Thursday, June 14, 2012

Off to Berlin! (6/8/2012)

8/6/2012, 14:46.  I am sitting on a train from Hamburg to Itzehoe as I write this. 

    On the 8th, Jeff and I had arranged to leave Prague at about 12:30.  After our tours the day before (by free guides and my friend Zach), we felt we had experienced the city as well as tourists can!  We made a few plans for morning, and intended to catch a train to Berlin at 12:29.  But it didn’t quite work out that way.
    We got off to a later start than we planned.  We grabbed a hefty loaf of mouthwatering bread and some fruit for breakfast for a couple of dollars, and headed to the train station to buy Jeff’s ticket (I was covered by my EuRail Pass.)  Then we caught an underground line to Vysehrad, a southern neighborhood of Prague that was once a fortress village on the river.  Zach had told us that there were tunnels along the river that we could pay to explore!  We didn’t find the tunnels, but we enjoyed exploring the fortress walls and got some great views of the city.  Then we headed back to the hostel, grabbed our backpacks, and started walking towards the train station.  We had budgeted our time well, so we decided to grab sausages at a stand once again. 
    The stand took longer than we thought, and at 12:24 we were frustratedly waiting as the woman started punching in the prices on a calculator.  We thrust the cash in her hand and frantically ran down the nearest stairs to the subway.  Of course, we entered the wrong platform.  I felt like the ultimate American-- a giant bag of stuff on my back, running late, and holding fatty junk foods in each hand as Jeff and I ran up the escalator to the correct platform.  We went one stop to the main train station, ran to our platform, only to find that the train had left one or two minutes before.  We had bumbled, bigtime.
    Our heads hung in despair as we dragged our feet to the ticket booth, hoping that Jeff would be reimbursed for his expensive ticket.  And he was! Except for the two hours lost waiting for the next train to Berlin, we hadn’t lost anything-- no 7:00 concert in Berlin we’d planned to attend, no money for trains, no nothing.  We read and wrote as we waited, and as we rode the train, and arrived in Berlin at 7:20 or so.  The main train station of Berlin (which is very new) was an impressive welcome to Germany-- a gargantuan complex of train platforms on five or six levels, all of which were visible from the glass bridges over the huge atrium, with glass elevators and criss-crossing escalators and a huge arched window rooftop.  An incredibly elegant an functional building.
    On our way to the hostel, we encountered a bridal shower.  The ladies, who wore matching shirts, surrounded Jeff and I and insisted that we sign the bride’s shirt.  As Jeff signed her belly, I asked for the translation of the message on the shirt.  After they explained the meaning-- something like “The bride is the May pig!”-- they told me I had to sign over the bride’s breasts.  I did it, as asked.  Quite an interesting welcome to Berlin!
    Our hostel, the Baxpax Hostel Downtown, was super nice: it had comfortable, trendy upholstery, a bar and restaurant, two social rooms, and booming techno music reminiscent of the eighties.  It felt like a hotel, but was still a reasonable price since we stayed in a dorm.  Jeff and I went upstairs and met a thirty-year-old also named Jeff, a stocky bearded man from Oak Park, Illinois who worked in finance in Houston, Texas.  We invited him to find dinner and beer with us, and together we searched for authentic German food until we were literally dragged into an Italian place by a man clad in a cheesy Italian chef costume, whose job was to do just that.  The food and beer was only okay (and more expensive than in Prague or Budapest), but the atmosphere and our conversation were great.  For me, that’s more valuable anyway!
    The three of us returned to the hostel and met up with some American guys who had just graduated from college, and went out with them for drinks.  (I didn’t want to pay for another, but I tagged along.)  After a good evening in Berlin, we got some sleep to prepare for a day of exploring!

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