In case you missed part one…
“Doors still not opening. Panic started to consume me. What if I were stuck on this train with the middle schoolers forever? Oh no, this could not happen. Where’s the emergency exit? I look around and panic even more, as I can’t locate one. The people waiting to get on the train are looking rather impatient, whereas we on the train are looking a little frazzled. How much longer could I wait? “This is unreal,” I think.
Door open non-chalantly, like nothing ever went wrong. Ahh, finally. I was about to have a heart attack.
Little did I know that that was the start of an unordinary day.”
A slight drizzle started up as we made our way to the city center. We were innocuously chatting when suddenly the couple in front of us stops, turns around, and poses a question to us.
“Are you tourists or do you live here? We heard you speaking English. We’re from South Africa and we just moved here and don’t know anyone yet.”
Oh, that’s cool. They didn’t sound like they were South African. We were all ready to make new friends until he took some papers out of his bag and said, “Have you heard of the Jehovah’s Witnesses?”
Oop, guess they didn’t want to be friends. The chances of meeting someone on an evangelical mission, speaking English, in a foreign country is next to nothing. And here we were, meeting them. Unreal.
After politely taking our leave, we walked around the market, perusing the stalls and navigating our umbrellas through the masses of Germans. As we passed through one particularly narrow stretch, I walked in front of my roommate to make room for passing traffic. Busy trying to avoid being poked with umbrella spokes, I didn’t notice the absence of my roommate, until I heard, “Haha, Claire, um, Claire. Claire. CLAIRE!” (“Claire” rhymes with everything and so I usually tune out anything that sounds remotely like my name, because it usually isn’t. Especially people’s pronunciations of “clear.”)
I turn around to see my roommate far back, her umbrella dangling behind her awkwardly as a pelican fashioned from some sort of metal had its beak firmly clamped on her umbrella and wasn’t letting go. A few passersby covered their giggles with their hands as we struggled to set the umbrella free. Finally, it popped free. A big sigh of relief, a smoothing of our coats, and off we were, pretending like we hadn’t just waged war with a piece of lawn art for five minutes. Unreal.
After making a few purchases, we decided to get a snack from a bakery. “Eine Bretzel, bitte. A pretzel, please.”
Paying with exact change is something Germans seem to get excitement from, not minding if they hold up the line while searching for the inexplicably small one-cent pieces. Naturally, I now do the same.
After paying in exact change, we locate a cocktail table at which to stand. Now, the tables are positioned close together, but not so close as to invade personal space. However, one older gentleman seemed not to care, as he was practically standing with us. He was just sipping his coffee, invading our personal space, as he people-watched. At one point he stepped away from us and into the walkway, prompting a sigh of relief from us. Finally, our table was regained.
Not so fast. This time he returned, even cozier than before. My roommate and I exchanged looks, as if saying, “Is this really happening? He must oblivious to life.” He started incessantly checking his watch, and this character was really too much for us. Just as we were finishing up, he walked across the street to meet a shady character. We were then convinced they were doing a drug deal. In daylight. In the middle of a busy street. In Bonn. Totally logical, right?
After this snack a bathroom trip was in order. We relied on the friendly SBUX: my friend waited in line for a tea, I went to use the bathroom. I tugged at the handle. It wouldn’t open. A little harder. Still no luck. I didn’t want to seem like an idiot, so I tried once more. Accepting defeat, I began to turn away when I saw a sign on the door (I know, I’m very observant).
“Toilet closed because of vandalism. Sorry.”
Ooof. Public bathrooms are hard to come by in Europe, but I needed to go. I mean, what if the doors on the S-Bahn got stuck again? Uh-uh, not going there. I remembered the department store in the city had a bathroom, so we headed there, only to be met with a line way out the door. In the US, the bathroom is pretty much a free-for-all: you stand in line, you cram into the bathroom, you hope your stall is clean, you really hope your stall has toilet paper, and you hope that there’s soap and paper towels. And that you don’t catch a life-threatening disease.
In Germany, there are bathroom attendants. They dictate how many people go in at once, which stall you’re going to go in, and make you wait as they clean each stall after a certain number of “visitors.” The bathrooms are spotless. Always toilet paper, soap, and paper towels. (I’ve heard the number of life-threatening diseases caught from German bathrooms is one of the lowest in the world. Okay, kidding. I have no idea.) And this is why you pay to use the bathroom. Oh well, the attendants were doing a wonderful job. They probably saved me thousands in medical bills had they not been so cleanly.
We headed back to the train station with exactly 8 minutes till the train was to arrive. As we were waiting, we heard some illegible muttering, well, more like shouting. We turned around to see a homeless man gesturing like he was in the theater, acting out a dramatic scene from Hamlet. He was standing dangerously close to the edge of track, far past the ubiquitous “yellow line.”
Suddenly, the time table flashed the warning that a train was about to arrive. In those split seconds, we were hoping that he wouldn’t fall backwards in front of the train. Just then, a man reached out and pulled the homeless man away from the track, just as the train was pulling in. Whew, we thought we were going to witness a total worse-case scenario.
The homeless man didn’t seem to realize what peril he was saved from, so he continued to shuffle over to the other side of the track, when suddenly he tripped and fell with a sickening “thud,” as his head awkwardly hit the floor and he made no attempt to brace his fall. It was one of those moments of disbelief and hope that that really didn’t just happen.
Luckily, he had tripped over an employee who began administering to him. He was okay and was stood up and walked over to presumably the S-Bahn office to recover. Unreal.
Happy that a crisis was averted, we had an uneventful trip back. However, as we were walking through town to our apartment, we chanced upon the small Weihnachtsmarkt in our town. It was all very normal until we came across a Shetland pony, just hanging out there. A random pony in the middle of the town street. Totally normal, right? After fawning over its cuteness, we continued on our way. Almost safe and sound in our apartment, we did a double take as a man dressed as Sankt Nikolaus, beard and staff and all, was strolling down the street. I avoided awkward eye contact just in time to run into a dwarf Christmas tree, decorating one of the shops.
Like I said, this day was definitely unreal.