Berlin is usually full of tourists and as opposed to places like Barcelona or Amsterdam, there is not really a particular time of the year which one could call ‘the tourist season’ or at least not that I know of any such thing. So the tourists are there but the longer you live here, the more they blend in with the rest of the population and become almost invisible.
But then there are things like national holidays which is where even more tourists come out of their caves and all of a sudden the streets are so full of locals and tourists, you can’t even hold your phone at your ear to call your friends to ask where they are because if you do, chances are your elbow will end up in someone’s eye. Combined with the union strike of our ‘beloved’ train drivers the all-inclusive pack of hysteria was complete.
The finale of the fall of the Wall celebrations was such an event. In fact, there are not many days as special as that one for us Germans, so pretty much everyone went crazy about the event even weeks in advance and the absence of sufficient public transport did not scare away neither people with bikes (WHY would you bring a bike to such a crowded event??? WHY?!) neither the young and old parents who couldn’t think of anything better than bringing their babies along with them…in strollers!!! ..
As I was standing by the Vapiano restaurant on Potsdamer Platz and waiting for my couchsurfing friends to show up, I watched as the place got more and more crowded. Apparently, many people had the idea to meet up at Vapiano because everyone loves Italian food, right? The minutes passed and just after I had finished explaining to a Russian couple where to find the IMAX movie theater I got a call from a friend who had only made it to Friedrichstraße and was by the Brandenburg Gate.
Brandenburg Gate, a Berliner would think. From Potsdamer Platz? No problem. It is only 600 meters away but at events like these, when it is cold and dark and you don’t know whether you can’t watch your step because of the darkness or the people around you, you soon reach a fence and a bunch of policemen. Here is where you realize that you are on the wrong side of the fence. How ironic, given the nature of the actual event. Celebrating freedom and the union between friends and family who have been scattered all over East and West Berlin and here we were now.
That amusing feeling alone was probably worth the whole trip. I reached for my phone and tried to call back, saying that there is no way I would make it to the other side, when I noticed that the whole communication network in the area collapsed. No phone signal and no internet for probably half an hour. An apocalypse in order to end life on earth? Please, I bet the world is gonna end at some other, more intense social event when people start panicking, networks collapse and public transport gets shut down. No zombies needed.
While I was standing there and waiting for the balloons to be released into the air as a sign of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the beginning of freedom in Germany, I got into a conversation with an older lady next to me.
“Where have you been when it all happened 25 years ago?”, I asked her.
“I was at home, looking after my little son”, she said. “I was sitting in front of the TV, watching the whole thing happen on the screen and couldn’t believe my eyes.”
The mass of people grew so much and so rapidly, I started to think that my trip to Batha, a bazaar in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where my friends and I tried to get through a huge crowd of people (by the Arabic definition of ‘huge crowd of people’) until I started to panic, was the best preparation for the situation in Berlin on the 9th of November. After the show was over, everyone headed back to the train station.
When it comes to crowds as big as this, the worst thing to do is to stop walking. Whatever happens, don’t stop. Even if you actually have to continue going straight on but the crowd navigates you to the right. Just go to the right.
By the time we reached the station my face nearly got in very direct contact with hot wine and grilled sausages because for some reason, even when streets get full as hell and you can’t see your own feet, people decide they NEED booze and food.
When we got to the underground station, we realized it was closed so all of us moved on to the next option which is the opposite of underground trains (however S-Bahn is called in English). Same disaster as outside. Policemen everywhere trying to prevent hysteria and so many people crowded on the platforms that the same amount of people had to wait upstairs until there was space for more people to come down.
Since I live pretty much at the end of town, I started thinking whether I would have to spend the night on the platform or whether I should casually walk over to the Ritz on the other side of the street and ask if they have a free room somewhere. My chances of getting home that night seemed minimal but as it so happens, patience is a good virtue to have or else I would not be sitting here and typing this.