This week in Susan’s German Audition Story, she travels to Poland. Wait, what? Yes, you read that right, Poland! Susan woke up to a surprise audition in Poland for a Mozart opera - an opportunity she just couldn’t pass up. It’s a role she loves and guess what, she’s even polish, though she doesn’t speak the language. Read on to see how she navigates a country she is totally unfamiliar with on a very tight, stressful timeline.
“So, I'm in Poland. I know - things have certainly taken a turn for the unexpected. I woke up the morning and decided to go hike around Charlottenburg Palace, which is lovely. I got home around 2 pm, made a coffee, checked my email. There it was. An invitation to audition in Warsaw... tomorrow morning. Warsaw is roughly 9 hours away from here, driving, and I speak not one word of Polish. I applied for this weeks ago and completely forgot about it.
Just for context, this audition is for a role in a Mozart opera - one of my favorites, not the Magic Flute. I love this show, I love this character, this is what I came here for. So, with nary a thought about my non-existent Polish, I spring into action.
I search Flixbus, since busses are always the cheapest option, especially last minute. The bus leaves Berlin at 8:00 pm and arrives in Warsaw at 5:00 am. The audition is at 11:15 am. This seems like setting myself up for doing an exhausted, failure of an audition. So, I go to the DB app on my phone. There's a train leaving from the Berlin HBF at 4:43 that would put me into Warsaw at 11:00 pm. I start packing. I also practice a little bit (I don't have a ton of time). They want everyone at the audition to sing a specific aria. It's much more common to do her other aria in audition, so I have to brush up a little bit. I have coached this aria since coming to Germany, but I've never auditioned with it before - her other aria is the one with the high notes, it's the aria people expect to hear usually. Possibly that's why they asked for the other one.
I booked my ticket for the train on my phone and head out. I get to the Berlin Hauptbahnhof and onto the train just fine. This is where I hit my first snag. Maybe 20 minutes into the ride, the guy comes around to ask everybody for their tickets. When he gets to me, he tells me in a combination of German and English that he can't take my ticket. Every other train or bus trip I've taken here in Germany, they just scan the barcode on the PDF of my ticket, ask to see my passport and we're all set. I have never printed my ticket, I don't have a printer here. Since I'm going to Poland, though, apparently they need to stamp my ticket on the German side of the border and then stamp my ticket again on the Polish side of the border. So, they need me to have a printed ticket. Obviously, I did not know that. So I ask the guy, what can I do about that now? Is there a printer on the train somewhere? The guy says it's fine, but the Polish guy on the other end of this train ride is going to make me pay for another ticket. Stay here, talk to that guy.
I had about 15 Euros on me at this moment. Probably not smart to be travelling with so little, but I didn't think I'd need to be paying for my train ticket again - especially because I already paid for it! Also, I didn't realize I'd even BE travelling today when I woke up this morning. I spend a very panicky few hours listening to podcasts and trying to distract myself from thoughts like - can they take my credit card? If they can't take my credit card, are they going to throw me off the train somewhere in the middle of Poland? It is dark outside. Should I just get off the train at the next stop, buy a new ticket and wait for the next train? When is the next train? There's no Wifi on this train so I can't check. Am I about to be arrested in a foreign country where I speak not one word of the language? Polish sounds like total gibberish to me. It is like an entire language with no vowels. I start praying to my Great-Grandmother. She was Polish and she was tough as nails. I'm named for her, coincidentally. She left this country as a baby; she didn't speak Polish either, but that is where my mind went.
Other people in my train car keep reading, unaffected. 2 polish men, an Australian couple, and me. They all had printed tickets. The Polish guys get off at Poznan, the Australians go off in search of the dining car, so eventually I'm just sitting in there alone with my panic. That is when the guy comes by to ask for everybody's ticket. The first thing I think about him is that he looks like one of my cousins. This is a thought I have over and over again in Poland. I know there's going to be a problem, but I decide to play dumb because I can't think of a better option. He repeats the thing the other guy told me about how they have to stamp it in both countries - to verify that I paid for both legs of the journey. He shows me the part of the ticket where it clearly says, "Bitte auf A4 ausdrucken," or, "Please print from A4." Yikes, right there in black and white. "Do I have to pay for another ticket?" I ask, timidly. He is blessedly, mercifully kind. "No, you've never done this before, right? Just don't do it again." I thank him profusely and apologize and thank him again. He comes back later to ask if I'm cold and show me how to adjust the heat setting in my train car. Maybe I look like his cousin, too.
