Thursday 20th August
So, that Thursday was a long day. As I briefly mentioned here, I had a very early start on my trip, an enjoyable but also taxing layover in Brussels(walking around with luggage, no sleep the night before, and, just plain being transported quickly from one place to another relatively far away is enough to shake me up).
By the time I got to Berlin I was ready to drop.
I Just. Needed. Sleep.
It was a rough first night.
I sent Sophie and Jennifer variations of this message when I finally found my shelter for the night;
I found my hostel in one piece (it's been over 40 wakeful hours, that's a feat) and it wasn't easy... I'm not going to risk going out again until tomorrow morning when I leave, it's grubby here... Grubby isn't the word, dirty, scummy, seedy! Brussels was so much prettier... Here there are actually prostitutes hanging around outside. When I got here, shattered, I couldn't get hold of anyone for ages to open the main door, all the phone numbers they provided weren't active. (I'm annoyed I had to phone in the first place after sorting things via email ... Wonder what that will cost?)
"Luckily" an inhabitant of one of the other floors let me in the main building - in which I had been instructed by the manager in his email to go to a safe on the 1st floor, type in the code (3570, FYI) and take the keys with my name sticker on them...
He neglected to mention that you couldn't get in to the actual building first!
So, yes, I'm in, after 15 minutes street panic, sharing sidewalk with the working gals, I'm in.
I'm in this tiny lift with this good samaritan guy, shattered, all signs pointing to a shitty establishment, just thinking; "at least I'm in, as long as there's a bed and a room of my own, I'm done!"
Then, to cap it all, in my downtrodden and very tired state, he fucking groped me!
After I thanked the bastard for letting me in, after I apologised for my awful German and said I was tired and grateful, (Bla bla polite awkward semi convo with charitable stranger...) he pushes himself onto me!
This is how that unfolded, how I was touched up in a tin box in Schoneberg, Berlin;
Instead of typing the floor he said the hostel was on, he pushed number 7 - I was like, ok, no big deal it's not a huge building I'll just get the lift back down after he gets off - at least I'm in...
Then he hugged me really inappropriately, like I was his regrettably estranged wife or something, sighing (and touching!) and, after what was already way too long for the most polite of people (10, 15 seconds!?) I tried too pull away and he was like "no, just some more pls"!
I said no, he squeezes me (thank fuck for all the straps and bulk of my rucksack!) and tries to kiss me, I get really angry (first at myself which pisses me off further, what exactly did I do?! Then angry cause) I'm scared, I think, "fuck, there was no hostel, it's just a scam"...
I actually thought, "Christ, he's going to push me into a room and rape me then sell me to the sex trade..."
Honestly, I was scared... I managed to irritably turn away (bulky rucksack and fatigue hampering any real threat I might fictionally pose), and, not looking at him, said no really loudly, said I was tired! So very tired...
He offered me coffee at his flat!
When has that sequence of events ever lead to an "actually, come to think of it mate, you're a dashing middle aged man and I want to get to know this sinister street harasser in more depth, over warm caffeinated beverages if you'll permit me?!"
I turned and said no right in his slimy face, stabbed the floor two button with my finger and did my best hard stare.
Mercifully at floor 2 (there was no floor 1 button!!!) there was a little staircase with the name of the hostel on a cheap poster and I then found the box with keys as instructed.
Not a person in sight, just a big key to open the main door leading to a sort of flat that's been renovated to just have bedrooms and a small communal area, like a student house.
Suffice it to say, I'm in, the water was warm when I bravely showered (with keys and phone!) in the locked bathroom and the lock on my door works, I'm leaving the key in, paranoid as hell now!
Sigh, I'm sure that figures in the sordid film of my life somewhere...
Jeeze, I just wanted to sleep and I'm all angry-awake now...
It'll probably pass very soon. Today has been one mighty journey!
Even though I was so depleted and the double bed was adequate, big soft square pillows, I didn't sleep for as long as I might have anticipated, nor at all as soundly as I would have hoped.
I'm still experiencing such non-restorative bed-nights.
Part of me thinks I'll never quite recover that lost night.
I survived for the rest of the trip and I'm still here now anyways, sat typing, thinking, sleepy, slow.
Friday August 21st
I woke and re-packed and showered and got out of there as soon as I humanly could.
