the people along the way

I confess: I'm one of those annoying brats who never shuts up about how they 'like, totally went to Europe over the summer’ and have a ‘changed perspective on life and humanity and there are so many unanswered ontological and epistemological questions’ that they ‘think deeply about all the time'.

The sentence: The next logical step was therefore, obviously, to create a blog post documenting, recounting and indulging those ‘profound’ experiences because what kind of self-important wanderluster doesn't?

Babel Hostel, located on the third floor of a communist-era building right next to Wrocław Głowny, the city's central train station, was our dirty, charming home away from home. I lived there with seventeen other people, nine of whom I shared a dorm full-time with. The rave-like flicker of the light from the hostel sign outside the window creeped into our stuffy dorm at night, through the thin, very obviously IKEA curtains, and strobed directly into my eyes from where I slept (or rather, tried to sleep) in the top bunk.

I’m not sure how, but somehow I managed to sell the merits of the ‘top bunk’ in the ‘best corner’ and as soon as they relented, I stole their bed. #win #yolo #swag #pomobecausewhouseshashtagslikethis?

Cramped conditions and dodgy lighting aside, the original nine other residents slowly trickled out, and soon the 10-man dorm was a hazardous mess of luggage, unwashed mugs and dishes and at the best of times, the location of a series of makeshift laundry lines.

We called ourselves 'favela' - after the slums of Brazil, where the majority of the residents of our dorm hailed from (Brazil that is, not the actual slums). The sign on our door read 'FAVELA ROCKS' and we soon became a nuisance to the hostel owner's daughter: the crazy (read: hysterical and insane, prone to speaking in tones that could only be described as screeching), pot-smoking, part-time receptionist, who had a habit of retreating into the unoccupied 4 person dorm to get a little bit high. Classic pothead. We stayed up until the early hours of the morning, often in the shared living room, often playing intense games of foosball, often against (or sometimes with) our eccentric Polish hostel friend Henryk.

Henryk was one of the highlights of our extended stay. He was from Warsaw, the nation's capital, but mysteriously resided permanently at Hostel Babel, except for about a week over Christmas (Wesołych Świąt: Merry Christmas!); and once when he drank too much, but more on that later. When we first met him, he was the solitary character in the corner of our 10 person dorm, occupying the bed that I at one point claimed as my own. He spoke almost no English but, had a habit of playing Lykke Li’s ’I Follow Rivers' in the morning (and sometimes at night). It was his wake up call, an alarm, and an in- and post- shower groove-inducer. Eventually he moved out to a smaller dormitory, possibly at the request of the hostel receptionists or possibly because we got too rowdy for him, and lived according to a suspiciously erratic timetable of waking and sleeping times.

We left him for a weekend, swapping our cramped and festy digs for what turned out to be equally cramped and festy digs in Krakow, and when we returned he was gone. Our enquiries as to his whereabouts fell on deaf ears and when he miraculously returned a few days later, it eventually came out that he had drank so much that he’d required a little stint in hospital. Anything to get out of Babel Hostel, right? Onya, Henryk.

The holiday markets made me wish more than ever before that we could celebrate the festive season as most people around the world do. In the cold. In the snow. In furry puffers and gloves, cupping mugs of mulled wine, and dancing on cobblestone. We were lucky enough that for the first half of our stay, the town square came out to play every evening, and I got to actually live my wildest dreams.

Routines are easy to fall into. Our little favela family had outings at night and battled shower queues in the morning. We tried to hustle for the trams that took us to school where we hung out with kids talking to them about the places we came from and how we weren’t really all that different. We went about our routines as though we had been doing them for ages when really, it had only been a month.

Eventually we made it to Berlin for our final hurrah. We had already said goodbye to Dougie, who was in Spain; broke, but safely with family at least. We lazed around, claiming yet another dorm as our victim. I tried to rally the troops - go out for a late night hot cocoa even if no one wanted to walk anymore. Anything beyond languishing under fluorescent lights. But no one could muster up the energy to re-zip and envelope in the layers that had been meticulously peeled off at the end of the day. Eventually we agreed that we’d do something the next night. And so we did. We found a poster for a pub crawl and someone with more leadership finesse than me told us when and where (the hostel lobby) to be. We missed the departure time and in a plume of confusion somehow found another pub crawl to go on. It was the ‘alternative Berlin’ crawl, and we were thankful that we had missed the one that we did. We ventured from flower power themed to absinthe only to vampirific themed bars. We ended up at a disappointing club in an endless expanse of snow and what we thought maybe was an abandoned amusement park. But then again, it could’ve been the absinthe.

As we tried to navigate our way out - all six of us huddled and warm, we found a local and his two English friends. Sarah and I were so thrilled for the native English speaking company that when they told us they’d be heading to Cookies and asked if we wanted to go, we recklessly declared that of course we would. Tatiana urged us in hushed tones to not go off with strangers in a strange city. She told us she and João and Sara and Leo didn’t want to stay out and that we should be safe. Sarah and I hugged everyone goodbye and headed off with our new Anglo-European friends who seemed to really know the city in a way that we, as mere visitors passing by, simply didn’t.

We had been charmed by the hidden nooks of Berlin that weren’t so hidden that they were impossible to find, but alerted us to much more underneath the surface that we wouldn’t get a chance to tap into. The fashion - all vintage and high street and local boutiques - and coffee served in trendy cafes made me feel like I was coming home. If not to Sydney, then at least to a place that felt familiar. The people couldn’t replicate those we had gotten to know and love in quaint little Wroclaw and its surrounds, but I felt like I had found ‘my city,’ as Dougie liked to say.
It is likely that I will never love a place the way I have come to love Berlin. I love Berlin in an almost fanatically obsessive, unhealthy way but because it's a place and not a person, it's okay. I still seem sane.
All photos taken by Sarah.

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