I remember getting off of the 28X at the airport in January, my friend Justin and I were taking a flight to New York City to stay with his brother and girlfriend for a night before heading off on our 4-week European excursion. I stepped out into the chill of the Pittsburgh winter and before the wind could hit my face and cause tears to fall, I couldn’t help but think; “I’m going to be cold anyway, I might as well do it on the other side of the world.” Fast forward to security and having to rearrange all of those troublesome 1 oz. into a clear plastic bag, and being asked if I was really taking a Primanti’s sandwich with me.
Fast forward to take off. Goodbye Heinz Field, goodbye Pittsburgh, hope there’s hockey when I come back. Everything from landing at JFK on the 15th to landing in Berlin on the 17th was an absolute blur. My first foray into the German winter was nothing but grey and white, snow blowing sideways and shadows forming behind each wall of passing flakes. The blustery walk from airport to bus was something out of a movie with hats blowing and tumbling over frost covered sidewalks and the owners comically behind them, arms outstretched with hands grasping, but not quite reaching. The bus was crowded with tourists and locals alike. Those of us that did not call Berlin home were easily identifiable by bulky luggage or sprawling maps or armfuls of postcards and gifts for loved ones back home. Moving through the city and taking notice of buildings and landmarks that for awhile I was certain I would only see on television or in books took me for a bit of a loop. A perpetual smile was beaming from my face and my head was planted firmly in the clouds. Our stopped arrived quickly and we disembarked, luggage and all into a new adventure.
Our hostel was at right off of the U-bahn at the Warschauer Strasse stop at 6 Warschauer Platz. I took a couple of context clues from the addresses around me and directed us to the right. We stopped into the first restaurant that we saw and sat down. It was a quaint pasta restaurant run by two brothers, decorated with painted tiles, a fireplace, and a bookshelf of classics. The countertop was littered with amazing old wine bottles from labels synonymous with fantastic French and Spanish wine. The stark contrast of everything in this eatery made the whole experience somewhat laughable, but I would not have wanted any other introduction to Berlin. Our conversation started in English with small talk of where we were all from, where they informed us that they were of Moroccan descent. I then switched to what French I knew, which led them to asking how I even began speaking French as an American. My response was that I am from Pittsburgh and before I could get the rest of it out, they both gave a hearty laugh before screaming “BLACK AND YELLOW BLACK AND YELLOW SIX RINGS!” to which we could only shake our heads and laugh to ourselves. The conversation continued as they delivered our meals, and we were able to eat it without having to utter a word, as they wanted to impress us with their Steelers knowledge. From the Immaculate Reception, the two most recent super bowls, the two of us were dumbfounded by these two foreigners passion for Pittsburgh. Our meal had a home feel to it, good beer, football talk and people who loved our city as much as we did. Justin asked if they had ever been to which they responded to in the negative. We told them that if they ever had a chance to make it over that they would have a place to stay. As we stood up to pay the brothers rounded the counter to meet us and shook our hands. They told us that we were home and that there was no charge for our meal. The hometown discount without even being in our hometown.
Walking out, I had forgotten where I was after such a warm encounter. Justin and I continued on taking in everything that this neat neighborhood in Berlin had to offer. We walked over a bridge and through an underpass before finding the hostel that we were staying in. Standing on the curb in front of this massive building made us feel validated. Looking to the left was everything that we felt was behind us for the time being. To the right, though it was history, was the Berlin wall and everything we felt was ahead. In addition to all of that, it now seemed that no matter where we went we would find someone to identify with, and that the long reach of the Steel City knew no bounds.
I remember stepping off of that curb to take the first real step of our trip, and dropped right into puddle of frosted, semi-frozen water and saying to myself; “I can’t believe I flew halfway across the world to be this cold.”