The Ubahn was packed full of men proudly exhibiting their Lederhosen and freshly washed, hand-knitted jumpers with socks that wouldn`t go amiss in a Latvian landscape. The women fashioned, fancifully ornate frilly shirts pulling-up as much plump as they could manage to the forefront. They looked so twee, that they all could be going to auditions for a German remake of The Little House on the Prairie.
The first day of Oktoberfest made the usual leisurely ride to the Hauptbahnhof a more rushed affair and an even more rushed goodbye. Modern fragmented life has the habit of ripping you away from the very things that you have grown attached to, like deep friendships. Suddenly you find yourself changing circumstances, place and often what feels like to another time.
During a reluctant goodbye, I noticed a young man, perhaps no older than 20 who looked like he had stepped straight out of National Geographic magazine from the Mongolian foothills struggling to understand the Deutschebahn ticket conductor. After the train had set off I walked passed him and I noticed that he was sitting on the floor in the gangway clutching a lot of papers. Gesturing to the seats, I hoped that he understood that I was trying to tell him about the comfy seats that he was allowed to sit in. He spoke back to me in a language that I didn`t recognise. The next thing I knew he was by my seat handing me his large smart phone. A faint voice came from down the line.
"He`s my brother, can you tell him where to go? Where is the refugee camp"?
Straining to hear I told the faint voice that I had to go to Berlin and I didn`t know where the camp
was. I handed back the phone to the young man with large, ebony eyes and skin as tanned as Greek goat`s leather. I could have left it there. It`s not my problem right? I could have gone back to my book, but I didn`t, I couldn`t, how could I? The train silently ambled along. A couple of German passengers that were sitting opposite watched as I frantically messaged friends over messenger with the little internet connection that I had, asking if any of them knew of a camp in Eisenberg. One silently handed me a pen as I scrambled around in my bag to find one. I felt like I was disturbing people from their Saturday peace, but I had to help him. He couldn`t speak either English or German and I knew it would be difficult and confusing for him once he left the crowded, somewhat comforting train.
Luckily I got through to Katharina in Berlin who, with her fast speed internet connection was able to easily find the camp´s address as well as the contact names and telephone numbers of the people there. Calling the camp, I asked if they could meet him off the bus, surely they must, but he was one of many. They told me, that they couldn`t, but that the camp was easy to find from the bus station.
I was asked many questions about which country he was coming from, suddenly I realised I knew nothing about this young, exhausted man who kept bowing his head to me and putting his hand on his heart. I was cut off, trying the camp again, I reached a kinder woman, less official, called Naim, who told me not to worry that he would find the camp once he got to Eisenberg and to call her if he had problems as she knew Arabic. The phone went silent. I stood there for a few seconds not knowing how to start explaining. Arabic! I called a friend who I knew spoke fluently. After reaching him, I passed over the phone to the young man, hoping that this would help. A few words were exchanged before the mobile came back to me.
"He doesn`t speak Arabic Jessica".
"Oh, but it looked like Arabic when I saw it written"
"Yes, some other languages use the characters" He replied sullenly.
I felt ignorant. Of course, I should know that. I shook my head, easy mistake, I thought. The young man was already one step ahead of me and calling his family back, he shoved the pone back into my hand.
"Where are you calling from" I asked
"Iran" came the faint voice.
Right. I explained the directions, but it was difficult to hear and we got cut off as the train rocked to and fro and dived into a thick tunnel.
Suddenly I remembered a friend who is renting out my apartment in Munich whilst I am in Berlin, is Iranian/German. I quickly messaged her to see if she speaks Iranian. "You mean Farsi"? she asks, again, I blush at my own ignorance. She reassures me that it is OK to call the language Iranian. She swiftly helps to translate the directions to the refugee camp without further questions. Excitedly I show the young man what looks like scrambled English. He looks at me confused and I message her back that he cannot read roman letters. She says, "No, you need to read it out to him, it is phonetically written so when you sound it out it will be Farsi"
So I knelt next to the young man with jet black hair and sounded out the letters frantically waving my arms and gesturing with my hands to describe how to get to the refugee camp. His eyes flash and he can`t help himself to laugh at my attempt to which he then bows his head and touches my arm in encouragement. I feel stupid, but it is better to feel stupid than to leave him to wander, get lost and who knows where he might end up.
I sit back in my seat a little exhausted from packing my belongings the previous day into several boxes, leaving my home of one and a half years and going to a new and unknown city, equally, feeling the anxiety of this young man leaving for a new destination and perhaps new life. A German woman hands me a honey bar with a look of concern in her eyes and tells me that she will be getting off at the same stop as him and that she will show him the way to the bus stop. I thankfully exchange a few words with her and she nods sympathetically, her kind eyes soothing my anxiety somewhat.
Reaching ironically named Jena Paradis, his first destination to get to the camp, he waves his out-of-battery phone at me. My heart starts pounding again as a I get a feeling of guilt. He shouldn`t have kept calling his family in Iran to speak with me. That was my fault! How will he call the refugee camp now? The German woman sees the look of concern wash over my face and she touches my arm and says "Don`t worry".
They both step off the train. The middle aged woman with a wander pack on her back greets and kisses a grey haired, angular looking man and meeting her on the platform. Confused, he frowns at the young man with a desert bag and dark skin beside her. I see the woman touch the young man`s arm gently and begin to explain to the bespectacled, tall man. He nods and they begin to walk off, but before they head down the steps, they turn around slowly and wave. His large, dark, almond shaped eyes meet mine for a moment, where I see what I can only interpret as hope heavily gazing back at me.
Later at an Oxonian Freshers dinner at Löwenbrau to welcome in Oktoberfest I wonder if I ever left Munich. Did I really come to Berlin? Or was that just a dream. An unknown number calls my phone and an excited voice shouts down the phone that I strain to hear in the beer filled noise, "HERE! I AM HERE", then the phone goes dead. I stare at the blank screen for a moment and look up to Katharina sat opposite me. "He made it" I say calmly. Her eyes light up in relief and joy.
"He`s there"? She asks
"Yes, thanks to you" I smile.
It`s a chain, a link by link to human kindness that takes us a step further to greater understanding of humanity. A image of a green rose with Farsi scrolled beautifully across the screen lands in my inbox and the message in a scrambled English reads: "Hello tanks from you im in the kam now my mather". He made it to the camp. I still don`t understand what the Farsi says and I don`t know if he met his mother there or he is alone still. I don`t even know his name, but just one individual struggling to find his way alone, was enough to bring an understanding of one story amongst many. It is easier to depersonalise with masses of people, but when you become entangled with the story of one, you are made sharply aware of the plight of many.