Tuesday, 29 September

Lack of Berlin

Sometimes drinking a bottle of beer at the right time can change your life if not completely, but at least, bring something new and unknown to it. That was the thing that happened to us. The decision to go on a small hitch-hike trip in Europe was made without any pros and cons, assessment of possible risks and all this kind of rational boredom. We had 200 Euros for a person, two weeks of holidays, staffed backpacks, camera assembled by parts and a great desire to cover the planned route.

To our first starting point, we decided to get by bus. The road from Odessa to Warsaw took us about 34 hours, the third of which we spent on the Polish border. For that amount of time, people don’t become good friends, but at least they are able to identify each other in a crowd of the strangers, to help each other in zloty exchange and, finally, just to nod when the bus breaks down 100 km to the final stop. On the bus, next to us was Andriy, a guy from Uman, who had turned 18 just the day before we were crossing the border. He said that he was going for a “sightseeing tour” in one of the towns next to Warsaw. This “tour” should have contributed to the budget of a young wage earner seven zloty each hour. He said that at the border we will be checked with dogs, and the bus itself will be completely scanned by some giant scanner so that no Ukrainian cigarette could get to the Polish lungs. Nobody scanned anything, there were no dogs, and after a huge queue, we crossed the border, at last, subconsciously preparing for a two-week journey with strangers.

Warsaw was too hot and at the same time friendly and open to us. Roma and Ira, our friends at whose place we’ve stayed, were experienced hitch-hikers, under their belts is almost the whole Europe, travelled only with the help of a cardboard and thumb pointed at the sky. The basic guidelines before the road are simple: it is better to move at least a few kilometers ahead, than to stand at the same place, always agree to the drivers’ offers to treat you with some kind of food or drinks, and while you’re staying on the road – look directly into the drivers’ eyes. And also, Roma promised that the gas stations should be our second home. After all, this text is written on one of them, but about this later.

What to recall after visiting Warsaw? Probably the fact that it’s not so inaccessible “European”, optimism before the road, and the reduction of our budget by 40 euros. The reason is as trivial, as soap-operas of domestic production: tickets for public transport are worth buying.

In the morning after conditional impoverishment, we went out on the road. Our goal ­­was to get to Berlin, where Phil was waiting for us. He was the person who agreed to let us spend the night in his place for free. When you’re on the road for the first time, holding a quickly drawn sign, you feel yourself a local hero. The guy from the movie who swallows one country after another. For strangers, he’s the one who fills them with enthusiasm and impressions, envy and emotions. And because of this, it’s completely unclear for you, why does nobody stop during the first ten minutes? Twenty. Forty. One hour. Over time, a friendly smile changes to irritation: where are they going? Is it so difficult to give us a ride to some kind of Poznan, that is halfway to the German capital? Mentally you start cursing anyone who ignores your gestures and jumps on the same place.

Then you pull yourself together: nobody owes you anything. Come on asshole, appreciate that somebody just waved you, smiled or signalled you. You’re not the biggest piece of a cheese on this road. It’s the driver that still doesn’t know that somewhere behind the turn he or she will have to stop and pick up two clumsy noodles that look like children, whom mothers carefully packed to a summer camp. These are your saviors, your messiahs, holy spirits, fathers, and mothers.

After an hour and a half or maybe two hours of waiting, a green hatchback stopped next to us. The moment when you stop the first car in your life, it’s frankly speaking difficult to believe in. That’s where you were standing under the sun and looking at each car, but now door the door is opened, and behind them, the long-awaited journey begins.

Grzegorz lives near the Polish city of Poznan and works in the sphere of education. Has three kids: two sons and a daughter. At the time of his youth, our first driver also hitch-hiked. Therefore, who knows, whether just a desire to help worked out or it was a sudden flashback from the past when Grzegorz himself tiredly waved with his hand on one of the roads. Nevertheless, we set off and started to cover the first kilometres on our hitchhiking meter. Pole confessed that he’s fond of the Ukrainian Carpathians, since they are almost completely wild and untouched by civilization, and retain their authentic natural appearance. He was also the first one who treated us with food and water. The main hitchhiker’s commandments were fully respected and fulfilled; some god that’s in charge of this was probably proud of us. And we were heading to Germany.

Once we got to the gas station in the middle of our route, we felt free and relaxed. Part of the road was covered in a rather short time, the evening was not even about to start. Therefore optimism overwhelmed us more and more.

