So here I am alone in a hostel in east Berlin, munching on Rittersport (Knusperkeks flavour) chocolate. The original plan was to sit alone drinking beer, but when I checked in I was presented with a formidable list of “Hausregeln” (or “House Rules”). One of them said that drinking alcohol in the dorms was prohibited. Dejected, I scrawled “Kate Katharina” in the appropriate place and signed my humble plan away.
So now it’s just me, the single square of chocolate that’s left and a potted plant with spindly leaves, which greeted me from the window sill when I arrived.
Earlier when I got off the plane and into the arrivals hall at Schönefeld, I set eyes on a peculiarly tall youngster. He was dressed all in white – in a baggy tracksuit and matching pristine cap (which he was wearing backwards). He was holding an artificial bunch of roses upside down. I thought he might have jumped out of one of Eminem’s music videos, but then it occurred to me that it might be LSB in disguise.
Given his tendency towards deceit and his elaborate plan to surprise me for Valentine’s Day again this year, I thought it was reasonably plausible that he had taken a night flight after we parted ways yesterday (underneath Ranelagh Luas Bridge) in order to welcome me in Berlin.
I looked over expectantly but the rapper-romancer was oblivious to me. There was nothing for it but to continue my journey to the Airport train station.
Schönefeld airport reminded me much more of Ireland than the swanky Terminal 2 in Dublin. It’s a modest building, and you collect your luggage from a sluggish conveyor belt in cramped space. While you’re waiting for it, entertainment comes on a screen which shows the three-day weather forecast, the business news and an advertisement for a back massage clinic in continuous rotation. It had a charming higgledy-piggledy feel which made me feel right at home.
While I was yanking my unobliging cases through the walkway on the way to the trains, I passed a man lurking about holding a sign that read “Need ticket” in neat black biro print. Some kind lady stopped to give him change. I wondered how he had landed there.
I was happily prepared to soak up my first impressions of Berliners on the S9 to Friedrichshain. I even asked the train driver, a man in his fifties with half his face taken up by a magnificent curly grey beard, if I was on the right line. I was. When I asked if he stopped at Frankfurter Allé, he paused dramatically, so that I might think I was way off.
Then he grinned and said “Ja, da fahre ich hin”.
I could have been on Dublin bus.
My mum told me that Berliners are known to have a sharp sense of humour, that can be cutting at times. It’s called the “Berliner Schautze” (the Berlin Snout). More of that in future posts.
Having taken a seat on the S9, I stared at the people around me, as I have the bad habit of doing. Opposite me sat a lady with a nest of red hair that concluded in a limp tail that looped around her left shoulder. She was wearing sunglasses and orange and blue snow boots and got off at a stop which translates as “Tree School”.
I paused to consider what kind of things young saplings might need to learn but was stumped after I came up with dendrochronology.
An Australian lady with wavy blonde hair and a nose piercing was reading an academic paper with the title “The roots of gender inequality in Government”. She was marking the important bits with a yellow highlighter.
Unfortunately, my desire to get an authentic flavour of Berlin was thwarted by a group of noisy Irish students who had also been on my flight. They were talking loudly about who they were “shifting”, about the strapless tops they’d bought in Penneys and about the RTE player.
When I got off, I was immediately confronted by a murmuring drug addict looking for money. On the way to the hostel I passed a man lying on a few blankets with a broken shopping trolley and two large dogs for company. A few yards up a homeless woman, her face distorted by drug use, was muttering to herself. It was surreal to hear the language of drug abuse and poverty being spoken in German. I don’t know what I expected. They couldn’t all have a flat Dublin drawl.
It was far from the fairytale villages I know from Bavaria but it was exciting, with cars whizzing by, darkness beginning to descend and the scores of pizzerias and kebab shops tempting me to dinner.
As I type my eyes are becoming heavy. I’m installed cosily beside a radiator at a desk nestled in the corner of my little private room, which is attached to a four-bed dorm. Impressively, I’ve already made a friend. We met in the kitchen. I had my mouth full of falafels when he walked in.
His name is Tom. He’s forty-six and I saved him from burning his stew. He’d popped out of the hostel kitchen muttering something about “missing the vital ingredient” and left the pot unattended.
When he came back bearing a bottle of wine, I was dealing with the cauldron, where bubbles had begun to burst at the brim.
So we had a chat over dinner and he told me that I had a distinct gypsy vibe. My eyes and the shape of my face, he said. I lauded his perception. After all, I recently found out that all of the women in my family have rare mitochondrial DNA associated with the Roma tribe. He said that he definitely wouldn’t have put me as either Irish or German. Russian perhaps, or Polish.
Just as well I’m living in east Berlin, I suppose. My guidebook charmingly describes Friedrichshain as “a traditionally rather dowdy working-class district which is increasingly being discovered by the well-to. I’ve a feeling I’ll fit right in.
Now, where can I recycle my Rittersport Knusperkeks wrapper?