Written at 8:34 PM on 10-15-06 in Berlin, Germany
I felt better yesterday, but I feel worse today. Then again, yesterday I wasn’t stuck on a train where the only thing dividing smokers and non-smokers is a sheet of glass with an opening in it the size of a door.
Yesterday I got up, intending to go on the free Berlin walking tour, only to find that I’d woken up too late and missed it. I wasn’t particularly distressed. As I was still feeling sick, I valued that extra sleep a lot more than I valued a few extra facts about buildings I’d seen the day before. Anyway, I set about getting a shower and breakfast and headed out the door at around noon.
I took to walking around the city a little more. I took pictures this time (I had only taken a few day before) and ended up seeing a lot of the same sights (Marx-Engel Platz, for example). Berlin is in a condition unlike any other city in the world, I’d be willing to bet. Because of the recent fall of the wall and recombination of the city (and Germany), there are major construction projects underway. And it’s not just the usual building going up here or there. It seems as though everything is under construction. Major buildings are being refurbished. Vast open spaces are being filled with monolithic skyscrapers and apartment complexes. There’s nothing small about Berlin’s endeavor to rebuild and reform itself. And all of the architecture is unique and cutting edge. I can’t imagine a more exciting place to be if you were in city planning, architecture, or construction.
I came to the Reichstag after a while. I got in line for the museum, but after about fifteen minutes, it still hadn’t moved. I estimated that at this rate, I would have arrived at the museum’s entrance in roughly three or four hours. As much as I enjoy doing nothing but listening to music for three or four, I decided my feet were hurting enough (from my new shoes) that it didn’t justify the wait. I promptly departed and resumed wandering.
I stopped at a coffee shop for a while and did a few pages of writing, but soon I got impatient and antsy and decided to move on. From there I headed back to the hostel. My sinuses were beginning to act up again so I thought I’d try and escape the cold air; the day was sunny but chilly. I had a bit of lunch and then settled in to do a bit of reading. I was hoping that this would eventually descend into sleep, but even after I lay for about half an hour with the light off, I was no closer to falling asleep. Still, the rest was nice. My sinuses were reacting against light, so it spared me a runny nose for a while.
I met a guy from New Zealand who was just arriving in the hostel. Cool guy, a bit odd though. He had an around the world ticket that entailed fifteen stops. He’d started in New Zealand and worked his way across Asia and only just arrived in Europe. The price was actually pretty good, I thought. It came out to about 3500 dollars American. I suppose if you used your flights effectively, you could see a lot. I think he said they limited the mileage to 34,000 or something like that.
I did some more reading and also chatted with a bunch of the Australians staying in the hostel. The girls, Amber and Sussie, were leaving tomorrow, like me. And the Australian couple, who were living in Paris, (don’t remember their names), were departing the next day for Salzburg. With such a small hostel, the five of us leaving comprised like one third of the hostel’s inhabitants.
7:30 rolled around and I left to meet my friend Anna at her place for dinner. Her roommates had cooked up some potatoes with a chicken and zucchini dish. I thought I did pretty well, considering that I was at a table where everyone’s second language was English. I spoke mostly to Anna, one of her roommates, a French guy named Pierre, and a friend of hers, Tom, who had joined us as well. The other two roommates didn’t seem to speak as much English (though all of them were admittedly quite good) as these three, so conversation on my end of the table tended toward English, while the other side remained mostly German.
The dinner was quite good. Aside from the main dishes I mentioned, it also included a salad, bread with cheese, and wine. Best of all, though, were these awesome pretzels. You’re thinking—they’re pretzels—how can they be any more awesome than that? Well, I’ll tell you. In Europe, they have these long pretzels. Yeah, cool huh? They’re twice the length of “normal” pretzels and come in these especially long bags. They’re still slender and delicious, just longer. I ate a lot of them just because they were so much fun to break. Does that make me strange…?
We talked about all kinds of things. I asked a lot of questions about German education, politics, and culture. They didn’t seem particularly interested in my knowledge of the U.S., not that I blame them. They were happy to answer my questions. After a few hours, it was getting late and I decided to head home. I walked for a little ways with Tom, who was heading in the same direction. We talked a bit about fantasy and science fiction—he was a Terry Pratchet fan—until we came to the metro stop.
