Weekend Jaunt to Europe, Part Finale: Finale

All good things come to an end, say pessimists everywhere, and indeed my trip was coming to a rapid halt.  Where did we leave off last time, oh yes, I was driving like a crazed banshee to Berlin.

My sweet A3

My sweet A3 (this is That Hilltop above St. Gilgen)

I screeched into Berlin, barely missing my turn-in time for my rental by about 30 minutes or so.  I expertly assuaged my way out of a late fee by, well, doing nothing particularly scandalous I guess, so what.  I scampered into a taxi and made way for the hostel for the night, called the…I honestly don’t remember.  Going from the peaceful serenity of St. Gilgen to a (albeit popular, safe, and very clean) hostel in Berlin was about as big of a punch in the culture as is imaginable in the known world.

I had never been to Berlin before, only to one of its many unimpressive airports.  There are actually quite a few large airports in Berlin: Schonefeld, Tegel, the closed Tempelhof, and the absolute disaster of a public works project called Brandenburg.  Construction began on Brandenburg in 2004 (permanently displacing 335 Germans who were bought out of their homes and relocated elsewhere) and was scheduled to open in 2012, to replace all of the other airports in Berlin.  The date was pushed back to September 2012, and then October 2012, and then January 2013.  In January 2013, they announced the opening was postponed indefinitely.  They estimate necessary fixes will take 18 months, and haven’t even begun at the time of this writing.  That leads to a crummy situation at Tegel and Schonefeld, as the two airports are very badly overcrowded and dilapidated.  So why in the world did I grab a taxi from the hostel and make my way to Tempelhof when it closed in 2008?

I started doing CrossFit in May 2010 at CrossFit Strong in Dallas, Texas.  CrossFit, for those of you not aware, is a physical and mental conditioning program designed to turn people into the best versions of themselves.  It mixes gymnastics, calisthenics, aerobic conditioning, weightlifting, running, and (for me most of the time) panting, breathing heavy, and resting more than I should.  I joke about that last part, but in all seriousness I’ve had a life-changing experience due to CrossFit.  Some say it’s a cult, and that’s fine, but for me it’s a family, and the community nurtured by our coaches has helped me stick with a fitness regimen for the first time in a decade, almost completely reshaping my physique and giving me a lot more self-confidence at the same time.

Ok, enough of the emotions.  I mentioned way in the beginning of this trip report that CrossFit holds only a few official competitions every year.  There are plenty of local and regional competitions, but as far as official CrossFit competition goes, there is the worldwide CrossFit Open, the CrossFit Regionals, and the CrossFit Games.  In 2012 they decided to add another competition to the slate: the CrossFit Invitational.  This was a team competition with a “USA vs. the World” theme.  CrossFit HQ invited two teams made up of some of the fittest people on earth to throw down in London in October 2012.  I watched online and it seemed like a bunch of fun.  I made a note to myself that it wouldn’t be a bad thing to plan for in 2013.  And, well, here I was, pulling up to Berlin’s Flughafen Tempelhof, for the 2013 edition!

Waiting to get into the studio

Waiting to get into the studio

What I like about attending CrossFit events internationally (I previously went to the Europe Regional in 2011) is hearing all of the different languages being spoken, and then out of nowhere you’ll hear a “Fran” or “deadlift” or “muscle up”, so you know you can at least share a bit of a common vocabulary no matter where you’re from.  What was kind of surprising about the people in line is just how many were smoking cigarettes.  Anyway, the line was pretty long, but when they opened up the gate to the studio (in an abandoned hangar, the building had an old Soviet feel to it) we moved in pretty quickly.

The competition floor

The competition floor

The event was set to be broadcast live on the Eurosport network, so I imagined it’d move pretty quickly.  They had a nice competition floor set up for the athletes.  What could’ve been better was the preponderance of one person throwing 18 shirts down an entire row of seats and claiming they were all saved and I better get away (in German, that’s what I at least think she was saying).  I finally found a decent seat (by moving a shirt and then pretending not to understand the girl who was telling me the seat was saved) and ended up near two Americans who were studying abroad.

View from my seat

View from my seat

Eventually some familiar faces from the CrossFit community came out and got the crowd amped up.

CrossFit announcer Kiki Dickson

CrossFit announcer Kiki Dickson

The crowd hadn’t been drinking a ton so it wasn’t as intense and raucous as I thought it would be.  The fans would clap politely when told to do so, but not much else.  Based on all the hooliganism I’d heard about I expected more.  It didn’t matter, the American girls and I yelled enough for our entire section.

The only real negative part that I could pinpoint was my abilities as a photographer completely went out the window and I didn’t manage to take a single in-focus shot the rest of the night.