What followed, what features above, was a morning and afternoon spent walking around Tiergarten/Mitte on my way to the Alex to seek out the next bag-drop.
After going to the wrong Ibis just a couple streets up (and having to recover quickly from that premature relief!), I finally found the right roof for my night. Mercifully my indulgent meanderings, despite covering over 12 miles on foot with luggage to boot, hadn't trailed on too tardy and I was checked-in in good enough time for a shower and a pre-gathering solo-wander (all these very solo semi-sojourns!) to the Volkspark Freidrichshain. An unexpected and charming green space not too far from our digs.
There was a beautiful dog playing in the fountain, for a good 20 minutes easily he played and played in the water, chasing and catching.
For a good 20 minutes, easily, I loved that dog.
Happy to be unloading!!!
Friday evening on Unter den Linden with the Europe Can Do Better (ECDB) gang!
These photographs were taken by Jakub Stejskal (here is his website *)and reproduced here with his permission as well as the permission of the awesome Ariane Jordan from Change Centre Consulting who organised this whole gathering. The culmination of a multi-layered research project that began with surveys of thousands of young Europeans.
Somehow, I was selected for this third and final phase along with 17 other folk aged between 20 - 30 from the UK, Poland, Spain and of course Germany.
I'm not sure why they chose me but I'm really glad they did.
It was a taxing but really fulsome experience!
Lots of good people there ^
What with it being a pretty long schedule of thinking, talking, meeting, working, and making decisions with relative strangers (the night before was the first time we'd all met), sometimes intense, certainly tiring, we had a fair few brakes throughout the day (with tea, coffee, juice and carbonated beverages on tap essentially!) and during one of those a kindly Berliner took some of us for a wander around our base, on a sort of mini-tour.
It was really nice of him actually.
Gendarmenmarkt was right around the corner with it's Konzerthaus and the French and German cathedrals staring each other out.
The evening before, after our meet and greet concluded, he walked us all down Unter den Linden to see the Brandenburg gate and Parizer Platz at night. Less busy it must be said!
Largely sober but tired.
If you're out there Thor's Bear, Danke shoen.
After the close of the "ECDB Round Table discussion", we all went out for food (Berlin Theke), followed by some of us drinking beer out of glass bottles by the river in the bulb-lit dark before an even smaller circle of us lead by TB went on to a club playing sort of low-key electro stuff for dancing to.
No jazz for these bones sadly.
It was a great night to be honest but I sort of became overwhelmed by everyone else's impressiveness (all so young and accomplished, with such promising futures!), I took myself and my impostor syndrome back on to the street, solo, at around 02.54 (I remember seeing a large illuminated clock near the metro).
I don't think the previous day's fall from (no) grace (to begin with) helped. I kept repeating "you're the person who fell over, not only are you one of the oldest here but you are the person who fell over, nobody can ever take you seriously again, you are a person who falls".
Instead of doing the logical thing, taking the Metro back to Alexanderplatz and walking a couple streets over to our Ibis, I thought, why not just walk away some of these negative thoughts. "Why not Hel? It's well passed midnight, you're unlikely to have to meet anyone or be drained by probably decent street strangers, get some air on those grazed knees, why not?!"
Cut to 2 hours and 4 miles later and I'm starting to panic because the sky was lightening with morning and my cathartic aerobics became a teary angry power-walk... I was supposed to be joining half the group for a cycling tour of Prenzlauerberg in just a few short hours (while the other half were touring Friedrichshain on foot)!
Suffice it to say, after the muttering and self-loathing abated, I found a Metro and jumped on a train heading centre-wards.
At that point, in the cruelly-illuminated underground glare I was just in silent self-pity.
Oh that morning!
As I waited for the train at Neukoln Metro there was an Afghan refugee waiting for his train, who had been living for a fair while in the city, his name sounded a little like the Polish pronunciation of the name Wojtek (sort of like Voytek..)but I didn't have the energy to ask hime to write it or spell it for me, and, to my shame, wouldn't have even known what sort of alphabet/script his language would take form in...
To add to that shame he said he could understand my pain, his mother had been killed two years ago and he remembered her with tears almost daily.
The empathy and pathos in those eyes.
I was disgusted with myself.
I had no "excuse" for my tears, save...
I find life difficult at times...
I didn't pay for that train journey.