The ship docked at dawn but it has taken him over two hours to get this far. All around him, hundreds of tired people are queuing for trains and the final leg of their long journeys.

Trains that will whisk them away from the grime and noise of this busy port to their destination. Berlin – just a tantalising two hours away, they can almost taste it.

Behind him, the Albert Ballin sits motionless in the dock, its twin red and white chimneys at rest after ten days belching smoke across the Atlantic from New York. Giant ropes and chains secure the ship like a slain beast. An army of men and cranes unload its cargo and replenish its stock for the return journey.

The still-chill Spring wind is whipping off the harbour and the wealthy couple in front of him turn up the collars of their expensive astrakhan coats against it. In the long, snaking queue, the first-class passengers complain about the wait for their first-class compartments. The second-class ones wait patiently, hoping they will at least get a seat. The third-class know nobody really cares what happens to them.

All around him they talk of Berlin and what awaits them when they get there. They speculate on the plummeting currency as much as its morals. They talk of the treats and luxuries their pounds and dollars can now afford. They picture the flashing neon lights of theatres and starched white linen of restaurants, previously out of reach, that will now welcome them with open arms. And of the other open arms – the itches that can legally be scratched in a city that promises to be a garden of earthly delights. The man has heard all of this too and fervently hopes that it is true.

A whistle screeches in the distance and the first train, now full, departs to the sighs and moans of those who didn’t manage to catch it.

A murmur progresses through the waiting crowd and they shuffle off towards a different platform in the hope of another soon-to-depart train. He pushes through the mass of bodies and luggage. A single man with a single suitcase can move much faster.

Finally on board a train, he snatches a free seat by the window in a second class carriage and waits, expectantly. He’s fairly sure this train is heading to Berlin. In the chaos, it’s difficult to be sure.

Continue reading in The Landlady, published 19th November 2019.