Friday, December 11, 2009

To Berlin and Back Again, Twice: Part One

Note: when I started to type this up, I had no idea how long the story was, so I'll be posting this in installments. Probably three, maybe four, but no guarantees. Here's part one:

I've been to Berlin, Germany on two separate occasions. Despite my love of photography, I have no pictures of the city, for reasons that will become clear after I tell the story of the second time I went to Berlin.

My first trip to Berlin was spontaneous. I was sitting in my college dorm room in Bremen, Germany with a friend on Friday afternoon. We were both done with all of our classes, and trying to figure out what to do with the weekend ahead of us.

"We could go downtown tonight." That's what we did a lot of nights.

"We could go to Hamburg." Again, not too unusual; Hamburg wasn't too far away. We'd both been there before.

"We could go...somewhere else."

"Anywhere else."

An idea started to take root in my mind. "Pack your bags and meet me at the front door in ten minutes!" I said.

"Where are we going?" she asked.

"I don't know. Somewhere else."

This is my brand of adventure, one familiar to my friends, one that occasionally ends in disaster and often ends in awesome. My friend in this situation hadn't experienced many of my "adventures" yet; the word didn't have the same connotation that it does to my longtime friends who have been with me through midnight terror in the woods, trespassing on military property, breaking into Disnelyand, car crashes, wild parties, sleeping in parking lots, or shady drug deals (I wasn't the one driving the car or buying the drugs, though....all stories for another time!). So she said, "Okay."

And, ten minutes later (give or take ten minutes; she's a slow packer), we were out the door!

At the local train station, we met another friend--more of an acquaintance, really, I guess, we didn't know him well. But, we knew him well enough to get on the train downtown together, and discuss our weekend plans. He was on his way to Hamburg, and asked us where we were going with our bags packed. "Somewhere. We don't know yet." His English isn't the best--he's Spanish--and it took a few tries to communicate the idea that we were off on some unknown adventure, but upon finding out, he just laughed at our craziness--a better reaction, we were soon to find out, than we'd get from the Germans we encountered!

When we got off the train at Bremen's central station, or Hauptbahnhof in German, we decided that, if at all possible, we'd like to go somewhere warm--which, for a weekend trip, required a visit to the airport.

Sadly, once at the airport, we were met with confusion and disapproval. Ticket sales, we were told, ended twenty-four hours before a flight left. This isn't true online, we later discovered, but it was true at that airport, at that ticket counter.

So, it was back to the train station for us. This time, we decided to go to Hamburg, where we'd have more options for ongoing trains than we did in Bremen. We spent an hour and twenty minutes on the regional train (rather than the express train, which our student tickets didn't allow us to ride--we found that out the hard way, but it's a story for another time), excitedly discussing possibilities and discovering, over the course of the conversation, that I'd forgotten to bring toothpaste, and she'd forgotten to bring another pair of pants.

At the ticket window in the Hamburg train station, we encountered more bewilderment.

"Where do you want to go?"


"Yes, but where?"

"Anywhere. Where are the next trains going?"

Apparently, spontaneity is not a concept that's very familiar to Germans.

After several tries, we got times and prices for trains to three or four cities, but decided to try one more option: buses. It was already seven PM, but we'd see where we could go.

In Germany, there is no national bus company, no Greyhound equivalent. Train travel is the way to go there, and that's what's the norm, well-organized and efficient. After asking directions a few times, though, we found our way to a bus terminal, consisting of counters for several different companies. There seemed to be a lot of buses going to Poland, but we decided to stay closer than that, because of the already-late hour, and the fact that arriving in a place where neither of us spoke the language (she speaks German) in the early hours of the morning might not be the best idea in the world. My best friends at home would have been proud of me for having that much judgment!

At one counter, though, the next bus leaving was in fifteen minutes, to Berlin. There was a return trip on Sunday afternoon, and the price was half that of a last-minute train ticket to Berlin!

We bought our tickets, went outside, found the bus, and found our seats.

To be continued.... 

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