The second gig of the winter tour took place over the four days 4-8 October 2007. What a trip it was.
I took the train from my local town just outside Birmingham to Gatwick, West Sussex – not London as many people think. This train journey should have allowed me to arrive for the flight in time, but due to the marvellous consistent latefulness of England’s rail network, the journey got later and later. by the time I arrived at the airport terminus, they had closed the gate to my flight. However, another lady was also late and after some swift persuasive talking by the ground staff we were permitted onto the flight. Two hours later and with a forward hour change, I arrived in Berlin, Germany’s capital.
On arrival around 11 pm German time my female friend was there to meet and greet me. After a bear hug we caught the above ground train to where she lived. I had arrived in the eastern part of the city, once cut off from the western part by the Berlin Wall, which had been erected in 1961 as part of the battle of the Cold War. However, it had been demolished in 1989 when communism in Europe was abandoned. My friend lived in an apartment block in a central area of the west part of the city. The train ride took around forty minutes and once we arrived, we walked to her flat and crashed. She showed me were I was to sleep, on her uncarpeted concrete floor! She had only just moved flats and the place had no furniture, plus the fact people don’t tend to use carpets in Germany.
I settled in and we caught up on each other’s lives and gossip. This was to be a relaxing trip so the next day we rose late and made breakfast before entering into the morning sun in search of Berlin’s cultural entertainment. The street she lived in was quiet and it was not until we hit the main street that I noticed any sign of life. The pavements were wide and the curb edges were low. They were so low that I tripped on several and later twisted my ankle on another. We finally hit one of the main streets and the pedestrian traffic increased. We swerved around the many pedestrians, tackled the cross walks and tried in vain to beet the busy traffic on a typical late Saturday morning in Berlin. Eventually we found what we were hunting for, a large food hall in an even bigger building. Once inside we hit the escalators, riding each one until we reached the fourth floor. Here was a dense crowd of stylish locals dressed in casual but fashionable clothes – my friend described them as we walked. Up on this floor of expensive display cabinets holding all items from glassware to jewellery we found the food hall. This was a labyrinth of counters offering tasters of various delicacies in the hope that a simple try would tempt a person into buying a selection. The smell of fresh food was everywhere, and the aroma awakened my food glands – the heat of the building had me sweating and the aroma had me drooling. I tried some fresh bread that tasted faintly of nuts or seeds and I also had some home made cheese which was delicious. We circled round passing many stalls before nearing the fish counter. There was every fish imaginable and you could smell them for a good distance. I bought some dark German chocolate which was extremely bitter and then we hit the bar. My friend sampled some wine while I had a bottle of Sprite and settled down to absorb the atmosphere.
There was a hot grill behind the bar and I could smell the aroma of cooking pork and feel the heat from the fire. We spent a good part of the afternoon there before slowly moving on to explore some more of the city’s central streets. Each day followed a similar pattern, we would rise around mid morning, have breakfast which usually consisted of fresh bread and eggs plus orange juice and a cup of tea in my case and coffee for my friend. Then we would hit the streets around mid day and go walking in the cool air of the day. Often we stopped at a cafe for wine or tea – whatever we could find. There was a cafe opposite my friend’s apartment and on my third day we went and had lunch there. It was slow and relaxing. My friend would order in German, the drinks would arrive first, later followed by food. However, nothing was rushed. In the bars, paying was a nightmare. You paid when you left and not on each order like in Britain. This meant in a subtle way you usually drank more and built up a nice tab. Getting a member of the bar staff’s attention could take a good twenty minutes if not longer. I had a type of white sausage at the cafe and my friend had mushroom soup. The small banana shaped sausages came in a round bowl accompanied by mustard and vegetables. The sausages tasted reasonably good.
In the late afternoon on the Sunday, we went to the castle. The grounds are free to walk but it costs to enter the fortress and former residences. However, the grounds are large and produced a pleasant walk. It was very quiet and with hardly any wind and some light left in the sky, we enjoyed ourselves strolling along in the silence of the environment. We went to feed the swans that live in the lake within the grounds. They came expectantly, hissing and making a seal like cry. We threw bacon flavoured crisps at them – apparently it is one of their favourite delicacies. Several other birds could be heard calling in the early dusk and it was very peaceful down by the lake with hardly a soul to disturb the ambiance. This is a pleasure that I would highly recommend. The inside of the castle is also a good idea if you have the time and money.
Each evening was spent relaxing in each others company: either at my friends new apartment without the furniture and carpets or at her friends. I slept on the floor for the first two nights and on different couches for the last two evenings. This all added to the adventure, not knowing where I would end up each night, a different location and building to familiarise myself with. Some of her friends liked similar music to me and we rocked the evening away. My friend cooked one night and we ate out on another occasion. It was out near some stables in a park area . We found a lovely bar-restaurant and were almost the only customers. I bought a meal of grilled meat for both of us, it consisted of chicken and pork with dumplings. It was cooked local and was delicious – the dumplings were fantastic. The meal of meat plus two glasses of white wine and two Sprites cost 25E including tip – about £16. My final day was spent just relaxing at the flat before I caught the above ground train back to the east and Shoenfelt airport for my afternoon return flight to Gatwick. It had been a relaxing visit on my winter tour. Next stop, Iceland.