So it was yet another overnight bus- this one with Keith by my side. We drove south from Copenhagen and took a ferry back across the Baltic into Germany. From there we continued south to Berlin where we had plans to meet the wonderful Kate Lennon- another UCD friend traveling the world. We had a while before her bus arrived and we had yet to sort out accommodations in Berlin. Foolishly I had told the crew not to book a hostel because I had sent out quite a few thoughtful couch requests and I was certain we’d get something. As it turned out, in such a heavily visited city as Berlin, all the folks I contacted were either already hosting, too tired from hosting too often, or just too dang busy. In my experience it’s a bit tough as a group of three anyway. So all the requests I sent were graciously turned down in the few days before we showed up. So when we arrived Keith and I set out for wifi once again, this time to hopefully book a place for the three of us to spend at least our first night in Berlin.
We had another rough go of it. Instead of drenched in rain we ended up drenched in sweat- lugging our bags the few kilometers from the bus station all the way into the center of west Berlin in the rising heat of the city and still finding no way to get the web. After being let down by McWireless and even buying a coffee at a place boasting free wifi, but it not working for whatever reason, we finally found another coffee shop with the stingiest connection I’ve encountered yet. It was terribly slow, you HAD to buy something because your personal wifi code was printed on the receipt, and it kicked you off after 20 minutes. Bastards. With the given connection speed, the 20 minutes (40 actually- we bought two rounds just for the web), was only enough time to find out that any web-booking for a hostel so last minute, and with a group of three on our budget- was going to be impossible. We couldn’t even get one night. But in that 40 minutes I also had the extremely lucky chance to chat with the growing-willrl.com-celebrity Pol-Ewen who had been in Berlin just days before I met him in Warsaw. I told Pol of our troubles and he immediately put his eternally expanding social network into action. I think the conversation went something like this:
Pol: Hey dude, find anywhere to stay in Berlin?
Will: Nah man, all my requests got turned down and I’m just now finding out that I’m not gonna be able to book a hostel. I’m kinda freaking out because I’m here with two friends who I promised I would find somewhere for us to crash, but now it’s looking like we might be homeless.
Pol: My friend Claudia lives there. She’s on couch surfing too- she might be down to host.
Will: Yeah man, that’d be awesome. Link me and I’ll send her a message.
Pol: I just called her, everything is taken care of. I’ll send you her number so you can call her later today to meet up.
Will: Wait, what?
And so it came to pass that we would meet and surf with the two coolest Italian ladies in Berlin: Claudia and Francesca.
We doubled back to the station after visiting a supermarket to get some grub and beers for three. It was a most marvelous reunion with Kate (after her sprinting from the bus to the bathroom, then disclaiming it with “Just wanna warn you guys, I’ve been having some bladder control issues on this trip.”). We spent a good part of the day in a nearby park with some amazingly cheap beer (YAY! We can afford more than one beer a day!), nasty chorizo that maybe should’ve been cooked, a foam football I found that morning, and the best company you could ask for.
We met Claudia and her two crazy cats that evening and it didn’t take any time at all to break the ice. From there, our time in Berlin is a blur of awesomeness. With beer so cheap and friends so great it would’ve been tough to not enjoy every minute. We were lucky to be there at a great time- with the weather just on the cusp of summer-esque (some showers but never cold) and plenty of goings on to keep us entertained. Our hostesses had work during the week, but we didn’t have much trouble exploring the city on our own. Well, not entirely on our own as we spent half of a day on the highly recommended free-walking-tour of the city- a must do in a city with so much incredible recent history. We saw and learned a ton, hearing quite the telling of the truly inspiring story of the Berlin Wall. We spent a long time that evening in the Palace of Tears museum- the former gateway to West Berlin, fascinated by some of the things we were alive for, but too young to understand.
Conveniently we were in Berlin for a few popular events and we were often joined by more wonderful Italians, notably Carmine- Francesca’s co-worker. First, we got to watch Germany crush Greece in the Euro-Cup quarterfinals. A victory which was followed by drinking, chanting, and partying in the streets. We were also around for the “Fetè du la Musique”- a celebration of the summer solstice with music throughout the city. We roamed around listening to band after band- some on stages built specifically for the celebration, but the best were street performers who knew it would be a day when the general public would appreciate some good tunes. And, as had been the case quite a few times, we stayed longer than we planned. Our hosts were just too awesome, and they insisted that we stay for the infamous Christopher Street Day- Berlin’s gay pride parade. So stay we did and memorable it was. Well, I remember some of it at least. No, it was really a very cool experience and despite getting lost I had an incredible time roaming the streets of Berlin in my underwear, surrounded by gay guys and gay girls and some guy/girls I imagine. That’s not even to mention all the free lube, condoms, and even a Dildo King t-shirt that I acquired.
After a short Berlin-recovery morning (maybe the only one that lacked a before-noon beer) we moved on. I’d found a ride-share on the web (ridesharing is incredibly popular all over Europe and for good reason- cheaper, faster, more convenient, eco-friendly, etc.) headed to Münster where I had been in touch with my friend Patrick who I met on a bus in Nicaragua. He’d told me that if I happen to pass through Münster to let him know and we could get together. Well, it just so happened that Münster was right between Berlin and Amsterdam, and with a ride-share going straight there we couldn’t pass it up.
We made it to Münster just in time to enjoy some brauts and watch the Patrick’s British lose to the Italians, putting them out of the Euro Cup. Well at least the brauts were good. That, and despite it being a Sunday night we were able to find a bar open late enough to drink away some sorrow (as if we didn’t get enough in Berlin). And it was at this bar that we met Patrick’s friend Ed, who, upon hearing that we were backpacking Europe and trying to figure out how we were going to get to our next destination (we really had no idea at that point), said he’d drive us to Amsterdam.
-Yeah, sure, why not? I love a random road trip, and I have to pick up some stuff from that area anyway. We’ll just all split the gas. Sound good?
-Uh, yeah. Definitely. Cool.
We weren’t really sure if Ed was serious or if he’d just had a few too many, but when we rang him (well, his girlfriend) the next day the deal was still on. So it was the five of us- Kate, Keith, Patrick, Ed, and myself, piled in Ed’s all too practical European dingy and away we went- to find Meike and Sascha- the once willrl.com-famous Dutchies in Amsterdam.
More adventures to come, but first more thank yous. Claudia, I made it sound like it was Pol who saved our butts in Berlin, but it was really you. I can’t even explain how kind it was of you to open your door to three strangers on such short notice- we are truly grateful. And Francesca- because you showed us such an incredible time Berlin might well be my favorite city this whole trip. Either way it was yet another city which was only so great because of how awesome our local friends were. Thank you ladies so much. And Patrick and Ed- if I had my way we could have had at least a few days to hang out in Münster and then you guys could’ve stayed a few in Amsterdam. Our time was certainly too short, but let it continue at some later date in some crazy place. You all have friends in California. I wish you all the best.
More to come.