After taking in the sights, sounds and Americans of Prague for a few days, it was off to Berlin, Germany. The group I was traveling with split up, with a friend and I heading to Berlin and our two other travel companions heading to Paris and Switzerland to spend their life’s savings.
We took a six hour train ride to Berlin, and fortunately there is nothing unusual or uncomfortable to report, because we learned from our previous error and took a train in the daytime.
Having spent three months in Copenhagen up to this point, I was used to living in a modern European city. What I hadn’t realized is just how non-American Copenhagen is, and it took traveling to Berlin to learn this. Berlin is equally modern, but it is also extremely American, with a McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken or Starbucks on nearly every street corner. But unlike Prague, it doesn’t have the feel of a tourist city. German history is very much a part of the vibe of modern Berlin and, speaking as someone that will never miss an opportunity to make fun of the country for its deplorable history, I think it’s handled in a classy, accessible way. Every museum devoted to Germany’s crimes against humanity (the Holocaust) or crimes against its citizens (East Germany, the Berlin Wall, Stasi, etc.), is free and open to the public.
After hitting up all of the obligatory Berlin Wall sites and museums, my friend Maura and I spent our last few hours in Berlin before the bus ride back to Copenhagen just wandering around. This ended up being some of the best times we had during our travels; just walking around with nowhere to go and no plans. We turned one corner and walked into a group of Germans protesting NATO, its role in Libya and policing the world. This was quite controversial, and multiple Germans came up to the protestors to voice their anger and displeasure with their beliefs. Things almost got physical at several points, something I was rooting for since I was snapping away on my camera. Alas, conflict was diffused and there was no fighting to be had, a true turning point for the German people. I told you I never miss an opportunity, didn’t I?
As we continued strolling through Berlin, we came upon a sight that you definitely would not see in a U.S. city, at least not out in the open in a seemingly nice area. A Middle Eastern man was playing a gambling game that consisted of a ball being passed back and forth under three small boxes. If you guessed the right box – which was actually very easy to do – you would double your Euros. If you guessed wrong, you lost it all. The man tried luring in every passerby, either in German or broken English.
Most Germans just walked by, but a young woman with hastily applied mascara was feverishly playing the game, thriving on the highs of winning and the lows of defeat. It became clear as she lost more and more money, yet was still easily convinced into one more gamble, that she was hooked on the game. After guessing wrong, again, the guy controlling the ball pointed at Maura for a guess, and she guessed correctly. Now Maura was playing. The following, kids, is why your mom always told you not to gamble.
Maura only had ten Euros left, and she put it all in because of how easy it was to guess the right box where the ball was hidden. And, to her credit, she did string together some victories that quickly doubled, tripled and quadrupled her ten Euros. But then Maura guessed incorrectly, and she lost everything. She was, of course, in shock. The man then turned to me, and in his broken English tried to hustle me into the game, but I decided to listen to my mother and not get involved in gambling. Actually, I only had two Euros, so I just couldn’t play, luckily.
After sulking through the streets for several minutes (“I had like 80 Euros in my hand!” Maura kept saying in disbelief), we got on the bus for the long ride back to Copenhagen, enjoying the movie “Horrible Bosses” and the sandwiches we’d covertly smuggled out of our hostel’s breakfast. Riding through Germany as the sun set may have been pretty cliché, but it was a nice cap on a week of new experiences in new places for a few dumb college kids.
Matthew Grant Anson is a junior at Whittier College in Whittier, California. He is studying this semester at the Danish Institute for Study Abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark.