The train pulled in under the lights of Hauptbahnhof Sta-tion, and the air brakes fired, and the doors clapped open.
I nudged Jason’s leg. He looked around, rubbing his eyes. “Munich,” I said. We pulled down our bags and gave them a shove onto the platform. Other backpackers walked past and we nodded to them as they went by, the way truckers do as they pass each other on a highway. I looked out over the bay of train platforms, and I could see just how many of us there were—dozens, from every place—and I thought the sight should make me feel better, like I was part of a special club. But there was something about the way we looked—bundled beneath our packs, strapped into our gear like astronauts on a space-walk—that made me feel lonely for all of us, even as we walked together.
I told Jason I had to make a call.
I’d been having my mail forwarded to Morgan’s flat in London, and I’d been trying her for the past three days to see if anything had arrived. But all I ever got was the answering machine, and tonight was no different.
I felt like I needed to do something, go somewhere, keep moving, to Frankfurt maybe. Someplace that actually had something going on at night, someplace you could lose yourself in a crowd. I thought about telling Jason this, but he had already smacked his finger down on the map, tracing a route from the station to the hostel, and when I looked at all of our stuff piled up on the platform, I thought about having to hoist it back onto a train that wouldn’t leave until God- knows-when, and suddenly Munich seemed fine for now. But that was before we’d arrived at the hostel.
At this point, I’d gotten used to a bare minimum of comfort, institutional at best. Most of the hostels attempted to round down the corners. Not this place. This one had been converted (a term I use lightly) from a public high school into an overcrowded way station for young, transient souls. Little had been done to conceal its former identity. Desks had been pulled out and bunk beds hauled in—and that’s about it. I peered into the reclaimed classrooms as we marched down the halls, remembering daydreams I’d had as a child—about what it would be like when the nuclear bomb hit and we had to live in our candlelit classrooms, eating thawed-out pizzas and marrying each other.
Our room assignment was the shell of a faculty office, shared by a couple of American girls, Sarah and Kim, who had already toppled their belongings onto the bunks opposite ours. They made for an odd couple—Sarah had the body of a point guard, and Kim was short and curvy and wore a pair of cat’s eye spectacles. They were cute, not blindingly attractive, but whatever they lacked in sex appeal they made up for in openness. I was impressed that they didn’t seem to care about sharing a room with two boys they’d never met.
“We’re going dancing, if you want to go,” Sarah said. “I grabbed these from downstairs.” She handed Jason a stack of party flyers, which he sorted through like a deck of playing cards. They were all selling the same thing. A hundred different DJs with a hundred different obnoxious names like DJ SPIT and MISSY KISSY. All of them would be spinning either “house” or “trance,” and I knew deep down in my bones just how annoying any one of these parties would be. But at this point it wasn’t about the party. It was about having a destination.
“What about this one?” I asked, looking over Jason’s shoulder. I read the name aloud. “Nachtwerk… What is that? Nachtwerk. Night work?”
“Ja, sure,” Kim said in a faux-German accent. “Vee vill be doing zee night-verk tonight.”
“How far away is it?”
“I’m looking,” Jason said, tracing his finger across the map. “It’s not on here.”
That should have been our first clue: The name of the street was there, but way out in the margin with an arrow pointing off the page.