// Overseas travel blog
It's Friday and mid-summer in Berlin. It’s maxing out at 34 degrees. This, by the way, takes place in the absence of ceiling fans, air conditioning or any other general cooling methods besides cold drinks and cold showers. The city is designed for winter – so cue insulated, cosy rooms and buttcrack sweat at the language school where even the windows are closed during the lessons in order to block out the intermittent, deep rumblings of the passing trams and traffic.
There was only one viable option when it came to how to spend the afternoon and that was swimming. I had been in contact with an acquaintance, who I had really only met a handful of times seven years ago, but who happened to be in Berlin for the weekend. I sent her a text and told her that the plan was to find a lake or pool to swim at for the afternoon, and before long I had arranged to meet her at a train station to get the train and meet another friend at a lake on the northern outskirts of the city.
We met at Ostkreuz (my local station), with cold beers in hand. It’s happy hour any hour in Berlin, and you can find people drinking tallies on the train at 10am, 3pm, 6pm, 1am... well really it doesn‘t matter. Strictly speaking, drinking on the train is not condoned but this is never enforced. Walking down the street or riding your bike around with a beer in hand is just the way of the city and why should trains be any different.
Before long we arrived at the lake, which had an entry fee similar to a public pool, and after some minutes searching the multicoloured carpet of towels amongst the grass and sand, found my other friend who had already been there a good half hour. It was time to swim.
The water was lovely and cool, and straddled that that perfect temperature where it is both refreshing, but also comfortable enough to stay in for twenty minutes and not feel cold. We paddled out through the kiddie-pee shallows and into the centre of the lake to tread water and have a chat.
After a while, we returned to shore. While the friend took off to collect her girlfriend from the train station, I kept an eye out for the other friend who had disappeared to grab some beers and food while we were swimming. It seemed like an eternity, but she finally returned with drinks, currywurst (sausage in a ketchup-like sauce) and fries.
‘Hey! Sorry it was soooo busy,' she explained, 'and in the end they didn’t even have proper beers – only these Radlers that are half beer and half lemonade.‘
I was about to reply, but before I could a German woman who was on her towel next to ours piped up in English, uninvited: ‘Yes, well that is because we are in Germany, and not in England, and here we don’t have a binge drinking culture. It would be irresponsible to serve full strength alcohol in an area with water like this.‘
Well, how kind of you to participate in our conversation with your racist remarks, German lady. By the way: speaking English does not mean you are from England.
‘Ja,’ I replied in German, ‘eingentlich kommen wir aus Australien. Und in Australien und England, kann kann überhaupt kein Alkohol beim Schwimmbad oder Wasser kaufen.’ (Yeah, well actually we come from Australia. And in Australia - and England - one cannot buy ANY alcohol at a pool or public swimming place).
She continued in half German and half English. ‘Well I used to work in a pub in England for six months, and people broke furniture because they were so drunk, and people got hurt, and it’s a terrible environment because people drink too much alcohol there. It is different here.’
‘OK, ja schade’ I said in German ('what a shame'), ‘aber das ist weil in Berlin die Menschen droggen statt alcohol nehmen.’ ('But that’s because in Berlin everyone just takes drugs instead of drinking').
After that she had little to say and decided to move her towel a little further away, and roll onto her fat white stomach, and face away from our set up so we could gladly enjoy our fake beers in peace. Verbal battle won in second language = success.
The other two friends (real Berliners, and fluent German speakers) returned shortly afterwards, and I recounted our little bout with the friendly neighbour loudly, so that said neighbour could hear us laughing at her expense. She should’ve known better than to confuse an Australian for a Pom.
The rest of the afternoon was spent swimming and chilling, having a couple of drinks, and commenced a wonderful start to the weekend that would drag into a week’s worth of weekend-ing.