Seven years ago I walked off a British Airways flight into Tegel Airport. It was around 2 pm, it was sunny out, and unseasonably warm. The man at customs stamped my passport and didn’t ask me any questions, and I collected my luggage (an oversized suitcase and a guitar) fairly quickly, as Tegel has a luggage carousel for each gate. Disoriented and jet lagged, I walked outside and found the nearest pay phone. I had a few coins in Euros, but it took me quite a while to figure out how the phone worked, and how to call a German number within Germany (I’d never called a German number before at all). I worked it out eventually, and called my host, a guy my friend Sasha met during her year abroad in Australia. I found a taxi and gave him the address in very broken German, and made my way to Kreuzberg. On the way there, we passed through ugly parts of Berlin (Moabit) and beautiful ones (tourist Mitte). When we arrived in Kreuzberg, I found it rather shabby*. I’d somehow thought that all places in Europe looked like a postcard from Paris.
I rang the bell at Sebastian’s flat on Graefestrasse. He was still in class, but his roommate let me in. Maria was a student from Spain learning German so she could study in Berlin. She made tea and toast and we chatted for a while. Kim, the other roommate, came in about an hour later with her boyfriend Stefan**. She was German, and told me she was studying acting. Later, Sebastian arrived, and we spent the earlier part of the evening chatting and eating.
That night, we went to a night flea market hosted in a club. Later, I would find that SO36 was a very famous punk and alternative club, but I didn’t know this at the time. It seemed strange to me that such an event was happening on a weeknight. It seemed rather strange that such an event was happening at all! It was very interesting though. I ordered Cuba Libre, which I thought would be a good substitute for a rum and coke***, but quickly found out that I didn’t like the additional lime taste. We walked around and chatted, as I soaked in the bizarreness of it all. At about midnight, the fact that I hadn’t slept since I left Canada caught up to me, and I went back to the apartment on my own. I got in the front door, but struggled with the apartment door for several minutes before sitting on the hall steps in exhausted, exasperated tears. It seemed that front door handles in Germany do not turn like they do in Canada. After about 15 minutes or so, someone came down the steps and helped me. The latch was a bit sticky, as it turned out. Once I got in, I couldn’t sleep, so I watched a movie and eventually passed out.
Anyway, that’s the story of my first day in Berlin. I tried to get the details as correct as I could, though it’s been 7 years and some of them are foggier than I’d like. I can’t believe I was 21 back then…time goes by very fast!
*I don’t want to put down Kreuzberg. It’s a very lovely district. I was staying near Kottbusser Tor, which is still a little on the shabby side.
**I think this was his name. It’s been 7 years though and I’m not entirely sure. We only met once or twice.
***To this day, I still find that ordering a “Cuba Libre ohne Limette” is the best way to get a good Rum and Coke in Berlin.