Day 4: 24th of November
I woke up cold and stiff in my sleeping bag. Grey light from outside shone in bleakly through the window and I wondered whether it was still night or morning.
“Good morning!” Magda said suddenly, coming into the room with a towel around herself. I murmured something inaudible, receiving a slight chuckle from her as she dressed herself while I struggled to find my bearings and my scattered belongings. Somehow regardless where I go, if I spend more than five minutes somewhere I always manage to spread my things all over the area within a few seconds.
Slowly I roused myself, got dressed, assembled the sofa bed and rolled up the sleeping bag. I washed up a little in the bathroom, tried to do something about my unruly dreads so as to look as little as possible as a tramp. Magda chattered easily in spanish as we went to the other side of the apartment to have breakfast. I was far too tired still to offer her somewhat satisfactory replies but she seemed happy anyway. I helped myself to müsli in the kitchen before joining Magda and a few of her house mates in the dining room. Robert that had opened for me last night was there with his girlfriend, both of them trying to feed their baby. There was another couple there too with their own baby. They all looked very much like they had jumped out of some 70’s reminiscence and I observed them subtly as they chatted tiredly to each other in german over cups of steaming herby tea and bowls of müsli with raisins, cinnamon and soy milk.
But it was time to leave, Magda was already late for her eurythmy class. She followed me down the road and before long I found myself standing alone next to the busy road, waiting for the buss. I was infinitely grateful for Magda’s help and pondered over my evening in the Berlin commune with amusement playing on my lips. My back was tired from carrying the heavy backpack and my hands were turning gradually more and more pink as the morning cool began to seep in through my clothes.
With weary eyes I observed the daily lives of the people around me. Cars were speeding past on the road and behind me a family were setting up their fruit stand, shouting to each other in a language unknown to me. Foam shaped in front of my mouth as I sighed and bitterly studied the large coca-cola commercial signs on the other side of the road.
I decided then and there that I did not want to experience the same panic I had felt in Frankfurt when posed with the commotion of the big city. Today would be a day of silence.
The bus took me all the way to Berlin Hauptbahnhof, the Central station. From there I managed to lock in my heavy bag and walked off simply carrying my camera, my recycled shoulder bag containing my knitting, my small journal, a bottle of water and some other small things.
Once again the similarity between Berlin Central station and Heathrow airport struck me like a smack to the head. It took me roughly ten minutes to find out where I could lock in my bag, then another ten minutes to find out when the train to Basel was leaving and after which I had to cross the full distance of the Central station for the second time in order to find the tourist information and buy a map of Berlin.
The signs pointing to Service Point, Tourist Info and Luggage retrieval just didn’t make sense to me, somehow they always seemed to pointing in the exact wrong direction.
Nevertheless eventually I made my way out of the Central station and avoiding the obnoxious groups of tourists, japanese and german alike I set out towards Brandenburger Tor. The air was freezing in my lungs and I wished that I had in my possession a pair of sturdy gloves as opposed to my homemade wrist-warmers. The sky was grey and glum as I crossed a bridge and a park.
The perverted symmetry of the hedges, benches, paths, and well, everything made me very uncomfortable and filled me with the strong urge to mess things up, tip over a trash can or cut one of the hedges at least a little crookedly.
There was a solemnity, a bleak atmosphere in the morning as I continued to the Jewish Memorial. Silence struck me as I watched the light shining through the opaque gloomy clouds, the pale light glittering on the many surfaces of the monument. I took a deep breath and entered down one of the paths, the light of the world disappearing as I fell deeper and deeper into the darkness of the monument, the feelings that had inspired it pulling me under like a wave of icy water.
I gasped for breath, tried listening after the sounds of the city, the buses and cars and the people but the world was quiet.
I blinked a few times, brought the camera to my eyes and photographed my surroundings, bringing reality in through my lens and letting the picture sink into my brain as oxygen returned to my lungs and I was able to leave the monument behind me with a feeling of sorrow in my heart.
The grey city of Berlin unfolded itself before me as I made my way onwards towards the Jewish Museum. I had studied the architecture of the building in 12th grade and was thus very much looking forward to seeing it in real life.
