But Oh, Those Berlin Summer Mornings (and Prague Nights)

by Ekua on March 27, 2012 in backpacking,Czech Republic,d.i.y. travel,Germany,solo travel

While hosteling in Berlin, I quickly realized that even if you sit out the Saturday night partying, the party will eventually make its way to you. That was especially true in the nightlife heavy neighborhood of Friedrichshain I stayed in at the beginning of my trip.

In my hostel dorm room, there was a lively Minnesotan who occupied the bunk above me. When he arrived, he’d shared his story of forgetting his passport on a plane, subsequently being thrown into jail in Spain, and getting deported to Ireland where he applied for a temporary passport and waited to rejoin his travel partners in the next country on their itinerary. This experience led him to get a large and poorly done tattoo on his side that said, “Live Free Or Die.” I could tell he was the kind of person that had a knack for hurtling himself into ridiculous situations.

That night, I saw him enjoying more than enough drinks at the hostel bar. Later, I was shocked to see that he’d made it back to the room intact with all of his belongings. He even had his phone with him. Everyone in the room knew this because as he slept deeply, his phone alarm kept going off in the wee hours of the morning and he didn’t hear it. Finally, one of my Aussie roommates took matters into her own hands. She climbed up, found his phone and turned it off for him.

The sun rose early that Sunday morning and the most brilliant sunshine I’d experienced in Berlin thus far made its way through gaps in the curtains. In addition to the Midwesterner’s alarm, beyond the window I’d been hearing curious sounds. There’d be several minutes of techno music and cheering, then it would stop for a bit, then it would start again. This went on all morning.

After checking out of the hostel and making my way to a public transit station, I discovered the source of what I’d been hearing. There were about a dozen people with a stereo system on cart, partying in the station. There was also a whole police force trying to get them to turn off their music and leave. They’d turn off the music for a little bit, then run away from the cops and start the music again. Eventually the police gave up and left. The group cheered and finally, they could continue their party uninterrupted.

With the help of those timid cops, I made it to the right public transit station and with the help of other backpackers, I took the right train to the Berlin Central Station. As much as I’ve traveled solo, foreign train stations still often revert me back to a nervous rookie traveler. I blame this on growing up in car-centric American suburbs. Once I arrived at the Berlin Central Station, I could not figure out what the signs meant, nor could I understand the information on my ticket. I’m not sure how, but I made it to my train just in time. Never mind that I’d entered on the far end and had to walk through several cars before I reached my car, I was on the train and on my way.

To my surprise, the seating process was thoroughly chaotic. Some people like me had paid a couple extra Euros to reserve a seat. Others bought a ticket or booked a trip with a Eurail pass without being assigned a specific seat. When I finally made it to the correct car, the seating mayhem had caused a traffic jam.

When I got to my seat, it was being occupied by a hippie-hipster from Scandinavia. He got out of my seat with no problem, but he and his body odor-heavy trio of friends had many arguments before finding seats that weren’t taken. Things finally began to settle down as the seatless found seats and suitcases and backpacks were jammed into every available corner of the train car. It quieted down further as the hungover denizens put in their earbuds and fell asleep.

And southward we went out of the city and into fields of sunflowers. You have no idea how badly I want to hop off the train and run through them. I drifted in and out of sleep through southeastern Germany — the quaint countryside, Dresden, beautiful waterways, and forested hillsides. Eventually, I opened my eyes to see more rustic looking homes and signs in new language. We’d crossed the border into the Czech Republic.

Prague was a “Why not?” addition to my itinerary. To be honest, the cultures of Central and Eastern Europe don’t entice me in the same way that cultures of desert and tropical locations do. But I had a decent amount of time to spend in Berlin, and Prague seemed like a good option for a side trip.

After crossing the border, I found myself more excited than I’d expected to be. I found myself intrigued by signs written in a completely unrecognizable language and by the fact that I was entering a place I didn’t know much about. I hopped off the train feeling very ready to explore.

I visited the ATM to take out some Czech crowns, the local currency. Outside the station, the taxi drivers immediately got a whiff of fresh tourist and presented me with some laughable rip off offers. When I told them I planned on taking public transport, they shook their heads and very convincingly said that was an outrageous idea as the walk to the trolley I was taking was just too long.

For a split second, I almost believed them, but then I regained my wits and followed the detailed directions that were emailed to me by the hostel I’d booked. It turned out to be a short walk across a park to the street car stop. The trolleys were very clearly marked and when I got on the one I was waiting for, locals gave me friendly smiles as lugged my backpack on board. It was a quick ride to my stop and from there, it was just a couple blocks to the hostel. So simple.

I rang the buzzer and entered the Art Hole Hostel which is housed in an old building. The crafty and cozy interior was a welcome change from the sober and spacious “Industrial Palace” I’d stayed at in Berlin. The Slovakian receptionist was incredibly friendly and in short period of time I had many suggestions on where to eat, what to do, and where to go for the best views of the city.

The front desk and some of the hostel dorms were located on the first floor of the building, and my dorm room was on the third floor. As we walked up the stairs, the receptionist explained that the second floor was occupied by the Embassy of Congo, which I thought was an entertaining addition to the quirkiness of the space.

I settled in and went to dinner at Lokal, one of the recommended spots for Czech food. Aside from the smoking inside, the restaurant’s modern and creative atmosphere combined with the emphasis on slow food and local ingredients made me feel like I could’ve been in San Francisco.

While the setting was great, food in this part of the world isn’t exactly the most flavorful. For me, the meal was a bit of a wah-wah. But sometimes in this city, what you’re washing the food down with is more of a focal point than the food. And in Prague, a mug of fresh Czech beer can almost make up for the cuisine.

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