Today marks ten years since I first set foot in the city of Berlin. Since then I have banged on about it regularly at quite some length, to anyone who is prepared to listen (a list which grows shorter with every passing day). And on this momentous anniversary, I’m afraid I’m doing it again. I won’t stop until everyone I know has visited at least once, so hurry up and get on with it, people!
My first visit was with my aviation geek friend Andrew, who wanted to see the new airport that was due to open that summer (ha!). So, if you ever get bored of me going on about Berlin, blame Andrew for introducing me to the place.
First impressions were not brilliant. We landed at the old Schönefeld Airport, which seemed to have been run-down in anticipation of the new airport opening. The attached railway station had zero customer-facing staff, just a row of ticket machines that accepted only cash or German debit cards, with very little explanation to the many arriving visitors of what ticket to buy or what train to catch.
Fortunately, things could only get better, and we had a splendid time wandering the city, visiting museums, riding the U-Bahn and spilling out of gay bars in the early hours of the morning (ahem). By the end of the trip, I was completely enamoured with the place.
Nearly six years after my previous visit, it was time to reacquaint myself with Gran Canaria. When my friend Andrew used his impressive travel booking skills to obtain cheap flights and a bargain self-catering apartment, I was only too happy to accompany him, and escape rainy Brexit UK for a few days.
And then, as the departure date approached, I felt a little twinge of fear. Omicron COVID was still very much a thing. Gran Canaria was at Alert Level 4 (the highest level in Spain). I did not want our holiday be spoiled by the faff and inconvenience of COVID restrictions, necessary as they may be. Matters weren’t helped when the Spain Travel Health website kept giving cryptic errors as I tried to upload my vaccination certificate.
Even as I packed my T-shirts and shorts the night before, I had to ask the question: was going at this time a good idea?
As it turns out… the answer was absolutely Sí (I speak Spanish now).
After seeing the Baumhaus, a quick glance at Google Maps revealed that I was quite close to the station at Ostbahnhof, so I walked there.
Ostbahnhof is a station which I have visited multiple times, although I have never hung around for long, preferring to head straight for a train. I had some time to spare (I thought) so mooched around for a bit, thinking I could maybe grab some lunch from one of the many food outlets. I didn’t get anything to eat, but on the concourse, I discovered yet another coin-operated model railway. Naturally I had to put in a couple of coins to watch a train go round in circles for a few minutes.
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.
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.