At some point I must have taken a wrong turn because I did not recognize any of the roads that I was supposed to be crossing on my way to the museum, though of course I always have been quite hopeless at reading maps. The path I chose was a rather desolate one though, much to my satisfaction.
I walked for about one and a half hours before rounding a corner and suddenly finding myself in front of the Jewish Museum. The great building took all the breath out of me as if someone had punched me in my stomach. Tentatively I approached it, holding my camera in front of me like a sword for protection.
I wandered around the museum for some twenty minutes, photographing it from different angles, fervently seeking to catch the perfect picture of the beautiful monstrosity that was the museum.
Time and tire eventually tore me away from there, and with a little more certainty as to where I was actually heading I set off once more, taking note of a rising discomfort in my weary feet.
Berlin had greeted me with the early sunrise of the south but extreme cold in the somewhat early hours of the morning, but now as I began to retrace my steps back to the Hauptbahnhof warmth seemed to overwhelm me. The sensation of accomplishment echoed in the back of my mind, though I knew not quite where it came from.
The odd snowless streets led me back to the chaotic central station. I arrived with 45 minutes to spare and first checked out my heavy backpack again before making my way to the platform, which as anticipated was not as easy as I could have wished for.
By the time I found the platform I badly needed to use the bathroom, the slight ache in my foot had developed into a fully fledged pain and hunger tore in my belly. Twenty minutes remained before the arrival of my train. Each second felt like an eternity as I struggled to control my bladder and focus on something else. I wondered if I would be able to smoke if I sat far away enough from the security guard.
I decided my current state of misery was not worth a possible scolding from a german and instead decided to alleviate the one pain I could do something about.
Hoisting the backpack onto my back again I made my way as quickly as I could do the bathroom, limping as I rushed down the escalator.
Of course, all the signs were pointing in the wrong direction and it took another painful five minutes before I was able to locate the restroom, fish up 80 cents and the rest is history.
When I came back the train was already there and I managed to find an empty seat rather quickly. Well seated I set up camp, which is to say I managed to spread most of my belongings all over the two seats. I quickly found my loaf of organic rye bread from Saltå Kvarn, my tube of vegetable paté and within half an hour I had finished the loaf and leaned back in my seat with an unsatisfied feeling in my stomach probably caused by the bread diet I had been living on since the beginning of the journey.
The train ran straight to Basel SBB and took just over 7 hours.
I worked steadfastly on my computer, even read a few pages of “the Biography of Rudolf Steiner” and begun knitting a green wrist-warmer to match the purple one I had made on my way to Germany.
Outside the landscape changed slowly, from bright green to frozen blizzards to pitch black as we neared Basel.
The positive thing with traveling by train if you don’t think that time is a problem is the slow transformation of the landscape. Often when I have flown somewhere I find it takes me at least a day after arrival before I feel like I have actually landed and can function like a normal human being again.
The hours ran past us as we sped into new lands and the beautiful rolling countryside outside my window let my mind grow accustomed to the new country as we passed over border after border.
I nearly got off at the wrong station in Basel, remembering only that I had to leave at Basel station without considering the fact that there might be several stations named Basel something. I found myself anxiously waiting, backpack on, perched at the edge of my seat, for the train to roll into Basel SBB, as I was quite certain that it was the right stop.
I was swept out into the station along with the mass of people, following the stream of german speaking people. Basel SBB was considerably smaller in size compared to Berlin Hbf, something I found very comforting indeed.
So, I thought quietly to myself. I am in Basel now, how do I get to Dornach?
For some reason I had formed an image in my head where Basel and the Goetheanum seemed to be the same thing and in the same place but as I turned around again and again, reading the signs and schedules (not seeing the name Dornach anywhere) I slowly began to realise that getting there was maybe not quite as easy as I had first thought.
I wandered down one end of the central station, then down the other. I sent text messages to all the YIP’ies I had on my phone, wandered down the other direction once again before I managed to find someone working in the ticket booth. At the same time I got a hold of Emma who was still enjoying the quiet of the Dottenfelder-Hof farm. She told me to leave the train station and take a tram, though I decided, just to be sure, to ask at the ticket booth as well.
