Monday, November 30, 2009

Back in Berlin

I don't want to think about how much money it cost to spend two days in Hannover. And I won't. Not really. Sure the trains out there, and the train back added a hefty sum for what amounted to very little time – but getting to spend time with one of the best people I've come to know, and strengthening that connection – well it was worth whatever it may have added to my travel costs.

Honestly – I can't over state what a great time I had, and that was completely due to the welcoming environment created by a person whom I had only known for eight hours prior to my arrival in Germany.

Think about this for a moment – you meet someone in a hostel in Helsinki; you talk to them for eight hours over a beer or two, late into the early morning; you don't see them again; two months later, you're invited to stay in their home. Only through travel are such quick and genuine connections made.

It wasn't just that his first act after I jumped off the train was to buy me a tradition German Christmas drink – hot wine with a shot of amaretto – and it wasn't just that he prepared delicious home cooked meals, or opened up his circle of friends to include me as well – no – what I found really incredible was during my last moments in the city.

Whereas some people (most people? ...myself – well, myself prior to this – now I'll have to step up for the rest of ever.) would graciously point the direction to the train station, perhaps hand over a map, or suggest taking the nearby bus – this was clearly not enough for my host. No. He put on his winter gear, and stepped out into the grey, cold, and darkened world, walking me the twenty five minutes from his apartment to the central station.

Once there, I was allowed the opportunity to offer some small token – purchasing a glass of hot wine for he and myself to bookend my time there. This was something I had struggled to do. My every attempt to put money into his hands seemed to fail and falter. When I tried to pay for groceries I was refused – when I thought about buying a kebap for him, I found I was too slow, as he handed one to me. Until this moment all I'd managed was to cover his small bar tab. But – at least now – I was able to offer something once again.

After the drink, I found I still had twenty minutes to wait before the train pulled in. While I would have had no problem finding a bench and reading my novel until it pulled up to platform nine, it was suggested that we head up to the platform together – once more, he'd wait with me, rather than casting me off into the world. The only stipulation was that it needed to be an area where he could smoke his cigarettes; created through the much-practiced process of him pulling out a paper, and filling it from a bag of drum tobacco, ended with a filter previously dumped into the shredded dried plant.

Clearly this was a man with a life of his own, things to do, and people to see – yet here he was taking time out to wait with someone whom he'd now known for two days (and eight hours) on a windy platform – lighter fighting a losing battle to keep the cherry burning.

The sign displayed the much feared warning that the train had been delayed for twenty minutes. I said that I'd be fine to wait it out – but once more, that was shrugged off – late trains could lead to switched tracks, and with most of the announcements coming in in German it would be easier were he to stay.

And so the time was past, not with fixed text on an off-white page, but rather through conversation, and friendship. His last act? Grabbing my bag before I had a chance to, and carrying it down to car 5 were I would bid him goodbye, board the train, find my seat, and start the return trip to Berlin.

So – once more – a great thank you to my host, his delightful flatmate, and their friends who made my time in Germany much more than it would have been.

And there I was – seat twelve, car five... Two hours to go. This time was mostly passed through episodes of the Amazing Spider-man animated series. This time was, specifically, passed with the “The Alien Costume Saga.”

When I got into Berlin, it was late, it was spooky, and it was – well it was o.k. 'cause I knew that I just had to head to the S7, and then go up the U2 and back I would be.

Stepping out of the train, I was met by amplemann. I had somehow forgotten him, my few days spent in the west. And seeing him, was like running into an old friend. They know how to work their promotional merchandising here. And that wasn't the only thing strikingly familiar, and homey. The streets were known, the restaurants had already been scoped out -

Listening to the hostel guy run through the “this is here, that is there, and this is how we be, yo” speech a second time I realized just how silly it is, and how obvious everything they say seems to be. And yet, all that time ago, it was quite important, and calmed oh so many nerves. How jittery can we travellers be without even realizing it?

Aside from some brief internetting, and a long talk about India with a girl from New Zeland, whose father edited Whale Rider, the night was empty and quiet. I grabbed a kebap, sighed at how subpar I now find the ones here, and then headed off to sleep. Only two days left.

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