A little over three years ago, I shifted bases to Germany. Two months in, I decided to learn German. Three months in, I realized how painstakingly hard it is to master this language.
You see in German, your hot 6’2” neighbor is not ‘tall’ but ‘big’ (Call her big in English, you have just unleashed a can of fat shaming worms). Similarly, Mount Everest is not the ‘tallest’ mountain but the ‘biggest’. A woman and a wife share the same word (die Frau); so, does a man and a husband (der Mann). Since I ain’t married, the innocent me thought I could easily just steer clear of this absurdity.
A male friend and a boyfriend also share the same word. So, when I introduce ‘my friend Thomas Müller’, the German world hears it as ‘my boyfriend Thomas Müller’. The trick to avoid misinterpretation? Introduce your male friend as ‘a friend Thomas Müller’. Or even better? Don’t call him a friend. In Germany, you have no friends. You only have ‘colleagues’. On a hot summer day, if the said colleague asks you how the weather is, you reply, ‘Me is hot’ and not ‘I’m hot’ because in German the latter would mean, ‘I’m horny’. The cusp of all oddities? The word, ‘horny’ (German: geil). Apparently, if you want to say something is awesome or cool or funny, you say it is ‘horny’.
- There is a party today evening! Geil!
- Is that the new dress you are wearing to Stefan’s party? Looks so geil!
- Did you have the Mojito at his party? Yes! It was so geil!
You get the drift…
Regardless, I fell in love with German.
Although the grammar is very much a thorny affair, I found this language to be linguistically delightful. Why? Because, German has a very elegant way of encapsulating nuanced but recognizable concepts into beautiful compound words,
- That song stuck in your head since last night that you cannot get rid of? Well well well, in German, this is called an Ohrwurm i.e., Ear Worm (Ohr/Wurm). Accurate much?!
- Your friend just dropped boiling hot water on his pants, and you cannot help but laugh like there is no tomorrow? That is Schadenfreude i.e., Misfortune Joy (Schaden/Freude) or joy in the misfortune of others.
- Tried to cheer your depressed self by fetching ice cream from the freezer only to have it fall on the floor, soil the carpet and add to your misery? Congrats, you just experienced Verschlimmbesserung i.e., Worsen Improvement (Verschlimm/Besserung) or worsen a situation while genuinely attempting to better it.
I can add a gazillion more, but the takeaway from this experiment was a simple affirmation. Learning a new language is not just re-iterating some new words. It is a holistic process wherein you open your mind to a whole new way of thinking.
It is no secret that traveling is my passion. Add that to my newfound love for compound words and voilà, you have a unique combination. So, imagine my joy when I stumbled upon a city whose name was technically an amalgamation of its two constituent townships?
Kind of like a compound city?
A thing of dreams, indeed…
Located in the heart of Europe, this ‘compound city’ was a historic jigsaw puzzle. Romans, Mongols, Turks, everybody wanted a piece to themselves. With an incredible network of thermal wells lurking underground, I could see why. Afterall, every usurper needs a chill out spot. What better way to recharge than to jump butt naked into a pool of steamy water in a city that rightfully belongs to you!
…and that is my pathetic proposition as to how this spa paradise scaled in popularity!
All jokes aside, a dip in one of its many natural springs was definitely the first activity that I intended to do when I surrendered to my itchy feet yet again and escaped to the magic i.e.,
…or should I say Buda-Pest?
A little bird (Read: Google) tells me that when the founding stones of this town was laid, it was referred to as Pest-Buda. Pestbuda. Budapest. Irrespective of what you call it, the elephant in the room is that the Hungarian capital city suffers from twin personality disorder,
i.e., the classier, calmer and quieter persona carpeted by hills and slopes, determined to give you an unsolicited leg work out…
i.e., the cool and casual bro devoid of hills but crammed with cafes, bars and a resounding night life…
The flipping switch between the two? The mighty Danube that runs through the heart of the city…
Two centuries ago, crossing this beast of a river was largely at the mercy of currents and winds. This changed in the winter of 1820, when the greatest Hungarian believed to exist, ‘István Széchenyi’ was stuck on the wrong side of the city with no means to cross the Danube in order to attend his father’s funeral. Twenty years later (because, procrastination?), groundwork was laid for the link between Eastern and Western Europe. Ten more years later (because, politics?), Chain Bridge was born. Hundred years later (because, War?), Chain Bridge was bombed. Today however, having endured the vagaries of time and tide, it stands tall and strong as a fitting memento of this city’s hardships…
As I walked across the bridge from Pest, my gaze fell upon a tiny mansion in the far-right corner. My map called it ‘Fisherman’s Bastion’. However, it looked less like a fisherman’s hood and more like a Disney castle.
Legend says that an ancient tribe of fishermen lived on this side of the Danube. During warfare, they would play their part in defending their hometown by guarding this part of the city walls and in times of peace, they would fish and sell their produce in the castle fish market. Such perfect examples of patriotic civilians, don’t you think?
In the panoramic views of Pest from Buda, a particular rusty red domed building on the banks of Danube (Read: Hungary’s very own Parliament building) stands out remarkably,
In matters of red, the Central Market Square a.k.a., Foodie Paradise 101 doesn’t disappoint as well,
The abundance of paprika in Hungarian kitchens makes the cuisine of Hungary daringly different from any other indigenous cuisine that I have gulped down in the whole of Europe. While I cannot share the same enthusiasm for their language, I am grateful that unlike the Hungarian word for ‘Cheers’ i.e., ‘Egészségére’ (pronounced like ‘I guess she can drive’ but in a very fast and slurred manner), most of their culinary treats easily roll of my tongue,
From their renowned Goulash, cabbage rolls and blood sausages,
…to their hearty Langos and their delightful, layered Flodni cake,
Budapest is a foodie’s dream come true! Add a gazillion thermal spas, its rich cultural heritage and a very unique labyrinth of ruin bars.
…and there you have it! A perfectly polished package indeed!
As I navigated through its streets, tackling one café at a time, it dawned on me that irrespective of the differences, there was an odd connection that tied the two halves of this city together. Although the residents of Buda often joke that the best thing about Pest is the view of Buda, it is quite clear that one cannot exist without the other. Much like two of my favorite words,
Perspective and Perception.
Each of us have our own versions as to what these two words could mean. To me however, they are the only two ‘P’s in my life that are forever on a daunting, divine path albeit sticking together like two sides of the same coin. As they waltz through their spiritual saga, shedding intrepid impacts on other aspects of my life, I can’t help but realize that my tangible reality is a product of these two ‘P’s sewn together. Strangely similar to how an experience of Budapest depends on how you perceive the juxtaposition of Buda and Pest!
Every story. Every decision. Every battle is an outcome of perspectives.
So, while I pause, play and ponder, all I have to keep in mind is that it takes a small shift in perception for a world of opportunities to knock on the other side!
Perhaps, you should too 🙂
Until next time,