There and Back Again: My final days in Berlin

It’s always hard to say goodbye.  Or in this case, “Auf Wiedersehen!”

We were on the final leg of our trip in Germany, and while there already were a lifetime of memories from our two weeks together, no one from our TOP 6 group was quite ready to be finished yet.

Sing With Me!

Throughout our travels in Germany, our small group got to know each other really well, and one thing I learned was that Christine Webb and I had a lot in common – same state, similar age, same classes we teach, and a mutual love for musical theater.  So naturally one of the things I had promised Webb was that we would sing together at some point.  This promise came true on Thursday night in Berlin when Jan took our group to Monster Ronson’s Ichiban Karaoke Bar.

Monster Ronson’s was an alternative karaoke bar that was a little dingy, but full of heart and interesting characters.  The main bar area greeted you on the left when you walked through the door and just past it stood a DJ booth with a dance floor for whole house performances.  Ronson’s also offers the Japanese karaoke setup, where small parties can reserve their own room, rather than participate with strangers in the main bar area.  There were 3 of these smaller rooms set off of the dance floor area and Jan took the liberty of reserving us one, and boy, were they hot inside!  Lacking ventilation and filled with roughly 15 adults, we quickly reduced our wardrobe and braced ourselves for a tropical (read: sweaty) evening together.

Throughout the evening we sang a lot of songs and shared many laughs with each other.  A favorite moment of mine was when Webb and I belted  “Those Summer Nights” together as our friends joined in on the chorus.  I had to constantly move between the smaller room and the main area in order to take a break from the sweltering heat inside our performance area, but overall everyone had a blast!

As a funny side story, almost the entire trip, Jake, one of our group members, spent his time practicing his German language skills with the locals, especially women.  As I had mentioned previously, this had led to some funny moments when Jake got into some zany situation where he disappeared for hours and had a wild story when he returned.  Though I completely revere Jake for his confidence and enthusiasm, this led to many laughs as we learned of his escapades.  As fate would have it, tonight would be no different.

About two hours into our karaoke experience, Jake found a group of people in the bar who hailed his hometown of Portland, Oregon.  This is even greater because the entire trip Jake spoke of Portland with such relentless enthusiasm that it was perfectly ironic that in all of Germany he would run into people from his own city!  Naturally Jake spent a good portion of the evening conversing with their group, but unfortunately when we departed, they had to say goodbye as two few ladies from the other group were unwilling to travel on their own with Jake around Berlin.

Towards the end of the evening, as we were laughing and talking out in the main bar area, our core crew made plans that we would all have to reunite at some point after the trip.  Naturally, I stepped up and selflessly nominated Rob for “TOP Boston 2016” and he kindly (luckily?) obliged.

Though Trish met us late after visiting with a friend who was also in Berlin (how cool is that?) and wanted to continue the party, for most of us it was too long of a day already, so we decided to break apart and head back to rest up for our final full day together.

Friday

Friday morning we had some time to ourselves, so Lauren, Trish and I went shopping for souvenirs and then set out on our “thank you” quest to get Wood’s goodbye present.

Two nights earlier on our midnight tour of the city, Wood mentioned how Ritter Sport made the greatest chocolate in the world, so we thought it would make the perfect companion to our main gift for him.  However, since it was far across town, and the walk would be long, we decided to grab lunch and take our time visiting the shops and touring the city along the way.

It was great to travel the city during the daylight without a strict schedule in one of the coolest cities in the world. My favorite part of the walk was that we were able to revisit many of the monuments we walked past during our midnight tour, so we were able to see them again, and just how busy they were, in daylight.  Throughout the streets of Berlin there are amazing examples of street art by people looking to make money from their talents.  Probably the most unique thing I saw was a gentleman who painted the Berlin sewer covers and then rolled t-shirts on top to create unique souvenir gifts from the city.

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Who knew that sewer covers were adorned with such pretty artwork?

When we returned to Motel One for our last evening of the trip, we presented gifts to Nushi and Yorg, our city guides, Jan, our group leader in training, and Wood, our group leader.  Since Nushi and I had some funny moments together throughout the trip, I volunteered to give her my final gift and we were able to share our final goodbye with each other.

