Thursday, July 27, 2006

July 26th - 27th, 2006 - Munich, Germany to Berlin, Germany (by train)

7am came early the next morning, but I didn’t really have much choice. I'd made my bed and I would have to... well, turns out I only got to lay in it about three and a half hours.

I made it downstairs to my earliest breakfast of the trip and, despite the incorrect instructions on the email sent by Deutche Bahn and the fact that the hotel desk claims they never got my forwarded confirmation, eventually managed to get my ticket printed out using the hotel computer. I wolfed down some coffee and cereal before running out the door with back and both shoulders loaded including a duffel I had bought the day before filled with the motorcycle stuff I wouldn’t need in Berlin.

Of course, I got to the Haupbanhoff (central train station) with plenty of time and after buying a delicious Fanta had enough change to store my bag. After all that, it was just a locker and I could have just tossed my stuff in without a new bag, but I think having the bag will be nice going to the airport as well.

It was relatively easy to find my way onto the correct train, but I found myself very confused at the reserved seating concept. I had tried to reserve seats for a nominal additional fee but the system reported that only some legs of my trip could be confirmed. When I got on the train, the seats had digital readouts above them that showed a German word vaguely resembling "reserved." I couldn't decipher whether a seat was listed on my ticket and if it was, where it was on the train. Exhausted from the night's activities, I grabbed an open seat and dozed in and out.

Not too long after, I woke up just in time to show my ticket and credit card to the conductor who scanned it and confirmed I was who I said I was. I went back to sleep on and off between nervously watching everyone coming on at each stop looking carefully at the readouts above the seats as they walked down the aisles. The readouts themselves seemed to say something different each time I looked at them, sometimes seeming to say the seat was free, sometimes listing various city names along the route.

At one point, an older lady holding the hand of a boy who looked to be her grandson, came to my row and said something in German. I took this to mean, "Hey idiot, you're sitting in my seat. Didn't you correctly interpret the readout to know this?" I moved to an open seat a few rows back next to a woman who again said something in German to a friend sitting in front of her that I again interpreted to mean, "Look at this Glenda, now the idiot is sitting next to me despite the clear message on the sign above that seat."

Well, it turns out my translations were probably pretty close since I later found out that the readouts did in fact change with each stop and indicated that the seat was either free or reserved for various legs between cities. Okay, I see now that after my explanation, you're probably thinking that seemed pretty obvious but in my state at the time, it was anything but clear and the idea of having to switch reserved seats at every stop still doesn’t quite make sense.

From 2006-07-13 Germany, Austria and Switzerland on a motorcycle

From 2006-07-13 Germany, Austria and Switzerland on a motorcycle

I arrived in Berlin about three hours before Doug had said he would be home. He'd suggested I take local trains to Hachester Market where there would be plenty to entertain myself with. I was starving when I got there so I took a table at one of several outdoor cafes and guess-ordered some tapas and a cappuccino. I did pretty well with some garlic potatoes, chicken in safron sauce, and artichoke salad.

After some food I walked towards where I had seen a park from the train. When I got there, however, the entire thing was fenced off. I walked around the perimeter and found something way, way better. I saw sand, palm tress, sling-back chairs and bikinis. This man-made beach lay between the path around the park and the railing in front of the concrete bank of the Spree River. Serviced by an appropriately tropical shack bar, it was the perfect place for me to snooze in the shade as I watched (literally) boat loads of baking tourists float by on barge trips around the canals.

From 2006-07-13 Germany, Austria and Switzerland on a motorcycle

From 2006-07-13 Germany, Austria and Switzerland on a motorcycle

Doug came down to meet me around 6:30 pm, and we took a combination of trains and surface "trams" to get to his former-East Berlin neighborhood of Prenzlauderberg. Their apartment was in one the dwindling number of Eastern style buildings that had not yet been remodeled and updated.

From 2006-07-13 Germany, Austria and Switzerland on a motorcycle

We spent the next couple nights and the day in between wandering the streets of the former East Berlin exploring the various impromptu cafes that seemed to spring up like weeds from every overlooked nook and cranny of the city. I bet you could lock up your warehouse and go away for the weekend only to come back and find that a crew of 20 something Berliners had scattered some thrift store tables and chairs and few modern trinkets from Ikea around the place and opened a café.

From 2006-07-13 Germany, Austria and Switzerland on a motorcycle

From 2006-07-13 Germany, Austria and Switzerland on a motorcycle

Always armed with his sketchpad, Doug would spot an interesting scene of relaxed summer life and, while I acted as a screen, he’d transfer it to rough white paper with a few strokes of a thick black pen. It was fun to see a couple of those scenes appear soon after in a book of Doug’s sketches he put out called “Spree” (http://www.dougchayka.com/), the name of the river flowing through Berlin.

From 2006-07-13 Germany, Austria and Switzerland on a motorcycle

From 2006-07-13 Germany, Austria and Switzerland on a motorcycle

The visit with Doug and Nicola was a great end to my adventure and allowed me some much needed social interaction. After a couple days, I hopped back on the train from Berlin to Munich (this time with all my faculties but equally confused by the system) and caught my scheduled flight back to San Francisco. All told it was an amazing trip. Easy enough to put together in a couple weeks, long and foreign enough for me to just about forget my phone number.

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