I woke up around 11. Sleeping later and later every day. Staying up later too, so I suppose it evens out. I bumped into Tom, who was heading out exploring again. My exploring has slowed now. Flat first. Fun later. I mean that’s absolutely not been the case and it has in fact been quite the opposite, but that’s the motto I’m trying to stick to, anyway.
Tom invited Bob and I to join him for a tour of the Reichstag at 2.45, and so I spent my morning applying for flats and not much else. At 2, Bob and I set off for Brandenburg Tor, only briefly getting lost on the U Bahn. I keep avoiding buying tickets, but then inevitably spend the whole journey anxiously scanning for the conductor. I might just have to start buying tickets just so I can relax. The occasional ticket, at least.
We met Tom at the Reichstag, along with his two mates from Adelaide who had just arrived, a guy called Brodie and girl whose name sadly escapes me. She had blue eyes, brown hair, and a big, wide smile. I think she was called Sarah. Let’s call her Sarah. She’s a recently graduated student studying physiotherapy, and Brodie is her boyfriend. When Bob and I saw Tom walking alongside Brodie, we both gasped. Surely to fuck there is not a human bigger than Tom. But lo, Brody is six feet and eight inches tall. He plays Aussie rules football professionally – and Sarah admitted he’s a well-known face over in Adelaide.
They were an incredibly chill couple, and I felt at ease within seconds of meeting them. I went to shake hands with Sarah as Brodie went to shake Bob’s hand, and our four hands criss-crossed in the middle and ended in an awkward four-way fist bump. I fell in love with Brodie a bit over the day. Alongside a promising career in sport, he volunteers on weekends helping local disadvantaged kids from his town develop art skills by practising street art and graffiti. He also invents his own words, and frequently drops them into conversation, much to everyone’s confusion. I might detest UK football a little less if it was full of players like Brodie.
We headed into the Reichstag via a security screening room, similar to airport security. Conveyor belts, pockets emptied, body scanners and so on. It was packed with uniformed security staff, and we had to show ID to enter. It was mid-way through the security building, when I was putting my things back in my pockets, that a realisation hit me and I nearly shrieked and ran flailing out of the building. Since the nightclub on Friday, I’ve had half a bag of weed in my wallet. Someone just gave me it on the night, and I’d completely forgotten about it. I nudged Tom to one side and quietly told him I was apparently bringing drugs into Parliament. His eyed bulged and we all stood like statues waiting for the tour guide to lead us in.
Why always me?
We filed inside the imposing building, its fat stone pillars leaning over us and stern statues staring down at us. Oh fucking hell. Inside it was clinical and silent, and we got the lift up to the roof. Tom had promised us we could go up inside the Reichstag Dome, however it was closed for cleaning, and had various reflective jacket-clad workmen buzzing around it wiping it with cloths. It was a bleak, gloomy day and the view was crap. We did see Russian carvings on one of the stones, and Bob told us that when rebuilding the Reichstag after it was bombed to fuck at the end of the Second World War, they used some of the original stones. The carving we were looking at must have been done during the building’s famous capture by the Russians. You know, the one that gave us one of the coolest photos of all time:
We left the roof, and made our way out of the building. I finally exhaled once we passed the little ‘Ausgang’ sign and made it back onto the street. I’d rather not think about the consequences of being caught with a bag of drugs in the building where they make the laws about what happens if you are caught with a bag of drugs. Still. It’s a hell of a tick on the ol’ bucket list, right?!
After, we walked through the park to see Europe’s fourth largest bell tower, which is just shit. It’s a big black tower with some bells in it that stands silent and empty in the middle of a field with no one around. It had all the architectural merit of a portacabin. We left and headed instead for the Berlin Victory Column, which was much better. It sits in the middle of a massive roundabout, and so can only be reached by an underground tunnel. We paid 3 euros and climbed the endless spiral staircase inside the column, and were rewarded with staggering views of the park, and Berlin beyond the trees.
