|Dangers on a train|
This morning, I managed to sleep until about 6:45, which is good because we needed an early breakfast to make it to the train station in time for our ride to Berlin.
Our taxi guy arrived at 8:00. The fellow seemed to speak a language with which I am unfamiliar, for it evidently involves only the briefest of sharp ejaculations. When not spurting such verbiage, he hummed along with the radio.
As we left the hotel, he gestured as if to say, “OK, Bud, where to?”
“Train,” I said.
He did not understand.
Absurdly, I said, “choo-choo” while making like a piston with my arm. Suddenly, he burst into something, I know not what, and off we went in his old Mercedes. I was glad when we seemed to head to the station. We got there fast.
The lady from whom we purchased our train tickets was hilariously curt and rude. My mom was horrified, but I was amused. I kept smiling at her and asking her questions just to mess with her. “Where do we stand?” I said. She looked at me with contempt. “Where is ze TOILETTE?” I asked. She finally slammed her little window.
Our train was headed to Berlin by way of a town named Angermünde—a mound of anger, I guess.
Ah, Angermünde turned out to be mound-less and anger-less too. There, we disembarked our noisy, stinky diesel monstrosity in favor of a relatively smooth electric train. My folks cleverly brought us once again to within inches of the restroom near where people stow their bicycles. The fold-out seats in the toilet zone were hard and uncomfortable, unlike the seats on the rest of the train. But my parents are German, and so they simply sat on those shitty seats and stoically stared forward. And here I am right next to them.
Right now, it sounds like teenagers (?) are playing grab-ass up at the front of the train, where seats are comfortable. I’m almost inspired to go and look. I could do with some wild youthful nudity or horseplay. Or just a comfortable seat.
With us here in the car from hell is an aging footballer (with an odd red lastic ball and good humor), a father and son (with bikes), a kindly old woman, and a nondescript old gentleman.
At the last stop, we picked up various passengers, including a surly woman in her late 20s who refuses to sit down in the only remaining seat, which happens to be next to mine.
I’ve opened two vents in our hellhole, and the air is almost good. There is much perfume in Poland; I am hoping that the Germans apply the stuff less liberally. So far, so good.
The train appears to be traveling very quickly. Occasionally, we pass a train zipping in the opposite direction, producing brief red violence, like a flashback to some bloody, swirling hell. No one responds. It is routine.
My dad insists on speaking with me, which is unfortunate, for my particular hearing problem is most pronounced in settings such as this one: the non-stop background roar. I learned long ago that it is easier to pretend to understand rather than to shout out an explanation of one’s deafness.
“Yes, yes. Of course, absolutely.”
In seemingly no time at all, we’ve arrived at Berlin’s main station, and now people are queuing up with their bikes and backpacks. Germans are an orderly people. Everyone is patient, polite. Then the door opens, and all is movement.
Wow, the station is impressive. Tubular plexiglass elevators! Efficient escalators! We were out of the building in two minutes, where taxis awaited. I stared at them all.
|A random Polish derelict along the way|
“Taxi? Yes." I fumbled for the address. "Do you know....”
He cut me off. He said, “I know everything.” He immediately led me to his late-model Mercedes taxi. I motioned to my parents to follow. They immediately responded. We were all being very German.
He ordered us to leave our bags on the ground behind the taxi. “Go now and sit in the car,” he ordered. OK. He seemed to insist on handling the “baggage,” what there was of it, by himself. A point of pride? Efficiency?
I sat in front. My folks sat in back. Alluding to a family tradition, and before our cabby entered the car, I announced, “We go now.” During his later years, my grandfather, Otto, could be very direct. He would visit all day and then suddenly stand up and declare, “I go now,” and, sure enough, he’d just go.
So, a few years ago, finding it necessary to expedite movement whenever someone in my family circle sought to depart the company, I would simply declare, “I go now,” and then I'd herd everyone out the door. The practice clicked. It is firmly established.
Our driver soon filled his seat and asked me where we wanted to go. I showed him the address on a slip of paper.
“Ah, yes, I know that hotel. Our ride will be cheap. Under 20 Euros!” Off we went.
Then the talk began. It turns out that our driver was familiar with my mother’s last home in Germany (south of Hamburg) and also my father’s region, which is near Stuttgart. He blathered about dialects. He asked us endless questions. He offered opinions about the Poles. He philosophized. On he went, in his odd, friendly clumsy German way. I could tell that my parents were amused. This was odd, but it was much better than Polish indifference and surliness.
He got us to the hotel in no time at all. I paid him and off he went. Later, I spotted him driving by, his head still bald.
Our hotel is no great shakes. There’s no air conditioning, and it’s hot and humid.
We went to lunch, just down the street, at a Croatian restaurant. We had terrific salads with smoked salmon and bread. We drank too much.
We staggered to our rooms.
I think I like Berlin.
UPDATE: just got back from the hotel restaurant. Man, the food was great! Service excellent. I'm really starting to like this place.