Mid-afternoon is probably the worst time for a flight. Too late in the day to head straight to the airport from the hotel, but early enough that you can’t do anything too ambitious because you constantly have one eye on the time. My Monday morning in Berlin was an example, with my flight due to leave at 15:45. I would have to watch the clock carefully, and ensure that I was at the airport by 2pm.
As it turned out, I actually didn’t keep an eye on the time when I should have, but more of that later…
I decided to stick with the Berlin Wall theme, and headed to Nordbahnhof. This station is on the Berlin S-Bahn’s North-South line, and between 1961 and 1989 was one of the many “ghost stations” on the city’s transport network. The line started in West Berlin, ran through East Berlin for a few miles, then crossed back into West Berlin. All the stations in the East Berlin section were closed, and the entrances sealed. Armed border guards patrolled the dimly-lit platforms – anyone using the train tunnels to escape ran the risk of being shot.
Glienicke Bridge is the terminus of Berlin bus route 316 and the starting point of Potsdam tram route 93, making for easy interchange between the two. I didn’t have to wait long before a tram rumbled into view, and I climbed aboard for the short journey into Potsdam city centre.
I had a few hours to kill, and not much of a plan in mind. I had read up on Sanssouci Park, the huge park surrounding the former royal residence of Frederick the Great, and had decided to visit there at some point. Otherwise, I would just see what delights Potsdam put in my path.
I was nervous. The polls had narrowed in the run-up to polling day, and there was chatter of another hung parliament. On Twitter it was suggested that big names like Dominic Raaaab and even Boris Johnson himself were in trouble, thanks to tactical voting in their constituencies. Even so, it was hard to ignore the opinion polls which still showed a big lead for the Tories.
I tried to distract myself by keeping busy. I answered some emails, wrote out my Christmas cards, scrolled through some photos from my sister’s wedding on Facebook. By 9.45 though, I was nervously pacing up and down, unable to concentrate on anything else. This election was a battle for the soul of our country, and would have effects far beyond this one Parliamentary term.
When the railways were privatised, we were told that they needed to be freed from state control and entrusted to the dynamic private sector.
Virgin Trains took over the InterCity West Coast franchise from British Rail on 9th March 1997. If you turned up at Liverpool Lime Street on that morning for a train to London, you wouldn’t have noticed much difference. Your ticket still had that familiar double arrow logo. The train would have been the same type that had been on that service the previous day. It probably still had “INTERCITY” painted on its side.
Gradually, things began to change. Cheap fares came in with heavy restrictions. The integrated network became fragmented — now there were tickets that restricted you to trains bearing a certain logo. Confused? Not sure which ticket to buy? Sorry, it’s more important that you have CHOICE.
Want to travel to London during the morning peak? The powers-that-be decided that those fares were to be unregulated, dictated only by what the market was prepared to pay. And the prices went up, and up, and up, and continue to rise. Train too busy? We will “yield manage” and price people off.
And if you need help at a station, just pray that there are staff wearing your company’s uniform. “That’s not one of our trains, it’s not our ticket, it’s not on our system. Can’t help, sorry.”
The story was repeated across the rail network. The railway stopped being a public service and became just another corporate entity. And it became less safe. There were accidents – serious, fatal accidents – which can be blamed squarely on corporate greed and penny-pinching.
I can envisage something similar happening with the NHS. It won’t be a sudden change. The first day of NHS plc will probably be no different to what has gone before. The changes will come in gradually – a charge introduced here, some healthy competition there. Pay a little extra for “NHS Plus” benefits. Certain procedures denied because it’s not commercially viable. Our health service will be taken from us piece by piece, and by the time we realise what has happened, it will be too late.
On Sunday morning I arrived at Zoologischer Garten station with a Berlin ABC day ticket in hand, ready to travel west to Wannsee. I could have boarded an S-Bahn train, but instead opted for the faster DB Regio service. This had the bonus of travelling on one of DB’s brill double-decker trains, always a novelty for an Englishman constrained by a restrictive loading gauge.
I had decided to continue with the Berlin Wall theme of my visit. Why did I get off at Wannsee? Because there was something nearby I wanna-see. Do you see?
Even teletext got in on the Berlin Wall celebrations. ARD Text broadcast a series of pages reporting the news from thirty years ago, emulating the look of their text service in 1989. Can it get any more 1980s than that?
The centerpiece of the Mauerfall 30 events was a huge free concert to be held at the Brandenburg Gate on the evening of Saturday 9th November. Since I was in Berlin for the 30th anniversary, it seemed logical to attend.
Security was extremely tight. I had been on the Unter den Linden boulevard earlier in the day, and the whole area of the concert was enclosed in a ring of steel. On the platforms of Brandenburger Tor S-Bahn station, DB security staff with loud hailers were directing passengers to a specific exit – all the others being locked. The Brandenburg Gate itself was behind a security cordon with stern Polizei blocking access. Necessary measures, no doubt, but slightly ironic, considering what the city was celebrating.
Saturday 9th November 2019 was a momentous day in the history of Berlin. Yes, it was the one day a month that the Berlin U-Bahn Museum is open. By pure luck, its opening day coincided with my weekend in Berlin, so it was a natural choice to while away a few hours on Saturday afternoon.
I arrived at Olympia-Stadion station on the U2 line, to find stands of football scarves and fast food being set up in the ticket hall. Hertha Berlin were due to play at home later that day, and some fans were arriving early. While most made a beeline for the nearby stadium, I headed for the welcoming doorway to the museum, sandwiched between two replica train cabs.
I last visited Berlin in May 2018, and was starting to feel the itch again. When the cream failed to clear it up, it was obvious that I needed to visit.
I was initially reluctant to venture abroad again, so soon after #TågFärjetur, but the weekend of 8-11 November was the perfect time to go. The city was hosting a series of special events to mark the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, under the heading Mauerfall 30.
Even at two weeks’ notice, EasyJet (sorry Greta) was offering reasonable prices, so off I went.
Tuesday 22nd October Copenhagen Metro lines M2 and M3 1850 Manchester Airport to Liverpool South Parkway
It was our LAST DAY (wah) in Copenhagen. Time and expense meant that taking the train back home was not a practical option, so we had a flight from Copenhagen Airport to Manchester booked for later on Tuesday afternoon.
Before that, though, we had just a little bit more time to check out Copenhagen. Bags were safely stowed in the hotel’s left luggage room, another day ticket purchased, and we descended into the Metro for the millionth time that trip.
Monday 21st October 11.47 Copenhagen Hovedbanegård to Malmö centralstation
Our previous hotels had the arrangement with a double bed that can be pulled slightly apart to make two single beds (that six inch gap instantly removing any suggestion of sexual intimacy).
Our Copenhagen hotel, however, had a double bed with a bunk bed precariously above. Paul immediately volunteered to be on the bottom, leaving me to clamber up to the bunk – which had NO railings to prevent falling out should I toss during the night.
It only occurred to me later that this arrangement was probably intended for a small child, with parents in the double bed below. Thankfully, the bed was still able to support my not insignificant weight – I doubt Paul would have appreciated me on top of him.
Thankfully there were no incidents during the night, and we awoke on Monday refreshed and ready to go. The plan for the day was to cross the Øresund Bridge into Sweden and visit Malmö. Before that, though, we decided to spend a little more time on the Copenhagen Metro.