Need a holiday - badly...
Berlin and Rome with a brief stop in Vienna.
So how did it go? Read on...
Wednesday, October 3rd:
Didn't sleep previous night, because I had to be up at 3:00am, so I was tired and borderline cranky by the time the taxi arrived at 4:00. But I kept it to myself and approached the day with enthusiasm.
I have a Gil Elvgren 'page-a-day' calendar, and before leaving the house, I turned the page. October 3rd's pic was of a young lady sitting on a steamer trunk in the rain, umbrella up. Later I would come to regard this as an omen.
Got to the airport at 4:20 am, and headed for check-in. The guy at the desk looked at my ticket, then at me, then back at the ticket.
"What time does the flight take off?" I asked, unable to recall precisely.
"Last Wednesday" he replied.
"No, I'm flying out this morning," I explained, thinking one of us hadn't heard properly.
You can't imagine the surprise when he showed me how my ticket had been booked for Sept. 26th, one week previous. I still have no idea how that happened.
"You'll have to change the ticket at the desk over there when it opens at 5:00," he told me. "There'll be a charge, but it shouldn't be much."
So I waited for the ticket desk to open, where I explained what had happened with my reservation. The lady at the desk was sympathetic, and only charged me €182.50 for a new ticket.
The plane was not full, and I had a whole row to myself. Two hours and an airline breakfast got me to Berlin without further incident. I took the S-Bahn (overground light rail) to Alexanderplatz and a U-Bahn (underground) to Stadtmitte, and was checked into my hotel by 12:00.
This is what the room looked like, in case anyone's interested: Lay on bed briefly (just to test it, mind) and woke up at 6:30pm.
I took a walk around the immediate area - Friedrichstrasse, Unter Den Linden, Potsdamer Platz. Strange to think I was staying in what used to be East Berlin. It's undergone an extraordinary degree of revitalisation since the Wall came down, to bring it up to par with the other half of the city, and rebuilding is still in progress along areas where the Wall used to be.
The day I arrived, October 3rd, is the anniversary of the day the Wall fell, and thus a holiday in Germany. I headed for the Brandenburg Gate, but that area was cordoned off for some sort of rock concert or something and only ticketholders were getting through. Two young women spotted each other at 50 meters and ran to each other with squeals and hugs - you'd swear the wall had only just come down.
I went back to my hotel and switched on the TV - CNN says there's a rail strike coming in Berlin if talks between unions and management aren't successful. I'm travelling by train to Vienna on Sunday - this could be a problem.
Thurs, Oct 4th:
Almost interrupted by housekeeping while in the shower - could have been embarrassing.
After breakfast, took a bus tour of the city to try and plan what to see over the next few days.
Visited the Deutsches Historisches Museum - a thoroughly fascinating place, presenting the history of Germany from Roman times to the present day, chronologically.
The history of the period 1930-1945 is extensive, yet presented in an unbiased fashion. There's a lot of emphasis on German day-to-day life during the war, with the equivalent patriotic posters exhorting citizens to buy war bonds and collect scrap metal, etc., not something one normally sees in historical studies of the period. Strange to see children's toys, newspapers, movie posters, etc., from that time...
Back to hotel for rest and a beer, then off to find something to eat. I found an Australian joint in the Sony Centre in Potsdamer Platz and had a ribeye steak and a couple of pints of Fosters - ripper!
Fri, Oct 5th: Went to the Hauptbahnhof, or central rail station, to find out about the rail strike. Turns out it was just a three-hour stoppage but could lead to more. A
s I was in the neighbourhood, I decided to visit the Bundestag, the German seat of government. It's open to the public and admission is free, so the queue is usually long.
Here's a photo: The queue was considerably shorter when I joined it, but still took an hour and twenty minutes to get in. This is because they only allow groups of about fifty at a time to pass through security, and wait until such a number has left before allowing more in. But once you get in, you can go to the roof, and the Dome.
Which I did. From within the dome there's a panoramic view of Berlin. Two spiral walkways (one up, one down) ensure a smooth flow of traffic, unless children are involved. Fortunately I didn't trip over any, so that was okay.
Followed signs to the Brandenburg Gate, only 350m away, and had coffee and danish at Starbucks on the Pariser Platz, saving my weary feet. The usual tourist stuff, but also sparrows - many sparrows. With scarcely a pigeon to be seen, these little guys hopped from table to table looking for crumbs - cheeky as hell, also, and totally unafraid.
Later - went back to Corroborree, that Australian place, for Thai Curry and a beer, before going to see The Bourne Ultimatum in the cinema next door. It was shown in the original dialogue, which is just as well because my German is poor - I get lost when the words have more than four syllables and capital letters in the middle.
A couple of tourists thought it would be fun to join in with the actors and adlib some comedy, but that was put a stop to by some locals pretty quickly.
Sat, Oct. 6th:
I've decided I don't like Berlin's public transport system.
It's fast, efficient, clean and always punctual, so why, you may ask?
It's the map. There are two services - the U-Bahn and S-Bahn, both of which are represented on the same map. The map is printedwithout a full legend differentiating the two services, in a size that includes a lot of small print.
My eyes hurt, and so do my feet.
Today I'm heading for the Kurfurstendamm and Alaexanderplatz, both at opposite ends of the same U-line. Should make things a bit easier.
Tune in next time to learn what happened next...