Day 5: The Train to Berlin
Patrick and I arrived at the main train station to board a train to Berlin. There was hardly any explanation on how to use a Eurorail pass, so I didn’t know what to expect. When I went to ask the rail station help desk, they said, “Go to the platform and fill out the first line of information on your pass.”
The first line of information included the departure location, destination, and the time of getting on the train — really basic stuff.
“Yes. Next in line?”
It seemed too easy, but with no further guidance, that’s just what I did. Patrick and I stood at the train platform, the train arrived, and we waltzed on and sat down without anyone looking at our credentials. Soon enough, the train was whizzing past picturesque fields of sheep and windmills. For the first two hours, we had no interaction with any ticket-checking officials, and everything seemed fine. Later, I awoke from a nap to see two policemen interrogating two guys a few seats ahead of us.
“Did you go to any coffeeshops in Amsterdam?”
“Did you take anything with you?”
“And if we bring dogs, they won’t smell anything?”
That was all, and the cops continued walking by us without a glance. It was a few hours before a ticket attendant came to check our tickets, and she looked at my Euro pass and thanked me before moving on. She didn’t even bother to check Patrick’s ticket, because he was sleeping and she didn’t want to wake him. It felt too easy at the time, and looking back on it now, I can definitively say that our first encounter could not have been any easier. Later in the trip, I would discover plenty of ways how the ticket-checking process could become complicated.
After a whir of pastures and forests, our train passed a sign that said BERLIN. I had no cell phone data and didn’t downloaded a map for Berlin, so I was only half confident we could find our Hostel. Our hostel was right by Berlin’s central train station (which I strategically planned to idiot-proof the situation as much as possible), but I was still worried nonetheless. It was for nothing, however. I literally saw the hostel from the train window as we approached the stop. This building looked slightly less like a hotel, but still didn’t match my mental image of a hostel. As we got off the train, we admired the train station, which was a lot like a shopping mall: there were supermarkets, restaurants, convenience stores, and everything in-between.
At the front desk of the hostel, there was a man typing on a computer who didn’t appear to notice us. I leaned over the counter and spoke a phrase I had practiced dozens of times but still couldn’t pronounce properly:
“S’precken ‘ze English?”
“I speak English, dude.”
Patrick lowered his head and chuckled an “oh my gaaaahhhd:” his go-to phrase whenever I did something stupid and embarrassing, which I could identify easily because it happened often. The man gave us a key for our two-person room at the Hostel, which included a window overlooking a street constantly populated by boisterous soccer fans and tour busses. After getting settled, we went on a walk with a general goal of eating. There were more than a few stands selling something called “Currywurst,” but most of them suggested a possibility of food poisoning. Patrick and I decided to save that gamble for later. We wandered on a street for a few miles before finding a Biergarten. A hostess led us through a small restaurant to a courtyard garden. The entire place lay in the shadow of gray high-rise buildings on every side, but there was a definitely a garden and it served beer, so it was Biergarten enough.
We ordered two towering beers before opening the dinner menu. They had an assortment of expensive sausages and steaks, but my taste buds tingled when I saw a cheeseburger. The waitress came back, Patrick ordered schnitzel, and I ordered the cheeseburger.
“You come all the way to Germany for a cheeseburger?” she asked, with a notable tone of shame in her voice. I didn’t come all the way to Germany to be heckled by a waitress in a lowbrow Biergarten, but life is full of surprises. Patrick’s schnitzel was rubbery and my cheeseburger was a step above average, so I ultimately appreciated my decision. A few hours later, we met up with Rachel and taxied to a club.
We made small talk in line with some European teenagers about how crazy the Trump situation was, to which I told them that he’d never be elected. The term “never” has since been banned from my casual vocabulary and I have accepted that our planet’s future is as predictable as a sixty-four sided die being rolled during an earthquake while simultaneously being kicked around by a manic donkey.
We got in the club around midnight. Inside, strobing beams of light cut through synthetic fog, highlighting the silhouettes of bobbing ponytails, flopping arms, and twisting palms. House music from the early-2000s blared from the speakers, and we danced long enough to soak our clothes in sweat. We eventually went to cool off in an outdoor courtyard, where everyone held a lit cigarette. The only people who weren’t holding lit cigarettes were reaching into their crumpled packs for more. I met a few interesting people, including some Hamburg natives who shared my taste in modern rock music. Every time I mentioned a band we mutually enjoyed, they would head-bang a few seconds in approval, which I suppose is the heavy metal equivalent to a nod.
We danced more, went outside more, and eventually took a taxi home during the transition of night sky into dull gray dusk. Patrick and I finished the night sitting on a concrete riverbank watching the sunrise, casting wondrous red light over the city. I hate to use the word “magical,” but the moment might as well have been something from the better end of Merlin’s staff.