To Berlin: Westward via Pole and Deutsche

part four in a potentially complete documentation of Keith Birthday’s travels in January: part 1, part 2, part 3 linked respectively

I had taken the tram to the outskirts of Krakow. Like many European cities I have been to, the outer edge of this city resembled American strip mall suburbs. Large stores surrounded me on all sides. Here I was supposed to wait for my ride to Berlin arranged through Mitfahrgelegenheit, an online German carpooling service. Think craigslist and carpooling. Via email, I had contacted  a man, and we had arranged for him to pick me up in this place, at a BP.

It was a simple process really. I waited at the gas station I was told to. Then a car pulled up, and out stepped a man in his late thirties and a woman in her twenties.

‘Sie sind Keith?
‘Ja.

I put my things in the trunk and we pulled away.

I was exhausted really, having been up late in the night drinking with K and the girls from the continent of Australia. There were some Spaniards too. I drank too much, got sick. The others went out to the club. I left K a note with some postcards, asking him to mail them in the morning if he found a mailbox. Now I was in the back of a car whose make I forget, luckily without any sort of sickness. The man and the woman spoke in German in the front seats. He had a strong Polish accent. She was obviously German. I introduced myself, thanked them for picking me up. Then I fell asleep.

I awoke about an hour later, I think. They had switched to Polish. She was struggling. They noticed that I had stirred, asked if everything was okay:

‘Alles klar mit Ihnen?
‘Ja, bin nur müde. Danke.
‘Was haben Sie denn in Krakau gemacht?
‘Nur rumgeschaut. War nur kurz da. Wir können dutzen, wenn es Ihnen nicht stört.
‘Klar können wir.

[I was glad that they were okay with informal address. One thing I’ve always disliked about other languages is polite ‘you’ forms. Although the rules regarding them are pretty clear cut, I find it disturbing. I feel there’s a wall being put up. Even worse is when you learn that ‘yous’ in English turn into ‘Sies’ and ‘Выs’.]

I learned that he drove to and from Krakow on a regular basis for business. I learned that she was a German student studying abroad in Poland and heading home for a few weeks of break. I didn’t speak about myself much, I figured I had already given myself away. They didn’t really ask. I figured things were better than way. They started to converse in Polish again.

‘Pszysyrrywy?
‘Tak yaswrwyzysywysywywpcy.

and so on. I fell asleep again.

I woke up as we were coming to a stop at some sort of polish roadside cafe. They went inside to get coffee and go to the bathroom. I walked a few laps around the place, stretched my legs. The man looked at me as I approached the car.

‘Was machst du in Deutschland?
‘Mache Urlaub, treffe mich mit Freunden dort. Danach fliege ich nach Neapel.
‘Wo wohnst du eigentlich?
‘Dieses Jahr, in Sibirien. Bin dort Englischdozent.

He looked a little surprised. I guess he hadn’t met many people who lived in Siberia.

‘Bist kein Deutscher?
‘Nein, Ami.
‘Heisst du bist Deutschsprechender Ami der in Sibirien Englisch unterrichtet?
‘Ja, so kann man es sagen.

[I had never really thought about my current state of being until he mentioned it. A German speaking American who currently lives in Siberia and teaches English and currently vacationing in Poland. I though it made me sound special.]

The girl came back from the bathroom. The man informed her of my state of being. We talked awhile about my time in Germany, my Swabian accent, Russia, Siberia, the Russian language, America, Polish vs. German vs. Russian. We got back into the car and continued on.

Shortly thereafter we encountered a sign saying that the main highway to Berlin was closed. There was no real detour offered. Out came the map and an intense discussion about where we needed to go. I said nothing from the back, knowing very little about Polish highways. Eventually a route was found/decided upon.

I think this route was much better than the highway one we would have taken. We ended up winding along small roads through villages. I looked out the window a lot, tried to read the signs in Polish. Every once in a while there would be some sort of reassurance from the front seat, although I really didn’t care if we were going the right way or not.

‘Wir finden es gleich, versprochen.
‘Okay. Hab es nicht eilig. Ich glaube dir.

I always find something deeply charming about small Eastern European/Russian villages. Old women with scarves tied about their heads walking with some obvious destination in mind. Children in sweaters running about, maybe laughing. Old motorcycles pouring smoke and making noises only a two-stroke engine could manage. Houses made of wooden slats with roofs that seemed to be slowly sloughing off. Faded signage on local businesses, maybe one of the chains had rusted through and the sign dangled.

Eventually we found the other highway and arrived in Berlin only a bit later than expected. They invited me to eat dinner with them, but I politely refused. I said I had some place to go. I made my way to the subway, took it to the hostel. The man at the desk recognized me, asked me how I was. I said I was fine.

[At some point the driver considered us lost, we pulled into a gas station to ask for directions. I stayed in the car while they decided to walk about. Out the window I saw another car with the morning’s snow still on it. Someone had written ‘LOL’ on the rear windshield.]

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