Friday, March 5, 2010

Adventures with Jake on the U-Bahn...

Having recently spent nearly two weeks in New York City, I felt good about riding the subway in a foreign country. When I asked my friend, Jake, what the trains were like here in Berlin he informed me they were really cool - and that he'd ridden them several times without paying, because unlike NYC there aren't any turnstiles stopping you from getting to the train.

So what stops everyone from using it for free? Hmmmm?

When I told my sister about Jake's findings, she immediately tried to nip it in the bud, telling me not to do it. I already knew why, but maybe I just needed to hear her say it.

Her answer was short and matter-of-fact: because you and I don't get away with those kinds of things.

Later, as Jake and I were waiting for the train I passed along Missy's perspective on the matter, to which he replied, "Hey - you want to buy a ticket, there's no one stopping you."

"You're not getting one?" I asked, an octave higher.

"You see anyone else getting them?"

I looked around and there were three others standing around waiting for the same train. They hadn't paid for their tickets and didn't appear to be too worried about it. So I decided to break my first German law, and when the subway came, I watched Jake confidently board and quickly ducked in behind him.

We rode the train for at least two miles before I finally worked up the courage to speak in my outside voice. I asked Jake where we were going and how he figured we would get there, because looking up at the big street names made finding anything seem impossible. But he assured me it was easy. I wondered whether or not he was pronouncing the names properly when he told me we would simply take the U-1 Kurf├╝rstendamm train over to the Gleisdreieck stop, then we would take the S-1 train over to Mehringdamm stop, and presto, we'd wind up exactly where we needed to be.

At the first two stops I was completely expecting the German Police to come take me away. But at each passing station, my confidence grew. At one point I was actually even making eye-contact with some of the other passengers, shooting them knowing glances. But the excitement of the moment was short lived when a nearby voice caught Jake's attention. "Fahrausweis, bitte!" The voice demanded, and Jake watched with wide eyes as she produced a ticket for the plain-clothed police officer. Jake turned to me and before getting up, he said, "We'll be getting off at the next stop."

Wait... wait. What does he mean? Is this bad?

When I got up to follow Jake he was already way ahead of me, zig-zagging past other passengers. I was tempted to look back to see if the undercover Polizist was running after me, but I didn't because I was too scared. I was already imagining the phone call we'd have to make to Jake's girlfriend, Kirstin... "Hallo Kirstin, it's Patrick and Jake. We're not going to be home for dinner tonight, or for the next forty years. Apparently the judge has decided to make an example out of us."

When I finally caught up to Jake, he was at the very beginning of the train, with his face planted against the sliding-glass exit doors. Even though I thought it looked like an admittance of guilt, I did the same. As I stood there waiting for the Polizist to arrest me, I looked out the window and wondered what I was doing in Germany.

Miraculously, we got off the train in time, and quickly searched for the first ticket dispenser we could find.

So yes, peace of mind does in fact have a price, and it comes in the form of a U-Bahn ticket...

Monday, March 1, 2010

What I've learned about Germany (after week one)...

1. Meat. Germans love their meats. I'm fascinated with how many different variations of meats are available, which speaks highly of their creative abilities in the butcher house. No part of the animal goes to waste.

2. There is no real Mexican food here. Just Spanish food. Spanish food is not ever to be mistaken for Mexican food.

3. German people are quite friendly and helpful. The other day I was at the grocery and in order to get a shopping cart, you have to put a euro coin into a slot in order to release it from the chain. Like a moron, I was standing there trying to pull the chain apart like I was Superman. When I looked back I saw a line had formed behind me and the man next to me said something like, "Was ist das halten?!" and the way he said it sounded really mean, but then it occurred to me that everything Germans say sounds kind of mean, even when they're saying something nice. So when I asked the man, "Sprechen sie English?" I spat it out, pronouncing all of the syllables, making it sound more like a threat. Then he smiled and so did everyone else waiting in line, like, "awwww, he just spoke our language! We must HELP him!" So my new friends showed me how to put a euro in the slot and while I was shopping, I would see them on the other side of the store and I would giggle and shrug. Sigh, my new grocery store friends.

4. Everyone smokes (few exceptions).

5. Most grocery & liquor stores are closed Sundays. Plan accordingly.

6. The toilets are awesome (see previous posts).

7. All of the Menus are in German (go figure, right?) so if you happen to find yourself at a restaurant where no one speaks English, your dinner suddenly becomes a crap shoot.

8. Eyebrow shaping is popular amongst men and women. A lot of women even opt to wax their eyebrows completely off and will then create a new, hipper version with a pen. I learned quickly that when you suddenly happen to be standing right next to a woman on the street or in the store, DO NOT just assume they're going to have normal eyebrows and glance over. Don't do it.

9. The Pizza is AMAZING.

10. German people love their perfumes and colognes. I particularly noticed this as I was eating Chinese food last night and had difficulty smelling the food because everyone nearby had a different brand of Parfume on. Tomorrow I'm going out to buy my own cologne. I'm thinking Draakar Noir or Obsession for men?