The woman selling tickets told me to take the train from a platform I had passed by on my way over to her. A train would be leaving to Dornach within the hour.
I decided to take my chances and follow the woman’s advice as Emma had seemed slightly unsure of her words.
As I dragged my tired, pained feet down the stairs down to the platform I received a phone call from Joana who in panic asked me where I was and if I knew where I was going before she went off in a rant to reprimand me for not picking up the phone. I failed to have noticed the three times she had phone me within the past two minutes. I apologized sincerely to her, appreciating her concern before making sure that she notify Katha at the Youth Section of my arrival.
Katha soon informed me of what I was to do when arriving at Dornach station, which bus to take and to where.
Fortunately an interrail ticket can be used on long distance trains, but also on the metro and the subway, thus I gave my traveling no further thought nor concern once I found myself a seat for both myself and my backpack. Dornach was not far from Basel and before long it was time to leave the metro and step into the dark, chilly evening. I had to ask around a few times before finding out where my bus left from. Eventually the best answer I received was from another bus driver. I hardly had to ask him the question until, after a long gaze from his side he simply asked me, “You go to the Goetheanum?” Whereupon I replied yes in surprise, seeing as I had had no time to mention the matter yet. He gave me another look and explained to me that there would probably be a bus in twenty minutes, bus 66. (If I can remember correctly). Slowly the stress of traveling solo began to lift as I finally felt that things were sorting out, becoming easier, that I was almost there. Of course, the bus proved to be rather tardy. I was thirsty and hungry but sitting where I was on a cold bench, I felt oddly pleased with myself, because despite all my physical discomforts, I was glad, because I knew that there was still strength in my weary body. The enjoyment I felt from traveling stemmed from the assurance of my own strength. The bus arrived eventually and I embraced its arrival like a well-deserved treat for my patience. I reminded myself with a good amount of irony and humour that the whole journey had been ridiculously environmental as I pushed my way through the cramped corners of the bus and took two seats rather uncomfortably for both myself and my backpack. The bus began to drive after five minutes of standing still, all doors wide open letting all the cold air in. But once the doors were shut and the rather shoddy looking vehicle began to climb the steep hills of Dornach I quickly forgot how cold I had been and rather began contemplating if I should remove my woolly sweater. The world outside was dark and what little light there was came from the seemingly randomly placed street lights. I quickly began to worry that I actually would not notice if we passed by the Goetheanum, something I had thought to be completely impossible at first. Of course, I had never actually seen the place, though I was quite certain it should be visible at least. Nevertheless I decided not to take any chances and approached the bus driver. His english was unfortunately poor at best.
“Are you passing by the Goetheanum?”
“Was?” I didn’t know in what other possible way I could rephrase that question, but pointed on the screen next to him describing his travel route. I put my finger on “Goetheanum”.
“Ahaa,” he exclaimed loudly. “The Goh-ete-ah-noom.” I nodded, relieved. “Ja, is the next stop.” He continued speaking to me throughout the journey, of which I understood little, though I appreciated the effort. The bus came to a screeching stop and I stared out into the dark, seeing nothing but blocks of flats and small houses.
“Are you sure this is the Goetheanum? There’s supposed to be a really big building there.”
He looked a bit perplexed before exclaiming in an excited voice,” ah yes, next stop, I sorry.” He closed the doors and I sat down, touching my forehead tiredly. I had no idea where I was, nor did the bus driver seem to know, but it was okay. Next stop he said. And so the bus stopped. I looked out through the window again and seeing nothing turned back to the bus driver.
“There’s supposed to be a really big...”
“Ja, is up there.” I let my eyes follow his finger. A huge grey building atop a great hill loomed down over me.
“Right then,” I said simply, thanked the driver and skipped off the bus. And once again as so many times before I found myself wondering where to go next. The Goetheanum seemed to be the right way to go, thus I walked up the hill, realised it wasn’t where I should be, phoned Katha and had a german answer her phone. I soon realised it was Guy Collins a frequented visitor to YIP. He gave me directions to the Youth Section that I had obviously passed on my way up to the Goetheanum, as it actually was next to the bus stop.
