Regular readers will be aware that all has been very quiet from paradise this month. The reason is that Sheila and I have been on a wee trip! We packed our plastic macs, guide books and tooth brushes and have been off to visit Berlin followed by a short jaunt to southern England.
We set off for Berlin at the usual (in winter at least) indecent hour for the airport and by lunchtime had arrived via Athens at Berlin Schonefeld, courtesy of easyJet. Now Schonefeld was a bit of a surprise because it is a leftover from East Germany and looks rather like Luton used to be – apologies to those readers who don’t know Luton but I don’t suggest you go to find out because it has improved! Anyway, suffice it to say that Berlin Schonefeld is a bit of a dump. However, it does have the advantage that it is small.
We met up with friend Nick from Edinburgh and headed off for our central air B&B apartment which turned out to be excellent. Indeed, other than poor kitchen lighting, it was hard to find fault. Address available for a small fee!
A very local supermarket provided the essentials and it was soon time for a beer followed by supper at an Italian restaurant round the corner. We were amazed at how relatively cheap (for both Greece and the UK) everything was.
The next morning we headed off for a short walk to the Reichstag and the Brandenburg Gate. Everything here was much changed from my last visit to Berlin in 1982 when of course the Wall was still in place but I was able to find the approximate place where I was nearly arrested by West German Border police as I strayed too close to where I should not have been!
After a stroll down the Unter-den-Linden , currently rather spoiled by above ground works for a new underground station we headed for the Historical Museum in the heart of he old city (previously in East Berlin) in order to get a perspective on what Berlin is all about – none of us seemed to have much knowledge of German History prior to about 1860! I recommend the museum for those like me, who are into matters historical and in particular, it helped to get a feel for the concept of Germany at the heart of Europe, even if the German State itself is rather a recent creation.
Nick cooked that evening and then went to meet Jude from the airport and we spent a happy if argumentative evening discussing Scottish politics of which there have been plenty recently!
The next day we rented bicycles and pedalled off through the Tiergarten and rather stumbled across the Jewish Memorial Museum just down from the Brandenburg Gate.
This is an amazingly atmospheric place where the architect has managed to create an impressively forbidding construction which really makes you feel trapped within the huge blocks of concrete with the sky the only freely available space. Further, in an underground bunker is a visual display of the horrors which were meted out by the Nazis and again, this is done in a way which bears down on one. You are left with the feeling that it is a place that you want to get out of. Brilliant though!
Then we cycled to the ultra modern Potsdamer Platz with the amazing Sony Centre and its glass dome roof and from there back through the Tiergarten to the Kurfurstendam and the war-ruined Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church.
On the way, I experienced the dubious delight of a currywurst for lunch. For the uninitiated, it is basically a German sausage with a curry flavoured tomato sauce! It actually tasted pretty good but I am not sure that I would go to Germany specially to have one!
The following day we again rented the bikes. It is a great way to see the city and as the place is so flat it is much less tiring than walking. Further, the city is a cyclist’s dream with separate cycle lanes and crossings and what we thought were very careful and considerate drivers!
We spent the morning following the route of the Wall, stopping from time to time to look at memorials to those who had died trying to escape as well as looking sections which have been preserved and then visited a new museum dedicated to the Wall!
Lunch followed at a traditional German eating house – all you could consume for twelve euros and it was fantastic.Then we pedalled off to the Hamburger Banhof Art Gallery for a bit of culture. Housed in a former railway station, it has an impressive modern art collection and I particularly enjoyed the temporary exhibition of paintings by David Reed and Mary Heilmann because it reminded me of the work of my friend Rosy in London.
The following day, we went on a boat trip though the City centre which was excellent and I rather wished we had done this on our first day as it gave a different perception to old Berlin as a whole and rather set the City in a context.
Then it was time to say goodbye to Nick and Jude, leave the apartment and move on to a short stay with friends we have met here in Crete, Willi and Pamela, who live in the western suburb of Kladow.
Firstly, however, they took us to visit Ana (the daughter of our good friends Walter and Brigitta), her partner Stephan and their son, Rafael. Ana’s brother Till and his partner Nettie and their son Wim also happened to be staying so it was quite a tea party!
It was so good to see everyone again, including the two boys who are growing up so quickly! Congratulations too, to Stephan who got the job he was sweating on while we were there!
Dedicated to enjoyment and the arts in general, it was clearly the indulgence of a man of his time.
We then went on to various other sites of historical interest, including the place where the Potsdam Conference was held in 1945 between Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill which effectively carved up Europe for the post-war period.
Potsdam itself is very beautiful and we had lunch in a traditional cafe where I had ‘solid’ lentil soup and very ‘solid’ it was too!
We had such a great time with Willi and Pamela, loved their beautiful home and want to take the opportunity to thank them for the fine food and their warm hospitality. We look forward to seeing them here in Crete later in the year.