When arranging any holiday it is always a good idea to check and double check details so that the info in your head is accurate and you don't then make any stupid mistakes as a result of incorrect information, like sitting in work on the day before your trip and receiving an email from your girlfriend telling you that you've just missed your flight and then subsequently trying to work out where you messed up.
I had booked flights leaving on the 22nd of the month but had incorrectly written this down as the 23rd in more than one location thus committing it to memory, yet even when I checked the original booking I failed to see the error and so the incorrect information stayed firmly lodged in my head. As such, I was sitting in work staring at a computer screen when I should have been in the sky en route to Berlin.
A frantic dash home and a phonecall to Easyjet ensued. My return ticket was still valid but I'd have to purchase new outbound flights, no surprises there but it turned out that there were in fact no flights from Glasgow to Berlin on the 23rd so we'd need to fly on the 24th instead. Costly replacement flights to Berlin were booked and the itinerary was changed. Originally the plan was to spend 3 days in Berlin and have a day trip to Dresden. Dresden was now sadly off the agenda, even though return train tickets had already been purchased as by the time we would arrive in Berlin our train would have already left. It meant we would now have only 2 days in Berlin to cram everything in.
In my previous and only visit to Berlin things had also been crammed in, as we (Eddie, Jack, Gordon, Steven, Chris, Ben etc) were there for only 1.5 by days after travelling from Weimar, with the first evening taken up by Ben's gig in a squat bar, followed by another gig the next night - Japanese rock band 'The Boredoms' at Maria am Ufer. As such, sightseeing was limited. The most memorable point from that trip was Eddie realising that he had left his passport behind in Weimar, which was then found and sent to the hostel in Berlin the day before we left with guaranteed next day delivery before 10am. It seemed like everything would work out given the German reputation for efficiency...
We waited and peered out the window at the ground below and mail did arrive just before 10am but there was no passport and a little later we had to leave the hostel empty handed. Numerous phonecalls from Schönefeld airport to Glasgow followed and all seemed well, until a slightly comic “Ver are your papers!?” moment at security. Of course I missed most of the fun as security thought I was a terrorist and sent me to a different part of the airport to have my laptop examined. Luckily Eddie was allowed to board the flight and his passport was eventually posted on.
So, fast forward a few years and here we are at Glasgow airport, we missed our original flights and re-booked but were in danger of missing them too. Fears of what had happened at Stansted a few years previously went through my head (please see Amsterdam NYE blog here:http://www.em411.com/show/blog/8327/0/Procrastination_blog_EMMEET_Amsterdam_NYE_2005.html) We rushed to the gate and 2 Easyjet personnel let us through, advising their colleagues by walkie-talkie that another 2 STFs had just arrived. I suspect that we were Stupid Tardy Fuckers or Slow Thick Fucks (anyone who is an employee of Glasgow airport or Easyjet might like to confirm this). Regardless of what we were we were on the plane this time and now planned to make the most of our short time in Berlin.
We touched down in a cold snow covered Schönefeld airport. We were aware of problems with the S-Bahn, but luckily we were able to get a direct train to the Landsberger Allee, and just outside was our accommodation, the Generator Hostel. We walked in and I showed the girl on the desk my booking information. She asked for my passport which I handed over. “Correct!” she exclaimed as though she perhaps thought I might hand over a bus pass instead. The Generator hostel was one of those “funky” hostels with paper thin walls, a bar and an ample supply of annoying students.
Our room was the “Irish room” made Irish thanks to the inclusion of a single picture of two people wearing Guinness hats. They must've looked at my surname and assumed that I'd be happiest here. We had an en-suite toilet and shower...you know those cramped toilets you get on trains? Well imagine one of those but with a shower built into a small bedroom and this is what we had. The view from 6 floors up was good however, looking out towards Alexanderplatz and the Fernsehturm. We unpacked and headed out passed a gangly American who was being chatted up by a girl from the "Latin lover" room, well probably.
First things's first once you've checked into a hotel in the former Soviet Bloc - visit the nearby Soviet memorial...we got off at Treptower Park and walked through thick snow to the [ur=http://www.flickr.com/photos/dreamlogic/4392401368]memorial[/url]. It's quite a bleak space and occupies a substantial area. If this was Glasgow the area would have been razed and replaced with 'luxury' flats.