We were dumbfounded to see that the column is riddled with bullet holes. The first one I noticed was straight through the chest of a metal carving of a German soldier. I thought a massive gaping bullet hole in the leader of the parading troops was a strangely macabre feature for a victory column, but then noticed hundreds of chippings and deep craters in the marble. It’s incredible to see the physical effects of war. The fighting must have been so fierce. Seeing what a bullet could do to a marble wall made me wince, thinking of what it could do to a person. With all my heart, fuck guns.
We headed back via Markthalle, an indoor food market full of pop up shacks adorned with golden festoons and streaking bunting. We got there 30 minutes before closing, so it was fairly empty. Brodie and Sarah said goodbye and left us there, as they were heading to Prague that night. Back at the hostel, we met the girls from Austin once again, and we sat round the table. There were six of us: me, Canadian role player Bob, big ginger Aussie Tom, and the Austin girls; Emily, Mary Alsyon and Gaby.
We started playing that good old drinking game that’s known the world over, always with different rules: Ring of Fire, King’s Cups, Queen’s Cup, whatever you want to call it. As the game progressed and we got more rowdy, more people joined us. Tom invited another Aussie couple over, Jack and Casey, students from Perth. Soon, people were approaching and asking to join in. It was a hell of an ego boost. Two days before, I didn’t know a soul. Now I was sat in the very centre of a packed out table, calling the rules of the game and dishing out drinks. You know that feeling you get when you suddenly rise very quickly in a lift? When you go a bit wobbly and it feels like you might collapse? I had that sense of acceleration. I was just hoping to god I didn’t say something stupid and fuck it up.
There was about fifteen of us. As well as our Original Six, we had three American siblings from Ohio (who were so chilled and I absolutely loved), two guys from Portugal with difficult names, the couple from Perth, and two more Aussie girls from Adelaide. Everyone was on top form, and conversation was incredibly free and easy. Backpacking means never having nothing to talk about. There’s always another question to ask, with everyone coming from such different cultures.
It was Gaby’s birthday, and so we headed out to a gay bar nearby, with fluffy pink walls and a weird padded red leather ceiling. It was absolutely rammed. I turned around and yelled ‘this is great!’ in this small German man’s face by accident, and he hollered back ‘ja!’, hugged me, and handed me a beer. I think I am going to like living here.
Next up we tried to get into this techno rave at an old power station called Tresor, but were turned swiftly away due to our being big fat drunk loudmouth tourists. The bouncers were pleasant, though, and pointed us in the direction of more bars we could try. On the way, we got road beers from an off license, before we slowly wandered the cobbles to find a bar. Everyone was buzzing around chatting to each other, switching partners and conversations every couple of minutes.
One of the coolest guys was one of the Ohio siblings, a guy around my age and height called Calvin. I gave him my denim jacket because he was cold, and we talked as we walked along with beers. You know how certain people just have something about them that you can’t put your finger on? Something that just makes you like them, intensely, without even really knowing anything about them? He had that. He had this unique way of really listening when you talked, and genuinely seemed by delighted by everything I said. I’m a bad listener, and I’d like to be more naturally like that. It makes people feel valued and special.
We ducked into some Turkish bar which was a little plain, but it would do. We got beers and I got talking to the barman, who was from Havana, Cuba. I was absolutely thrilled, and we talked about nights spent drinking rum on the malecon. He danced salsa for me while he poured my pint. I spent a long time talking to Emily about the finer points of lesbianism, which was pretty eye opening, to say the least.
A gang of Danish 19 year olds came in, and our groups mingled. One girl from our group, who shall remain nameless for her own modesty, ended up shagging one of the Danish guys in the toilets. They got caught and thrown out, snuck back in, went to shag in the toilets again, got caught again, and this time we all got thrown out, laughing all the way.
We got takeaways, we walked home, we got lost in the rain, we got split up, reunited at the hostel, and chilled in the lounge until 5am. We went to bed with much ceremony and emotion, as the Austin girls left at the crack of dawn next morning.
It feels like how this is how life is meant to be. Speaking to people, meeting as many people as possible and doing away with all that surface level bullshit. All the barriers people put up. I’ve spent 8 hours a day, every week for a year with co-workers before, and have got nowhere near the level of comfort and connection achieved in just a few hours with people in a hostel.
What a night. I’ll never forget it.