Overhead squats and Muscle Ups

Overhead squats and Muscle Ups

Team Deadlifts

Team Deadlifts on the big screen

Walking lunges

Clean and jerks

Handstand walks

Handstand walks

Hopefully the assortment of movements in the pictures gives you an idea of what CrossFit requires of these incredible athletes.  Events took place at a blistering pace, one after the other.  The competition ended up being much closer than anyone expected.  Team USA had the top three men from the 2013 CrossFit Games (Rich Froning, Jason Khalipa, and Ben Smith) and some incredible women (including Lindsey Valenzuela, second place at the 2013 CrossFit Games).  Team World had some strong men, but the women were the strength of their team, anchored by none other than the fittest woman on earth, Samantha Briggs.

I think everyone was expecting a blowout by Team USA, but going into the final event it was anyone’s competition.  They brought out an element that had been used in the CrossFit Games called The Worm.  It turned out to be the great equalizer for Team USA.

Squats with The Worm

Squats with The Worm

Team World ended up taking the victory in the final event and, thusly, the competition.  It was great fun to watch and I’m glad I got to be there to root for my country, even in a losing effort.

I left the event and decided I remembered how to get to the hostel and promptly got lost.  I could’ve sworn I was close, so I asked a taxi driver if I was close to the address of the hostel.  We typed it into his GPS and it turned out I was 6km away!  So I went ahead and had him drive me over there, just to be nice, or else of course I would’ve ran to the hostel, while holding dumbbells, you know, to make it more CrossFit.  I got back to the hostel, made some friends at the attached bar, and actually got to bed fairly early, since I had an early morning the next day.

Coming to America
For some reason I have really bad luck with hostels in terms of getting the top bunk.  For those of you who don’t know me, I’m about 6’1″ (187cm) and around 240 pounds (110kg), so by no means a small guy.  This makes me having the top bunk in these old hostel beds hilarious at best and dangerous at worst.  Similarly, the next morning I made so much noise trying to quietly get down from the bunk that I ended up waking most of the other folks in my room at the lovely and cheery hour of 6:30am.  They muttered lovely and cheery things at me while I got dressed, headed downstairs, and hailed a taxi to one of Berlin’s other old airports, Tegel.

Airberlin recently joined the Oneworld alliance.  They’re a low-cost carrier in Europe, but have a perfectly serviceable trans-atlantic product on their fleet of A330 aircraft.  This is great for those of us with AAdvantage miles, since AA doesn’t charge fuel surcharges on Airberlin awards like they do for British Airways flights, and also Airberlin’s availability is pretty wide open from Dusseldorf and Berlin to a few different cities in the US, making for a great addition to the European award network for Oneworld.

Anyway, I visited the British Airways lounge to get caught up on some email and have some snacks before the flight.  As boarding got closer, I decided to head to the gate.  The gate area for the trans-atlantic flights at Tegel is TINY, and I found it hard to grab a seat, before noticing a small upstairs seating area.  I went upstairs, found a seat in the seating area, and pulled out my book that I’d been working on (Bonhoeffer, by Eric Metaxas, fantastic read by the way).  I looked up over the book and saw none other than Rich Froning, 3-time champion of the CrossFit Games, getting ready to board my same flight!  When it comes to meeting celebrities, I try to respect their privacy as much as I can, and I hate asking for autographs and pictures with them (I think it’s narcissistic).  He was there with his wife and during a lull in their conversation, I very briefly told him he had done a great job the previous night and intended on getting back to my book.  Rich has a reputation for being a terrific, down-to-earth kind of guy (he’s from a small town in Tennessee) and, true to form, he ended up asking me where I was from, asked why in the world I would’ve come just for the event, etc.  We ended up talking for a good 20 minutes before boarding began.  He’s a great representative of CrossFit and couldn’t have been a nicer guy, I was really happy to meet and talk with him.

Conclusion
It’s been a long time coming, the end of this trip report.  I didn’t think it’d take this long, but real work got in the way.  I thoroughly enjoyed my flight in Lufthansa’s First Class, which turned out to be a bit of a swan song as I won’t be able to do that again in the near future (due to the United devaluation).  The highlight of the trip was supposed to be the CrossFit Invitational, but instead it was a combo of Barcelona one day with friends and being in St. Gilgen the next.  The Airberlin flight to Chicago wasn’t very crowded, so I got an entire row to myself, which was nice.  I then managed to pull off asking a pretty girl on the plane to a lounge-date with me in O’Hare, and got to feel big time as she was impressed by the types of lounges I could get into (ALL OF IT FINALLY PAID OFF, THE EXTRA FLIGHTS AND MILEAGE RUNS!  YES!).

I said in the beginning of the trip report that I had grown tired of traveling alone, and it is still true to this day.  Things are better when shared, and we’re meant to live in community.  That said, I’m not going to let traveling solo get in the way of me taking a cool trip!  So, up next, the story of a weekend trip to…

Thanks for reading!
Andy

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