I never avoid a good walk though, and without further ado, walked down the hill and was greeted by the YIP smokers, standing outside the orange Youth Section building.
I was given food, tea, bread and peanut-butter.
The hitchhikers told me of blizzards, of strange truck-drivers, of sleeping on the ferry to germany on a stormy sea.
I thought back to the long hours on the train, thinking how six hours felt like a short time compared to the distance between Denmark and practically everywhere. The taste of peanut-butter reminded me of the quiet conversations I had with the girls in the cramped compartment between Hamburg and Frankfurt. The bright colours and smiling faces of the YIP’ies made me think of the bleak and silent day I had had in Berlin, of the solemnity I had carried the whole day which was now replaced by the exhausted joy of gathering with YIP once again.
And a feeling of being home struck me so strongly, stronger than the distance to Sweden, stronger than my tire and ache. Home is where your heart is, and my heart is touched by people.
Day 3: Sunday the 23rd of November
The alarm shrieked at 9:00 a.m. in the morning. I switched it off and enjoyed the comfort of my sleeping bag. My initial plan last night had been to wake up at nine, step outside the house and fill my lungs with the crystal clear air of the countryside. I would have taken my computer and found a comfortable nook somewhere in the garden where I could write in peace and perhaps even enjoy the freedom of a cigarette.
Instead I rolled over in my sleeping bag, twisting it around me as I tried to find a comfortable position on the hard mattress. The bloody rooster was still singing outside the window and had done so all night. I closed my eyes hard and tried to pretend I was sleeping, tried to trick my mind into believing it so that I might return to real of dreams again, but without luck.
The rooster seemed to be mocking my somnolent wakefulness.
At 9:20 a.m. I began untangling myself from the sleeping bag, waking Emmi in the process. I scrambled after my toiletries and some clean clothes, touching my bed-head hair anxiously, hoping that my dreadlocks weren’t too troll like. I didn’t want to scare Emmi and Inga after all.
Skipping on the cold floor I hurried into the bathroom, entered one of the two showers there, noticing disapprovingly that the showers lacked locks. Scowling I arranged my things inside the shower (bar of soap, towel, clean clothes on a peg...) and tentatively turned on the water.
At first it was awfully cold and gave me such a violent attack of goosebumps that it hurt. But slowly the water got warmer and warmer until it was almost pleasant. Unfortunately the sprinkle was rather weak and did not quite penetrate the thickness of my hair, but with some persistence and scrubbing I was able to leave the shower feeling quite clean. I dressed quickly, hopping from foot to foot to avoid standing for too long on the terribly uncomfortable cold floor.
Emmi and Inga scrambled to finish showering and dressing and at around 10 past 10 a.m. the three of us were all properly dressed once more and hurrying to the steps to have breakfast in Emma’s house. (We had agreed to meet for breakfast at 10:00 a.m.) Outside we met Emma who was going for a walk with a friend of hers, but her sister Malin would be more than happy to have breakfast with us.
Just as it had when we arrived the previous night the table stood ready for of us to simply dig in. Bread, marmalade, soy yoghurt, müsli of all sorts and dried biodynamic figs. We greeted Emma’s sweet grandmother and seated ourselves. I for one was awfully hungry and did my best to not seem too rude as I helped myself to some breakfast. Malin and her boyfriend joined us shortly before rushing of to some concert. We received some most fascinating green tea that had a rather poisonous looking fluorescent green shade to eat, that when I poured myself a second and a third cup (and possibly a fourth one as well?) turned gradually darker until it had a deep forest green hue. Despite its appearance I enjoyed the taste of it though I was not able to receive an answer I could comprehend about which kind of tea it was. Having finished breakfast we excused ourselves and were pretty much pushed out through the door before we had the time to offer to help washing up.
The farm looked very different in daylight. It looked even bigger, even older and ever more romantic. The sounds and smells and different colours played joyfully in my senses. We climbed up the stairs to our loft and with laptops and notepads under our arms we found a comfortable place in the common room of the farming students. We spent a good hour there writing and knitting while we waited for Emma. Emmi was getting a bit agitated as time passed by. She had promised a friend of hers to come visit her in Lyon and thus was in a hurry to see what time the trains left at from Frankfurt. Time ticked by and still there was no sign of Emma. Eventually Emmi and I went to have a look for her, and of course we met her as soon as we walked outside the door.
