I just got dropped off in Berlin and was suppose to be meeting my Couch Surfing host. I had been in a car for 3 1/2 hours, it was getting cold with pending darkness, and I realized quickly that I was not at the right meeting place! I was suppose to meet him at the main train station in Berlin, but I was staring at some random train station near Potsdamer Platz. In other words, my host was waiting for me, I didn’t have a way to get a hold of him, and the 2 guys who dropped me off were long gone.
So I did what any backpacker would do in that situation… I went to Starbucks (See: Dan’s Top 11 Travel Tips). I knew if I could find a Starbucks I could find a wi-fi connection, and that is exactly what I needed at the time. So I wandered the streets for a bit and eventually found what I was looking for (it actually took less than 10 minutes). They had an open wi-fi network so I managed to get online by standing by the front door (Savings = $2.00)!
I sent a message to my host though my iPhone, and tried to describe where I was in as much detail as possible (based on buildings and landmarks). I found out later that I was actually right in the middle of Potsdamer Platz! My host recognized the landmarks I described, but unfortunately it was not even close to where he was waiting.
So we were off to a bad start! At this point, I was just eager to figure out where I was going and meet up with my host. It was also his first time Couch Surfing and I was starting to feel bad that this would give him a bad impression. Not set back though; he drove across town, paid for parking, wandered around looking for me, and eventually found his lost traveler… Me!
So at this point there is always a game of sorts; when 2 strangers meet each other in person. Couch Surfing allows us to play this game frequently and its hilarity always rivals awkwardness. I like to call this game, “Find the Stranger.” When meeting a stranger for the first time you must rely heavily on two things: 1. Pictures from their on-line profile, and 2. Attentiveness to mannerisms. When strangers are looking for each other in a crowd they usually have a specific look … you can’t miss it! Through a combination of awkward glances and nervous smiles, mixed with curiosity and an overly attentive demeanor; Couch Surfers always seem to find each other!
After “Find the Stranger,” my host and I began talking about traveling, bars, work, etc. Through our similarities we became instant friends and our differences led to non-stop conversations about all sorts of things. His laid back demeanor and excitement about trying Couch Surfing for the first time was contagious. We passed the time effortlessly and amiably.
Over the next few days I walked and discovered Berlin with my host. We saw military rehearsals at the Palais Schaumburg (Germany’s White House) in preparation for the arrival of the Italian Prime Minister; saw the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, Alexander Platz, Potsdamer Platz, and the coolest clock I have ever seen (picture; right).
At night we went out to bars and stayed out until the early mornings. We took pictures that scream “you had to be there” from a photo booth, drank out of 3 liter beer glasses, smoked Hukkah and swapped German and English music. When it was time to leave Berlin, I felt like I had made a lifelong friend.
Simply put, Berlin is a fascinating city. Personally, I don’t think it has the best first impression, but it definitely grew on me and I highly recommend adding it to the itinerary. Initially, I just couldn’t quite decide what I thought about it and didn’t know why. After a few days though, Berlin was a constant sense of excitement and appeal for me. They have an awesome underground music scene, the architecture of west Berlin is exuberant and extremely new; it is a city that seems to wake up when the sun sets, and the more I learned about its history, the more I got sucked in.
Berlin proved to be a small turning point for me. I had been backpacking for 2 weeks, seen 4 countries, stayed in 3 hostels, and hung out with locals from Paris, Stockholm, Hamburg, and Berlin. I was just starting to get a glimpse of what every backpacker feels eventually … The feeling that everyone is the same and there is more to traveling than just seeing the sights.