Up until Berlin, I was a couch surfing virgin. Yup. Never had I slept on anyone’s couch via the very cool CouchSurfing.
I had planned on surfing during my travels, not just to save a little cash, but because I have heard nothing but raves about the experiences people have had … the insight into cultures they receive … the friends they made.
I should have known better when I agreed to couch surf with Borris* (yes, I am changing his name, this is a rare case) in Berlin.
Well, for starters, his photo was of him sans shirt and his screen name had to do with being too romantic to be accepted. I ignored my initial doubt (biiiig mistake) and decided to crash on his couch. He was my only option for surfing in Berlin and I really wanted to experience the city with a local.
I will admit, I messed up. I booked my ticket for the wrong day — funny thing about European calendars, they start the week on Monday, not Sunday, and I wasn’t paying attention when I booked my ticket.
Therefore, I was a day late. I text messaged him as soon as I got to the train station and was told my ticket from Prague to Berlin was non-refundable and unable to be changed, and as I was on a backpacker budget, there was no way I would purchase another ticket.
It was early in the evening when I arrived to Berlin, rain spitting down on me as I exited the S-bahn and wandered the streets of Borris’ neighborhood.
After a little bit of retracing footsteps, I found his building and buzzed. There was no voice, but just a hefty amount of buzzing to let me in.
I stepped through the doors and out into the courtyard and waited.
Where do I go?
Then, I saw him, bounding out another door, the next courtyard over. Tall, lanky, blonde hair with a few dreads that looked as if you could squeeze the grease right out of them. Barefoot. One foot with orange painted nails.
“Hi,” he said, hugging me.
I am a big hugger. I love hugs. And kisses (but that’s another story). But, his hug was weird. It was an embrace, but a loose one. Somehow he still managed to rub my back over and over.
Time to let go, buddy.
“OK, let’s go upstairs,” he said, and guided me through the next courtyard, nearly covered in bicycles, and into the next set of doors.
We walked up one flight. And then another. And another. And another still.
“Oh my goodness,” I remarked, adjusting my 13 kilo backpack, five kilo messenger bag and purse. “Do you live at the top of this building?”
“Yes,” he said, looking at me. “It’s not much further.”
“Right.” I thought my back was going to break or my legs would give out.
“Here, I will help you,” he offered, reaching for my messenger bag.
“Thank you,” I said, grateful to be relieved of one item.
“OK, we are here,” he announced, opening his door and leading me into a room, his room, where a girl sat on the bed, strumming a guitar. “This,” he said gesturing to the petite brunette, “is Alejandra.”
“Hola,” she said, getting up and giving me a kiss on each cheek.
“You put your stuff in the corner there, and then we are going to do yoga. Do you want to do yoga with us?”
I looked around the room. There was no way three people could do yoga. Besides, I was hungry and tired and thirsty.
“No, its OK. Do you have wifi so I can check some e-mails and let my family know I am alive?”
“Oh, yes, but it is dial-up wireless so I will set it up for you later. We are going to do yoga.”
“Borris, that is fine if you do yoga, but I really need to e-mail my family. Can you help?” I asked.
“Here,” he gestured, “Sit here and use my computer.”
And then he didn’t speak to me until I interrupted him and Alejandra 10 minutes later. As they sat, not doing yoga, but speaking in very animated Spanish.
“I speak a little Spanish,” I said, trying to get into the conversation.
“Oh, it’s OK, we aren’t telling any secrets.”
He missed my point. And, he kept right on talking to her as if I wasn’t in the room.
“Borris, could you help me for a moment? I need to book a train or a bus to Amsterdam and am not sure the best way to do it,” I asked.
“In two hours I will help you,” he stated.
What the hell?
“OK … I have been traveling all day, do you think we could go and get some food?”
“In a little,” he said, and continued to speak to the girl. By speak, I mean hit on her. Hardcore. Apparently, they had just met that day through Couchsurfing. She lives in the city but doesn’t know many people. She got engaged the day before. He kept leaning over and touching her and saying he was too late. Gross.
So, I sat. On his computer. Facebook and Twitter messaging people about my dilemma. Feeling desperate. What did I get myself into? I had told him I would stay with him for a few days and I had barely lasted a few hours. If I had wanted to sit in a corner and be ignored, I would have gone to a bar and worked. I wouldn’t have signed up for this experience with this person.
Fortunately, Chris (@TheAussieNomad), was my knight in shining armour, kindly “listening” to me bitch via Skype instant messaging and sending me a link to Hostel Aloha so I could get the hell out of dodge as soon as possible.
After two hours of listening to the two of them chatter, and being shot down nearly every time I spoke to them. Theone time he did decide to talk to me was when his preferred method of suicide is to jump from a building, since it’s the quickest way to die, and because (apparently) the jumper relives the best moment of life before hitting the ground below. The best part of the conversation? When he confessed the moment he would relive would be sex with his ex-girlfriend.
Yup, that’s what he told me.
I finally announced I was going to eat.
