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Opinion

Strange encounters in Berlin

March 9, 2012

We were warned multiple times when preparing for the International Traveling Classroom that we would all be put into situations that would make us uncomfortable during our travels.

I was doing a good job of avoiding these until we got to Berlin, and then I experienced one of the most surreal things I can imagine. I hopped on the train with the rest of the group, grabbed a railing and sort of zoned out like I usually do. It took me a minute or two to really get a good look at the guy next to me.

This guy was decked out head to toe in what can only be described as the latest in Neo-Nazi chique. He was rocking heavy combat boots with scarily clean white laces, black jeans, a black hoodie with the word “Skinhead” emblazoned on it with the shorn head to match. His hood was up and his face was covered by a black and red bandana. The look was completed by a thousand yard stare and a slogan tattooed on his exposed arm which he had cocked at just the right angle to make sure that everyone could read it.

This was a guy who wanted to be seen. This was a guy who wanted to scare people. The hair on the back of my neck stood up. I slowly edged my way to the other side of the train. I knew that we weren’t in any real danger. It was a crowded train in the middle of the day. I was just surprised that everyone else on the train just wasn’t paying this guy any mind. I guess there’s something to be said for not giving a psycho like this any attention, but you’d almost hope someone would do something, you know?

Before I could spend too much time contemplating the ethics of action vs. inaction in the face of something like this, the doors opened and things got a whole lot weirder. The normal group of Berliners stepped onto the train, but what followed them was something literally out of this world.

Someone dressed as Darth Vader, lightsaber and all, made his way onto the train and stood right next to the Neo Nazi guy. They kind of eyed each other up and down and just started looking around the train. Measuring either of their reactions through their respective masks was pretty much impossible.

We got off the train not too many stops later, and were all kind of fl abbergasted at the bonkers scene that played out before us.

Here was someone who represented the ideals and terror of one of the worst men to ever walk the earth; a bona-fi de super villain standing next to one of the most infamous fictional bad guys of all time.

How can you really process something like that? I still feel a bit odd when I tell the story to people. It’s a bit hard to believe that it actually happened. Over the next couple of days I’m spending a bit of time in Potsdam with my friend Lena, a German student who spent a year going to school in the U.S. After that, it’s off to Prague, where I have no idea what to expect.

Chris Rohling is a journalism major with a passion for storytelling in almost every medium.

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