Italy was my first independent train travel experience in Europe. It was easy. Other than remembering to validate my ticket, the train stations in Italy were easy to navigate, and generally, they were on time. Germany is another story. First, the main train station in Berlin has long-distance trains, local trains, and the subway in one building. I found it confusing to navigate and to purchase tickets. In addition to that, up to five people can travel on one long-distance ticket. What? I don’t know why this is and only found out b/c my friend told me, but your ticket is good for 1-5 people. The tickets were quite a bit more expensive than they were in Italy. Why they don’t just make the tickets more affordable and require one ticket per person, I’m not sure. The day before, when I needed to catch the subway, you think it would be simple. But, there is a different price depending on where you get off. Yet, I didn’t see a list of stops/prices like they have posted in say, Washington DC. I just had to pick an A or B ticket. Confusing!
I arrived at the train station to catch my first long-distance train to Neubrandenburg to meet up with my friend Stella. The signs, of course, are only in German but I saw a message with the number 30 in it. I asked a woman about it that didn’t speak English, and eventually found someone younger. She told me that it meant what I had suspected: my train was going to be thirty minutes late, which meant I would miss my connecting train. Great. After standing in a lengthy line at the ticket office, I decided to wait to catch a train an hour later with no stops. I had no SIM card and wasn’t sure if my friend would get an email in time. I couldn’t access my skype, as the only internet I could find in the train station required me to use their computers. So, I sent my mother an email, hoped she got it, and asked her to call my friend in Germany. Luckily, my mom emailed back in 10 minutes, saying she got ahold of Stella so I breathed my first sigh of relief. An hour later, my train showed up, and I was on my way.
Now, back when I was in Italy, since the trains were almost always on time, I would start looking for train station signs about 5-10 minutes before my scheduled arrival time. In Germany, my train was of course late, so I was panicking as to whether I had missed my stop or not. They would announce stops (in German) but there wasn’t a light-up sign in the train. It was dark, so when we rolled into Neubrandenburg, I didn’t see the sign on the platform, but I did see my friend. I snatched up my bags and jumped off the train, eager to see her and happy to be in the care of a local now!
Stella and her friend picked me up at the train station and we made a short drive through this sleepy town. Neubrandenburg is not on the tourist route (as far as I’m aware). I don’t know the population, but it’s not very big. From my friend’s apartment, we walked to town and also to the train station for the remainder of my stay, if that gives you an idea. It is located in what was East Germany. While it still had a quaint feel, this was the beginning of my education on East & West Germany architecture. The architecture was less ornate than what I was to discover in West Germany.
We climbed the stairs to my friend’s apartment, and I immediately felt at home. We have similar taste, and she also had photos from Kenya and South Africa all over her living room. It’s funny how you can feel that sense of home when you are surrounded with familiar people and things (even though, really, I hadn’t been home in eight months). We stayed up late and got up early. Stella had a presentation at school. When she returned around lunch, I stole some warmer clothes from her, we packed up our things, and headed out the door for the train station. We set off for northern Germany to visit her hometown just outside of Flensburg to have an adventure-filled weekend!