You might assume, as I did, that not many people would be crazy enough to want to travel to an island in the Baltic Sea at the start of November. You’d think I’d have learned over the last seven years never to underestimate Germans in Jack Wolfskin. And so it was that I found myself on a train to Heringsdorf on the island of Usedom, curled up on the floor outside a toilet. The Germans, as with the sun loungers in Mallorca, had reserved every seat on the train.
An old lady who passed by (probably on the way to her comfortable, reserved seat) asked me if I wasn’t afraid. I said no, that in an emergency, it was actually the best spot to be in. Shortly afterwards, the ticket inspector wished me a pleasant journey; I wasn’t sure if he was being sarcastic or not. Maybe it’s just an automatic phrase he trots out, regardless of whether you’re in first class sipping a flute of Sekt or stiff as a post, leaning on your backpack, praying your water bottle doesn’t burst all over your laptop. I passed the time by googling the places we stopped at that I couldn’t see out the window. Your travel writer is pleased to tell you that Eberswalde looks very nice on the internet.
By the time we were approaching Züssow, me arse was like a grape, as my dad used to say.
(No, I don’t know either.)
I was very much looking forward to a cup of tea and a slice of cake as I had almost an hour to kill before catching the next train. Alas, German efficiency kicks in when you least want or need it. The train driver announced that the 13:08 train (mine) was now leaving at 12:08. We would be arriving on time at 12:12 but the train would wait for us on the opposite platform.
If you ever want to see sensible footwear moving at the speed of light, this is the way to do it.
Just over an hour later, I got my stuff together and moved towards the door. The conductor asked me if I was in town for the “Kur” (a course of convalescent treatments). After a second or two of being impressed with myself for knowing what the Kur is and that this region is pretty famous for it, I was a bit offended that he thought I looked like I needed a Kur. What did he think was wrong with me? Although I guess my arse could have done with a nice massage…
And so it came to pass that I arrived in Heringsdorf an hour early. I had told the manager of the apartment I’d rented that I’d be there at three so my cunning plan was to finally get that cup of tea and cake and then stroll on over at my leisure. Unfortunately, it seemed that German efficiency had ended for the day. The first likely place didn’t open until five. The next café I passed was now a real estate agency, which was also closed. The last chance café had closed at 10:30, 10:00 on Sundays seemingly. I mean, who, in their right minds, is up, showered and ready to buy their Brötchen before ten o’clock on a Sunday!? Germans, that’s who.
I called the guy to tell him I’d be early and waited on the windowsill with my book. The weather at least was glorious, one of those perfect late autumn days. He showed up around twenty minutes later, a nice friendly man, who scored points by not asking me if I was there for the Kur. We sorted out the paperwork – there’s a special tax you have to pay if you stay in one of these spa towns – he gave me a quick tour and then left me to my own devices.
Finally, TEA! Of course, like a good German, I’d brought some tea bags along with me. Always prepared. There was just one problem – I couldn’t reach the socket to plug in the kettle. I did have six chopping boards but that’s not really much use when you just want to boil water.
After some jumping, grunting, sweating and swearing, I gave up and moved the kettle to the bedside table. Finally, with cup in hand, I did a quick recce of the place to see how my “home-away-from-home office” could work. It couldn’t. Sockets beside the bed, too far away. Socket behind the TV, even a contortionist couldn’t plug anything in there. Socket over by the kitchen… if I swapped the coat stand and the table and chairs, and didn’t mind being wedged in a corner, that could work. I gave myself some time to consider the set-up and went for a contemplative wee.
It was only afterwards that I realised there were no towels in the bathroom. Huh. Maybe they were on the bed and I just hadn’t noticed. Nope, not there either. I rooted through every drawer and cupboard in the place. No towels. Scheiße. I didn’t really want to bother the guy again but this seemed quite important. I sent him a message and sat wondering if I could make a scarf / tablecloth combo work…
He replied pretty quickly to tell me that no, there were no towels but that he had an emergency set he could drop off in a couple of hours. Immediate problems sort of sorted, I did what any sane person does when they come to the Baltic Sea – headed to the beach.
There’s something about being on the Baltic coast that really brings out the best in Germans. Everybody was in a great mood, walking around with their nordic walking sticks, metal detectors, dogs, kids, shovels… German guffaws filled the air and I felt that all was right with the world again. I located the nearest café, found a table in the sun and ordered.
Apart from being attacked by psychotic sparrows, this was the best I’d felt in ages. I ordered a second cup of tea and sat back to enjoy the people watching while pretending to read.
On my way home, I stopped off at the supermarket to pick up a few essentials. Then genius struck.
It wasn’t exactly German engineering standards, but good enough. I’d just have to remember to unplug it before I started drinking. Aside from the practical aspect of actually being able to use my laptop, it could also double as exercise every time I had to hop over it to cross the flat. And when the guy showed up again with the towels, I got him to plug in the kettle for me. He didn’t even laugh at me (that much).
I have no idea how many words that is – how rubbish is the new version of WP!? – but it seems like quite a lot so I’ll finish part one there. (Oh, wait, I just found the info icon… still crap though.) If I haven’t bored you to tears already, stay tuned for part two. There will be men.