Tag Archives: Fela

Thrifty Afropolitan in Berlin

Earlier this year, I visited Germany’s capital city on a whim. It seemed everyone I knew had been or was planning to go so being the naturally curious kitten that I am, I wanted to find out what all the fuss was about.  And it didn’t disappoint.

Travelling solo is good for the soul and forces you to come out of your comfort zone which is a necessary thing to do from time to time. I have travelled alone before, but it is the first time I have visited a place where I couldn’t speak the main language.  Similarly, and rather selfishly, I also decided to travel solo because I just wanted to disappear, immersing myself into another culture without having to compromise – just a straightforward, disappear and do-what- I-want sort of holiday.

The trip was so enriching in many ways; East Berlin is incredibly vibrant with a very youthful and creative energy.  A friend of mine described it as ‘painfully edgy’ comparable to Shoreditch, East London.

Berlin is a relatively multicultural city including a huge Turkish population and is also varied architecturally with some truly beautiful buildings to behold.

Berlin was ridiculously affordable (compared to London) from dining out to the range of touristy activities on offer, many of which were free. I had a whole host of recommendations from friends (thank you) but only managed to do a few things given that it was a short break. I planned one thing a day and then left the rest open to whatever opportunities presented themselves.

“Sprechen Sie Deutsch?”

Most people I met were friendly with almost all being able to speak English. However I really wish I’d made an effort to learn a few German phrases. I am not fond of the incredibly arrogant way of travelling and assuming everyone speaks English which unfortunately I did on this occasion. Also not speaking the language meant I missed opportunities for meaningful interactions with German natives.

On one occasion I was sat on a train making my way to a friend’s church on the other side of Berlin.  This guy, who looked slightly rough in appearance, kept staring at me. I wasn’t offended or scared as I sensed he was harmless – more intrigued than hostile. Eventually I offered him a sweet just to break up the intense staring.  He refused politely then proceeded to speak in German. I couldn’t answer back and he seemed a little disappointed by it but kept staring at me until I got off. I would love to have known what thoughts lie beneath…

As usual on the arrival I had a slight panic. What am I doing in this city, where I don’t know anyone and I don’t speak the language? But then I took a deep breath, reminded myself that I am a grown woman, only 1.5 hours away from ‘home’ and that the whole point of the trip was to explore, be patient with myself and come out of the ‘known’.

In all honesty I was concerned about experiencing racism (historically Germany has a track record) and not having the language or wherewithal to respond. I was also worried about my inability to speak German. To appease the panic I returned to the familiar and sat in a local McDonald’s for Wifi and for comfort.
With a shortage of tables, a white woman, middle-aged, friendly faced asked to sit down across from me. I said yes and then she began to talk in German to which I couldn’t reply. For the duration of her lunch, she sat and looked at me, my face and hair in particular – with a semi smile resting on her face.

When God just hooks you up

I stayed in a lovely combination hostel and hotel called Plus Berlin which I would highly recommend due to its location (not far from the Eastside Gallery), amenities and affordability. I absolutely love staying in hostels for short city breaks because of the instant community and the potential to meet different people from around the world.

The first of the serendipitous moments happened when I arrived at the hostel. There was a concert I wanted to go to, part of the reason I came to Berlin, but I didn’t book any advance tickets.  Through a chance conversation with the receptionist, one of his colleagues was planning to go and invited me along.  However I did end up going on my own (and met him there)  but I also met some other wonderful people including a young American female drummer and a fellow Nigerian creative (journalist, dancer & curator) who I immediately clicked with. We all swapped notes on the cost of living in our respective cities and what it means to be Nigerian in our various lands (UK and Germany respectively) as well as hopes for the future etc.

I danced the night away and as if things couldn’t get any better, because of these newly forged friendships, I got to meet the legend and Afrobeat pioneer, Mr Tony Allen (Fela’s drummer), who was incredibly gracious and warm. He even tried to talk to me in Yoruba (my father’s native tongue) when I told him my name but unfortunately ( no thanks to my parents but I still love you) I can’t speak the language! Golden opportunity missed.

Awestruck: Sir Tony Allen, Afrobeat legend and I

Awestruck: Sir Tony Allen, Afrobeat legend and I

Some of the other highlights of my short trip included:

Walking tour – Everyone I knew recommended the walking tour and it was brilliant. Different companies offer them – I went with Original Berlin Tours. The tours are free (although it’s courteous to tip the guide at the end) and lasted for 2.5 hours.  Our tour guide was a young, Irish guy who was passionate and knowledgeable about modern European history so the tour was very well informed.

