It was a day in early August 2008 that we first encountered a new phrase: Going to Berlin. At the time we had been off the road as far as RV'ing was concerned for some five weeks, taking a vacation in Europe and staying in hotels, guesthouses and bed and breakfasts. Traveling more on our own than in an organized manner, which was probably a direct offshoot of the normal nomadic Life we live in our coach.
It was on a Friday afternoon that the incident took place. Having spent a wonderful week in the Swiss Alps, staying in the town my ancestors had lived in since the 1500's, we were moving north to spend a few days on the banks of the Rhine River at a small town in Germany called Bacharach. Taking our cue from the fact Bacharach was purportedly named after one of the names for the Roman God of Wine, Bacchus, we had had a few fun things planned for our stay.
Understand that our way of traveling through Europe was not the, we have tickets in hand for everything and reservations made everywhere type of travel. We did have tickets to fly to Europe and return, but once there our plan was to never rent a car, but instead to only use public transportation. It also involved not purchasing any tickets for that travel ahead of time. It wasn't any different than how we normally travel in our coach, and after having been in Europe for weeks, we could use to a ticket machine that had nothing in English and figure out how to purchase the ticket to our destination.
We had left that small Swiss town and by changing trains had arrived in Basel, which was a main Swiss rail hub. Here, since we were leaving Switzerland and entering Germany, we purchased the ticket for the remainder of our journey from a real live ticket agent. We also got a printout of the connections, showing us which train to change to in the city of Bingen to get to Bacarach.
Everything seemed to be going as expected, the countryside sped past the window as our high speed train whisked us rapidly north. Since it was not a local or regional train, it made very few stops, plus it was quite full. For the the first several stops we could not find seats together, but when it stopped in Frankfurt am Main, one of the largest cities in Germany, enough people got off that I was able to sit beside Linda.
We sat there at the station for an usually long time, then started out at the normal slow pace, gaining speed with every kilometer as we left the downtown area. I watched the names of the stations go by as we sped along, slowly but surely gaining a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, I just knew we were heading in the wrong direction, but I had no idea of to where, for look as I might I couldn't see the ultra-modern buildings that mark the downtown of Frankfurt out the window and get my bearings.
Just then a conductor walked by, heading toward the front of the train and I was able to flag him down. Showing him the tickets we had for Bingen, I asked him if we were on the right train. He took them, studied them for a while and said, "This train is going to Berlin". Now since Berlin was more than 500 kilometers in the wrong direction from where we wanted to going, he didn't have to say anything else for me to realize we were in deep doo doo here.
After some further discussion with the conductor with his broken English and our broken German and a passenger sitting nearby who spoke English, it became apparent we needed to get off at the next stop, catch a local train back to Frankfurt, then catch another train to Bingen, and still another to Bacharach. Now mind you this is on a Friday afternoon in Germany, a country where things tend to be written and spoken in German rather than English. Plus we would also have to figure out what trains to catch when we got to each station. Think of it as akin to heading thru Houston during Friday night rush hour when the GPS goes out and all your paper maps are down below in one of the lower bays and you're traveling to some small town that you've never been to before and isn't shown on any of the traffic signs.
What had happened was that we had been caught in one of those strange things that happen when you travel on the European railways. The one where, as the train sits on the track, one section of the train goes on to the original destination and the remaining cars, with a new engine go to a different location. You can probably figure out which part of the train we had been sitting in, and I'll give you a hint, it wasn't the part going to Bingen.
Getting off at the next station we quickly determined, by looking at the schedule the track we needed to get to for the next train to Frankfurt (Main) Hauptbahnhof, which of course was at the opposite end of the station. While this station wasn't the size of a medium sized airport terminal in the states, the Frankfurt station was with some 130 million train passengers passing through it every year, it wasn't merely a few steps and you're there, either.
It turned out this train was taking a page from the U.S. railway system operating manual and it just sat and sat, finally starting to move about the time everyone in our car was getting ready to leave. It really was a local train alright, stopping at every station, and even some places that we weren't even sure were stations. Now keep in mind the schedule had just said Frankfurt, it didn't say where in Frankfurt, but I understand enough German to be able to determine that many of the people on board were going to the Frankfurt am Main Flughaven, or airport as we call it. That didn't sound good to me.
Suddenly I noticed a sign on the platform at the station we were stopped at indicating that there was connection from there to the Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof. Off we went, only to find ourselves going up escalators and down long, and very crowded corridors, in what turned out to be a gigantic underground metro (subway) station. Eventually we made our way to the right platform and into on a car. Several stops later, with it now being after 5 PM and people packed in the car like sardines, the door to our car wouldn't close. Looking around we could see the same look of exasperation in everyone's eyes.
Eventually a mechanic came and fixed the door and we were on our way, arriving at the Hauptbahnhof, looking at the schedule and seeing that a train left in just a few minutes to Bingen. Hurrying, well actually running, we made that train with less than a minute to spare. We finally did end up in Bacharach, three hours later than we expected, but got an unexpected surprise when we were able to find a room in hotel with a wonderful view of the Rhine River.
Looking back, we had more than our share of adventure that day, yet it had still been a wonderful experience. Later that night as we looked at the moonlight shimmering on the waters of Rhine, we could only marvel at the Life we live. To some it could have been an unbelievably frustrating experience, to us it was a day of unbelievable adventure that was crowned by a fairytale ending. We decided right then and there that whenever things didn't go the way we wanted in the future, we would remind each other of our experience - Going to Berlin. May your experiences be the same, after all, isn't that why we all RV and someday we may actually arrive in Berlin, because we want to.