“Come on,” Alejandra said to him. “We should go. She said she hasn’t eaten all day.”
So, we left.
“I am not sure where we will eat, but let’s walk and we will find something,” he informed us.
We walked. And walked. And then stopped at a stand for a moment. A few moments later, Borris, who had instructed Alejandra and I to “wait” emerged with a gorgeous sandwich.
What the hell?
“Um … you got food?” I asked. “I thought we were going to eat together.”
“Yes,” he said, stuffing the pita into his mouth. “Not here.”
Oh. My. God. I am shaking I am so hungry.
We walk more. And more. And more. And, then I stop them.
“Where are we going?” I ask, frustration burning my cheeks. Pangs of hunger rumbling in my stomach.
“I told you,” he said, raising his voice. “I don’t know this area so we are just walking.”
“Yes, I understand that, but we have walked by a ton of food places. Why do we keep walking?”
“You want to go back and eat at one of those?” Borris shot back, anger sweeping across his face.
“Borris,” I began, breathing in, “I would like to eat anywhere and not keep walking.”
“Fine,” he snapped. “We go back to the train station.”
There was a Pizza Hut tucked into the back corner of the station. A delicious, greasy pizza would be perfect.
“I’m just going to go there,” I announced.
“Well, I don’t want that,” he said.
I don’t give a shit, sir. You have already eaten more than I have in one sitting today, and in front of me.
“OK, well then you can get something else in this little area and we can all sit together,” I said, walking off to go grab food.
I came back to the table and the two of them sat there, with nothing in front of them.
“No food?” I asked.
“No,” he said.
Alejandra and I started talking, which visibly upset him. He started to squirm in his chair, looking uncomfortable, mopey.
After I ate, we left the station.
“Wait here,” Borris announced, bounding down a set of stairs outside, and emerging two minutes later with even more food. Why he didn’t just do that earlier and then sit with us together, I don’t know.
“I’m really tired,” I said, thinking there was no way in hell I wanted to spend another minute awake with this person. “Is it OK if we go back to your house and then if you two want to go out, you go ahead?”
“Yes, it is fine,” he said.
And, then it got worse.
The only other conversation he got in with me that night was about America. If there is one thing I really don’t enjoy, it is getting into heated conversations about America.
“I don’t ever want to go to America,” he stated.
“Why?” I asked. I shouldn’t have, but I did. The thing is, when people start to talk bad about my country, I feel the need to defend it. I may not always love where I live, but it is my country and I don’t think anyone can judge anything blindly.
“You want to build a fence around Mexico and keep people out.”
“So, that’s why you would never go to America?”
“I don’t like your politics.”
“I understand you not liking our politics. That’s fine. But really? I am in Germany, and let’s face it, this country hasn’t always had the best politics.”
“America doesn’t have anything to visit.”
I tried to appeal to his hippie earth-loving nature, spouting off about the beauty of the parks. Then, I just conceded, because I decided I didn’t want him to come to America if he felt like that. And I certainly didn’t want him surfing on my couch.
We arrived back to his flat and he and Alejandra decided to have coffee. I was over the entire night.
“You can stay here if you want,” he said to her.
“No, I have to go home soon,” she said, “but I can stay for a little.”
I went to his room and pulled down the inflatable mattress. I listened to them chat for a bit, and heard him come in and get ready for bed. And then I was out.
The next morning, it wasn’t the light spouting into the room that woke me up, it was a loud “ha ha ha” (just like that) that made me sit up.
Borris was awake in his bed, talking to someone. Someone on the floor.
Actually, two someone’s on the floor, next to me.
What the hell?
I got up and went to the kitchen where he and one of his friends had placed themselves, the other guy was still sleeping next to my bed.
“Can I check e-mail?” I asked.
“Yes,” Borris said, walking back into the room and setting it up for me.
“We didn’t wake you, right?”
I shook my head “no,” and he continued. “They called me last night. They are environmentalist friends of mine and needed a place to sleep so I told them to sleep here with us.”
I opened my e-mail as he walked back into the kitchen, obviously not caring if I was bothered.
YES!! Confirmation from Aloha.
I never smiled so big from an e-mail saying I had a bed in a dorm room.
I walked back into the kitchen where Borris stood, his friend had left.
“I just got a text from a friend I am meeting here,” I lied. “He booked us a room in a hostel tonight, so I am going to go and meet him.”
“I don’t have a key for you,” Borris said. “You will have to text me later.”
“No,” I said gently. “I am leaving and going to stay at the hostel.”
“Oh,” he said. “That was quick.”
Damn straight it was. And miserable.
I gathered my belongings and headed for the door, hoping I could avoid another hug.
“This was your first time surfing?” He asked. He already knew the answer.
“Well, it is a really great community,” he offered.
“Yes, I know.”
Then, I raced as fast as I could down the stairs without toppling over with my bags and out into the cool Berlin air.
A wave of relief rushed over me as soon as I walked out the last set of double doors and into the streets of the city.
Now, it was time to see Berlin.