I spent two weeks in Berlin in total, and my last night there was Dave’s 28th birthday. When we first met he was only 22. I was 23. Mad.
It had been an excellent week: as well as meeting up with my old friend Kike, I also got to spend time hanging out with Liv, who was visiting, by sheer coincidence, from the UK for a few days. I maintained my sobriety proudly throughout.
On my last day in Berlin it was Dave’s birthday. Along with a couple of his friends from home, we spent the day zipping around the city on those e-scooters you see everywhere. I honestly believed I would live the entirety of my life without mounting one, but there you go. It was actually tremendous fun – I got a real kick out of breezing through Neukolln’s leafy avenues in our makeshift scooter gang. You look like an absolute knobhead dork, of course, but that’s all part of the buzz.
We spent the afternoon at Treptower Park, where we rented out a couple of canoes and spent an hour or two paddling around the Spree, smoking joints and nearly getting flattened by gigantic tourist boats powering through the water.
In the evening the four of us scooted to Tempelhofer Feld, where two dozen of Dave’s friends joined us. I knew most of them: I’d met some of them in Lisbon, some in the UK, and some in Berlin, many years before. Liv joined too, as did Ben, and later on Louis and Jakob, both of whom I’d not seen for almost five years. They’d both changed a lot, aesthetically: new hairstyles, new fashions, new stories. I barely recognised either of them when I first saw them – but after big hugs, I found their personalities remained as warm as ever. I asked Jakob whether he thought I looked any different.
“You look pretty much the same,” said Jakob. “Maybe a little wider?”
W I D E R.
“No, I just mean like, your shoulders,” he added, after I let out a little involuntary scream of anguish.
Seeing all those different worlds collide – Dave, Louis and Jakob, who I met in Berlin, Liv, who I know from England, and Ben, who I met on the blueberry farm in Australia – was as satisfying as it was surreal. We stayed on the field talking and eating and drinking (love me some 0% beer) until it got dark, and when we were booted out of the airfield at 11pm, we moved to a square in a nearby street.
At 2.30am I said my goodbyes, hugged all and sundry, and took my leave: I had a train to Vienna at 5am. I walked across Neukolln to Dave’s flat, grabbed my backpack, locked up, and posted the keys through the letter box. Then I walked to Treptower Park in the sweaty, humid dark and hopped on the S Bahn to Hauptbahnhof. I got there at 4am, and to avoid falling asleep on the platform and missing my train, I spent the next hour pacing up and down, feeling increasingly nauseous and trippy as my tiredness went into overdrive. Not sleeping ahead of the train had seemed a jolly good idea in the daytime. Eugh.
At 5am I got on the train and we sped out of Berlin as the sun crept back into the sky. In the peak of Berlin summer the sun is only ever down for a few hours at a time – four? Five, tops? – and then pow, the colour is back.
The journey to Vienna was hellish. I couldn’t find a comfortable position and so only managed 10-minute bursts of sleep here and there. I wore a facemask to cover my gormless snoring mouth, pulled a cap down low over my eyes, and pulled up the collar on my Harrington to fortify my helpless face against the glares of both the sun and passing strangers – but it was no use.
I became furious at one point: despite the entire carriage being empty, at 7am I was woken from a hard-won sliver of slumber by two blonde, bespectacled German men looming over me. Through the fog of my sleepiness I gathered that they were pointing to the seat number above my head, telling me they’d reserved it.
I sat up with my hair all mussed up and wiped the drool from my mouth. I rubbed my eyes and looked around the carriage – at the two hundred empty seats – then back to the two men who were watching me placidly. Really? Fucking *really*? But I don’t know how to say ‘go boil your heads you lanky pedants’ in German, so all I could do was glare angrily, pack my stuff, and vacate the seat to go and sit in the adjacent aisle – where, of course, I slept not a wink because I was now incensed, and instead occupied myself with stealing hateful glances in the duo’s general direction whenever possible.
I finally fell asleep around 8am, but it lasted not more than ten minutes: I’d fallen asleep with my feet up on the backs of the armrests in front, like birthing stirrups, and this position seemed to do something to relax my bowels: from the midst of a shallow dream, I abruptly farted myself awake. I opened my eyes in shock, instantly free from the inebriation of sleep. I didn’t dare peer over to the left to see if the two German men had heard.
I nodded off again around 9am, for perhaps twenty minutes, and when I awoke we were in the Czech Republic. I watched out of the window as we passed through mountains and ramshackle old mining towns, with everything wreathed in early-morning mist that clung to the hilltops and curled through the thick forests.
I was once again getting heavy-lidded around 11am, and was happy to feel myself drifting away to sweet black oblivion, when a middle-aged Czech woman got on and sat in the seat in front of me. This rendered my birthing-stirrup sleeping position impractical, so I instead lay sideways across my two seats, with my feet against the window and the green European forest flitting past. Again, however, I was prevented from sleeping: the woman began browsing Instagram on her phone – at full volume and without headphones. Every few seconds I was treated to a new soundbite: a few chords of a song, a dog barking, a motivational speech, a reality TV clip, a news segment. This lasted for perhaps an hour, after which she closed Instagram, opened Whatsapp, and called a friend for a chat for, oh, about one hundred thousand minutes.
I arrived in Vienna close to death and hateful and stinking.
I lugged my two rucksacks through the city to my hostel, sweating cobbs in the heat, too tired to pay much attention to my surroundings. I checked into my hostel – Wombats, it was called, the only one with availability, bit generic and corporate but hey, what can you do – and messaged Annie to let her know I’d arrived.
“Eyy can’t wait to see you!” she replied. “Is it cool if we meet a bit later this afternoon though? I’m super tired.”
Tired? shrieked my inner monologue. TIRED!!!! I HAVE BEEN SCOOTERING ACROSS BERLIN, ROWING ON THE SPREE, SMOKING DOOBIES ON AN AIRFIELD, AND FARTING UP A STORM ABOARD AN ENDLESS CURSED TRAIN TO AUSTRIA ALL IN THE SAME SPAN OF CONSCIOUSNESS. YOU HAVE NO RIGHT TO BE TIRED, YOU WRETCH – YOU HARLOT – YOU SWINE!!!! OUT!!! GET OUT!!!!!!!! But I didn’t say that of course, because I’d not seen her in nine months and I didn’t want to be grumpy, so I just replied “Okay :)”
I took a half-hour nap, which did very little to alleviate my psychedelic levels of exhaustion, then showered, dressed, and wandered out into Vienna to find my bezzie mate.