All together we went to the farm office only to realise that their server was down and that there was no internet.
“We’ll go visit someone who has internet.” Emma said simply and headed off in the opposite direction. I chuckled to myself, enjoying the ease in which we could simply barge into someone’s home here, their doors were open to anyone. I liked it. Though if my life were such I would always make sure I had internet.
Emma lead us into a big old house, rushed up three sets of stairs before knocking on a door. A blonde girl with thick dreadlocks opened the door, her eyelids drooping with tire.
“Can we come in to use your internet?” Emma asked with chirping cheerfulness. The girl blinked a few times and shrugged. “Sure.” She switched on the computer for us and took a seat at the kitchen table, kindly asking one of us to stay with her and help her with her homework. Inga smiled and sat down beside her whilst Emmi and I parked ourselves in front of the very old PC.
The train to Lyon from Frankfurt left at 2:30 a.m. I watched the screen apprehensively, thinking through what I wanted to check on the internet. I knew what I wanted, but it was so very spontaneous that it surprised me a little. It was a wish that he begun to grow in me as we started our journey to Frankfurt.
“I want to go somewhere too.” I announced loudly, mostly to myself. There was a large map of Germany on the right side of the computer. Emmi and I proceeded to finding an interesting city that wasn’t too far of from either Frankfurt or Basel. The plan was that most YIP’ies arrive in Basel at some point on monday. Inga and I had planned to take an early train together, and as Basel was only about four hours away from Emma’s home we would arrive before midday.
“Prague?” I asked out loud, finding the the Czech city on the edge of the map. I check the distance on the internet and quickly concluded that it was too far away. “Berlin?” I typed it into db.de as well. Berlin was only about four - five hours away from Frankfurt, and roughly seven hours away from Basel.
The decision made itself inside me then as reason coincided with my sudden spontaneity.
“Yeah, I think I’ll go to Berlin.” I said simply, scratching my dreads thoughtfully.
“Cool.” Emmi replied.
The following thirty minutes flashed by after my decision. Once I told Emma that I had decided to go to Berlin she immediately replied that she would her friend Magda who lived in Berlin to see if I could stay in her flat for the night. Magda spoke little english but had lived for a longer period in Chile and had a chilean boyfriend, thus her spanish was far better than mine. I spoke to her on the phone quickly, trying to decide if she was able to come pick me up from the Central station or not. Apparently Magda had a eurythmy performance and would probably not have time to come by but she would phone Emma later and give instructions about how I could find her house, then Emma would send me a text message with the instructions.
“Okay, you have ten minutes to pack your bags, then I’ll drive you to the metro.” Emmi and I glanced at each other once before rushing off, leaving Inga and Emma behind. They looked quite content to stay.
Emmi and I ran down the flight of stairs, out across the farm and up to our loft again. We proceeded to shoving everything into our big backpacks again, not having the time to organise our things at all. I crammed down my sleeping bag into its bag, collected my computer and mobile cable, and with that we were off.
We met Emma at the entrance of the farm and within seconds the three of us were packed into the Dottenfelder-Hof SUV. We bid farewell to farm as we drove of in a cloud of dust and a little snow. The day was grey as could be expected of November though it was not very cold.
Emma would not meet us in Dornach, thus Emmi and I gave her a big hug each wishing her the best until we saw her again in a weeks time. And then we found ourselves inexplicably waiting for the train as we had so many times already.
Once we arrived in Frankfurt we took out some euros at a cashpoint and proceeded to searching for something edible that we could bring on our journey. We had a loaf of bread each that we had brought from Sweden. Biodynamic and famous for its marvelous taste, Saltå Kvarns fruit-bread was screaming to be eaten in my backpack. Myself I had brought a vegan vegetable pate. Emmi bought a small cheese, we both bought a packet of cashew nuts each and a bottle of water each. I picked one I believed to be still and classic, but this would later prove to have been a fateful mistake.