The second savior did not make us wait for him for too long. After 20 minutes of holding the “Berlin” cardboard, Jacek, one of the CEOs in a Polish IT company that works in healthcare, gave us a lift. He was driving to Germany in order to meet his wife at the airport. So he was in a hurry. The years of married life have taught him that it’s better to come a few minutes earlier than to be late.

Jacek told us that recently the Ukrainian family moved in next to his apartment. Pole was surprised that they had a good education and had an adequate job, not apple collectors or “Uber” drivers. So the first stereotype and its destruction met us somewhere 200 km to our destination point of that day. Moreover, Jacek also hitch-hiked during his student years. This was not the first and definitely not the last time when drivers talked about their experience of hitch-hiking. Therefore, to us, it seemed more and more that we were moving through a network of people, each of whom is familiar to a luncheon sun without any shade, and the joy of drinking a tap water from the Polish toilet. We’ve reached Berlin.

We got there and were happy because by six in the evening we completed the ultimate task, over 600 km and we had a place to stay overnight. The road to our host was found easily: some kind of Chopinstrasse, house number six. Ten minutes by bus, 22 subway stations and another half an hour by tram. When we approached the house, Phil sent us a message saying, how are you guys? We took a photo of his house and replied, “If it is yours, then we are just great». The evening could have ended like this, but Phil sent us: “no, where is it?” in response. We arrived precisely at the given address. However we were no longer in Berlin, it was another city with the same street. Another hour and a half have been added to our road. In the end, we’ve found the right house.

When we met on the Internet, Phil seemed to us a little bit weird. But this is normal, all of us have something funny in the head, each one has his own weaknesses and Achilles heels. However, we underestimated this guy. The doors opened to the apartment welcomed us with complete darkness: it seems, that our host did not really like the light. The rooms were filled with plastic containers, disco-ball hung from the ceiling which never worked, a huge amount of musical instruments covered with dust, constant calls from strangers.

Phil allegedly worked in some kind of a project, the essence of which was the anonymous telephone conversations with those who just need to talk. Right now. For a few minutes. It’s just scary to go home. Part of the evening passed with these calls, then Phil began to talk about his life. Imagine, after being introduced to someone, you start telling how you’ve been following some women for years. Monitored their pages, you know everything about their lives. Every breath, excessive movement, every new acquaintance.  Something wrong, right? But not for Philip. A huge amount of positive references from travellers somehow didn’t correspond to reality.

In the morning, Phil promised to show us non-touristic Berlin. The one, which impresses us so hard and makes delighted. And he showed. It was an abandoned lake somewhere on the outskirts of the city. Our “non-touristic Berlin” is to sit on the bench and watch how the owner of the house, where we planned to spend two nights, is swimming. In an hour, we, referring to the sudden task, left the house of Phil. We didn’t hold anything bad or evil against him. But for a real Berlin, we had only around 5 hours.

The capital of Germany is a sharp synthesis of a certain conservatism and sustainability with something fresh, new and modern. This is a combination of history and modernity, the boundaries of which are not so easy to find. Our personal Berlin consisted more of a road, trains, subway, trams, a huge desire to see everything at once and spend on it only a few hours. We did not have time to get along with this city, we’ve just told it something trivial like “Hi”. We were running around, trying to catch every moment in order to find out at least something.

A crowd of tourists, the unwillingness to identify yourself with them, the acceptance of the fact that still, we’re not so different from the other dudes with cameras and backpacks. This is the part of the city that opened itself to us.

On the other hand, Berlin is a sincere cheering of one couple who rejoiced and waved us, realizing that we’d made it to the right train; it is one bottle of beer bought at the price of four, with which we were welcoming the sunset; it’s some kind of ease that does not strain you. And then, again trains. We really lacked Berlin. Lack of Berlin. And because of it, there was even more of delight.

In the end, Berlin, it’s also Sudhanshu, who pulled away a little the day when we had to spend a night far beyond the comfort and conveniences. Our second host is a data analyst at a company that develops games for adults and pensioners. Sudhanshu lived in Finland for a long time and only recently has moved to Berlin. The only thing that he didn’t like in this city is a large number of “party-animals” and those who liked the life. For example, in the morning it’s quite possible to see a guy in the subway that refuels himself through a needle with a new dose.

However, this Berlin remained for us unfamiliar and unevaluated. Nobody shoots up next to us. It will be a little bit further in other cities. As the plethora of other things that can’t be written later. Meanwhile, we were finishing one of the “Sherlock” episodes together with Sudhansh and preparing for the morning trip. The next one was should have been Amsterdam.

Text by Dmytro Zhuravel

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