Chapter 54: Reunion!
Trip Start Oct 01, 2003
56Trip End Nov 2004
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I slept for about 2 hours, and then dragged myself downstairs to check my e-mail and find out where and when I was supposed to meet Jonas. (For those newcomers or those with short memories, Jonas is the German friend I travelled with for three months in Southeast Asia). He and his girlfriend Desi met me at noon on the Alexanderplatz S-Bahn platform. We left my bags in a locker, and then spent the afternoon walking around the former East Berlin. Desi was a sweetheart and a great tour guide; she pointed out lots of museums, monuments, and religious buildings, and found a pocket-sized (yet comprehensive) German-English dictionary for me. She had to leave at 3 to work on a school project, so Jonas and I continued walking and talking... we hit the Brandenburg Tor, the Reichstag, the Tiergarten, and Potsdamer Platz. It was great seeing Jonas again. You never know what it will be like meeting travel partners back home, but in this case it felt just like we were still on the road together (which, in a sense, we were, as he's from Stuttgart and had never seen much of Berlin).
Later we met Desi, took the train out to her pleasant suburb (Köpenick, in the southeast), and got picked up in the car by her sister, Denise. Their parents are working in Dubai, so the sisters are running the house, and they invited me to stay for a few nights, which was very generous. They set up a mattress and sheets for me in the basement, and then we ate garlic bread and mushroom ravioli for dinner. The three of them all spoke good English, but my German got a work out as well, and I committed myself to improving my vocabulary over the next few weeks.
Jonas and I spent Monday together in the Mitte doing tourist-y things. We took walked to the Gendarmenmarkt to see the German and French cathedrals, and paused out of curiosity to watch what looked like two porn actresses being filmed in little clothing on the steps of the Konzerthaus. It turned out they were being filmed for an ordinary TV show, but they sure looked prostitute-ish! Next we checked out Checkpoint Charlie, and then spent a couple of hours at the impressive Topography of Terror museum, which chronicled the history of the SS in Berlin. Desi met us for dinner at an awesome Indonesian restaurant, which got us all waxing nostalgic for Southeast Asia.
Tuesday was a quiet day; Jonas and I did laundry, hung out at the Köpenick mall, bought train tickets to Mainz for Thursday night, and checked e-mail for a few hours at a web cafe. Desi brought home a dinner of flatbread and cheese and salad, so we ate while watching German TV. I could understand some of it... but I found that after 9 or so my brain had a tendency to shut down after too much translating.
We took a day trip on Wednesday to the city of Erfurt, which is a college town of about 200,000 in the center of Germany. Jonas was starting university there in a few weeks, and needed to go apartment hunting. The first appointment went OK, but the place was kind of a mess... 3 roommates were looking for a fourth, and all I kept thinking about was the Danny Boyle film "Shallow Grave." We had a nice Italian lunch in the center of the beautiful old town. Erfurt reminded me of what I'd imagined medium-sized German cities would look like: winding streets paved with stones, a Gothic cathedral, and traditional architecture. I bought a Langenscheidt German language course book at Hugendubel bookstore, and then we continued the apartment search. Ultimately this meant walking around a lot and then taking the bus 10 minutes north of the city center, where we met a young woman subletting a gorgeous 1-bed place. Jonas thought it was perfect, but he was second in line to take it, so he left town hopeful but not completely satisfied. When we got back to Berlin after the 3-hour train ride, I picked up some chocolate and wine as "thank you" gifts for Desi & Denise, and then we met Desi and some of her friends for a few drinks at a heavy metal bar (!) in Prenzlauer.
Desi and Denise had Thursday off, so we piled into two cars with them, their two dogs, and Denise's friend Andre, and drove a few hours north to the Baltic Sea. We spent the day on the German holiday island called Usedom, which extends east into Poland. Usedom is the sunniest spot in Germany, and while the beach was beautiful, it was also very windy and cold. I don't know how the girls and Andre (not to mention the nude bathers down the beach) were able to wade in the water; I was bundled up in Denise's winter coat and I was still freezing! It was a fun day out, anyway, as we made a picnic on the beach and played with the dogs.
After a few hours we cleared the sand out of our shoes and got back in the cars. Unfortunately the girls had parked illegally and both had tickets. Denise and Andre were supposed to stop by the house, drop off the dogs, pick up Denise's boyfriend, and drive to the airport to catch a flight to London. Jonas, Desi, and I were just going to head back home. We got lost half way back, and then Desi got pulled over for speeding and almost lost her license; Jonas saved her by explaining that we were lost and I was their American friend just visiting for a few days. It seemed things couldn't get worse after the parking ticket, getting lost, and being pulled over... until Denise called and said she'd missed their house and was 30km past the airport in a Berlin suburb. Desi dropped Jonas and I off at the house, grabbed Denise's boyfriend, and then rushed off to sort everything out. We ordered pizza, showered and packed, and then Desi came back and drove us to the Ostbahnhof train station to catch our overnight train to Mainz. Sleep came pretty easily after that hectic afternoon!
Too bad we slept so well, because we slept right through our 6:55 stop in Cologne, where we were supposed to change trains. No worries; we got off at the next stop, spent a couple of bucks to get back to Cologne, and then took a later train to Mainz. Jonas had left his car there a week ago, and his friend Sabina drove it to pick us up at the station. We relaxed in her apartment for a while, and then took the car to Frankfurt for the day.
Frankfurt was a cool city, partly because it had the first real skyline I'd seen in Europe. The EU bank tower in particular was pretty massive and reflective. I stopped by a booth in a central square to register to vote from abroad, and then we went shopping. I bought a few CDs (Divine Comedy, Kasabian, Embrace) and the Zara winter jacket that Ben had found for me in Berlin. Sabina was really cool - just very energetic, cute, and friendly. I thought about how some of my straight male friends would be so jealous of Jonas and all his awesome female friends. We brought Sabina back to Mainz in the early evening, and then drove a couple hours south to Jonas' home in the town of Stetten, outside Stuttgart. His father had set up a bed for me in the TV room, so we dropped our stuff and crashed quickly.