The large ticket control officer looked down at the passport I had reluctantly handed over to him. My train headed deeper into Kreuzberg pulled away from the grungy station.
Come on, look at that passport. I’m Canadian. We don’t just hop on trains and cross our fingers that we won’t get caught for fare evasion in a new country. I’m not American.
“Oh, wait, are you sure the U-Bahn isn’t part of DB? (I knew it wasn’t) I could have sworn it was. I had no idea my Eurail pass wouldn’t work (I knew it wouldn’t). Can’t you just let this slide? I just arrived to Berlin literally ten minutes ago. (Please don’t make me hate this place before I’ve even stepped foot into it.)”
At the sight of three other people being herded by the other ticket officer towards the ATM, a knot in my stomach grew tighter. They weren’t messing around here. The moment I had gotten on the train at the first stop they were checking tickets and it looked like I wasn’t the only person to be dragged off kicking and screaming.
“That’ll be forty euros.”
You had to be fucking kidding me.
Judging by the dry look I received it was pretty clear he had to deal with the hippie, cheap student types that had clogged up the U-Bahn and wasn’t going to be swayed by any “take pity on a poor student” charade.
After bitterly fishing into my wallet and giving him my money, I sat down on the rusting bench ready to hate Berlin.
And I had been so excited. I had even watched documentaries in my senile great-aunt’s kitchen pullout bench back Koln all in preparation for this.
Watch as I whip out a little history summary as proof:
Starting in 1961 due to a refugee overflow from East to West Germany, the soviet East German government moved in the dark of night to begin construction of what would be the first of four walls to restrict their citizens from fleeing. This wall remained a dividing force, caging in half of a modern city until 1989 when German was unified. What remained after the wall was pulled apart by wall peckers and the guards were two areas of Berlin with a very different feel.
I was an idiot, I had decided then, by choosing to stay in the dirty East German area with strict ticket officers.
After a later train, I finally arrived in Kreuzberg and at the Jet Pack Alternative hostel. It was in amongst graffiti on every spray-paintable surface and lovely little deposits of dog shit on the street. Jet Pack had given ample warning, but it was amazing that they had the details down right down to the dog poo.
What they hadn’t warned about was how, despite my less than warm welcome to the grungy ex-East German part of town, Kreuzberg is very, very good at making you stay.
My opinion started to change after having an awesome burger at Burgermiester under the U-Bahn (damn them) railroad on top of padded bars beside a stick-covered glass hut. By the time I strolled along the East Side Gallery as the sun-set and watched two local boys spray paint their own mark onto the iconic wall, I was hooked.
It was that sort of nonchalant counter culture feel that was so incredible. I could roll out of my bed without showering, wear my worn out plaid shirt, slap on a hat and be considered “cool”. As a lazy person, I couldn’t ask for more!
In Kreuzberg, trying to enter clubs is not about how you dress, or how much money you have, but instead what you will “bring to the scene”. According to the Jet Pack Alternative Hostel’s seemingly only female staffer, Lynne, lead singer of Poet in Process, “looking like you rolled out of a dumpster doesn’t hurt”.
When one of the girls Sarah came down dressed up to go to the strip club I hopped onto Lynne’s advice and asked her, “don’t you have anything trashier? Something you haven’t washed?”
Then she shook up her hair and nodded quickly. “Oh! I have a t-shirt I’ve been sleeping in.”
I was already in deep and dolling out advice in a place I had been so ready to hate.
I didn’t have it the worst though.
My bunkmate Callum had a noon flight back to Bath to catch and he was found sleeping on the stoop of the hostel at ten am after attending one of the legendary 24 hour clubs. This wasn’t the first time he’d “extended” his trip. My other bunkmate Christian suddenly lost his passport and had to extend his trip as well.
It felt like there was some sort of nefarious power at work in Kreuzberg that seemed intent on never allowing you to leave.
Thank god I didn’t miss my train to Copenhagen. Thank you Kreuzberg passport-stealing, flight-missing demon.