Thursday 14th April to Monday 18th April
Cal Son and Techno Son-in-Law had conspired between them to ensure the Cleddau crew kept a vow made in spring 2000: to make a return visit to
First train was the 0630 from
The train whizzed through
Fuelled on Friday by a substantial breakfast and some directions we headed off to Die Post, and as on Monday morning in Macclesfield, queued ... Once Easter cards had been dispatched to California we wandered, recreating parts of a walking tour taken eleven years before: along the very stylish Kurfürstendamm, prime shopping street, past the Berlin Zoo, out past the Diplomatic Quarter (where lots of flags and a protest encampment marked out the Syrian Embassy), strolling along park side avenues, just glad to be walking and not sitting! Berlin is a city of many parts and many pasts. There was the impressive (19th century) Victory Memorial, centre of a traffic roundabout now, and the wide avenue which leads past the enormous hulk of the Soviet War Memorial. From behind it a PA system relayed an urgent speech-delivering voice. Then some chanting drifted on the air. Along the quiet avenue police vehicles gathered. Further on, at the Brandenburg Gate and round the Reichstag (Parliament building), crush barriers were plentiful, green uniformed and riot police very visible. Meanwhile student tour groups swarmed around, visitors of all nations jostling to gaze at and photograph the iconic Brandenburg Gate.
We strolled away from potential trouble, down the glorious Unter den
It was time then for the Captain to utilise his navigation skills. Via visual reference (the River Spree) and city maps two further quests were accomplished: the location of an appropriate river boat trip and the acquisition of cross city transit tickets. Along the way eine kleine Beer was had, with a light lunch (spinach tart on tomato soup) - and a near engagement with the police flashing lights.
On Saturday morning Boatwif and the Captain set off early, along the freshly washed streets, heading for the S-Bahn to reach the 10am boat trip. Tickets bought we surveyed the boat, empty of other trippers as yet and moored right opposite the Bertolt Brecht Theatre. A strident contingent of Spanish ladies arrived to share the upper deck with us until driven below later by the keening wind. Boats of all kinds ply the river and canals of Berlin, dozens of trip boats, working barges, sleek and glitzy water-borne bling palaces, weekend plastic boats. Somehow they make way for each other at the many bridges and the 300 feet long locks accommodate all-comers at once. We cruised past museums and domes, spires and buildings (new, old, rebuilt in folksy style, ultra-modern). These last shapes had sprouted up behind and opposite remnants of the infamous Berlin Wall. Especially on a bright spring day the eyes feel assaulted by shimmering glass, acute angles and the ever present street art or graffiti which adorns so much of the capital's wall space. The boat continued on past the Reichstag, past seven white crosses, memorials of those who'd lost their lives swimming to freedom from the eastern side, past the Federal Chancellery (nickname:" the washing machine"), past beach areas and government buildings, on down to the baroque Charlottenburg Palace.
A stroll around the formal grounds of the palace restored warmth to chilled limbs; then, courtesy of the U-Bahn the next destination was Alexanderplatz, a hubbub of shops, markets, bier fests and outdoor social space. Here the Soviet regime had installed a prestigious 368 metres high TV tower. Now, once you've queued for your ticket and waited for your time slot you can queue for the turnstile so as to queue for the lifts! Then, whoosh, up it goes in 40 seconds and the view is immense, 360 degrees out to the horizon across this flat city. Airfields, historic buildings, the waterways, tower blocks, trains and trolley buses all viewed from above as if part of a painstakingly perfect German model!
Berlin now is a cosmopolitan and vibrant city. But its twentieth century past is not far from discovery. A visit on Sunday to Die Neue Synagogue provided insight into the Jewish experiences of the 30s and 40s, the artefacts and practices of the Jewish religion and more city-wide broad views from the rooftop golden dome. Back then towards the river (and a bit more boat watching) for a morning coffee before another delve into the recent past. Ever wondered what a Trabant feels like to sit in? (Answer: cramped and uncomfortable). Ever wondered how the East Germans taught their children? (Answer: used pictures of tanks to learn counting and model grenades for ball-catching practice). The
One last place to go, a return trip to Potsdamer Platz. The Berlin population was happily on the move on the underground trains on Sunday afternoon. Eleven years ago this huge area was desolate, apart from huge clouds of dust, some cranes and a few hoardings offering promises of a spanking new commercial district. Here in a barren area the Wall had brutally divided west from east, but although pavement markings and a section of wall record it, around the square have sprung up glistening towers and prestigious office suites. A grassy bank in one corner permits sitting and relaxation, although not much else.
So how to summarise Berlin... a great place for food, fun, sights, visual treats of all sorts, efficiency, cleanliness, cyclists, integrated transport – and boat trips. (One tip though, do as Boatwif did, wear comfy "boat boots" for the walking…)
STATS: Total distance travelled: 1200 miles
Trains to and from
Surface & underground train trips: 8
Taxi trips 4
Boat trips 1