On that last point, I’m happy to report that jetlag actually makes it easier to keep up a breakneck pace of merry-making. I’ve had a total of 8.5 hours of sleep total since I got up on Thursday morning (0 hours on Thurs; 7 hours on Friday; 1.5 hours on Saturday), and I’ve hardly noticed it.
In other words, this weekend’s jaunt to Berlin was a lot of fun. Extravagant? Probably. Worth it? Absolutely.
The reason for the trip was Quynh-Nhu and Nikolas’s wedding. You may remember them from our travels through Austria, Hungary and Croatia a couple of years ago. We became friends (and they started dating) when we were all studying at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques in Rennes, France. Now, ten years later, they finally tied the knot officially.
I landed in Berlin shortly after 11am on Friday after a sleepless overnight transatlantic flight (sleeplessness due mostly to trailing work obligations, but also to a compelling murder mystery — the body count was skyrocketing and I just had to know who dunnit). I found QN waiting cheerfully in the cheerless lobby outside of customs. She had the bright (verging on frenetic) energy of an extremely competent bride determined to play the gracious hostess to her guests while still finalizing the outstanding items for the wedding the following day. The hostess part was particularly challenging because she had people coming from the four corners of the globe. Literally. Friends and family from Germany, France, Belgium, Switzerland, Estonia, the USA, Australia (and probably other places) were pouring in for the festivities. A few got lost in the shuffle, but most were well taken care of by the beaming bride. I was fortunate enough to arrive during a lull in arrivals, so I had a few minutes of one-on-one time to catch up without other distractions.
After a few more guests arrived, we dove into the city, distributing the others to their various hotels and finishing at Niko’s apartment, where I would be staying.
|View from Niko’s balcony|
|View in the other direction.
The church where they got married is just around the corner to the left.
The rest of the afternoon was devoted to errand-running. We ordered the bouquet and boutonieres from a florist down the street, resolved a stemware problem at the Vietnamese restaurant that would be catering the post-wedding refreshments, and did a site-visit at the church to make sure the tables and chairs were properly arranged. (And by “we” I mean that QN and Niko did everything; I just went along and nodded as if I understood German.)
Eventually QN left to collect more guests from the airport, and Niko needed to meet again with the priest. I headed home to hang out my clothes (no iron yet in the Huynh-Bader apartment, so I needed all the help I could get) and rest for a minute before going out for dinner. Turns out I did, literally, rest for only a minute — I had just set my alarm for a 20-minute nap when two of QN’s friends arrived. I had met the guy ten years ago (enough to remember his face and name); but the girl was completely new (turns out she was the Maid of Honor). I didn’t get a nap after all, but it was good to have a few minutes with just the three of us to build our acquaintance.
That night Niko and QN decided to divide and conquer: Niko took the German-speaking crowd to one restaurant (Chinese) while QN took the French-speaking group to a different restaurnat (Vietnamese). I was included among the French-speakers and had a great evening of spicy sauteed chicken and friendly celebration.
|Spicy and tangy soup with mushrooms and seafood|
|Spicy stir-fried chicken|
Turns out I had previously met most of the other French-speakers in Rennes or in Brussels, so with them I already had a foundation of acquaintance to build from. Everyone caught each other up on what they’d been doing and reminisced about the olden days. It was so easy and fun that I felt like I was in one of those movies about a group of friends that meets up for a special occasion only to have some drama come crashing down — only no drama ever crashed down.
|Charles, Christophe, QN, moi|
|Dave (the other American, also from DC), Hugues, Marie-Amelie, Mi-Kyu|
My favorite topic of conversation: Vacation days. Our poor French friends each get between 45 and 50 vacation days per year (in addition to all the official holidays), all of which they are required to take. Only it’s impossible to take that many vacation days and actually get any work done. So they inevitably have to roll untaken days over to the following year — meaning that they end up having to carry these oppressive loads of vacation days from year to year. Eventually the burden becomes so great that they just have to have the government buy back some of those days — but then guess what? the value of those days is taxed. So it’s, like, quadruple oppression, or something. Honestly. Their lives are so, so hard. (That, plus the 35-hour work week and the fact that it’s impossible to fire anyone, and we wonder why the French economy suffers…)
Dinner was the last organized activity of the day. When we’d finished I left the others at their hotels (they were all in the same neighborhood) and went back to the apartment, where Niko was getting ready for bed. I jokingly expressed my surprise at his early bedtime on his last night of “freedom”, I mean, shouldn’t we be out all night hitting the clubs on some last bachelor hurrah? To which he said I was free to go on my own. There were all types of clubs in Berlin, he said; surely some of them would be just right for me. For example, there were techno clubs and alternative clubs and “clubs for people who are ironic and smoke.” Unfortunately, I’d left all my ironic tee-shirts at home, so I decided to go to bed instead.