It was also eerily quiet and cold but that didn't stop a number of joggers making the most of it. After circumnavigating the memorial space we walked along the water and knew there was an abandoned theme park somewhere nearby but our inadequate map cut off in the park so we headed back to civilisation and tried to find the outdoor swimming pool, we found a sign indicating that it was down a particular street but when when we got to the end, there was no sign of it, just a warehouse and an open gate that perhaps led to the swimming pool, but there were no more signs, no one was about to ask and it was cold and we were thirsty and hungry so it was time to find a pub or a restaurant.
We had jotted down a couple of recommendations, both requiring a short U-bahn trip. The nearest stop was Schlesisches Tor station ad on the way we crossed a frozen canal that looked like it had footprints, but on close inspection was hoof prints. WTF!?
While waiting for the train at Schlesisches Tor I noted an advert for a place called "Hannibal's", it didn't look great but was cheap and nearby so would do if we didn't find anything better. On the U-bahn train we had lady gaga to keep us amused. We alighted at Kottbusser Tor and went looking for a place called “Monarch” that was listed in my “Graphic Europe” book as being a quirky bar on top of a supermarket with an excellent view of the U-Bahn (as this section of the U1 line is above ground). It also suggested that the entrance is well hidden and accessed via an impressive glass door to a run down stairwell. We found the supermarket easily enough and the address given was number 134 which was indeed a run down stairwell. We went inside and made our way to the top but saw no indication of a bar so headed back outside. Looking up from below it did appear that there was a bar at the top so went back up the stairwell and tried again. The door at the very top of the stairwell belonged to the Turkish men's association apparently. This didn't bode well but we tried the door anyway. Locked. We also tried the door on the floor below. Also locked. In fact we tried every door in the stairwell and they were all locked. I suppose with this being Germany that the bar doesn't actually open to the public till after midnight.
Also listed in the “Graphic Europe” book was the “Würgeengel” bar, which served good gin and tonic, again it was described as being hidden but we knew it was nearby and we had the address but we just couldn't find the street or locate it on our crap map. We gave up again and I've since found that it wasn't on the map as it is just a small cul-de-sac the map makers decided to include the street but omit the street name. Let's hear it for lazy cartographers. Oh, and Graphic Europe if you ever do a re-print please provide a map!
Our hunger levels were up to a stomach churning "11" so we started walking back in the direction that the U-Bahn had taken us looking for somewhere to eat, and it appeared that there were plenty of places to eat but they were all Vietnamese and previous experiences of Asian restaurants abroad have not went well and we wanted real German stodge and the only thing we saw that came close was Hannibal's, the place I'd noted earlier.
It was rather quiet (rarely a good sign) and a group of people left not longer after we arrived. However it was happy hour and cocktails were a mere 3.90€ so we ordered one each and watched as the barman poured some ‘home measures’ into our glasses. They were huge and well mixed so it turned out to be exceptionally good value for money. The food was good value for money too but the garlic bread was essentially white sliced bread with chopped vegetables and melted cheap plasticy cheese, however it was quite good in a “it's cold outside and I need carbs” sort of way.
After dinner we went on the U-Bahn across the river to check out the East Side Gallery under cover of darkness. It was eeirly quiet and foggy, moored in the water was a boat hostel and a little further along a giant screen advertised "Die Flippers", Germany's premium Schlager band apparently, a few people walked past but no one was admiring the art or thankfully, the Flippers.
On the way back to the hostel we stopped off at a pretty well stocked shop to pick up some inexpensive fruity beer.
Day 2. Sachsenhausen
I'd been to Berlin before and I'd been to Weimar and Gdansk but had never made it to any of the nearby Concentration camps. Sachsenhausen, just north of Berlin would be my first. There's a train station at Sachsenhausen but the place to get off is the previous stop at Oranienburg a 20 minute walk away, which is where we alighted though I'm not sure why as they explain at the camp that prisoners were originally marched from Oranienburg but when young children, women and old age pensioners started turning up a prisoners of war the public got suspicious; so a new station was built closer to the camp in an area where all the buildings en-route housed employees of the camp. Even still you could, and still can see over the wall into large areas of the camp from the upstairs windows of many residential properties nearby. The locals were advised not to look, but of course they did but claimed that they saw nothing when questioned (as you can see from some of the reading material and video footage on display). Most of the buildings that were in the camp during WWII have now been demolished however there is still a large spread-out area to visit and a lot to occupy your time. One of more memorable quotes I read inside one of the huts was a Soviet communist's opinion that the Berlin wall would not be a "wall of oppression" but rather a "wall of freedom". The camp is free to enter but was gridlocked with noisy children and students when we were there, so be warned.
