Berlin by foot and train, and always on time.
On my first day of class I got lost between Eberswalderstrasse U-Bahnhof and the Kulturbraurerei.
Alright, this probably doesn’t mean anything to you. The words are foreign, the city is foreign, and even the transportation system to which I am referring is foreign. However, if you both spoke German and lived in Berlin, the above situation would sound to you like a childish, hilarious, and somewhat pitiable mistake. So, as a translation, I offer the following: Eberswalderstrasse U-Bahnhof is the subway station (U-Bahn, short for Untergrund-Bahn, which is the “Underground Train”) I get off at in order to go to class at the NYU Berlin Academic Center. The Kulturbrauerei
(“Culture Brewery”) is an old brewery that has been refurbished to house theatres, nightclubs, and, incidentally, the Academic Center. It’s about a block away from the station, hence the silliness of my mistake. It’s like getting off the train at Herald Square and entirely missing Macy’s (okay, maybe not that extreme, but you get the point).
I walked in the entirely wrong direction for about twenty minutes, frantically trying to figure out what I had done wrong in order to make it to class on time. I was hungry, worried, tired, and unkindly reminded that Berlin is not like our somewhat neatly-gridded Manhattan. There are no numbered streets, only names that mean very little to someone unfamiliar with the city: Danzingerstrasse, Schoenhauser Allee, Tempelhofer Ufer. However, though this first foray into getting lost was entirely frustrating,, I soon decided to take a walk around my own neighborhood, many U-Bahn stops south of the Academic Center in Prenzlauer Berg.
I live on the eastern side of Schoeneberg, smashed right up against the neighborhood of Kreuzberg in former West Berlin. This day I went eastward, close to Kreuzberg, with no real direction in mind. In fact, I was purposefully lost, but I didn’t mind. I had no place to be, only time on my hands and a beautiful blue and grey sky (remember, I’m from Oregon). And, of course, a monthly transit pass. I passed by an S-Bahn station (Stadtbahn/City Train in Berlin, but in some places the S-Bahn is the Schnellbahn/Fast Train, and in others Stadtbahn means something entirely different), not knowing that it was there in the first place, and then turned left, right, left again. I eventually crossed a small canal/creek right in the middle of the city by means of a beautiful small bridge, and the sky was turning dark.
I don’t remember the names of the streets I walked, but I do remember seeing one of the most beautiful, giant murals I had ever seen. It covered the entire side of a building, hectic and chaotic, maybe done by multiple artists, possibly illegally. Of course then it dawned on me: I wasn’t lost at all. I had seen that mural many times through the window of the U-Bahn. Yes, although the name is “Undergrund-Bahn”, the train does come above ground! And, yes, I knew precisely where I was: right next to the Gleisdreieck U-Bahn Station, the stop right before my home station on the U-2 line. So, noticing the coming night, and having forgotten how I got there in the first place, I hopped aboard the train.
This gives me a fantastic opportunity to talk about the Berlin transit system, mostly its trains. There are also trams and busses, but I have yet to use them. As mentioned above, there are two types of public trains that serve just the Berlin area: the S-Bahn and the U-Bahn. The train map
is the kind obsessed over by public transit enthusiasts: clean, geometrical, and with little relation to the streets above, save for station names. Great for locals, somewhat complicated for those unfamiliar with Berlin. But I have come to understand it in its starkness and love its efficiency, thanks in large part to my participation in the Berlin International Film Festival
. It has taken me to theatres away from my general area, westward, eastward, and northward. There was, for example, an old East German theatre on Karl-Marx-Allee (yes, THAT East German) where I watched documentaries and a strange 2.5 hour Russian film set in 2020, and to which I had to take a new U-Bahn line.
Speaking of efficiency, I must say that the stereotype that Germans are very practical and punctual is true, at least in terms of transit. The trains are on time, and electric signs tell you when the next train is coming. The doors of the train only open when you press a button, in order to conserve energy. You can always hear the pre-recorded announcement regarding which stop is next, unless buskers playing accordions and keytars are in your car. I’ve almost memorized all the stations from my apartment to school and back, and have a tendency to recite them along with the announcement.
My next adventure with transit will be taking U-Bahn lines to their termination, and getting off at whatever station that intrigues me. “Bernauer Strasse”, “Sophie-Charlotte-Platz”, and their 171 station counterparts each seem like a new adventure. There is something quite wondrous about emerging from below ground and watching a city unfold around you, picking up pieces of patchwork Berlin.
The picture above was taken by me on the walk mentioned above. It's the U-2 train exiting Gleisdreieck.