Docked in Warnemunde, Germany, our cruise ship offered a one day excursion to Berlin, three hours to the south. While we had been to Germany several times before, we had never visited Berlin, so we approached the train that would take us there with great excitement. We quickly settled into two window seats facing one another in a small cubicle containing six seats. We were joined by two sisters and their husbands from Australia. Because it was a three hour train ride, we got quickly acquainted with our Aussie mates and spent hours of laughter with our new friends. Each section of the train had an attendant, and before we left the train in Berlin, our attendant requested that we return to the same seats for our return trip in order to prevent arguments over seats on our way back. I thought this a bit silly, but we were happy to share the return trip with our Aussie mates. Could this really be a problem with adults I mused silently?
We began our tour of Berlin at the remains of the Berlin wall. It was humbling to experience that piece of brutal history, as our guide recounted the failed efforts of so many who died while attempting to cross that barrier. I felt myself being carried to the past, almost as though I were living it, and I felt a deep sadness. All of Berlin feels infused with the memories of those evil years, and despite the absence of the wall, I felt like the city remained surrounded by the souls who suffered there, as though their ghostly remains lingered in the firmament.
On to the Brandenburg gate, the Berlin version of the town square, filled with gaiety, music, and visitors everywhere. This was followed by a classic German lunch of sauerkraut, pork, sausage, and potato, accompanied by rollicking accordions, and of course beer, hoisted high for toasting! After lunch we stopped for photos at Checkpoint Charlie as we continued our tour.
Returning to the train many hours later, well informed, well fed, and very tired, we searched for our cubicle. As we arrived I encountered an unfamiliar fellow who was about to take a seat in our space. I reminded him politely we were to return to our same seats. He seemed annoyed at this and grumbled something under his breath while reluctantly moving out of the way. Just then our Australian friends arrived and apparently the fellow with whom I had just spoken decided he would move into their seats. Well, our new mates were rather outspoken and quickly reminded the fellow that he was to return to his original seat. Now his ire had escalated and a verbal fight ensued. The large fellow actually shoved at our mate and for a moment I feared a physical altercation was about to erupt when our Aussie friend took great offense at this push, but the large fellow retreated angrily, muttering all the way into the next car.
About the same time, a group of women who were traveling together also came to our cubicle and attempted to take our seats. We all reminded them they were to return to their own seats. They complained that someone else was in their seats, so we suggested that they take this up with those individuals occupying their seats.
As we finally settled into our “assigned” seats, voices began to roar in the other cubicle for six. The six women traveling together were having no success with a fellow and his wife who had occupied themselves in the two window seats facing one another. The women tried gently at first, but as the couple refused to move, their agitation increased and the women became very excited. They kept repeating they were traveling together and we were supposed to return to our “assigned” seats. The fellow occupying the seat became increasingly adamant, refusing to move, while his wife sat with a silent pout. As the altercation continued, the fellow announced he had as much right to the seat as anyone else and he was going to remain there. About this time, the attendant arrived and politely asked the couple to move to their original seats, to no avail. The attendant sought the assistance of his boss, who also politely requested the couple to move, also without success. The man became louder in his claim for the seat and refused to listen to any reasoning. A couple in the middle cubicle between us and the other one offered to move, so that the man and his wife could sit in their own private cubicle, undisturbed by anyone. This, too, was rejected, as the man was now only focused on his rights and his claim of ownership! Even moving to a better seat was not palatable!
We tittered nervously in our own seats, appalled and astounded at the behavior being displayed. The uncooperative man and his wife reminded me of the Hitlerean attitude that created the war of which our day in Berlin was such a vivid reminder. He was, sadly, an American, an example of the “Ugly American,” and I was embarrassed for us all. What had we learned from that horrible war and our recent tour about ownership and territory and the human condition?
I recall a photograph of myself at about age three. I am clutching tightly a balloon which I have claimed as my own and refuse to share with my friend who looks at me with a pout. My dogs do this too. One grabs the toy from the other, even though there are lots of toys right in front of them. Then she turns her back to the other dog so he cannot get it back. Are we really any different from children and dogs when it comes to territory, ownership, and human emotion? It felt to me like the scene on the train was a microcosm of a much larger issue that we hear about every day in the news. These wars never end. How do we contribute to this? For a simple seat on a train, what would you have done? Would you readily give up the seat or would you fight for it?
I was just wondering…………