Walking tours are a good way to meet people if you are travelling solo and I happened to meet some wonderful people including a young woman from London who began solo travelling for much the same reasons as I (the freedom and differing ideas of what constitutes a good holiday compared to her friends.)

The walk covered most of the major landmarks including Checkpoint Charlie, remains of the Berlin Wall, the Holocaust memorial, the Brandenburg gate, the location of Hitler’s bunker and other weird, wonderful and sobering locations.  Towards the end of the tour I stumbled across the Room of Silence– powerful and thought provoking which I would highly recommend even if just to escape the frenzied tourist activity.

Tiergarten – a refreshing oasis in the midst of the hustle and bustle – Tiergarten is the equivalent of London’s Hyde Park – a beautiful sprawling space includes a beer garden, statutes of famous German composers (including one of my favourites Uncle Beethoven) and is surrounded by important landmarks such as the Bundestag and the Brandeburg Gate.

Tasting Turkish food There are lots of Turkish food places with a significant number located near Kotbusser Strasse. I visited several during my short stay the food was that delicious and affordable. I do also recommend trying some German cuisine- a friend of mine who was raised in Berlin but lives in London, recommended I taste a Currywurst- a sausage covered in curry sauce which was quite tasty.

Tempelhof– Formerly an airport, I visited this quirky and wonderful park by accident. It was a hive of activity when I went with numerous sunbathers, cyclists and people having BBQs.  Lovely space and worth visiting to see how the space is being used.

People watching / Bottle collecting – I know it is an odd one ( I promise I am no voyeur)  but on several occasions I noticed grown men picking glass bottles out of bins so asked my friend why this was the case. He mentioned that bottle collecting was common amongst some, usually older people, as a means of supplementing their income. Essentially they can earn extra money if returned to a supermarket as part of a deposit scheme.

Eastside Gallery – you just have to go just because it is so culturally and historically important.

Bundestag– I visited the German parliament building at night and it was spectacular especially the panoramic views from the rooftop. It’s free and really worth going to see especially if you are into architectural design.

Church– I was meant to visit Mauer park, a popular Sunday hangout (again highly recommended) but ended up going to my friend’s church instead. The church was very multicultural – with an American pastor, lovely and welcoming.  After the service, a group of us visited a Latvian restaurant for lunch providing an excellent opportunity to get know them properly.  The group consisted mainly of international students from Ecuador, Canada, Latvia, Brazil and England all developing their German language skills and making the most of the study abroad experience.  I couldn’t help feeling inspired by their experiences- I didn’t study abroad as part of my degree- which I regret, but I do believe it is never to late to cease the opportunity to travel and live abroad (even if for a little while) if that is what your heart desires.

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Can’t be all good, can it?
In terms of travel, Berlin has a good, organised and affordable transport system. It is also a cyclist’s city, so refreshing to see people of all ages cycling around as a way of life. I made a few faux pas during the trip mainly getting confused between the S-Bahn (the  overground trains) and the U-Bahn ( like the London Underground) which led to some frustrating episodes- like missing trains but they were fairly frequent so an easy problem to rectify.

The only down side to my trip was on the third night when the new roommate arrived. A lovely and friendly older woman when awake but a terrifyingly loud chronic snorer by night (resembling the sound of a small freight train) making sleep for the last two nights somewhat elusive. Thankfully I only had two nights of left but at one point wondered if this was part of the hostel’s conspiracy to get guests to upgrade to a hotel room!

In terms of costs I bought cheap return flights for £40 through Easyjet.  My accommodation for 4 nights worked out at approximately 85 euros (£70) which included a shared en suite bathroom. (These prices were pre- Brexit decision) so could be subject to change. And I took a fair amount of spending money but still ended up with a considerable amount left.

In a nutshell:  great city+ great people+ great value = Berlin.

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Gentleman- In memory of dad

In the early hours of Tuesday 20th January 2015 we said goodnight to Popcicle aka dad.  It is one of the hardest things I have ever had to do but feel strangely at peace knowing he is no longer in pain and thankful to God for blessing my siblings and I with a man like him for a father.

Even in death he looked beautiful laying there- his stunning eyes closed for the final time, skin flawless, lips slightly pursued open as if his mouth was the final point from which his spirit could depart.

My dad was a very wise man, multi-talented, strong, hardworking, highly creative, passionate, rebellious, funny, kind and frighteningly intelligent- in the words of my aunt he was the ‘crown jewel’ In the family. And as clichéd as it sounds he did have the X factor and knew how to light up a room just by his sheer presence.

