The night marked the first of Berlin’s 10th annual Festival of Lights. Buildings all over the city are lit up with colorful lights and video displays. Most of the city gets into it beyond just these buildings. Tree-lined blocks are lit up by colorful lights and neon cars for hire will pull you all over the city to visit each landmark’s light show.

I was lucky enough to be in town for its opening ceremony and planned to meet a bunch of random couchsurfers who were organizing to meet for it. So far in my travels, I’ve found couchsurfing events to be a fun and easy way to meet local and foreign others while traveling solo. This was the first night I learned how these meetups can go awry.

I stood in front of the Potsdamer Platz entrance near the bandstand where the festival would kick off. The meet time came and went, but I persisted. I waited, and waited, and waited while hundreds of people began gathering in the square. Not one of these people appeared to be a lone couchsurfer like me looking for the rest of the group so I sent a text to the group organizer. I received a hurried response back, “We’re running late! Take the group over to the other meet place.” What? I thought to myself. He must be confused about who I am. After waiting a little longer, the lights on the stage came on and music queued. Not wanting to miss anything, I cut my losses and shimmied my way through the crowd to get a better spot to watch what I had come to see. I guess a couchsurf meetup was not in the cards for the evening.

I was glad to be there awaiting the show as the festival organizers spoke (mostly in German) about the festival. The crowd’s attention was soon directed to the Kollhoff Tower high above. There, a spotlight lingered on two floating figures with giant parachute dresses. These acrobats were belaying down the side of the building sweeping their dresses around in the light as a large ball of sparkling light followed next to them.

They descended the side of the building following the ball of light which eventually made it to the ground. Once reaching the ground, the ball of light was picked up by a giant puppeteered man with little lights glistening all over its frame.

The man of lights walked from the base of the building across the street and into the crowd, playing with the ball of light along the way.

After about 15 minutes of this, he delivered the ball of light to the band stand. At the close of the ceremony, the buildings surrounding lit up and they announced the lighting of many of the famous landmarks all over Berlin. When the ceremony ended, the crowd slowly dispersed to walk around the city and take in the light shows. Before venturing off on my own, I held back a moment to give the couchsurfers another shot. I stood waiting for a while, using the 30-minute free WiFi to try to locate everyone. But my efforts were for naught.

I was about to give up when I overheard a conversation next to me—these two guys who were apparently waiting to meet up with someone. At this point, I had nothing to lose, so I went over to them, “Hey, you wouldn’t happen to be here waiting to meet up with couchsurfers, are you?” Turns out they were not! But they were planning to visit the festival of lights, too, so we ended up walking around together.

Yimu from New Zealand and Rob from England and I wandered across Potsdamer Platz to meet their friend Dan (also from England). Perhaps it was a bit strange to just randomly introduce myself to people and then tag along with them for an evening—but pushing the boundaries (in a friendly way!) of typical human interaction is sometimes necessary as a solo traveler! Of course, their mutual openness and friendliness was a big help in making this process go well. The four of us easily got to know each other as we walked together to see the lights at several landmarks in the area. These included:

US Embassy Building

Brandenburger Tor

Alte Bibliothek

Hotel de Rome

Humboldt Universität

Berliner Dom and Fernsehturm

After we had our fill of the festival lights (and because it started to rain), we ducked into a brewery, drank a few beers, and became fast friends. I learned they are all staying in Berlin for a while to work and learn German. I ended up meeting up with the three of them again on a few different occasions during my time in Berlin.

It’s always great to meet new friends unexpectedly while traveling. I’ll never get tired of it!