|Our plans to spend the night on the train almost came undone last night when we sat on the cold railway station at Berlin Hauptbahnhof for two hours as they progressively upped the delay time of our train. However it did eventually arrive at midnight and we kipped for a few hours in remarkably comfortable bunks in our own little upstairs cabin. It's now breakfast time and we are one hour out of Basel where we change trains for Geneva and another almost 3 hours. I loved sleeping along with the rhythm of the train the only problem being when that rhythm stopped at a station. After a shower and a German breakfast of cold meats, cheese (brie) and bread we feel pretty good. We are passing through green early spring countryside and it's raining!
Jorge Robinson has been living in Berlin for the past two years with his partner Sophie. Their little boy Max was born a few months after their arrival and their second child will be born before they leave in October. They are accommodated by the Embassy in a lovely spacious, high ceilinged flat in the centre of town - the old East side of Berlin which is characterised by narrow streets and courtyards (an old Jewish quarter) and is much more interesting than other spots. . There are many groovy little shops all around them and the train and tram run almost past their door so they have no need for a car. We really enjoyed catching up with them again and especially enjoyed 18 month old Max who seemed to relish the stimulation of visitors. It made our experience of Berlin so much better. There were guide books and maps galore at their place and they gave us lots of information and handy hints - how not to get into trouble with the transit police etc! Jorge even met us on our arrival at the main train station (hauptbahnhof) and we travelled a further couple of stops and then walked the 2 minutes to their 2nd story apartment. It has a good view of the square and Max whiles away a bit of time hanging off the brass window handle, standing on the sill watching the comings and goings.
Berlin has many fine buildings - big, imposing Germanic buildings - but there's no doubt that for us and probably other first time visitors, the main fascination is with 'the wall'. Jorge explained that the Germans have a strong conscience about the war and it's aftermath and are determined not to let the memories of it fade in an effort to ensure it never happens again. That's putting it simply and it may even have a name for those better read than us.
So we visited the remaining km or so of Berlin wall that has been painted by artists and walked behind it on the east side. We saw the excellent Topography of Terror. an outdoor museum with some wall standing, describing the rise of Hitler and what happened in Berlin leading up to the war. We spent some time at the interactive DDR museum where we came to better understand the complete control the leaders had over the people; not only with their secret policing but their attention to detail such as their control over fashion, dancing and music. Within the city we found it hard to tell whether you're in the old east or west although I think Jorge and Sophie are more aware of that after being there for longer; the wall is still represented by a double layer of red bricks inset into the road.
We saw the Brandenburg Gate, a rather majestic city gate that was in the centre of no man's land for 20+ years; we caught the train out to Charlottensburg to the castle (schloss) there and were reminded of all those baroque and roccoco churches and buildings we visited in Germany 30 odd years ago. We walked a lot, sometimes along the river and did some shopping. We bought a small piece of German steel in the form of a knife but if weight wasn't an issue we could have bought lots more! We found good coffee, or Jorge did. Cafe latte in Germany isn't what we like but flat white is. He reckons there's only about 3 coffee shops in Berlin that do a flat white. One is near their house, run by a Kiwi!
There is a posh department store, Ka De We (car de vay) where there is a very impressive food hall selling more sausages and varieties of processed meat than most people have ever seen! We ordered our favourite, Weisswurst and were a little disappointed to see them come out of a boiler and were served with a sweet brown sauce. We'll stick to the grill next time. But with the weissbier (wheat) we managed to eat it. We tested chocolate from the best Berlin chocolate makers and tried a few versions of apfel cake and pie and found them all delicious. One of our lasting memories of our previous German visit was the pastries that we ate daily.
Have you heard of Ampelman? He is the little green/red man on the traffic lights who tells you to walk/don't walk and Ampelman is the Easr German one that has been retained and has become such a cult figure there are now 5 Ampleman shops in Berlin selling paraphernalia all with this little figure represented.
We had fun trying to pronounce some of the street names and found that so many more people speak English now than they did when we first visited in the 70s.