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March 3, 2008 | by  | in Features |
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My First Day in Germany

Last year I received a scholarship from the DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) to do a six-week language course in Essen, Germany. After learning German for three years here at Victoria and having never been to Germany before, I was pretty excited. And the scholarship itself is particularly awesome – it’s like getting paid to have a great time in Germany with friends from around the world. I left Wellington on the 8th of December 2007, and spent three weeks in Brisbane with my family. It would be cold in Germany, and I needed a bit of summer. From Brisbane it was about eight hours to Singapore, four hours waiting, and then another thirteen hour flight to Frankfurt in Germany. I planned to sleep a decent amount on the last flight, as I would arrive at 5:15 am local time, but I only managed about two hours. I was pretty excited.

My first image of Germany came as the plane descended into Frankfurt, looking out the window as we went through the clouds and seeing the lights of the city appearing beneath me. My first day in Germany! It was going to be a long one…

I stayed in the airport for a few hours – first I ate breakfast, a roll with salami and cheese, which took me about thirty minutes to eat because the bread was so tough. I had planned on doing some shopping there, getting new shoes and a sim card for my phone, but there wasn’t a sim card that would work on my phone or a decent shoe shop, so eventually I decided to leave at around 9.30. I was going to meet my German friend Adeline in a town called Koblenz, which is somewhere in mid-western Germany. Adeline lives in another town called Trier though. I went to the Frankfurt Airport Fernbahnhof (train station for the long distance trains) and bought a ticket to go to Koblenz. It was bloody expensive – 75 euros (about NZ$150), but I didn’t think much of it. I then rang Adeline on a payphone and woke her up I think, hehe, and told her I was arriving in Koblenz at 1:38 pm. She told me the ticket was probably so expensive because one of the trains I was taking was the ICE, which is a fast train and therefore more expensive.

The train ride was pretty cool, and I was torn between watching the countryside and dozing off in my seat, as I had been travelling for over 24 hours with only two hours sleep. A different train guard seemed to come and check my ticket every five minutes, so I stuck with the countryside. I went past some towns whose names I recognised, but I couldn’t remember where they were on the map and didn’t feel like I had a good feel of where I was heading, but felt that Germany must be really huge! I had to change trains a few times, and at the second to last station, at a town called Waldshut, a lady came up to me with a backpack and explained how her son just left on the train without it, and it had his lunch in it. I said it was a shame, these things happen you know, and asked her where my platform was. Being in contact with Germans in Germany – I was happy, and learning new words already.

Koblenz was only five minutes away on the next train, and Adeline wasn’t there. I waited and had a look around. Koblenz seemed to be quite small, there was a kiosk at the station run by a lady with a strange accent, and all of the trains leaving the station seemed to be going out of the country. After a while I started to think that there was probably another train station in Koblenz, and this was just the one for the trains going to Switzerland or something. I tried calling Adeline on a payphone, but it wouldn’t work. There was a panel next to the phone I could use to send text messages, so I did, but it froze after I sent it and I wasn’t sure if it had actually worked. I kept waiting around, sitting on a bench outside the kiosk and putting warmer clothes on, looking at the approaching cars and expecting to see Adeline any second. Something was not right here…

I can’t remember how exactly I figured it out, but it suddenly just came to me, like there was a puzzle in front of me I didn’t see until I had solved it. It was something the lady at Waldshut said, the payphone here in Koblenz that wouldn’t work, the lady at the kiosk with the accent, a web address printed somewhere… It came to me – Oh fuck! I was in Switzerland! There must be a Koblenz in Switzerland and another one in Germany!

I went to the lady at the kiosk and asked her if I was in Switzerland… Yep, I was. I then asked if there was a Koblenz in Germany as well, and she said no, she was 100% certain. I got out my map of Germany and showed it to her – Koblenz was clearly in the middle. She just said yep, that’s where we are, here’s Switzerland, there’s the boarder… I was so confused. I then figured I could ring Adeline if I put in the country code for Germany, which I did and it worked. I asked, “Is Koblenz in Switzerland?” “Ummm no…” “Uh, I think I’m in Switzerland!”

We had a laugh. She was on her way back to Trier, and she was worried when I didn’t show up and thought I might have fallen asleep on the train and was somewhere else in Germany. I then had to buy tickets to Trier, so went to the ticket place to do that, and would have to ring Adeline later and tell her what time I would arrive in Trier. The guy had trouble putting together the ticket for me, and I had trouble understanding him because of his Swiss accent. I started to feel sick. He eventually did it though, figuring out my timetable, and I had to pay 142 Swiss francs for the ticket… and I had no idea how much that was! I just sighed and handed over my credit card.

I had to wait about an hour in Waldshut, and felt terrible. I was tired, hungry, and annoyed I had made such a big mistake on my first day. But I listened to music to pass the time and started to feel better, it was actually pretty funny – I was in Switzerland for about two hours without even knowing it! That would never happen in New Zealand, catching a train and accidentally ending up in another country. I could see a Burger King nearby but couldn’t be bothered carrying my pack there and back, so I just ate a kit kat and mentos I got off the plane. The train eventually came, which would take me back to Basel, then I switched to an ICE train going to Mannheim – I got some trouble on this train.

The train guard awoke me from dozing and checked my ticket, and he stared at it for ages and started asking questions about where I came from and where I was going. He said my ticket was wrong and I would need to buy a new one – 84 euros! My credit card didn’t work and I only had 60 euros on me, which I gave to him. He figured something out and gave me a new ticket, saying I would now need to stay on this train until Frankfurt Airport again, then could go to Koblenz (in Germany this time!), then to Trier. He gave me one euro change. I was pretty gutted, I now only had like 2 euros, and was annoyed at the Swiss guy for selling me a dud ticket and at me for not being able to completely understand him. I started to doze off again, and the train guard came back and tapped me on my shoulder and asked to see my ticket again.

After looking at it he asked for the one he gave me back, then for his euro. I was pretty pissed off, he took most of my money then came back for the rest! But he then gave me my 60 euros back and apologised because he was wrong – he had been confused because my ticket was weird, so had asked someone, then found out that there is a Koblenz in Switzerland as well as Germany! He thought I’d come from the German one. Even though I had spent heaps of money on these damn tickets, I was now really glad to have these 60 euros back. I eventually got to Trier after another few train switches – I had to be careful on the next ICE and not fall asleep, otherwise I could have ended up in Paris!

Adeline was there at Trier! It was so good to see her. I arrived at about 10.30 and was so tired and hungry, I was a mess. But we went to Burger King for dinner and I felt way better, even though my chicken burger tasted like fish.

What a first day! At least I got to go to Switzerland and got a great story out of it, even if I now have a mild phobia of trains.

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About the Author ()

Mikey learned everything he knows about English Grammar in an MSN chat room when he was 13. Believing that people don't say "LOL" enough in everyday conversation, he has made it his mission to teach the world about grammerz one person at a time.

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