The madness started on a boring and cold February morning, when I departed my home town and went on a long bus ride, heading for Berlin from the town of my studies. It was time for internship at the university, my second year living in Germany. I had never been to the capital before, so journey itself was very promising. It was supposed to be one day trip, I was planning on spending just a few hours in the city of my dreams, and my goal was to attend an interview for an intern position at one of Berlin’s youth hostels.
Finding the hostel was not an easy task and took me 2 hours of walking round and about the area called Friedrichshain. Finally I found the place – it was really nice and cosy. The manager – a French lady – was welcoming and showed me around. There was no real interview, not really. We just confirmed the details of my employment and living arrangements. I was allowed to sleep in a mixed dormitory for free for the first month. The job was about to start in April.
Moving to Berlin
Two months flew by like a breeze, and it was time to pack. I didn’t grab too much stuff with me on this journey – some clothes and my laptop, that’s about it. My first room was 10-bed dorm, I could pick a bed that I like (upper bunk) and there was a locker. Not too comfortable, but hey, I was just 20! You don’t care about comfort when you are that young! Or so I thought. First nights were definitely a struggle – strange people, strange sounds. Later I was moved to 6-bed women’s dorm – much better to my opinion! At least it was easier to sleep.
The job was quite demanding – I had to start early, around 8 am. My tasks included keeping an eye on the smooth operation of the hostel – attention to detail! For example, I had to greet the guests and show them to their rooms (not carry luggage!). Our hostel had 5 floors – imagine the amount of running up and down the stairs! By the end of the internship I was fit like never before in my life.
My other tasks included making sure the rooms are ready – so called “quality check”. I have to say that our Polish cleaning ladies, who didn’t speak a word in German or English, did a great job! Another task for me was making sure guests who were bound to leave that morning made it before check-out time. Now imagine a tiny girl walking into a 10-bed dorm and asking for some Mister X to leave please. You wouldn’t believe how many guests were stuck in their rooms for way longer than they should. Also my responsibilities included handing out feedback forms, showing guests to luggage storage rooms, shopping, later on answering emails, making bookings, answering the phone.
There were fun parts too – like making a huge board with different national flags for FIFA world championship. Berlin in summer 2006 was crazy, bursting with colours, flags, fans all over and celebrations every day. It was super fun to be right in the middle of it all! Watching football on huge screens is an experience hard to explain – even if you are not a fan, somehow you become part of this craziness.
After settling in first thing I did on my limited budget was to buy a bike. Berlin is very bike friendly. Later, when I moved out of the hostel and rented an apartment in far eastern part of the city (Hellerdorf), I was cycling to work every day (about 15 km one way). My bike took me everywhere I wanted to go – as I didn’t have any long-term friends, I was mostly alone, enjoying parks, the river, the busy city and its culture, and of course the people!
What did I learn?
There were times when I felt incredibly happy, riding my bike at 2 am from a party, listening to a nice song on the radio, feeling like there is nothing in the world stopping me from doing exactly what I want. Easily the best time of my life in terms of personal freedom and self-exploration, though sometimes it was challenging and demanding. Every day was a surprise – where would I go, what would I do. The whole city was my tiny little universe – I could do anything I want. Money was the issue, of course, Berlin isn’t cheap. But you can manage, if you are smart and do some research. And I went to some weird places! I went to parties alone and met some cool people. I went to all sorts of weird shops, ate street food for almost no money, and used a free coupon to dye my hair red! Cycled literally from one side of city to the other and back, just because I felt sad and needed distraction. But most importantly – I have learned so much about myself! Working in that hotel allowed me to step out of my comfort zone, broaden my horizons. I could truly say Berlin had changed me mentally and physically for a better, more self-confident person. For someone who has no fears of what life might throw at them.