On my previous trip to Warsaw, Poland, earlier this month, tickets from New York City were going for about $1300.00. This is a bit much, so after some searching, I found a return fare to Berlin for less than half of that – $600. Now, Berlin is about an hour away from Warsaw by air, 6 hours by train, and 10 hours by bus, so a bit of schlepping would be required, and the cost was about €50 ($69) each way, but I still ended paying just over half of the direct flight ticket to Warsaw (that’s a kind of travel hacking!).
My return flight from Berlin back to New York was an early-morning one, on the morning of Wednesday, August 8th, and the latest train that could take me from Warsaw to Berlin in time was the evening train on the Tuesday night before. What was supposed to be a 5-and-a-half hour train ride became an hour longer due to something mechanical that needed to be addressed, so I was stuck at Ostbahnhof for that hour.
When I finally arrived at the massive Berlin Hauptbahnhof (Berlin Central Station), it was just past midnight, and most shops and eateries were closed. I would be stuck here for the next 6 to 7 hours, and I wasn’t so tired, since I had slept on much of the six hour train ride from Warsaw. Buses stopped service from around 1:00am until about 4:30am, so I had to stay at least 4 hours. Berlin is amazing, especially the nightlife; I could take a cab and go somewhere, but I had two bags with me and I couldn’t be bothered.
So, what to do? I can tell you that I made numerous runs outside to smoke (without getting in trouble with security, this time); being bored has that effect on me. I Skyped with friends from my phone, since it is 6 hours earlier in New York, and it made me quite happy to see their faces from so far away. There is free wifi in and around the second floor Starbucks, even after it is closed. This is the only time I was happy to see an American corporate chain restaurant.
Using the restroom (called “WC” in much of Europe, for “water closet”) is not so cheap, as it is €1 ($1.25) to enter the bathroom, though you do get a €0.50 coupon back for the next trip. So, every two uses of the toilets at Hauptbahnhof costs €1.50, and a 6- to 7-hour stay had me entering about 4 times in all. Once inside, the facility is well-kept and well-stocked.
I started feeling rather grimey, since I hadn’t showered since Tuesday morning, and it was now into the wee hours of Wednesday morning. Also, sitting on any transportation, whether it be bus, train, or plane, for 6 hours causes one to feel less than clean. I was happy to find that there is a pay shower facility within the paid restroom facility (actually I had found and used it on the first leg of my trip to Warsaw). For €7 ($8.70; plus €1 to enter the bathroom facility), one of the employees will unlock what looks like a closet and turn the lights on for you. Inside, there is a shower, a sink, and a stool to sit on or to lay your clothes on. Towels and a bathmat are provided as well, included in the price. I spent a relaxing and refreshing 45 minutes in there with no one asking me to speed it up; hey, I had to kill time!
I ate several small meals at each of the two joints that stayed open throughout the night; one is a healthy smoothie and juice shop, and the other had many nice Italian sandwiches. Not the greatest selection, but not so bad either. Coffee was readily available, and it was surprisingly tasty.
There are two information booths within Berlin Hauptbahnhof, one each in front of both the front and rear entrances. Overnight, one is open for any questions a traveler might have, and I was happy to hear that they spoke English well. About halfway through my overnight stay, I had another question to ask (or perhaps I just needed some human interaction), and I went to the booth that had been open before to find that it was closed. However, as I was pacing around the building, I noticed the other information kiosk was open that was previously shut; I guess they had switched?
Sometime around when the sun started coming up, I headed across the street to the bus that would take me to TXL, Berlin Tegel Airport. I had been informed that it was €2.70 ($3.35) for the fare, payable on the bus, but when I got on the bus and tried to hand the driver the money, he muttered something in German (which I can’t understand) and waved me to the back. The bus took off, and made a few local stops before arriving at Tegel. At the first stop, when I saw people boarding and paying their fare, I again approached the bus driver and displayed my correct change; he again muttered something in German and waved me back. When we arrived at the airport, the driver immediately got up and walked outside and disappeared, so I never ended up paying. I still don’t quite understand what happened, as I was told how much the fare would be, but this basically reimbursed me for my 4 bathroom trips throughout the night!
When I did try to shut my eyes, it took some time to find a bench that wasn’t taken. Each bench in the station seats 3, and I think there are maybe 6 in all, scattered throughout the commercial floors of Hauptbahnhof; there are perhaps a few more at each track. If you really want to try to sleep comfortably, spreading out on the floor seems like the best option. I didn’t do it myself, since I wasn’t that tired to begin with, but the police don’t seem to bother anyone doing so; I watched pairs of police pass all kinds of slumbering travelers all night long, and I never saw anyone get disturbed. All in all, my overnight stay at Berlin Hauptbahnhof was pleasant. Any discomfort and inability to sleep was mainly my fault for having slept prior to arriving, so I can say that I’ve had worse accommodations.