Bidding him farewell, I headed down into the metro and caught the train back to my part of town. I got off at the wrong stop, though, and gave myself about an extra ten minute walk. I enjoyed the walk, though. I hadn’t really had much of a chance to get out and see Belin at night (save for my misguided attempt to find a good café) and the city was quite pleasant—and not ridiculously cold as it had been the previous two days.
Back at the hostel, I read for a while—I couldn’t have gone to sleep even if I tried for two reasons. I’d had some espresso before leaving Anna’s apartment, and there were two of the more permanent hostel residents who were conversing in the room quite loudly. Even after things quieted down and I closed my eyes to try and sleep, I found myself unable to do so. Even after a Tylenol PM, I was still restless. My mind was racing and I began to think it was going to be one of those nights.
I wasn’t restless because I was sick. Maybe it was the espresso, but for whatever reason, my mind was on writing. I don’t know about anyone else, but usually when I fall asleep, I’m thinking about boring mundane things beforehand. My mind drifts to what I’ll be doing the next day, or what happened that night, or thoughts about friends, family, and girls. It was not to be on this night. My mind conspired with my creative impulse to keep me awake and plan out a premise for a new novel. Not a bad thing, per se, but not particularly pleasant when you’re blowing your nose every couple minutes and your sinuses are sending tears streaming down your cheeks. All the same, for about two hours less sleep than I planned, I came up with some very good material. The Tylenol PM must have kicked in at some point and send my exhausted mind and miserable body staggering into semi-comatosed state.
The next day wasn’t particularly eventful. After getting a shower and packing up, I headed across the street to a restaurant for breakfast. It offered deals to the hostel’s inhabitants, and I thought the breakfast was pretty reasonable. What I did not consider was that this was to be the last meal I’d have until about 7PM. I gathered my things and headed for the train station. Only, when I got to the metro station to take me to the main train station, the train wasn’t coming. It took about ten minutes to come, and after it did, it sat for about ten minutes. I had plenty of time, still, but I got impatient and went to look for the bus. They were saying things on the intercom in German, but I didn’t understand any of it.
I couldn’t find the bus stop, and when I went back to the train stop, the train had gone. So I resigned myself to waiting again. Fortunately I still had half an hour, and when the next train came, it didn’t take nearly so long to depart. I arrived at Berlin’s souther station with about twenty minutes to spare. When the train came and I boarded, however, it took its time departing. Then finally an English voice came on the intercom (the train’s intercom, not the station’s, mind you) to explain that there had been a train accident on one of Berlin’s rail lines.
That didn’t make me feel very optimistic about my train ride.
The train, amidst many small stops along the lines in Berlin, eventually left the city about forty minutes late. I’m glad I was catching a direct train and didn’t have to catch another one. I don’t know how serious the accident was; I didn’t see it and the conductor didn’t provide any further information. The train ride hasn’t been particularly pleasant. I’ve been keeping myself entertained by reading and brainstorming materials for writing, but my cold is making it fairly unpleasant. For whatever reason, I feel worse today than yesterday. I suppose it’s from the slightly processed air and the constant and faint hint of cigarette smoke in the air.
For the sake of my readers who are more sensitive to vulgarities, I will withhold the burning liquid rage that is coursing through my veins, all aimed at the ridiculous smoking policies in this educated and enlightened nation—needless to say, my rage and hatred for these policies is quite extensive. Perhaps rational thought has simply left me over the course of the approximately hundred and fifty times I’ve blown my nose, or flowed out through the constant stream of tears plaguing my eyes. Either way—anger and annoyance have taken hold.
Still, I’m almost to Amsterdam, and I vastly prefer to endure the fog of marijuana smoke to the vile and cancer-laced smoke of cigarettes. And at least there I can go outside without getting bugs caught in my teeth (as would happen if I went outside at the present moment). I have a hostel near the train station, so that should spare me some trouble on arrival. I had hoped to stay at the world-renowned Flying Pig, but apparently five days what not enough time to book in advance, even this late in the season. Anyway, Amsterdam is Amsterdam, no matter where you’re staying, and I’m simply looking forward to kicking back and relaxing before returning to Paris.
Tags: Berlin, Europe, Germany, sickness, smoking, Trains, Travel