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For Wood we sponsored a stumbling stone in his name and gave him the chocolate tower from Ritter Sport that we grabbed earlier.  Wood was taken aback by the stumbling stone, which would be a real part of German history for the future, honoring a victim of the Holocaust tragedy in his name.

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Presenting Wood with his gigantic chocolate staff for the road.

After our gift giving and goodbyes to our city guides, Jan made plans for us to go out dancing on our final night together at the Clarchens Ballhaus.

Clarchens has an interesting history as a dance hall that has been open for over 100 years.  There are two floors, the lower one being a traditional dance hall, and the top floor an elegant and sophisticated mirrored ballroom that is only used for special occasions.  Outside there is also a nice courtyard filled with picnic table-style seating and the glow of candlelight.  It was a pretty welcoming place, and I think Jan chose a good location because it really fit for everyone in our group- there were people of all ages and personalities on this night which made it a really interesting and fun experience.

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Main Courtyard/Entrance to Clarchens Ballhaus

Of all of us, Webb really brought her dancing shoes on this night.  Though many of us were content to sit and chat over a drink, Christine hardly ever left the dance floor, and served as our motivation to let loose throughout the evening.  Eventually we all were persuaded to get out onto the floor and it was honestly a lot of fun.  When we first got there, a DJ was running the show, but by the time I hit the floor he was replaced by a pretty decent cover band that ran through a lot of hits from the 80’s and 90’s.

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A view from inside of the famous dance hall.

On our way back to the hotel, a few of us found one last night spot that we had to try.  This bar had crazy floating egg chairs that are easier to see than to describe, so we sat out in the patio area and reflected on our last two weeks together.  Shaw (the other Christine) mentioned how this entire experience felt unreal, like we all lived in a bubble the last two weeks, and that it would feel weird going back to the real world when we left on Saturday.  Since it was depressing to think about, we decided it was better to shelve our goodbyes until we were actually leaving, spending our final minutes of the evening recalling some of the most unforgettable moments over the course of the trip so far.

Saying Goodbye

Saturday we woke up very early to leave for the airport and to begin the long journey home. And one-by-one we broke off from each other, just as we had first met.  A few were lucky enough to be granted extensions, such as Trish, who was meeting her husband in Berlin, or Shaw, who was meeting her boyfriend to travel the next few weeks through the rest of Europe.  In Frankfurt we lost two more members of our group, as Wood and Lauren were staying there longer.

As we hugged goodbye, through tear-soaked sobs Lauren exclaimed, “now I know what it feels like to have brothers!” to Eric and I.  It was touching but true because over time we became a pseudo family with each other.

But the final goodbyes came in DC.  At this point most of us took separate planes home, so again our group dwindled, hugs were exchanged, and promises were made to keep in touch with each other.  In the end, I was alone, just as the trip began, but I was excited to see my family and share my experiences.

As I sat in the final plane from DC to Detroit, I looked out the window and reflected on all of the adventures I had over the past two weeks.  Shaw was right, this experience had felt like something out of a dream.  Little did I know going into the trip how much of an impact 15 random people from around the world were going to have on me for the rest of my life.

Many of us had grown beyond simple friendship, and being able to lean on and laugh with each other throughout the range of experiences we had the past few weeks would stick with us forever.  I knew as my plane departed that no matter how far away we all lived, many of these people would forever be close to my heart.

I was also grateful to the Transatlantic Outreach Program, who chose me over a field of super-qualified applicants and granted me the experience of a lifetime.  It was incredible to think back to just how many lessons and special moments were crammed into our two short weeks together.  I hope this blog helps me remember them all for the rest of my life.

As I walked through baggage claim and hugged my girlfriend Lauren, I couldn’t wait to share everything that happened on the trip, but I knew in some ways I would never be able to recount all of the amazing things that happened along my two weeks in Germany.

On the long drive home, as the sun set slowly in the distance, I let out a sigh of relief, and started making plans on where my next journey would lead.

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