The curious thing about finding a place to stay through couchsurfing.com is the criteria you use to guide your search. Here we have a
website that has institutionalized the traveler instinct to be around strangers, the stranger the better, as I found myself looking
for a host in Berlin. I considered my options.
Lisa has a cat. She looks cute. She likes the outdoors.
Katharina has a child and lives in her mother’s old apartment. Posts from previous guests relate positive experiences with both mother and child.
“Cutest kid ever!” they all seemed to say.
Both looked good. Maternity was a hot topic, after all. I was on my way to Copenhagen to visit some friends, Anders and Maria. He had come a
long way since we’d last been together, in Florianopolis, Brazil for a week of barbeque, caiprinhas, cafezinhos and late night scheming. Now,
they were home and expecting their first child. I couldn’t wait to rub Maria’s belly. She was my first friend to get pregnant. I had to visit her.
I contacted both Lisa and Katharina, but hoped for the mother. I figured I ought to warm up to being around parents. If traveling is about
expanding perspectives, then being with parents my age would be a quantum leap. Most of my friends counted their weekend plans as their biggest
concerns. I wanted to see the evolution in Anders and Maria.
Katharina didn’t write me back. Thankfully, Lisa did, so I rode the subway to her neighborhood, Charlottenburg, and met her in front of the Berlin
opera. She shook my hand and led me to her place. Up in her apartment, we had tea. I complimented her on her book selection:
East of Eden, Sophie’s Choice, De Profundis: The Ballad of Reading Gaol and Other Writings. I couldn’t have built a better bookshelf myself. It made me wish for a second
that I had a bookshelf instead of a backpack. I wanted to trade the Vonnegut novel I’d just finished, but Lisa didn’t read these books in
English. She too lived with her American mom. Lisa had inherited the books from her. So I kept my mouth shut and resolved
to find a good book trade farther down the road.
We listened to music and showed each other clips on YouTube. She rolled a cigarette; I asked for one and we smoked out her window, peering over the
rooftops and trees of her bedroom view. She had a really thick rug, comfortable to sit on the floor, our backs against her bed, tooling around
on the internet, showing each other snippets of video and music that revealed something of ourselves. I don’t think I met her cat.
It began to get dark. She said we should move if we wanted to see the city. We hopped on bikes, I on her mother’s, painted pink. We headed east, riding
in a straight line towards Grosser Stern, a monument in the middle of Berlin’s central park. After what seemed like a long ride, we reached the
roundabout that encircled the monument. She suggested I ride back in the direction faced by the monument,
west, as it was easy to get lost. I didn’t expect to have much of a problem.
We pulled our bikes into a currywurst stand and had sausages, or, I had sausages. She didn’t feel like them, but currywurst was a Berlin staple so she coached
me as I ordered. She wanted Tom Kha soup from aThai place nearby, we went there next. I got the soup too and considered the double dinner a feast. We lingered
over the meal. She was supposed to visit a friend in the neighborhood for a serious discussion, but it took a while to finish the soup. Afterwards we smoked
another cigarette on a bench and only then did she hop on her bike to leave.
She pointed me home. I rode back through Checkpoint Charlie, past Brandenburger Gate and back into the park. I got to the monument; just as she predicted,
I was disoriented. Riding around the roundabout, all feeder roads looking identical, engulfed by trees and park, I forgot where I’d entered and where to exit. I looked up at the statue and saw where it pointed. I remembered Lisa’s story about the conquest to which they’d dedicated that monument; I ducked off the
roundabout and back to Charlottenburg.
I was home alone now. I crept to the spare room, lingering over the bulletin board of menus, reminders and significant quotes. I brushed my teeth in her bathroom,
not hesitating to borrow her toothpaste, careful to put it back where she kept it.