Sunday, 13 March 2016

Ich aß eine Berliner*

This last adventure was a belter. A couple of firsts were ticked off – the first time in Berlin for either Mrs A or I (I’d travelled pretty extensively one Germany when on the payroll of The Man, but never this far east) and also our first time using AirBnB.

Let me tell you, I can thoroughly recommend both of these things.

Triggered by the recent tale of the student who found it cheaper to travel home from sheffield to Essex via Berlin on planes than to buy a train ticket direct, we ferreted out a couple of cheap flights (£20 each thankyou very much) and then set about finding accommodation. We came up with this:


Mrs A wondered where the line was between minimalist modernist chic and crack den. I think the artwork pushes it over the line.


It was on the 14th floor of the highest residential block in the city. Located in Mitte, it was reserved for the party faithful in the days of the DDR and had spectacular views


We headed out to the Brandenburg Gate to pick up a walking tour of the city’s cultural and historical high points, which was led by an ex history teacher from London. It sometimes felt like we were tagging along with an A level history class, but he knew his stuff and we learnt a lot of interesting stuff outside of the obvious nazi/communist backdrop to the city. The Jewish memorial was moving, the site of Hitler’s bunker bizarre and the remains of the Berlin wall very resonant. We even got to see the balcony that Michael Jackson dangled his baby from. My favourite part was standing in the Gendarmenmarkt, whilst our tour guide explained the background to the square and its architects’ philosophy of equality and openness that made the effects of the nazi regime even more astonishing. We finished our tour in Bebelplatz, where the book burnings took place.


After hiking around the city for so long we were starving, so we headed off to find food. We ate in a small independent burger joint called Revolver. The decor was industrial, the food was ace, the music was gangsta and the average age dropped by around 20 years when we left.

Exhausted, we grabbed a couple of drinks from a local corner shop and headed back to the apartment to plan the next day’s hike. We pre booked to see the roof terrace of the Reichstag building and collapsed into bed.

The following day we ate a leisurely breakfast in our room before receiving an email at around 10am telling us our visit was confirmed for 10:15. The Reichstag was around a 25 minute walk away, so we bolted down what was left of our leisurely breakfast and made our way across town at a pace that Mo Farrah would have complained about. We got there at around 20 past ten and threw ourselves on the mercy of a very nice chap on the door who found our names on the list and said “OK, we can get you in now, just go through and show your passports to the officers in security”.

Passports? You mean the passports in my bag? Which is in our apartment? 20 minutes (very fast) walk away? Bugger.

He kept calm and told us quite reasonably that unfortunately we wouldn’t be allowed in without valid ID. He then pointed out the booking office over the road where we could book another slot later in the day. We beetled over and booked a slot for half an hour later.

“Can I see your passports to confirm the booking please?” Asked the lady in cheerful tones. Bugger. Again.

After going and picking up the bloody passports we finally got a slot booked for the evening.

So the rest of the day was spent covering around 15 miles on foot around Berlin. We saw more of the Jewish memorial (this part underground), the topography of terror (detailing the rise and fall of the Nazis), the museum of the German resistance (housed in the very building where Von Stauffenberg organised the plot to blow up Hitler), and the Tranenplast (the museum based on the site of the major entrance and exit from East Berlin for civilians during the cold war). We walked through the beautiful Tiergarten park past the carillon and we saw the very moving monument to the Roma & Sinti. We even tried to visit the museum based in the old Stasi building, but someone had moved it and not told us. Typical bloody Stasi.


After all that we ate a (frankly crap) meal before heading back across the city (with passports in hand) to catch our slot at the Reichstag. To say it was worth the aggravation is an understatement. It was beautiful. Even though we couldn’t get access to the dome, as it was being maintained, the views of the city and the building itself were stunning. After that we headed back to the Brandenburg Gate to see it at night before walking back to the apartment for the final time.



We finally collapsed into bed again before our early morning flight back to dear old blighty the following day.

Berlin is an incredible city. Fascinating, vibrant and full of so much history and interest. Our two days barely scratched the surface, so without a doubt we will be back soon.

* – yes, I did eat a Berliner. The doughnut, not a citizen. It wasn’t that nice but sometimes you have to be a tourist, right?

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Small Town

I love the town I live in, it’s a really nice little market town with a great mix of small independent shops sprinkled with enough supermarkets and the like to make living here very easy. There’s a fast train to London and good connections to pretty well everywhere in the country. We have access to at least
4 airports within an hour and a half’s drive, so our numerous microadventures to other parts of the planet are pretty cheap and easy.

The mix of people here is quite interesting too. Although the connections to London have meant that quite a few commuters live here, you don’t have to scratch too far below the surface to find the rural community. It’s not at all unusual to see a kanckered old pickup with hay bales and a collie parked up in the town centre between the BMWs and there is a tractor showroom on the main road into the town just next to the ford dealership.

Old school and new school occasionally have differing priorities and have been fighting a battle over aesthetics recently as evidenced below:


This door was, until yesterday, attached to one of the lovely little terraces that happens to be on a route I take when walking into the town. We’ve lived here for a couple of years now and it’s always been shabby (which I am a huge fan of. To quote mrs A: “If it looks old and knackered you’ll like it”), but over the last couple of weeks has become, shall we say, embellished?

I spoke to the guy who owns the house, who explained that he’d been getting anonymous letters put through the door about the shabby paintwork. He started by ignoring them but, as the letters kept coming, he painted the door as above. The thing that made me laugh the most was that he’d actually gone out and bought a notice board just so he’d have more space to write scathing commentary about the actions of his neighbours. He cackled as he was telling me the tale, whilst in the background fitters were installing a new front door in a very tasteful colour.

I couldn’t see any haybales or a collie, perhaps they were in the garden.

You should come and live here, I can thoroughly recommend it.