The Grand California Hotel

Coordinates 37°47’N 122°25’W

After spending ten weeks in harmony with nature, enjoying its beauty and its wildlife, the quietness of few people living far away from each other, the vastness of the biggest state in the very northwest of the US, a second cultural shock hit me when I arrived in San Francisco.

When I first came to Alaska after my year in Siberia, I was shocked that I could suddenly understand everything people were talking next to me. It took me at least two weeks to get used to all the information that crashed unfiltered into me and that I had to process all inevitably.

In San Francisco, the beat of the fast city life made me struggle. After living for 13 months in the middle of nowhere in faraway Alaska and even more faraway Siberia, I was not used to the noise of a big city anymore. All the urban characteristics were hitting me very hard: Shouting sirens, honking, traffic; homeless, beggars, drunk; the smell of left dirt in the alleys and urine on the sidewalks; the empty looks on people’s faces passing by; the collective starring on smartphones in the subway; the anger, the fear, the desperation, the lostness; the diversity from all over the world; the rich and the poor; the high class of living, the low end of life. Welcome back to the city, welcome back to real life! After living in Berlin for three years, I did not miss the city heartbeat anymore. All the sudden I was used to a perfect life in the Alaskan bubble…

Nevertheless, I readapted very quick. Part of me is still some kind of city girl. One other reason was probably my fantastic and most generous couchsurfer (‘The Chinese Prince’) that I stayed with during my two weeks in San Francisco. His loft was in the building of a former hotel. You could still feel the hotel flair in the entrance hall. Even though the reception was not there anymore, the chandeliers hanging from the ceiling and the red carpet on the floor reminded me of being part in my very own ‘Grand California Hotel’ movie.

Anyhow, it was almost like being back in Berlin living the usual city life. I was staying in an apartment in one of the city’s best districts; sleeping in a loft bed like I used to do back in Berlin (in SF it was the so called ‘Chinese Palace’); going out for the taste of international cuisine; enjoying the party nightlife again; hanging out in parks; dancing at music festivals; meeting new people; discovering street art; exploring the sights of the city. Furthermore, I finally found the time and space to focus on my writing and photography. I hung out in cafés and worked on my pictures and texts like I wanted to do for a quite a while, but just could not make the time for it. It was wonderful! I was less exploring the city, but more observing it. Well, I enjoyed the pleasure of the American version of ‘flânerie’, how the French like to call it. Strolling, lingering and people-watching. Sometimes in the city itself, sometimes at the beach. No matter where I did it, for sure it was interesting and always different.

Besides the surprisingly high amount of similarities, San Francisco and Berlin are still entirely different cities. For example, SF’s population is only a third of Berlins. The city is built on a peninsula surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and the San Francisco Bay. No surprise that many people are really into surfing, the typical California accessory. No matter where you go, you always have the feeling of summer. There is usually a breeze of fresh air blowing between the 50 hills of the city, there are tall palms everywhere, skaters making use of the plenty opportunities for skateboarding… Last but not least, the Victorian buildings with ocean view is just the ultimate plus of a California city. That is exactly how I always pictured California!

During that short amount of time in San Francisco, there were two festivals going on that could not be any more opposing. The ‘Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival’ in the Golden Gate Park and a street festival for leather fetish, the so-called ‘Folsom Street Festival’. The former reminded me of a ‘Hippie’ festival where all kind of people where hanging out in the park, enjoying the sound of bluegrass, dancing, having a good time in a very peaceful and harmonic atmosphere. The latter was pretty much the opposite. (Half) Naked or in leather dressed-up people were sharing their fetish for sadomasochism and many other sexual desires. It was fun to watch all those people walking around in the city center shocking the tourists (unaware of what was going on) with their pure appearance.

Even though the nightlife in San Francisco is quite the opposite of Berlin (it starts very early and ends even earlier), it is yet possible to have a lot of fun and drink too much. If that ever happens to you, you should either take vitamin B12 the next day or drink coconut milk to cheer your electrolytes up. At the beginning, I thought people are kidding me. Turns out, it is actually a serious thing in SF. People are doing that. I did it… and it actually worked. Just for your information 😉

Sometimes it is all about the little things in life. For example after a period of coldness in the northern part of the world being able again to walk around without a coat, a beanie or thick socks. Every now and then, I could even walk around in shorts. Finally! I was hanging out at the beach enjoying the sound of the moving sea and the breeze of fresh air. My time in San Francisco was the best way to end my trip to the US and an even better preparation for my next stop in the paradisiacal Philippines. My journey down south was about to begin!



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