful as watching a woman collapse on the escalator. She was in her 50s, 60s and she just sort of lost control of herself; her body stayed while she disappeared. Out of reach. She couldn’t focus, she couldn’t speak; her body slumped onto the escalator and there was streak of wetness underneath her that followed her as the escalator gently deposited her on the shiny tiled floor. Along with a group of others, we wanted to help her. Hold her hand. But we couldn’t.
She was alone and this was someone’s mom, someone’s sister, someone’s daughter. Just like the three of us. We said a prayer for her and corralled ourselves and our luggage out of the way and outside to get a taxi to our Airbnb flat in Kreuzberg/Neukölln (“Kreuzkölln”), while looking over our shoulders to make sure she was okay.
In Prague, many of the taxis are simply Priuses’ (rather, Prii); kinda like Uber or Lyft. In Chicago or NY, you know when you’re getting in a taxi, right? It’s yellow and and has a thing on top that says “Taxi”. So far, it was not so much, exactly. However, in Berlin, here at the shiny new train station, the Prii were lined up and ready to take you wherever you needed to go.
For me, this was still a bit of a question mark. Where was I going?
One thing was certain, the picture hanging on the wall was alive. It was real and I was now in it. I was also lucky; I was with my friend and collaborator on one side and my mom on the other. Neither of us was alone.
After getting through mom and dad’s divorce and our separation, I could touch her, look her in the eye, with nothing between us except the type of framed up history that isn’t always roses and cupcakes, and I was able to say, “Thanks for being here.” And that was something.