While I'm off on another humid, sweltering, waterslide-chasing adventure of my own, Holly agreed to stop by and share her travel experience -- to none other than Berlin, Germany!
Berlin Death March
June had come, and we were exchange students. Our summers and our futures were bright. We were the cream of the our generation's crop, emissaries of cross-cultural goodwill and exemplars of the well-rounded high school existence, full of youthful enthusiasm and idealism (maybe). We were headed for the real-deal experience of German culture, full drinking-age privileges, linguistic immersion, and some epic profile pictures to make our friends back home jealous.
The woman next to me on my San Francisco - Washington, D.C. flight asked was I getting off in Washington? I informed her I was flying on to Germany to be an exchange student. Was I going to live in a German family's home? she inquired. Oh yes. She must have felt honored to be sitting next to me, the bright hope of America's youth, a perfect embodiment of amicable globalism.
We had converged in Washington, D.C. from our respective hometowns, crossed the Atlantic, been shepherded through the Frankfurt airport, and then flown east to Berlin, where we would receive our orientation into German culture. The only thing left standing in the way of our destinies were the dozen or so Berlin miles between the airport and our hostel.
I should have expected we might not have the smoothest transition onto the streets. The relative uneventfulness of the past fifteen hours were due mainly to our confinement to the airplane. I had already run into a little trouble with a Dulles security officer for leaving my bags unattended. (actually, I had left them in the company of my fellow bright-hopes-of-America's-youth, who had abandoned them when their time to board came. My time, too, actually, only I was running around the airport trying to sort out some lost papers.) Fortunately, he seemed to sense my status as an emblem of hope for international cooperation, and so did not hinder me any further.
Oh, and the lost papers, that's right. In accordance with my mama's advice, I had placed all of my significant, likely-to-be-required papers in a plastic document holder that I was carrying on my person. Which I managed to leave behind at a pay phone kiosk in the airport terminal. Inventory: plane tickets, traveler's checks, contact information for my host family and exchange organization that I would need upon landing, or if I should happen to run into any difficulties like, oh, I don't know, lost documents. Fortunately, I was carrying my passport and cash separately, even more closely to my person.
Additionally, one of our number's suitcases appeared to have gone on a vacation of its own to Rome, and another, who held Peruvian citizenship, had had some difficulty with the passport control in Frankfurt.
Not to mention we'd already been traveling for more than twenty-four hours and our brains were distinctly worse for the wear.
So we land. Into the sweltering, damp June heat, jetlagged and travel-grimy, with as cringe-inducing an excess of luggage as you'd expect of American teenagers, plus some, minus that one guy's stuff—we land. We are met by Hannah! and! Jana! who are to be our intrepid volunteer shepherds. Other than Ned's AWOL luggage, we have it together enough to catch a bus, on which we catch our first ground-level glimpses of the metropolis.
Next comes a transfer trek to a subway station. We learn there are, for our purposes, no escalators in Germany. Approximately 700 lbs of luggage make their way into the Berlin underground under the alleged guidance of approximately 1500 lbs of American teenager. Trains are ridden, and then it is time for the stairs to be ascended. O, stairs! 2200 lbs of American hopes and consumerisms lumber back up into the beating sun. We roll across the plaza and begin to follow a side street. That is, the lucky ones of our number roll. A certain couple of kids were on top of their aesthetical game enough to be using those big ole vintage hard-shell suitcases which could ostensibly be carried by their single mannerly handle, but in order to keep up with the Berlin death march must be clutched in both arms across one's front with all the desperation that twenty-six hours of travel and ninety-some degrees Fahrenheit engender.
After a half mile, our fearless leaders order a halt. They confer over a map in rapid German, and announce that we have been marching in wrong direction; we must turn around and go back the way we came. Hannah and Jana have not lead us aright, and the spilling of this sweat, the lugging of this luggage, have been for naught.
Back into the subway. Despair begins to tickle at our minds. If Hannah and Jana fail to find our hostel, who could stand in their stead and succeed? How could we have been so trusting of them, pretty as they were and with their rhyming names? God of exchange students, lead us not up more unnecessary stairs. There are more stairs, both up and down, and then there is another half a mile at least, more trekking, with our suitcases in our poor incredulous arms or clattering along behind us on their cheap wheels which send them toppling every time we face a curb. There are bike lanes to cross too slowly and thoughtlessly with our American ignorance and jetlag-numbed minds, and opportunity to be on the receiving end of warning yells from Germans who must swerve to avoid us.
And finally, there is a hostel. Four stories up, but there is an elevator for our baggage. We pile it in. We send it up. We send ourselves up, through the stairwell's cigarette smoke. And we are arrived.