My dad loved people, loved life and lived for his family.  He was so funny and bubbly without even trying- even the nurse called him a true showman. In another life he would easily have been a Nollywood actor, creative director and film director (all rolled in one) because he was that  comical and theatrical. In fact some of my fondest memories in the past few months have involved watching Nollywood movies with dad. He couldn’t stop his running commentary whether its to do with the scenery, the plot (or lack of) or the shocking use of music; “this film is pay as you go- they are making up the scripts as they go along” he would say irritated.

My dad: officially one of the coolest people on the planet

My dad: officially one of the coolest people to have graced planet Earth

Dad could turn his hands to anything and had many different jobs in his lifetime-a soldier, a child model (he once won a competition to be the Cocoa Butter kid, winning a year’s supply as part of the prize), a fashion designer, interior designer, painter/decorator, handyman, self- taught electrician and plumber, trainee chef, gardener, carpenter- there was very little he couldn’t do. A little known secret, (though not anymore), is that my dad had on more than one occasion, rescued several people from a house fire just because he could (talk about modern day superhero!!!).

He was generous to a fault- as a child I remember dad buying ice cream for children on our council estate at the same time he would buy ice cream for us, his children. He couldn’t help himself- as long as he had change in his pocket he would always want to bless others no matter how small.  Even in death his generosity knew no bounds; though he wasn’t gifted with a new set of lungs, he decided he wanted to be an organ donor- giving life to others even though he had every right to bitterly hold his organs hostage.

Dad always had a twinkle in his eye and was renowned for being mischievous with a quick mouth and a knack for one liners. Only a few days before he died he was engaging in banter with the nurse.

”Mr Olu are you allergic to anything?” she would ask before giving him his injection.  “No just people” he would say swiftly followed by a school boy smirk. He was a text book extrovert finding the company of people life giving and loved nothing more than to express himself verbally; in his own words, “if I can’t speak I might as well die.”

Dad was a seasoned traveller with perpetual itchy feet and subsequently lived/visited many parts of Europe (Spain, France, Netherlands), the Americas (USA for a few years whilst travelling often to the Caribbean) and Africa (Nigeria and Ghana). He was a true global citizen proud of his Nigerian, Sierra Leonean and Brazilian heritage. He was a cultural chameleon fluent in Yoruba, Creole, English and Patois.  Dad was equally at home speaking in his native tongue (Yoruba) and switching it up at a moment’s notice (to Patois for example) depending on the company which he often did much to my horror!

Anyone who knew dad knew he was a masterful story teller and adventurer-some of the things he experienced in life would blow your mind-mixing with millionaires, members of the royal family, celebrities but then also finding himself in dire circumstances;  he lived nothing short of a FULL life and had the wisdom to go along with it. Dad loved to share his wisdom with anyone who would listen and most of the time it was superb even if you weren’t in the mood to hear it! I now realize in hindsight that this was one of the many gifts God had placed within him.

As we gathered round his bedside that morning, we reminisced on the good times laughing and playing songs that reminded us of him. Each song had its own story, some of which I would love to share with you.

  • Gentleman-Fela: This was Dad’s favourite and has coincidentally become my favourite track. Dad use to tell the story of this song being synonymous of being young, free and single before he started having children. He and his friends would regularly go to the Shrine- Fela’s night club and this would be one of their jams! Cue Black John Travolta- starched 70’s flares, large lapel shirts, gold chain with a small pendant and a huge Afro. They would step to this song as soon as the bass dropped- just the thought of it makes me smile.
  • Bob Marley’s Exodus album- summer evenings, Guinness drinking, incense mingled with other ‘earthy’ fragrances, dad’s friends over, the sitting room temporarily transformed into the ‘boys den’- debating sounded like they were having a fight- good times.
  • Johnny Nash- the whole best of album but especially Cupid beautiful childhood memories – either over Sunday dinner or driving back in the car from grandma’s or some aunty’s house.
  • Any song by Jim Reeves – The soundtrack of Sundays as a child and Christmas throughout my entire life. If Jim Reeves is not playing then it is not Christmas according to dad.

I am going to miss him beyond words but ever grateful to him and my many friends who prayed for us along this painful journey. I think about his legacy to my siblings and I and know that we are blessed and highly favoured to have had him as a father and role model.  And throughout these past few years, as dad battled with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis-a little known serious lung disease, God had His hand on us right from the very beginning and even in the end He was with us. My dad refused to die defying odds, determined to live & in fact lived much longer than even he expected! The last 4 years have been tough losing 3 father figures but I find solace in knowing that my dad is in good company- resting in the eternal presence of the Almighty Father.

For more information on becoming an organ donor visit: www.organdonation.nhs.uk

To consider donating to the British Lung Foundation visit http://www.blf.org.uk

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