As soon as St. Petersburg was forgotten behind the horizon, Poland and Germany became the primary focus for all of us on the ship. It was the first opportunity for major independent travel, allowing us to navigate our way from Gdansk to Rostock. Hectic plans were made as we tried to prioritize what to do, how to get there and with whom to travel.
The opportunities were endless and overwhelming.
The only thing I knew I wanted to do was to go to the Berlin Music Festival, so I met up with a friend who had a similar plan. We decided to buy concert tickets and reserve spots on an overnight bus to Berlin. When classmates asked us where we were staying once we got there, a simple shrug of the shoulders sufficed. I realized that I didn‚Äôt need to have everything planned and perfected to enjoy my time.
The bus station in Poland was nothing but a small sign on a side street near what looked like abandoned warehouses. We were some of the few that managed to find it. As the bus started pulling out and we started to fall asleep, a hoard of Semester at Sea students ran behind the bus begging for it to stop and explaining that they were waiting on the other side of the building. I could have easily made the same mistake.
Groggy and sore from the long hours of sitting, the morning air of Berlin cut through our clothes and we found ourselves quickly hailing a warm cab, completely giving up on public transportation. It was only 6 a.m. when we checked into our hostel and the lobby couches looked inviting so we curled up to rest.
I stayed awake while some friends slept and chatted with a young man from India who had been staying there for almost two weeks. It was incredible to make a friend from the other side of the world while we were both in Berlin. It made the world seem like a much smaller and friendlier place. He described the music festival, which ticket I had tucked into my Passport, and he told me the easiest and cheapest way to get around the city.
Once at the festival, crowds and excitement separated me from my one festival-going friend. Luckily there were sporadic clumps of familiar Semester at Sea students throughout and I never felt totally alone. Even if I had never officially met or talked to someone I recognized, we rushed to each other and became instant best friends. Maybe that is the beauty of Semester at Sea: no matter where we are, we have a strong community of lifelong friends.
Berlin opened my eyes to the liberal and artistic world of Germany that made me feel both welcome and safe. Amazing art lined the streets and was layered onto the Berlin wall. I learned that no matter the history of a place, it is what is happening now that gives a country character. It was incredible to see a historic landmark still standing to serve as a reminder of the past. But now it is reinvented into a collaborate work of art that proved the progressiveness of Germany. It‚Äôs this continuous change and innovation that really drew me to love Berlin.
Time passed quicker than expected, as it often does when you‚Äôre exploring. And it was already the day we had to be back on the ship, when we realized we didn‚Äôt know how to get there. After attempting to book bus tickets three tedious times, we were good to go and on our way.
Seeing the string of lights draped across the MV Explorer was a sight for sore eyes and the thought of unpacking, showering and sleeping was intoxicating. It was time to come home and exhaustion was taking over, but now there is a different air on the ship. All of us grew as we traveled and took that step outside of our comfort zone to become independent.
There are a few class days before we can travel through Belgium to France and I know I‚Äôm not the only one who is already packing my backpack for this next adventure.