• Emily McDonnell

#9: Stranded in Brandenburg

What do you do when your wait for the train is as long as your hike? You'd better hope you have good people with you...

Berlin is surrounded by the beautiful Bundesland of Brandenburg, an area boasting swathes of forests, lakes and castles. It’s literally a few train stops away from my front door, but - as so often goes when you live somewhere - I never take the time to go and explore it.

This weekend, the perfect occasion arose. Katherine, and her partner Andrew, were visiting me and Eva in Berlin from the UK, and we were determined to venture beyond the city. So in search of an afternoon immersion in nature, we decided to tick a hike of the bucket list.

The three of us have been friends since the tender age of 14, having met at secondary school in Oxford, and over the last 16 years, I’ve watched them grow, change and blossom. Between us, we’ve had a handful of heartbreaks, a few career U-turns, a lot of studying, numerous adventures and constant support. These two women have seen me at my best and held me at my worst.

I think it’s fair to say that I needed a timeout from reality this weekend, so running wild through the woods was just what the doctor ordered. The walk itself would be simple enough, Brandenburg isn’t known for its mountains: we just had to head into the woods and follow the blue markings along a rather well-maintained path.

Armed with the knowledge of where we needed to begin and where we were meant to end, we set off into the countryside, taking a regional train north. We began in Chorin, and meandered past the red-brick monastery, through the forest, to the Brodowin eco-village where we found a handful of hip, conscientious Berliners - and lots of Brandenburg locals - cooing over calves as they bought their weekly produce.

It was as we sat sipping coffee, happily exhausted, that it dawned on us we had no idea how to get back to the city. There were no buses, no trains, no taxis, and I don’t think you can borrow a cow for the ride...

There were about 10 people in the cafe. We asked each and every one of them if we could get a lift back to the train station (about 10km away). We managed to find two groups willing - very reluctantly - to drop us off. I, along with my friend’s partner, ended up in a car two older men who seemed incredibly grumpy at the prospect of a minor detour, but turned out to be incredibly funny and very considerate (never judge a book by its cover). While the others nearly got stranded by a couple who had initially agreed to the lift but seemingly were having cold feet, so attempted a version of the great escape, unsuccessfully…!

Reunited in Chorin, it became apparent that our wait on the platform would be as long as our 2.5-hour hike… We’d missed a train by 2 minutes, and consistently-unreliable Deutsche Bahn’s next service would be delayed by over an hour. My stomach dropped, but I very quickly realised that there are few people I would enjoy being stranded with: luckily for me, some of them were with me.

The wait in itself was an adventure. We watched storks fly across the adjoining fields, did yoga on scarfs, lay on our backs and stared into space, and danced like nobody was watching.

I laughed, I made a fool of myself, and I didn’t care. This level of comfort can be hard to find with people you meet as an adult. The feelings of playfulness and sense of security that you feel between old friends are so nourishing, that I was almost sad when the train finally pulled into the station and took us back to Berlin. The walk in the woods was great for stress reduction, but an afternoon with these friends was the real revival for me.

As we stood on the platform saying goodbye, I realised that the thing that has kept us in each other’s lives is choice. We have chosen each other. Have chosen to persist despite the distance, because we know connections like this are hard to find. If you find someone who has your back as much as you have theirs, hang on to them, both through the good times and the bad: I can promise you it’s worth it.

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