We found our different platforms and thus with a final big hug we parted and I found myself completely alone in the middle of Frankfurt Central station. Hoisting my heavy backpack on my back I made way into the train. Inside I found a comfortable seat but was soon worried about the fact that a digital little sign above my seat said “Frankfurt - Hanover”. That’s not where I was going, and I knew that I wouldn’t have to make any changes on this train, it should go directly to Berlin.
The sign above the seat in front of me said “Frankfurt - Berlin” thus I decided i made more sense that I sit there. A few minutes later I learned what those signs were there for, they were reservations and marked where the person that had reserved them was going. A young german boy who spoke english with a sweet attempt at a british accent explained this to me thus forcing me to grab my heavy bag again and switch wagons twice before I managed to find an empty unreserved seat.
I made myself as comfortable as I could, brought up my laptop and disappeared into the realm of computers. I wrote and wrote and worked a little on Dreamweaver and Photoshop and when I got bored I brought out my camera, and lacking anything better to do, took photographs of myself.
I had yet not received the text message from Emma telling me how to get to Magda’s house. But it was okay, I had a plan B incase the lines of communication would happen to be broken somewhere along the line. I knew that there was a train leaving Berlin at 9:30 p.m. thus if I had nowhere to sleep I would just take the night train to Basel.
At that point I received a text message from Emma.
Magda's house,from maintrainstation take bus120-frohnau/hainbuchenstrasse, exit leopoldplatz,walk to maxstrasse 5. Have a wonderfull time!love, emma
I spent a few seconds deciphering the text message, reading it through several times and trying to remember the names and numbers. I would return several times through my train journey to read the text message, trying to memorize it or at least a part of the message. Outside the sun began to set as we swished past the countryside leaving the snow behind us, traveling through green pastures that at the blink of an eye were suddenly once more covered in snow.
I listened to Lila Downs, Golbang and some other instrumental music. Usually I find it difficult to listen to someone singing when I am trying to type, at least if it is in a language I can understand thus did my best to allocate the foreign and instrumental music on my Ipod. Unfortunately as I am a terribly non-technical person I never really learned how to put music manually onto the Ipod and had instead let it load things automatically. The result was as I learned, not quite satisfactory.
Thirst came to me a few hours into my journey and thus I reached to open the bottle of still water I had bought at Frankfurt central station. It wasn’t still though, and silly me, because I can’t read german I had thought that classic meant it had no bubbles. The bottle pretty much exploded, and there I was, my laptop in front of me, panicking as water squirted everywhere.
Oddly enough as I opened my eyes to behold the destruction I found my laptop untouched, though I could not quite say the same about myself. I was soaked through from top till bottom.
Things were pitch-black outside my window now. I glanced at the clock on my computer screen. 6:02 p.m. We should arrive in Berlin soon.
The man on the speakers said something about Berlin that made me start. Had he said that we were arriving to Berlin now? Interestingly enough they always spoke for about two minutes in german and then took about 30 seconds to explain what they had said in english, and of course finishing with the seemingly obligatory “GOODBYE!” uttered in an extremely matter-to-fact, curt voice. I frowned and decided to not guess about if whether or not we were arriving at the Berlin Central station and kindly asked a couple in front of me if they spoke english.
They looked quite kind and helpful, and yes, they could speak english.
“I didn’t quite hear what we said, are we arriving at the Berlin Central Station?”
“No, Berlin schlannan...” He responded, I didn’t really catch what the last word or name was. “Berlin Central Station, next stop.” He added and smiled hesitantly, I thanked them and sat down again, calmly organising the things in my backpack as well as tightening the straps on it so that it would be less uncomfortable to carry.
When the train rolled into the Central station I felt ready. The backpack was perfectly secured around my waist, chest and shoulders. Everything was packed into it in a very balanced way. My shoes were tied, my jacket strapped onto the backpack. I adjusted my shawl to make sure that it covered my throat and neck and with a deep breath the rush to leave the train began as the doors were opened to the platform.
Berlin Hauptbahnhof is a very large place indeed and reminded me a lot about Heathrow Airport in London. The same chaos, the same sense of endless corridors and escalators that seemed to reach into the skies. The same shops. It’s fascinating how, regardless where you are in the world, an airport or a train-station will always have the exact same shops. Be it in England, Slovakia, Sweden or Germany, so far they had always been the same.