We left the camp at lunchtime and walked back towards Oranienburg for food but our first attempt failed miserably when I tried to walk through a locked cafe door. The lights were on, the staff were there...oh it doesn't open till 14:00, that's handy for a cafe, but then this being Berlin it will probably be open till 6am with a live sex show thrown in for free. Rather than wait and find out we headed back to the station where we placated ourselves with gluhwein and pancakes from the stall outside.
We picked up a larger scale map of Berlin and made our way to the abandoned theme park that we had almost been to the day before and realised that if we had just walked off the edge off the other map ever so slightly we'd have been there. A high fence surrounded the theme park but there was a gate that could be scaled easily. In the distance I could see a security guard so moved out of sight for some photos and I made a field recording too. While standing there a group of middle-class English school kids appeared from somewhere and debated whether or not to climb the fence. After deliberating for some time, 3 of the girls climbed over while the only boy stood guard. 5 minutes later they were chased out by a van and the security guard. The same security guard then shouted at me as I was taking more photos. I ignored him and walked further along where I spotted a sign advertising guided tours of the theme park that take place every Sunday! Surely then there is demand for the rest of the week and money to be made? The spirit of communism lives on perhaps. As I walked away another two kids jumped over a different fence and into the theme park.
In the evening we ended up in Alexanderplatz and decided to gamble with one of the "authentic looking" establishments and ended up in “Schlögl's”. Dinner comprised 5 different types of sausage and potato prepared 3 different ways. Opposite us sat a group of Italians who were struggling with ordering. It cheered me up knowing that some foreigners are as useless as Brits abroad.
Day 3. Journey Home
It was time to go home and each day we had passed by a sandwich stall in one of the U-Bahn stations. My girlfriend and I often joke about how sandwich selections aren’t quite so diverse in the European mainland as they are back home, and how cheese and ham figure highly. The stall sold a “sandwich of the day” and when we passed on day 1 the special was…
“Ham salad” and when we returned the next day the daily special was again “Ham salad”. On day 3 it was third time lucky. It wasn't just the fact that "sandwich of the day" had been the same on 3 consecutive occasions, but more the fact that the only sandwich they stocked was "Ham salad" and so I tried to take a photo but I couldn’t get up close enough without getting spotted so took a wide angle shot and got spotted and shouted at by one of the guys behind the counter anyway. I wasn't in the mood for explaining so headed down onto the platform airport bound.
At airport security I was pulled aside and led into a room where my bag was opened and examined. While I was standing there I witnessed the entire contents of a poor boy’s suitcase being tossed around and analysed. He looked as though he was about to cry. My camera was examined but the real issue seemed to be with my Gorillapod tripod. “Tripod?” the guy asked. I nodded. When he was satisfied that I didn’t have the world’s first tripod bomb he let me go though didn’t explain what way to go given that I was now in a small room out-with the usual queue for security. Having someone who wasn't authorised to be behind closed doors of an airport didn't seem to bother them.
On the flight home we were lucky enough to be sitting next to a fine Glaswegian gentleman travelling in his Sunday best, a Rangers Football top, and every third or fourth word from his mouth was an F*** or a C*** so it was no surprise that when an English announcement was followed by the same in German that he decided to blurt out “What is this shite? We're flying to Glasgow. It's an English speaking country”, this, on a plane full of Germans flying from Germany, from a man who supports Rangers, a team that is supposed to be loyal to the Queen of England, a queen who is actually…well, German, and let's be clear he wasn't speaking the Queen's English himself. The expletive filled drivel continued until we landed. Perhaps I should've educated him on where words like "fuck" probably came from. If only his parents hadn't.