4 days lost in Germany
First, I would like to assure you, dear reader, that I am not crazy. Before traveling all the way across the world, to a country where the language, the culture and everything in between was foreign, I did take German lessons. I learned about akkusativ and dativ and how to properly structure a sentence. I learned nouns and articles and declinations and how articles changed depending on the case. I learned to say “please” and “thank you” and “how much is this”. I learned to say my name and introduce myself; say that I was from Kolumbien and how to spell my name and give my age in a new different language. I learned a lot. And I thought I was ready to go live over there.
I was not.
I have never in my life felt as lost as I felt the moment I landed in an airport, in which I could not read where the baggage claim was. I could not read any of the signs and I still had to go through immigration and customs. Navigating through lots of pictures, lots of arrows, and hallways that only went in one direction, I managed to exit the airport. I had not yet known utter despair until I tried to buy a bus ticket. Spoiler alert: I couldn’t, and I had to take a taxi. There was a machine to buy the bus ticket. I know now that you can change the language setting, but I didn’t find such a magic button on my first day in Germany. There was a map and there were zones but I didn’t even know if I was going north, east, south, much less which zone I was going to. I knew the name of the bus stop, and the tram stop and the address. I had no internet on my cell phone. I was on the verge of crying, and then I saw the taxi station. I did not hesitate. It was my first flight across the ocean, I was tired and already hated everything. I just wanted to arrive someplace familiar. In case you are wondering, things did improve, just not in the next few days. I then proceeded to sleep for two entire days. Jet lag is real. Upon waking up, I decided I was ready to face Berlin.
I was not.
My final destination was a small town 2 hours away from Berlin. In order to arrive there, I had to go to the Zentraler Omnibusbahnhof Berlin (ZOB), the bus station for buses that travel outside the city. To get to it, I needed to take a tram, or a bus or the subway and a tram, or the subway and a bus. I decided a tram seemed like the smart way to go. Then I spent at least 4 hours trying to find the tram station.
Before arriving at the tram station I found the subway station which had the same name and was in the same place as the tram station, only that instead of going up, the stairs went down. The tram station was under maintenance and the entrance had been moved to a back alley, behind what I wrongly assumed was a dumpster. Every instinct I had was telling me not to go into that alley. Good thing I did not listen to my instincts and managed to find the tram station.
I got to the bus station after dealing with the aforementioned machine for a while. This time, I did discover the magical translating button. I still did not know about zones, so I just chose the ticket that included the whole city. I was not taking any chances. I arrived at the ZOB and talked to an attendant (my basic German helped a lot) asking for a ticket to the town I was going to.
Since I had already wasted the whole day and just had a few hours of daylight left, I went on a ‘recognition mission’ to check out my future town, meaning I just walked around, being extra careful to not miss the last bus back. I would have had no place to sleep in and I was not keen to try homelessness in a foreign country. I did everything again the next day and did it early enough that I could get in touch with the student housing department to get my keys. I mentioned I was not crazy, I had a place waiting for me.
To sum it up, it took me 4 days to make a 2-hour trip in a foreign country while learning how to use public transportation.
Was my knowledge of the German language enough to get me through the whole thing? I mean I did get through the whole thing, so yes. Would it have been harder without knowing German? Without a doubt. Did I still have a lot of things to learn and there was no way I could have been 100% ready for what I faced? Most definitely.
Coming to Germany made me realize how creative, resilient and strong I am, because I had no other choice but to be creative, resilient and strong. In case you are wondering, I did get better at public transport and now it feels like such a hassle to deal with anything that is not a machine to buy tickets.