I trudged up to a service point and asked where the buses left from and received the curt answer, “out then left.” My patience with germans was beginning to run out. I uttered an equally curt thank you and left. Out then left.
There were no buses on the left side, only taxis and the road. I sighed. Either him and I had a different conception of where left was, or otherwise I might have gone out through the wrong exit, but seeing as how it was the closest one to the service point I had thought it made sense at the time. Sighing into the cold Berlin air I walked all the way around the Central station and eventually found the bus stops, the number 120 shining like a halo to me up on a pole. 15 minutes until arrival.
I sat down on a bench, feeling quite pathetic with my big backpack on, probably looking as if I hadn’t slept for a week, which to be honest wasn’t far from the truth.
I contemplated why it made sense to do these things. What I needed was a calm week of long baths, plenty of tea, peace and some quiet. This was in a way my vacation. So far I had not slept enough to compensate for my lack of sleeping during YIP, I had turned my eating routine upside down, I had hardly drunk any tea at all and I was probably a bit smelly too, but at the same time, the sense of freedom that filled me as I sat by myself on a bench outside Berlin Central station felt difficult to beat with a bar of soap and some honey.
The bus arrived, I got in, payed 2 euros something and proceeded to blocking the middle passage in the bus with my backpack. After I few stops I was able to sit down though, which was very nice indeed. Berlin gleamed dark and looming outside the bus. I decided almost at once that I did not want to experience the big city disdain again but would do my best to avoid the centrum and experience a part of Berlin that was beyond the gigantic shopping malls and trendy cafés. I had a slight idea of what I wanted to see when I was here, but that would have to wait, now I had to focus on my immediate task, finding Magda’s house.
Leopoldplatz, I got off unwillingly and found myself standing in the middle of a dark street in some suburban place of Berlin. The backpack did not feel quite as comfortable as it had when I got off the train half an hour ago.
What’s the worst thing that could happen? I thought and simply started to walk in some direction, thinking it couldn’t be that difficult to find, though after some ten meters I decided it was stupid to walk too far in case it was the wrong direction.
I only had to ask about five people where Maxstrasse was before I found my way there. The first three people had all said different things, so I was still not quite convinced that I was walking in the right direction until I saw the sign of the road. Now the question was of course, right or left?
Magda lived on number five and on my left side I felt the numbers were a bit too high, so right felt like the way to go. I continued walking along the dark empty road, noting that the streets were very poorly lit.
I passed by number 8, 7, 6, then there was a shop, and following the shop was number 5. A little voice inside me shrieked with happiness.
But it was not quite over yet.
The house was maybe five stories high and none of the doors were marked with any names. How was I to know which one was Magda’s? I’ll just find it, I figured, seeing in my head the terrible scenario of having to walk from door to door knocking on everyone, asking people if Magda lived there. Anxiously I walked up the first flight of stairs, and the second, and the third... I stopped thinking about how many stairs I had climbed as nervous as I was. None of the doors had any names.
But then, it might have been on the fifth floor, I saw a chalkboard displaying the house cleaning tasks and on it was the outcrossed name “Magda”. This had to be right.
I pressed the bell once, listened to it ring loudly on the other side. I knew Magda wouldn’t be the one to open because she had her performance, but she had mentioned something about that there would be people in her house anyway.
A man with cropped hair and a stubble opened the door.
“Guten tag?” He said curiously, eyeing my backpack.
I quickly explained in english that I was Magda’s friend, that I was staying in her room during the night and that she had said it was okay that I come over. For some reason I always felt time was of the essence when somebody thought I could speak german, if I didn’t correct them straight away I somehow felt I had tricked them. The man smiled insecurely and introduced himself as Robert. He took his key and opened the flat opposite to the one I had ringed at. He led me into Magda’s room, showed me where the toilets were and then disappeared back into the first flat.
