Down in the breakfast area this morning there were suspiciously more men in the 30-50 age bracket than there had been all weekend. Sure enough it wasn’t long before I spotted a LinuxCon Dublin tee shirt from last year, so it looks like my ‘business’ crowd are all arriving, with many of them choosing the Ibis hotel instead of the super expensive conference one. I had no idea what plans some of them may have had, but I knew what I was hoping to be doing.
Today is a public holiday, and this was immediately obvious as I walked out onto the square in front of the hotel, with everything appearing to be closed. Even stuff that didn’t shut on Sunday seems to be shut today. The whole thing also seems to be befuddling Germans too, who were walking up to the supermarket and then peering in a surprised manner at the ‘closed for the holiday’ sign sellotaped to the window when the door failed to glide open for them. Good job I didn’t need anything from there! My little currywurst stands in the square also appeared to be shut too, and I had never seen them shut before. Even the fountain in the square was not gushing water in its usual splashy manner. I was beginning to worry that everything would be shut, including the places I hoped to visit. Apparently the holiday causing all this glut of shutting was ‘Reunification Day’, to mark the anniversary when East and West Germany were once more joined together. As you would imagine this is kind of a big deal in Berlin, being as it is, the sort of ground zero of reunification and all that.
So with some trepidation as to whether anything will be open, I set off north on the U-9 (at least the U-bahn is running normally) to a place called Classic Remise Berlin. Basically this a giant tram shed that has been converted to a classic car ‘village’ with lots of dealers and workshops and clubs and classic car storage under the one roof. There’s even a dedicated cafe and restaurant. From the nearest station at Tujmstraße it was about a mile walk to the tram shed in the Moabit district, and I was bloody glad when I got there and found it was indeed actually open. None of the dealers or workshops were, but you could wander round inside the building and look at the cars. It’s pretty hard to give a sense of the size of the operation, but the tram shed is absolutely huge and the whole place is taken up by Classic Remise.
One of the things customers can do is hire a private glass box in which to store their classic car. These are secure and climate-controlled, but because they are glass, the public can see them on display. As you might imagine, this doesn’t come cheap, and so befitting this probably astonishing rental fee, the cars inside were likewise astonishing. For example I was walking down a row of vintage Maseratis, muttering to myself the model names, Khamsin, Ghibli, Bora, Merak, and thinking I have only ever seen half these cars in photographs or as Dinky toys before. Then to top it al, at the end of the row there was a Mercedes SL Gull-Wing… a gull wing! That’s had to be worth over half a million quid. On the open floors there were endless-seeming rows of cars for sale from dealers. The prices were incredibly spicy, but practically all the cars were in showroom condition. I was just gobsmacked by the sheer scale of it all. It was one of the best classic car shows I have ever been too, and it was all for free.
As the morning wore on, more and more people started to wander round with me, but at no point could I see more than a dozen folk at a time. It must be even more amazing when it is all open and the dealers and workshops are busy and bustling.
Even the streets around the Remise were dotted with classic cars parked in unexpected places, plus there were several classic-friendly garages in yards are buildings nearby. So it was after many false starts and detours that I eventually tore myself away and tramped back to the U-bahn station a mile distant.
It was still lovely sunny morning and the first half of the walk back through industrial area was at least quite interesting. Most of the industry seemed to be taken up by Siemens, who among the various buildings old and new, had their name on a vast brick, steel and glass hangar that looked both contemporaneous with and fit for the purpose of assembling Zeppelins. I later found this was the AEG Turbine Hall built in 1909, and that was over 100m long and 15m high. It certainly was striking and dwarfed everything around it.
Retracing my route on the U-9, then switching to the U-2, I returned to the world above ground at Stadmitte, not far north of Checkpoint Charlie and walked a couple of blocks to to a square called Gendarmenmarkt. This square was badly bombed during the war, damaging or destroying most of the buildings, and then gradually reconstructed afterwards as an exact replica of what was there before. It contains the Berlin Concert Hall and the French and German churches. You can see the panoramic picture I took of the square at the very top of this page. The reason that so much effort was taken to restore it is because many people rate it as one of the finest squares anywhere in the world, and I can tell you it is absolutely beautiful. I had a peek inside the buildings and they are just as opulent inside as you might imagine from the exteriors. However my visit was slightly marred by the fact that I needed the loo and most of my ‘exploring’ of the square was thinly-disguised hunting for the bogs. There didn’t seem to be any publicly accessible toilets anywhere, though eventually I found a ‘super loo’ tucked away at the edge of the square. Alas the electronic sign on the door declared it was Ausser Betrieb, or ‘out of
use’. The square itself had at least two outdoor cafes on the edges, with people sitting out in the sun enjoying a drink, which had me questioning, where do they ‘go’? I would have loved to have joined them for a drink, but in the end, and in desperation, I settled for a proper cafe on a street surrounding the square which had proper facilities. There I had a latte and watched the tour buses come and go for a while.
So from there it was back to the Stadmitte U-bahnhof, a switch to the U-1 one stop down the line and then a ride out to the wild east end of town and the end of the line at Warschauer Straße. The east side is where all the cool kids hang out and, indeed, as you’re riding the subway (most of which is above ground here) you can see the graffiti and murals getting more and more frequent and less and less sanitised. I am not a cool kid by any stretch of the imagination, but I was here to visit the East Side Gallery and have a look at some of that street art. Exiting the combined U+S Bahnhof plunged me straight into a protest gathering composed of hundreds of chanting and placard-waving young people.
From what I could gather from the slogans it appeared to be a protest about abortion rights in Poland. Although everything appeared to be peaceful enough and there were no police in sight, I didn’t linger but made my way back towards the banks of the River Spree. En-route I had to run the gauntlet of frankly painful levels of hipsterism. Every shop boasted of the authenticity of its wares, customised fixie bikes were chained to every railing and lamppost, no male seemed to be without a beard, waxed moustache, man bun, or ideally all three, whilst visible levels of upcycling had reached epidemic proportions. Truly this previously neglected area was firmly set on the path of gentrification. Anyway I digress. The East Side Gallery itself is a reconstructed length of Berlin wall that runs alongside the river.
Apparently it was set up by and Englishman who then invited artists to paint murals on the concrete panels. The reconstructed wall is about 1/2 mile long, but sadly they have had to erect a barrier in front of it to prevent the graffiti-tagging twats from defacing the murals. The sun was still out and there were many people taking advantage, strolling along the river, looking at the murals or just chilling out. I joined them for a while and enjoyed it thoroughly.
When the time came to return home I made s snap decision to jump on the M10 tram outside the Warschauer Straße station and ride it back to Berlin’s main station (Hauptbahnhof) just to add a tram ‘tick’ to my list of public transport. I did suffer for this slightly because the tram seemed to go a very long way round through Berlin and took ages. It wasn’t very different from the Sheffield trams I am used to, probably because they are built in the same place in Germany? To ram the point home, when we finally arrived at the Hauptbahnhof I got an object lesson in what a joined-up public transport policy should look like. Trams and buses arrived at street level, the U-bahn trains arrived underground (that’s their thing, hey?), a flight of escalators led you up to the platforms for the intercity high speed trains, whilst another flight of escalators led to the top floor platforms for the local or S-bahn trains. It made most British stations look like a half though-out kludge. Which they are. I rode the escalators to the very top and caught the S-5 (another transportation ‘tick’) back to the Zoologischer Garten and walked back to the hotel.