Brussels/Berlin 2023

Thursday 13th July 2023: Good Morning Berlin

It can be hard to tell whether one has slept or not. I didn’t mind as I had expected this to be a bit of a restless night, given the circumstances. In a way, I preferred the times that the train rattled on through the night as opposed to the station stops with bright lights, and the silence punctuated only by the noises of my fellow passengers.

A check on “Life 360” in the morning revealed that there had, in fact been a lengthy stop in Hannover at around 2.00am and had arrived on the outskirts of Berlin around 5.00am. This explained the long period of silence as the sun had been rising.

The rain arrived at Berlin Hauptbahnhof on time at 06.48am and I disembarked. This railway station dates from 1871 but has been extensively built on and refurbished, particularly since German reunification in the early 90s. The station as it now stands began full operation in the mid-2000s so feels very modern, well-organised, and is multi-levelled.

I knew that checking in to my accommodation was an unlikely prospect at this time in the morning but I had arranged that I could at least drop my luggage for a few hours. This meant I could wander, eat, and generally get my bearings in this massive city. Thus so, I walked the 40 minutes to Brunnenstraße, noting the increasing number of cycling commuters on the way. I passed a monument to the contribution of the fall of the Berlin Wall from the countries of Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia. It was interesting that I had been in this city less that 20 minutes and had already encountered the legacy of this particular historic dividing line. No doubt I would find out more about it in due course.

At the accommodation, I was met by a very cheerful and polite gentleman called Thorsten. Given his demeanour and long-hair, I could easily have believed him to be an older version of myself. After dropping my luggage, I wandered aimlessly for half an hour or so before cafés started to open. When they did, I frequented one and had a coffee and a croissant.

Feeling mildly replenished but still quite sleepy I wandered some more and started to consider a “proper” breakfast. This I found at “Father Carpenter”, where the poached eggs on toast were well received and sorted many issues.

Afterwards, I continued to wander, still in a slight daze but determined to try and figure out something about the city and in particular, the area I was in. This was “Mitte” and bordered on “East Central” – much of which lay in the former East Berlin. This fact was marked by the most unusual feature, the “green man” character on the traffic lights. I noted that on some lights this was a slightly rotund illuminated person sporting what looked like a fedora and on others, the image was very plain, similar to that I would find at home. It transpired that the hat-wearing “Ampelmännchen” was that representative of the former East Germany and was in fact unique to this particular region. More wandering took me through a number of very attractive and sleepy (or was it just me?) courtyards. One of these had a whole shop devoted to the East German Ampelmännchen, it being clear that this was something the local population were rather proud. Rightly so in my opinion. Pehaps the Scottish equivalent could adopt a kilt should independence ever be realised.

Further wanderings revealed a graveyard, and a park containing the Wasserturm Prenzlauer Berg, a former water tower which had once been used as a concentration camp. It was while eating a pastry and drinking an iced coffee at nearby “Betty’n Caty” café that I got the message that my apartment was ready, so I moved in that direction.

En-route I stumbled across Schwedter Straße, which essentially followed the route of the former Berlin Wall. I decided to come back to this location as a much-needed shower was beckoning.

Apartment keys in hand, I was pleased to find my accomodation clean, spacious, with working hot water and towels supplied, and also with a balcony. A 24 h legacy of dirt, sweat, and sleep was washed off and relaxation taken. I listened to the Jeremy Vine show and wondered how he must be feeling reporting on his colleage and most likely friend, who was so prominant in current news reports. I also listened to a discussion on school toilets and the policy many schools are adopting of locking these to prevent vandalism and vaping. In my true “on the fence” style, I could see the arguments both of the pupils, simply wanting to exercise a basic human need, and of the schools, driven to such extremes by a small number of out-of-control pupils. No solution to this problem came to my mind so I went for a walk.

First of all, I revisited the path of the Berlin Wall. The photographs and the historical commentry provided were very good indeed. I was particularly impressed that the interactive aspects (audio and video recordings) which stand unattended in public, worked perfectly. I know many museums where such things are inside and guarded and do not work. I walked considering how it would feel for a wall to be errected between me and those I hold dear, perhaps not allowing me to see them for 30 years. It seemed a frightening prospect and I hoped we would learn from such mistakes. Reflecting further, I decided we probably had not.

I then took myself to a grocery for some essentials. Namely breakfast items as while I do enjoy “breakfast out” very much indeed. It is an expensive way to conduct one’s affairs if carried out on a daily bases. I also purchased items for cleaning laundry as my apartment had a washing machine and I had not cleaned any clothes since leaving Fife the previous Monday. Such items published I brought them back to the apartment and ventured out for dinner.

While concerned about “sterotyping”, it did seem approprate on at least this occasion to have a meal that was as “German” as possible. At the same time, I do not like “fussy” dining so simple and hearty was the order of the day. To this end, I found an establishment called “Der neue Platzhirch” which ably served me a plate of schnitzel and bratkartoffeln accompanied by a large dunkelbier. I enjoyed this while considering the reason that so much of Berlin looked so new. As it happened the section of the book I was reading “The House by the Lake” had discussed this in that in 1945, the Allies (UK, France, America, USSR) had effectively (if you’ll pardon the vulgarity) “bombed the shit” out of the city. It was noted in the book the exent to which Winston Churchill, UK prime minister at the time was shocked when visiting the city as to destruction that had occured when he travelled here for the Potsdam Conference in July 1945. I realised how much I admired the people of Berlin for building such a beautiful, inclusive, and bohemian city from the ashes of one of the very darkest periods in world history.

With this thought, I retired to my accommodation for beer and slumber.

F-MMCD - Pilatus PC6 - Aviation Légère de l'Armée de Terre

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