I had a slightly odd evening in Berlin recently – “random”, I think the youngsters would call it. It started when I met Marie, who is really called Tanya, at her friend’s flat off Friedrichstrasse. You’re frowning so let’s engage reverse gear and incorporate some back story:
A couple of weeks ago I asked my pal, Swiss Jules, for suggestions on places to stay near Milan. He mentioned a jazz festival in Lugano, but I thought accommodation might be booked out. ‘Try www.couchsurfing.org,’ was his reply. I dismissed the idea – chiefly because I don’t like sleeping on couches – and opted for Lago Maggiore instead.
A few days later, though, I thought I’d have a little browse on the site. Aha, you can just meet travellers for coffee or a drink. Well, a coffee is actually a drink but I know what they’re getting at. How nice, I thought, to meet somebody interesting with local knowledge. Maybe I’ll see the side of town that tourists don’t.
The next logical step is to send a message to a suitable host. Now, I hadn’t initially thought of the site as a dating site but… If you’re anything like me, you’ve no time to delve far into the 1,600 or so entries for Berlin. Find a honey on the first page, is what I say.
Actually, that’s not strictly true. If she had listed her interests as shoppin’ and chillin’, I would have scrolled further. Tanya’s passion for sailing, however, was enough to intrigue me.
An extended nap in the afternoon, coupled with chaos on the S-bahn lines in Berlin, meant that I didn’t turn up in town until 10.15pm. Late for meeting a new girl, I agree, but the nice thing about Couchsurfing is that these aren’t “dates”. Anyway, I reached the flat where a send-off for a Parisian girl was in full spate. I rang the bell.
‘It’s Barnaby for Marie,’ I said. Silence. Bugger, I forgot that’s only her surfing name. Regardless, the buzzer buzzed and there were just seven flights of stairs between me and an exciting encounter.
POLICE – BEWARE!
We spoke of sailing and fashion – the latter topic saw little input from me – and how she would love to have Madonna as a godmother. That was the turning point. What I did discover, though, which is jolly applicable to me, is that drunken cycling is ‘verboten’ here.
But surely a couple of “grapefruit beers” are harmless enough, I thought naively, knocking back the last alcopop in the fridge.
So, if squiffy peddling has you nervous as an oyster at low tide – glancing constantly over a shoulder for blue lights – you’ll be relieved to learn that, in Berlin, the metro runs all night at weekends..