Today I carried my baggage from one part of Berlin to another. For once I was less focused on secretly filming the moods and behaviours of others – I had too many bags for such nonsense – so I was just a normal or perhaps extra-normal passenger. I was relieved to arrive at the platform for the metro, the heels of my shoes are paper thin from months of travel across all sorts of pavements (and they weren’t in great shape to begin with). I dug through my sea of bags to find a ticket to validate. This validation process involves putting the correct end of a ticket into a little yellow box and waiting for a shuddering thump of the stamp of the time, date and place. From this point you have two hours to use the ‘system’ to get where you need to go – I hope it won’t take that long. I’m carrying my handbag, a camera bag, a shopping bag, a green bag filled with juggling stuff, chargers and books, and floating amongst the bags is a jumper and a tripod. So I’m kind of keen to find a seat on the metro that should be arriving in one minute. I wonder what the pecking order should be – how old does someone have to look for a girl with four bags to give up her seat. In Germany not many people seem to be giving up their seats for others anyway.
As everyone piles onto the carriage, I slowly manage to get on. I spy a seat but it is further up the carriage and as I head towards it, I am hit by the acceleration of the train pulling me back like I’m swimming upstream. I smile as I enjoy the struggle against this force and how it jolts my body around. I get to the seat and try to swing my bags around so my girth isn’t impacting on the people to the sides of me. I don’t quite pull it off and I get a little sneer from the lady to my right. I will avoid eye contact with her for the rest of the trip. So we, the passengers, are lined up on each of the walls of the carriage, facing each other. It feels like these carriages are designed for people watching, but we all manage to avoid looking at any particular person long enough to make any real eye contact. It’s an art form. You watch the people who are watching someone or something else, preferable far enough away from you so your gaze escapes their peripheral vision. In front of me I have a bunch of youngsters/youths/kids/I don’t know what to call them without sounding patronising or like they are up to no good. Anyway, they have been shopping (or maybe shop lifting and then my use of youths sounds appropriate) and have loaded bags. There are also two very plain women who keep on looking at the same things, but I don’t think they know each other – they are having a synchronised people watching session.
For one of the first times in Berlin, I manage to get off the metro at the right stop. I feel proud, but also embarrassed at my previous failed attempts – I impulsively have been getting off the metro when I hear a station that sounds like the one I’m meant to get off, only to find that it was only the first and last letter that was the same. I follow the crowd, including a few rough looking dogs on leashes, around to the S-bahn. As I juggle my bags in a much more awkward way than I originally carried them, I hope that the walk is short. It is. As much as I love the stairs normally, or taking the speedy side (the left in Germany) to walk up the escalator, I relax into my little slot on the slower right side of the escalator and let it do its thing.
I have perfect timing (or the trains come all the time) as the train arrived seconds after I arrived on the platform. I only had time to have a little look around and spot my imaginary transit romance for this trip. I instinctively get into the same carriage as him (or maybe he got into the same carriage as me) and I find a seat next to the window. This time we have a different seating arrangement – four seat booth style – so there are really only two people you look directly at. So maybe I should explain this imaginary transit romance – sometimes subconsciously I start to imagine little romances with random guys I see on public transport, I know they will never eventuate but that makes them more fun. I just pretend we are two connected souls that are trying to work out how to show our love for each other on a crowded old metro carriage. But then we get off at different stops and the romance ends there. Anyway, halfway through the journey, a man sits down beside me. I attempt to cram my bags closer to my body to give him more space, but he says something polite in German, so I let it be and he smiles – some Germans can be kind on the metro – das ist gut. Knowing I have a bit of time on the S7 I have somehow managed, using a very tricky yoga pose (I do believe there should be yoga classes which specialise in awkward transport manoeuvres), to pull out a book and now I am reading. To make my romance more interesting, another young guy glances down at me, the girl who is surrounded by bags, tripods and absorbed in a book – at that moment I glance up at him cutely but then turn back to the book – he must think I’m one of those disorganised, arty, interesting, intellectual and inte-other stuff too. How easily fooled one can be on the train. He sits next to me when the polite man gets off. This is when I get absorbed in my book and don’t dare glance sideways – whatever happens with my transit romances, the worst thing would be real contact with one of the characters that let my imagination stray.
I should point out at this point, I have decided I’m going to write about this trip. Perhaps it’s the neurotic parole in the novel I’m reading, or just getting a chance to glance out the window and remember how beautiful things are. Whatever it is, I’ve started narrating the trip in my head (it was all in the present tense then but now it’s a mix of past, present and maybe even future). It is the time of sunset and most of the sky is filled with subtle colours, and the light on the buildings is soft and makes everything seem less intimidating – even spectacular monuments. I am enjoying the colours of the apartment blocks. Perhaps one day I would like to live in a pink building with white window sills. From time to time I catch a glimpse of my reflection and the reflection of other people in the train. I like this mainly because it randomly appear and it is unclear – just when we pass a dark patch in our surroundings I see fragments of reflection. I like how I get to see people from all different angles and I get to look at them without looking in their direction.
Amongst all this romance and looking around I am still trying to read my book, but Berlin is genuinely intriguing, as is the self-obsessed narrator in the book I’m reading. I find myself not having enough time on the train to do everything I want as I read and look around. I’m new to this city and I guess one can get bored of beauty, so maybe the book would eventually win if I lived here. My stop comes and I get off without excess anticipation. I leave my window seat and my imaginary transit romances. I had felt quite at home for a little while there, but I make sure I have all my bags that were surrounding me, and head for the exit.