We arrive in Warsaw! It is 11:00 pm on a Friday night! My hotel is two blocks away from the train station, so of course I walk two blocks in the wrong direction. The lights are very pretty! Every third dude looks just like my brother! Going two or three blocks in the wrong direction sounds like not a big deal, but the blocks in Warsaw are huge. At what should have been fifteen minutes of walking, I arrive at my hotel at 11:45 pm. The girl behind the counter at the hotel has my sister's face. I check in, try not to stare at her like a weirdo, and head up to my room. The wifi is free, so I text my dad to let him know I got in safe and pass out immediately.
In the morning I make coffee in my room, get ready, warm up, head downstairs to go check out. This is when I realize that Poland has its own money system. I did not know that. Maybe that's embarrassing, but whatever, this is anonymous so that I can admit stuff like this. I really thought everyone in the European Union (except Great Britain) used Euros. I wonder briefly if Poland is in the EU? But, they must be. (I checked later, they are). I've gotten pretty good at like, mentally translating euros to dollars. PLN makes absolutely zero sense to me. Just as an example, my hotel room was supposed to be like $98 for the night (I splurged a little, it's the end of the trip). My receipt says they charged me 356.40 Razem/Total PLN. So, if euros to dollars is 1 to 1.2, roughly, razem to dollars is 1 to 3.6?
Anyway, in the email I received from them, they didn't specify a location, so I type the name of the company into my google maps while I'm still on the hotel wifi and set off walking. It's about a 35 minute walk away, so I get to see some more of Warszawa which is neat. The weather is kind of dour, but at least it's not raining. Everybody has puffy coats like mine and looks like they might be related to me. It's very comforting. When I arrive at my destination, it's a tiny theater, but the name of the company is nowhere. I think to myself, maybe it's across the street? In that church, or behind it? It's not. I walk into this tiny theater and realize pretty much immediately that I'm in the wrong place. People are coming and going - doing load in, I think. A theater is a theater no matter where you are. Some guy sees me wandering around and asks me something in Polish, which of course I do not speak. "Toilet" is one of those words that is the same in every language, though. "Oh, of course. Right down there, to the left," he says, in English. The language skills of Europeans will never, ever cease to amaze me. Why should this random Polish person speak English that well? If a Polish person asked me in America where the bathroom was, I would not be able to say, "Sure, just over there" in Polish - not even close. I don't know how to say hello in Polish.
Back on the street, I consider my next move. I walk to a nearby Starbucks so I can jump on their wifi. I notice that the address in the email signature on this email is not at all the address where I am. That address is an hour and a half away walking. My audition is scheduled for... right now. So, what can I do? Jump on a bus or train with the Polish money I neither have nor understand? Suddenly, the entire situation strikes me as really, hugely funny. Talk about running off half cocked. What a disaster!
Germany, as a whole, is a much more paper/coin money type of country than the US. People mostly use cash. The nice thing about Poland is they will generally take your credit card. So, after a few false starts, I find a cab that can take my Visa and head over to the correct location. I am late, obviously, which sucks. The way this schedule is set up, though, the eighteen other girls also going out for the same role are also scheduled for 11:15 am. I'm number 9. It's bad, obviously, but it could be worse. By the time I got there, they're already on number 11. I apologize profusely, of course. Eventually I get to sing, and it goes surprisingly well, considering how much stressful running around I'd done that morning. After a little bit of initial confusion (understandable, my last name is Polish) the people I'm auditioning for speak English to me. The pianist is really good, which is always nice. I always feel a little bit weird auditioning with something that has no real high notes, but I'll do what they need me to do.
All that said, I'm pretty sure I'm not going to book this role. I was late, I don't speak Polish, and there were 18 other girls there who also wanted that role, but I'm glad I did it. No matter how much you're feeling like a fish out of water, it could always be worse. Travel by its very nature is broadening and people can be surprisingly kind. Things go wrong, but not everything is the end of the world.
Rolling back into Berlin on the train late that evening, I found myself thinking, "Oh thank God. All the signs are in German again." Suddenly Berlin felt so familiar. I knew where I was, I knew where I was going and getting back to my apartment was no trouble at all.”
Whenever I am about to enter a potentially stressful situation, I always think about the worst thing that could happen. Then I think about how even that situation is not the end of the world. In this case, Susan is already in an immensely stressful situation and handles it with grace by thinking to herself how it could be worse. In the end, she had the right attitude, and that makes her a winner even if she doesn’t win the role.
Susan will fly back to the US next week. In January we will post her last adventures in Germany. Check back then and happy holidays!
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Hello, I am Christine, the director of GVAI, a passionate singer, German diction, voice and performance coach. I love music, singing and dancing. Life is an exciting journey and I invite you to walk with me....