We got to Berlin via the train from Bologna. Pretty much a 12 hour trip, with the big portion being on a very comfortable Austrian train to Munich, then a German ICE from there. The first bit was in the daylight and passed through magnificent countryside which included the Alps. Well worth a numb bum from sitting so long. The first train also had a good restaurant car…..so I delayed my period off the booze a little longer……..
Post the marathon, we got to enjoy Berlin properly. When I was based in Germany, I visited Berlin a few times and invariably this involved token sightseeing then dedicated boozing in areas well known to those who had been based in Berlin before the wall came down. Basically, I spent time in dodgy bars around the old British sector.
This trip was a little different. The few days around the Marathon were spent slap bang in the centre, in a reasonable, international hotel, surrounded by huge buildings and Berlin ‘sights’. It was nice, if a little sterile and dull. Very far from the Berlin I knew. We did a little sightseeing, but mostly it was about the bloody long run.
Post the marathon, after Mike and Liz left, we were joined by our good friend Tom and headed east to an Airbnb in a part of town undergoing gentrification…… but not quite there yet.
Our place was in an old East German school house, not too far from the Stasi museum and with a rather industrial feel to it. There was nothing much in the way of restaurants locally but I did find a bar with reasonable reviews a short walk away, so we popped out for a few quiet drinks. We had those, and as we were leaving, got chatting to a couple of locals, and so had a number of increasingly noisy drinks. One guy, Alex, was an architect, originally from the Ukraine, and the other, Sergei, was a management consultant originally from Kazakhstan. They were good friends and for a while we chatted about lots of stuff until the subject of the Crimea came up. It appeared it was very important to them both, they had very differing opinions on the subject and had never chatted about it before. We had a fascinating night, drinking beer and Berliner Luft shots, listening to reasoned discussion between intelligent people who realised that they had many areas of agreement. A very refreshing change. Our quiet night ended at approx 1am…
The next couple of days were spent exploring East and West Berlin and eating and drinking, mostly in the very funky area around Boxhagener Platz.
Our initial exploring was done on a ‘hop on, hop-off’ bus tour that had a leg which went around the traditional sights and another that concentrated on the East. I have a feeling that the tour is a collaboration between two companies, one from the east, one from the west. One had modern red busses with a headphone accessible recorded commentary, consisting of normal facts etc delivered along with appalling, stilted banter. The other was in older green buses with a real person on board that gave a commentary in English and German whilst ad-libbing in accordance with their own political views and sense of humour. They were hilarious. If you go, stick to the green busses!
We enjoyed being in the East, and Boxhagener Platz. It is a bit grimy, very lively, has every flavour of food you can imagine and shops that just sell beer, where people go, buy beer, then just hang around in doorways drinking beer, all in a ‘what a nice way to spend an evening kind of way’, rather than ‘I’m a tramp’ kind of way. All very relaxed and lovely.
We concluded that we liked Berlin. Whilst there is some tension in some areas, it is multicultural, it works, without being too efficient and character less and it is very liveable. We wouldn’t live there of course. Too bloody cold in the winter.
As we had our last drink there before heading to the airport, we got some news, that whilst was tinged with a little sadness, was mostly good. The sale of Mum’s house had made it to the exchange stage! The trip is now very likely to be fully funded. Hurrah!
Next stop: Tunis, and the wedding of the wonderful Bridge and Mohamed!