Sunday, April 10, 2005

Strangers in the night

I’m writing this from a small room at the Hauptbahnhof in a city called Heilbronn, which I’ve never even heard of let alone visited or desired to visit. If I wasn’t sitting in this room, I’d be wandering the streets of Heilbronn all night long, with my luggage acting as a neon sign saying, “HELPLESS FOREIGNER. PLEASE MUG ME.” And it snowed today, which should give you an idea of how comfortable the temperature would be to boot.

The only reason I’m not being violated right now (apart from the fact that I didn’t pack my lipstick and fake breasts which I normally apply before wandering the streets late at night) is because of the kindness of a complete stranger, a man who works at the Hauptbahnhof and decided to let me stay here instead of kicking me out at 1 AM when the station closed.

Of course, the reason I’ve been saddled with worries like this at all is because the Deutsche Bahn is in on the conspiracy to ruin my life. When everyone in the world got together and made plans to make my life difficult, DB raised its hand and was like, “This sounds too good. I want in. How can I contribute?” (This was right after a 10-hour-presentation by representatives from the University of Aberdeen.)

The fun began shortly after I arrived in Göttingen. Kristina and I stopped by the Bahnhof to investigate how I could get to Tübingen for as little money as possible. I was given a choice between leaving right then and leaving early the next day, and I chose the former because I felt bad enough that Josh visited me for two weeks and I was only giving him two lousy days. So I figured, let’s try and make it three lousy days.

I’ll break it to you quickly: I got on the wrong train. Except there’s no way I got on the wrong train, if you know what I mean. We checked the schedule, double-checked the notice board in the station, triple-checked the notice board right next to the train, and boarded what could only have been the right train. Except an hour later we arrived at the Kassel Hauptbahnhof and it was the end of the line and my stop hadn’t come up and what the hell happened?

A girl sitting across the aisle from me must have seen my terrified expression, because she asked me if I was all right and if she could take a look at my itinerary. “Wrong train,” she said. “Scheisse.” That’s when I decided she was a bitch, but I was wrong because she offered to stick with me until I figured out how to get to Tübingen. She was backpacking too. And she spoke pretty good English, which was nice because when I get scared my German skills take a lunch break.

I figured out a new itinerary, which meant this girl and I were transferring to the same train headed for Frankfurt. The unfortunate but unavoidable catch to my new itinerary was that I would arrive in Heilbronn at 11:52 PM and be unable to get a train to Stuttgart (and then Tübingen) until 4:35 AM. Scheisse.

This girl and I never even exchanged names, but she couldn’t have been nicer or more helpful while I was busy with an initial freak-out. She actually lived in Frankfurt and offered to let me stay at her parents’ house for the night until I could get a better train in the morning. Maybe I should have taken her up on it. It could have been one of those backpacking stories about a great stranger you met on your travels and never spoke to again but never forgot. I suppose it already is one of those stories, but there’s much less drinking involved than I might have imagined.

So I continued on to Heidelberg, and then Heilbronn. When I got here, it was dark and empty and SO COLD and it was becoming much less clear to me why I declined an offer of food and a warm place to sleep. This Hauptbahnhof isn’t very haupt -- it’s open-air and closes at frickin’ 1 AM. All these airports I’ve been spending the night in, they have spoiled me.

When the security guard came up to me, my heart sank because I knew what he was going to say. Before that, I had kind of reached a mindset of acceptance that I would be wandering the streets aimlessly for four hours, and four hours wasn’t really that long when you thought about it, but when he approached me I was about ready to start crying in order to get him to let me stay inside. It may not have been warm, but at least it wasn’t Out There.

When he told me the station was closing, I did the next best thing: I pretended I didn’t know German. I know, I know, it’s totally evil that he was so nice to me based on a lie, but he probably would have helped me out anyway. I just needed him to know how helpless I was at that moment, and I really was. And I’m indoors right now instead of being stabbed by gang members, so I’m trying not to feel too guilty. I’m not a liar, I’m a survivor.

So I told this man what happened to me and he said he could give me a room. I sincerely doubt that lodging idiot travelers is part of his job description, but this utter and complete stranger decided to give me a room instead of sending me to my freezing cold death by gang beating (that’s what I imagine would have happened to me, anyway).

I don’t know. It’s kind of funny how it seems like shit is always happening to me, but it rights itself at the last minute. It’s kind of beautiful how people you don’t even know will go out of their way to help you out.

Thank you, girl and man who helped me tonight, whoever the hell you are!


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