I do like flying from Doncaster-Sheffield Robin Hood Airport at Finningley; it’s small, human and efficient in a way that is totally belied by its polysyllabic name. That morning I had left my home in Sheffield at the scary hour of 4.30am, but somehow ended up airside in the departure lounge sat eating a bacon butty at 5.30am and wondering what I was going to do with the all spare time until the flight. In that first hour I’d managed to drive the 30-odd miles to the airport, park, walk to the terminal, check in a suitcase, clear both immigration and security and order, pay for and receive said bacon butty. Not a bad start to the trip.
Only two weeks after attending a conference in Paris, I gleefully found myself en-route to another work-sponsored conference in Berlin. I of course again tacked a few days of my own on to the trip. This generally pans out well for my employer as well, because, as I am going to be paying for some of the hotel stay, I have an extra vested interest in finding a decent price. The conference itself was being held at the InterContinental Hotel, and even with discount the room rate was €165-odd a night. The web found me the Ibis at Kurfurstendamm, only 10 minutes walk away and less than half the price. Definitely an improvement.
When the FlyBe Berlin flight was eventually called, myself, sundry dour-faced Yorkshire and German businessmen, plus nearly a dozen Hertha BSC supporters in full lederhosen were decanted into a half-full Embraer 195. I was bewildered by this latter crowd as they were all young men speaking English with a posh accent, but it seems that nationality is no bar to true supporters of the Bundesliga, especially if you have plenty of money. But what do I know – perhaps the Premier League is so expensive these days that transferring your loyalty to a German team makes financial sense? Anyway, the flight left bang on time, and was a pretty quick one too, with the aeroplane spending not much more than an hour and a half in the air. As a bonus the take off was lovely, being timed just as the sun was rising.
Once we had landed, and because I’d done my internet research already, I knew exactly how I was going to get to the hotel by public transport. Berlin Tegel is an old airport apparently due to be closed next year and replaced with a new one called Brandenburg. This will be much further from the city centre, but will have a decent rail (S-bahn) link. In contrast Tegel has only got buses and taxis. At the travel kiosk by the exit to Terminal A I queued and bought a 7-day ‘everything’ pass for €30 (7-Tage Karte). This allowed me to use the buses, trams, S-bahn and U-bahn (underground) for a week without limit, as long as I stuck to zones A+B, but since that covers practically the entire city that’s a good deal. If I had bought a single ticket then the bus trip from the airport would have cost me €2.70 alone, so you don’t need many of them to get your €30 worth.
Judging by the customers in front of me, the bloke in the kiosk was incredibly patient and spoke fluent English, though because I knew what I wanted he didn’t need to use much of either on me. I remembered to validate the ticket in the stamping machine at the bus stop outside Terminal A. If I had failed to do that, either at the bus stop or with the machine inside the bus itself, my ticket would not have been valid and I would have been liable for a €60 on the spot fine if an inspector caught me. Express Bus X9 is clearly signposted outside the terminal and runs every few minutes – I don’t think I waited more than five. I rode this all the way to its turnaround point at the Bahnhof Zoologischer Garten. In theory, from there I could have switched to U9 line of the U-bahn and rode it just one stop West to Kurfurstendamm, but as the hotel is only about 15 minute walk from the Zoo Garten, I didn’t think that was too bad. The whole trip had been so speedy and I was so early that I had to stop off for a latte and a cookie at a photographic gallery, cafe and bookshop called C/O Berlin before I attempted to check in (it’s a hard life you know). The C/O Berlin is located right next to the Bahnhof in an Art Deco building called the Amerika House. This had only just re-opened that day for the start of a photographic conference and exhibition, so that turned out to be a spot of good timing and an excellent way to spend an hour.
A short, slightly meandering walk later (thanks Google) saw me in front of the Ibis hotel. My room was OK – pretty much standard, not quite as trendy as Paris two weeks ago but otherwise just the same. A plus point was there were a lot of power points in the room (6!) – shame I only had two UK adapters. From the hotel it turned out to be a mere 2 minutes walk to the U-bahn station and the hotel was located right across the square from the giant, famous department store called Kaufhaus des Westens (KaDeWe).
After I had unpacked I went for a look round inside there. It’s a bit like a German version of one of the big London department stores, and with prices to match. Of course I bought nowt. The entire square outside the hotel was hosting some sort of market today, so there were a lot of food stalls. This turned out to be a regular feature, appearing multiple times during my stay, but it was all novel to me then. A quick audit would seem to indicate that the Berliners like their currywurst, don’t they just. I wasn’t quite ready for that culinary experience, so I grabbed some chips (pommes frites) and fresh orange juice from a stand for my lunch.
Looking to stretch my legs and work that off I decided to see if I could walk to the Brandenburg Gate. This turned out to be a decent stroll, probably about 2-3 miles, over the Landwehr Canal, past the Siegessäule (Victory Column) and through the Tiergarten, but I did it only to find much of the area cordoned off for the annual festival of lights opening ceremony that night. However, the Eastern side of the Brandenburg Gate was open so I managed to wander round there and down Unter den Linden a bit, grabbing a few (boring) pics (and a postcard for my mum).
Eventually tiring of tourists (yes, I know I am one) I struck off in a Southerly direction heading towards Potsdamer Platz.
The logic behind this it was the location of a place called the Sony Centre, where I might find some some tea, plus the U-bahn station there seemed to be the nearest one that contained a near direct line home as I didn’t fancy the 3-mile hike back. On the way to Potsdamer Platz I passed the Holocaust Memorial, or Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe as the Germans call it in their no-nonsense way. I’ve seen this on the screen and in print many times, but it doesn’t quite prepare you for the size and solemnity of the memorial. Covering an entire square with over 2700 black columns of different heights and forming dozens and dozens of pathways between them doesn’t sound that spectacular or clever, but the whole thing appears to squat and brood between the buildings surrounding it. I wanted to take a picture, as a memento and to show people where I had been, but I seemed to run out of what little talent I have very quickly. Nothing I took appeared to capture the essence of the place, so I ended up with just another snapshot for my troubles.
Leaving the Holocaust Memorial behind I continued towards the Sony Centre. Here a group of ultra-modern office buildings are arranged to form a vast glass-roofed atrium containing restaurants and a cinema. I picked one of the restaurants at random and enjoyed my first local beer of the day with my tea.
Because I was a novice to the U-bahn, I had picked a simple route home, taking the U2 line to the Zoological Garden stop and retracing my first walk of the morning (with slightly more confidence) back to the hotel. Despite some very sore calves, I still went back out again 45 mins later to have a look at the local lighted-up stuff for the festival. This is where my lack of a tripod really hurt as I couldn’t set the camera up anywhere where I really wanted. The pics show the corner of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church and a couple of nearby towers plus the Elephant Gate to the Zoological Garden all lit up.