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Train to Berlin

Updated: Sep 25, 2019

Blog Post No.5 (20/09/2019) - Zug nach Berlin

Some Context: It was a calm Friday afternoon when I decided it was a good time to go to Berlin. After all, I had a free weekend in Germany, with a rail pass (I had already activated) and what else could I have reasonably asked for? This follows on the trend of being late to the party I started with Hamburg. The group also visited Berlin last weekend when I finally rolled around to Hamburg. But of course this would be no afternoon excursion, ho no, I had bigger plans in mind.

1:00 pm - I finally committed to visiting Berlin, which I had been considering all week and wanted to see how my morning played out. My roommate had just finished moving out and now I was free.

2:00 - Then it was a rush. I had a time frame to work in, I needed to be in Berlin by 9.30 because my girlfriend and I had agreed to talk and I furthermore planned to speak with someone with the Concordia Language Villages in a conference call at 1 am. Before you ask why these times worked out the way they did, I can only say this: time zones.

3:30 - My hotel is reserved, my bags are packed, my tickets are ready and I am almost ready to go.

4:00 - I visit the university campus for a meeting I had planned. My train leaves in an hour so we make it quick.

5:01 - I struggle abroad my train, last minute as usual. The doors close and the Niedersachsische landscape is rolling by.

5:40 - At the train station. I have thirty minutes to spare for once! I walk around the Hauptbahnhof, making sure I boarded the right train this time. The train to Berlin was delayed by twenty minutes. This delay played into my favor because I happened to run into some classmates! They were coming back from the Klimastreik in Hamburg, where some 70.000 people joined together to protest climate change. As I understand it was part of a youth-led global movement. We chatted awhile and went our separate ways.

6:35 - I am idling by on my platform and waiting for the train. The trains seem to be piling up and the crowd is thick.

6:50 - Several trains later and my ICE train finally arrives. I edge my way to the front of the line and make sure to find a seat. Is this seat reserved? No? I’ll take it.

7:00 - I really do think that I may have sat in the wrong spot, because as even as the train trundles down the tracks, the Germans are still filing in a neat line behind me. It becomes very easy to second-guess oneself while boarding a foreign train. Is this first class? Why is everyone filing to the back? Was I supposed to have a reservation? Nobody got on my bewildered case and my eurail pass was stamped like any other ticket. Thank God.

7:30 - Hamburg is slipping by and the train is accelerating. How fast are we going? It must be faster than Amtrak because Deutsche Bahn actually took the liberty of broadcasting the speed in between stations. We were going about 210 kmph. Seems fast enough to me.

8:00 - It is twilight and we pass over the Elbe. We are in East Germany now.

8:40 - Lights appear outside my window. The train has passed through the darkened fields and woods of Brandenburg into the incandescent jungle of outer Berlin.

8:50 - We pull into the Berlin Hauptbahnhof and the wonders of German engineering never cease to amaze. The station is a clean six story open space beneath a soaring glass roof. In the daytime the sun casts its natural light all the way into the third basement level.

9:00 - I double check the directions on my phone and head out of the station. I find myself in the Washingtonplatz staring outward into a nearly unbroken horizon of level-headed buildings, open structures and clear-cut aesthetics. There is also some crazy man in a red frock costume screaming his head off about the end of the world? I couldn’t really understand the Berliner accent.

9:05 - Crossing over the Spree river and I can see where I am now. A familiar globe of light blooms over the dark city shapes. It is the famous spiral observation dome over the modern Bundestag. I was bubbly with the excitement of being so near to the heart of Berlin. If that was a stone’s throw away, how close lay the rest of the city must lay!

9:20 - I make my way down Reinhardtstraße towards Friedrichpalast. I pass some vulgar graffiti (which I later learned was locally famous) and wonder what the city is like these days. So much has changed since my mother was last here in 1989. Thirty years is more than enough time to rebuild or raze a city so long as enough people are inclined and nobody would know that better than Berlin.

9:30 - I check into the hotel and make my way to my room without incident. My first roommate in the hostel is a South African whose name I forget. He seemed nice and I forgot to take off my English accent, so I had to persuade him that I was American.

9:40 - Me and my girlfriend chat for a few minutes.

10:10 - I find myself in the hotel bar waiting until 1 am. To my surprise, some of the bartenders did not even know German. As it happens I have booked a notoriously touristy hotel with a crowd so international that most of the workers reflect the trend. Still recommend the hotel.

10:30 - I settle in at the bar and enjoy a Jagermeister, though I actually think it tastes quite terrible. Listening into conversations, I find that there are several latinas speaking to the bartender and ribbing him over the quality of his cocktails. I join in the conversation because I will never turn down a conversation in Spanish on a free Friday night.

11:10 - I was thinking about packing up by the time Lukas asked me if he could pull up to me and charge his phone. I happily obliged and he offered me a shot, which I declined. While I am coming to understand the social appeal of drinking, the appeal of drunkenness is beyond me- especially with a meeting in two hours. But nonetheless began a great conversation.

11:20 - Lukas was a Canadian and not the only one I met that night. I forgot, once again, to take off my English accent and he naturally assumed I was from England. That lead to a very frank conversation on nationalism and the Brexit withdrawal agreement. The topic ranged up and down, from Rugby to travelling to cocktail bars and philosophy.

12:50 - Through no fault of the conversation, I had to end it in order to ready myself for the interview.

1:00 - The Interview lasted a good thirty minutes and covered my work with Concordia Language Villages. She asked a series of questions about my experience working at CLV. It felt good to contribute to her research regarding our work there.

1:35 - I went to bed dreaming of Berlin as it used to be. Walls, barbed wire, soldiers and cold wars. That was the Berlin I heard stories about when I was very young. That image conflicted with the one the textbooks sold me. I would be looking for those traces of the past tomorrow.

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