The Train, The Protest and the Afghan Driver

Continued

The Most Chaotic City in Germany

One morning, when a Russian couchsurfer arrived, I decided I really should leave Berlin, to the Hitchgathering which I had planned to go weeks ago. P said he would also go there but maybe later.

The Russian girl came from St Petersberg and after Berlin she would meet her sister and mother in Amsterdam. From Amsterdam they would drive together all the way to St Petersberg.

I: What? That’s really far! Crossing Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia!
She: No, it’s not far. It’s very near.

You see, the Russians had a different notion of distance.

The hitchgathering was taking place in a small village called Riebau, near a city named Salzwedel, the birth place of Jenny Marx, the wife of Karl Marx. I had learned the hard lesson of hitchhiking out of Berlin, so I decided to take the train first to a small city just outside of Berlin.

P was a person much into techniques and solving problems. He always found the cheapest way to do things. There was a group ticket for trains called Brandenburg ticket. When 3 people bought a Brandenburg ticket, they could take 2 people along for free. I went to the platform and asked around. However, the groups I did find with this ticket told me that the regulations changed. When one bought it online, the names of the passengers had to be filled. I did not give up and eventually found this lovely young couple with a baby and two bikes. They just arrived in the station and the man was buying tickets on his phone. I approached them and they agreed to take me along for free.

However, when we stepped in the train, the conductor told everybody that there was a problem with the railway and the train could not go any further than Spandau, which was still in Berlin. There was even no need to buy tickets anymore.

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When we arrived in Spandau, there was a big chaos unfolding. Hundreds of people were stranded and the railway workers were surrounded. Everybody was asking what time the railway would be fixed. To make things worse, just outside the station, there was a big protest going on. Dozens of fully armed police were deployed. They had helmets, huge body armours, shields and sticks. There were several reporters with cameras reporting the scene. Within minutes the protesters started charging to the police and one of them was captured and arrested. He was grabbed by several big policemen to the station, pushed on the ground and handcuffed. He was shouting all the time like an animal in slaughterhouse.

I was with the wife and the baby while the man went to ask about the train. They were such lovely people! The wife was from the Italian part of Switzerland, so she was speaking Italian to the baby and the man would speak German to the baby. They both spoke great English also. Since they were in China the year before, they were avidly telling me about the spicy food in Sichuan province. The man came back and told us that the train was not going to run for at least a few hours. They were planning to spend a biking weekend with the baby and since they were late already they deiced to start biking right away. Before they left, the man produced a ticket to my destination and gave it to me. When I was trying to refuse, he said: ‘come on, take it! I already bought it and we don’t need it. We also backpacked. We understand that!’ Were they not lovely? I really hope for the day when I also had a good job and decent income so I could also help others in need.

I said goodbye to them and watched the protests while waiting for the railway to be fixed. Maybe you never hear about it, but protest is another typical Berlin thing. Berlin is the capital of political activists in EU. When I was living in Krakow, my flatmates and I once picked up a street artist from Berlin on the market square and hosted him in our flat. One day we were walking and he saw a protest on the square, immediately shouted: ‘Oh protest! It’s a typical Berlin thing! I am going!’ Then with lightening speed he ran to the protest and started holding signs for them, with a very serious and dedicated face, although he had no idea what the protest was about.

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Let’s Get Out of Here

You see, in the Netherlands where I lived for 6 years, if the railway is broken and the trains are delayed, the Dutch railway workers will drive to the site immediately, giving every passenger free coffee and apologize. Even in Poland, a country not famous for outstanding infrastructure inside EU, the railway company will provide substitute buses to take every passenger for free to their destinations. In Germany, normally substitute buses will also be arranged in situations like this, but hey, this is Berlin! Yes, since it was in chaotic Berlin instead of Germany, there were no substitute buses.

After two hours of watching protests, I finally got bored and decided to take the train back to the center of Berlin and then choose another way to get out of the city.

On the train I saw many groups of people with very colourful clothes and flowers on their heads. I first thought some festival was going on. They were also singing together in the train. The further the train rode, the more groups of these happy people got in. At a certain point the whole train became a huge singing and laughing party. I joined them and found out that they were all going to the same concert. In the station there were even more colourful people, spreading happiness to the whole Berlin.

Obviously, again, Berlin did not want to me leave. 🙂

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Since the train to the northwest was not feasible, I took a train to the north outside Berlin. When I reached the highway where I could start hitchhiking, it was already sunset and guess what? the highway was tightly fenced and as I walked around in the woods next to the fence line, I could not find a place where I could climb over. There was also an ugly snake in the woods which scared the shit out of me…… Finally I found a bridge, on the slope of which the fence was much lower. I climbed over with my big backpack and arrived on the side of the highway.

14 minutes 34 seconds later, a small pickup truck stopped. There were several pieces of furniture in the trailer. I climbed into the truck. The driver was a 40 something guy from Afghanistan, settling in Germany since 8 years ago. His German was not great but we could understand each other. He lived in Hamburg and was transporting things between Berlin and Hamburg from time to time.

He: Germany is a good country. I thank Germany. People are good. There is no Donald Trump here, no Taliban here, no war here.
I: Totally agree! Only after I went to US and many other countries did I realize how grateful people should be for living in Europe.
He: What were you doing on the highway? I saw you and thought you needed help, so I stopped.
I: I was hitchhiking. I was very worried nobody would help me. It was getting late.
He: Where do you want to go?
I: You can drop me at Wittenburge, which is near my destination.
He: OK! I travel this way many times. I know this place. I will bring you.

It rained for half an hour and then sunset and double rainbow came out together, with tall windmills and lush forests on two sides. After one day’s hassle, I again realized how beautiful the ROAD, the JOURNEY and LIFE was.

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It got dark soon. It was drizzling.

He: OK! We arrived. Good luck friend!

I thanked him and jumped out of the truck.

After two minutes walking, I saw the sign ‘WittenBERG’. What? I wanted to go to Wittenburge, not Wittenberg……

I found a McDonald’s and wifi. So instead of somewhere near Berlin, I was now near Hamburg, 200 km away from Wittenberge……

Later I found out, Wittenberge, Wittenberg and Wittenburg all exist in Germany, with very similar pronunciation. 😀

Lesson learned: always write down your destination instead of speaking as many places have similar names, especially if your driver or you are not a native speaker of the local language.

So…… how was Wittenberg? It was a small village of 2000 people and a few streets, totally unattractive and now I needed to find a place to sleep.

To be continued

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