In 2011, I went on a school trip to Germany. We were a group of 12 high school students, mostly girls and two boys. It was a trip that changed my life. And one night stood out, a night in Berlin – a defining moment of my young life.
One weekend, we took the ICE train to Berlin. Arriving at the station, I was surprised at the size of it – as a South African, I had never before seen such a huge train station before (besides New York’s Central Station that I had seen in Gossip Girl, etc.).
I found the city absolutely spectacular.
During the weekend, we saw some of the main attractions:
- The Berlin Wall
- The Reichstag Building with its large glass dome on top (one walks to the top of a dome via a circular bridge to see the city from above)
- Checkpoint Charlie (a must from an educational point of view)
- The historical Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate) along with its Room of Silence
- The striking Holocaust Memorial
Additionally, we visited some other points of interest like the glamorous Sony Centre, the Story of Berlin museum, and an (admittedly scary) underground bomb shelter.
And we visited a mall where I bought a pair of sandals for €2 after my one shoe broke – and I was forced to walk barefoot through the streets of Berlin (a story I’m telling my grandchildren one day!).
A Night in Berlin
During the second night at the Jugendherberg (youth hostel), my two roommates and I went up to the boys’ room. The rest of the group was already crammed into the small room. I sat down next to Carla, one of my closest friends.
“So,” Alex began, “we’re sneaking out tonight and going to the station to buy some drinks. Everyone in?”
Although our day had been exhausting, we weren’t tired yet. It was only 9 ‘o clock.
Obviously, we weren’t allowed to leave the hostel without our teacher or her husband. They had retired for the night already.
Nonetheless, all of us agreed to Alex’s daring idea to sneak out.
You only live once.
Soon, we were on our way to the train station. Berlin at night was even more exciting for us. We were feeling euphoric and invincible.
When we got to the three-storey station, we headed to McDonald’s first. Although we have a McDonald’s back home, this McDonald’s was awesome because of its foreignness.
For instance, this McDonald’s offered us the luxury of refilling our cool drink cups as many times as we liked – something we weren’t used to as South Africa (There, the servers behind the counter fill up your cup for you, but only once. Maybe South Africans tend to be greedier than Germans when it comes to beverages? I don’t know).
Afterwards, we went to a convenience store on another level of the station. There we browsed around a bit.
Four of my friends bought some beers and ciders, but the rest of us didn’t buy any alcohol.
The thing is, I just could not bring myself that far. At that stage, as a 16-year-old, I had never bought alcoholic drinks myself. The most I had ever drunk up to that point was half a cider (my mother used to drink the other half).
Although it was perfectly legal for a 16-year-old like me to drink in Europe, I just could not do it. (Gosh, I was such a mama’s girl.)
Then we walked back to the Jugendherberg, slowly, relishing the last of our sneaking-out adventure. We took in the foreign nighttime sights, sounds and voices around us.
We were a group of foreign teenagers alone in the streets of Berlin, one of the most famous cities in the world.
We felt truly invincible.
The whole world lied before us, ours for the taking. Isn’t that exciting?
In that moment, I discovered the wanderlust within me that awakened my dream to see as much of the world as I possibly can.
Back at our hostel, we returned to Alex and Hein’s room where we hung out a while.
Carla gave me one of the ciders she bought. The drink wasn’t too strong; I enjoyed it. It made my head buzz a bit, though. We had carefree fun, chatting about everything and nothing. Laughing together. We laughed even harder when one girl accidentally broke the cupboard’s door.
Our teacher never found out about our secret adventure. I don’t think so.