I took a good look around the room. It was quite spacious and furnished sparingly. A poster of Victor Jara, an incense stick sitting in the window sill and a few bottles of wine and organic juice made me feel just like home. The only thing needed was music and tea. I brought out my laptop, plugged it into the wall and turned on Lila Downs on full volume. Now I needed tea. I peeked outside Magda’s room, took a few hesitant steps down one hall and then down the other, finding no sign of a kitchen. Strange.
I moved back to the room, unpacked some things to make me feel more at home. Bread, vegetarian pate, tobacco, water and watercolours.
I sat down with my laptop in my lap and spotted an internet-cable lying on the floor. Joy rushing through my body like electricity.
I plugged the cable into my computer and finally I was connected to cyberspace after the first time in one and a half days. As expected I had about 20 emails in my inbox, but I skimmed through them gladly. I read the news, checked facebook and some other websites and added my travel diary to my blog. One hour passed and it was nearly 8 p.m.
“Hello, I’m Marcel.” A tall german guy with a dark pony tail and a beard leaned into the room, smiling widely. I introduced myself gladly, explaining who I was.
“Yes, Magda said you would come. I was supposed to let you in, but you seem to have done alright.” He smiled nervously and asked me if there was something I needed to which I ardently replied:
The kitchen was apparently in the other flat, the one I had ringed on first. Marcel explained to me that they owned both flats on the fifth level and one of the flats on the third floor and that it was a commune consisting of 12 adults and two babies. The word commune immediately made me both excited and interested. The kitchen was lovely in my eyes. Hundreds of jars with herbs, coffee, tea, rice, couscous and God knows what brimmed the shelves and cupboards. Marcel turned on the kettle and asked what kind of tea I would like. I had a look around the shelves and spotted a jar with Fairtrade Rooibos.
Marcel smiled and prepared a teapot for me. I learned that he was studying to be a teacher and was currently revising for his exams and thus had very little time to do anything else. He found it very funny that I had never met Magda before and that I had begun traveling to Berlin within half an hour of my decision. I told him about YIP and Sweden to which he listened with great interest.
After twenty minutes of chit-chat he excused himself and said he had to continue studying. I smiled, thanked him for the tea, crossed over to the other flat and parked myself in front of my laptop again. After three cups of tea I dragged a chair to the window of her room, opened it up and skipped up on the windowsill.
Tall grey houses rose like dark obelisks outside and above was the sky, tinged by an odd brownish hue. Despite the slight melancholy of the Berlin scenery I found it beautiful. Thick snowflakes began to fall slowly to the ground, Lila Downs played in the background and once more the feeling that had hit me on the ferry between Denmark and Germany filled me. Utter freedom.
I lit a cigarette I had rolled at some point when I was bored on the train, breathed in the fresh air deeply and gazed out into the beautiful urban panorama, smiling at my own freedom and the fact that I could do whatever I wanted because I was young and alive and an individual with my own will and my own thoughts.
I can do whatever I want.
At eleven or so Magda arrived just as I had laid down in the sofa to listen to Kate Rusby. Magda was a small woman with short dark hair and a kind smile. She greeted me warmly and together we made us another teapot, had some apple-mousse and apple-juice. Magda showed me a map of Berlin and told me where I could find the sights in Berlin apologizing for not being able to take me around herself. She was studying eurythmy in Berlin and had to travel quite far every morning and evening to get to and fro from her school. I assured her that I would be find and explained that I was quite happy to be on my own as it offered a nice change of the life with 39 other youths. She knew what I meant.
“It is both a blessing and a curse to live together with a large group of other people. Sometimes it’s the nicest thing you’ll ever experience, other times you just have to shut your door to them.” Magda said. So had Marcel also said, and so had I said as well many times after starting YIP.
But I think one learns several very important things when living with other people, in particularly large groups. One learns a lot about others but also about oneself, where one’s boundaries go and who you actually are. It is something most people should experience at least once in their lifetime.
What that in mind Magda and I realised that it was nearly midnight, and that we had to wake up at 7:30 a.m. We rushed to brush our teeth and in a flurry she had prepared the sofa bed for me and within minutes I found myself uncomfortably nestled in my sleeping bag. The sofa bed was quite hard but such was the price to pay for freedom, and I suppose that sleeping uncomfortably is the type of thing you’re supposed to do when you’re young.