I have had a yearning to get back to travelling ever since the government relaxed the restrictions and put countries onto red/amber/green lists.
I didn’t care that I had to test or quarantine when I got back – I just wanted to be on a train (or in a car) to the airport, stressing about security queues, scoffing at the price of sustenance, on a plane being uncomfortable, going through immigration and customs on the other side, on a tram/bus getting to the hostel and then enjoying being away from Peterborough (here on out called P-Town).
I really wanted to go back to Germany – it didn’t have to be Berlin. I tried to get to Berlin at the back end of last year but lockdown happened and the government were (finally) stricter with the border.
I chose Berlin because of the price (hello, who doesn’t like a twenty quid return flight) and also the history there. Despite the fact I have been twice before, I wanted to go again. This time I went as a solo traveller. The first time was with Jamie and the second time was with Ken. You can read about the one with Jamie here and here. I still need to do a post for the time Ken and I went.
I wanted to make memories for myself (that were different to the ones I already had) and the only way to do that was to go on my lonesome.
Due to the time that the flight left (it was either really early morning or very late evening), I had to enlist the help of the young ‘un to get me to the airport. I wasn’t quite ready to be a grown up and choose the sensible option of taking the evening flight. I asked Jason and he, without hesitation, said yes to taking me there. I know I could’ve asked Ken and he would’ve done it if he had been in P-Town.
I got to the airport with a couple of hours to spare and it was good that I did as it took well over 20 minutes just to get through security (unlike the time for Madrid where it took well under 7 minutes to get through). Once I was through I headed to BK to get some food as I was really hungry and also wanted to sneakily fill up my water bottle with Grape Fanta for the plane.
Once the gate was shown I headed there and the gate agents were pretyy quick in ensuring we all had the correct documentation for Germany. I fell asleep on the plane once I had taken the obligatory taxi and take off video.
I woke up as we were on our final descent into Berlin. We had some turbulence that was the type to cause the plane to drop. I didn’t care this time as I was still so tired.
Once we de-planed, I messaged Jason and told him I was still stuck in Stansted and he didn’t believe me (for a split second I forgot he was able to see where I was. Haha. Blame the tiredness). The queue for passport control was really long and it took about 30 minutes to get through and then about 15 minutes to walk to the train station. Luckily, T5 wasn’t in operation (a sincere thanks to Covid) otherwise it would have also been a long walk to the S-Bahn. T5 is the old Schönefeld (SXF) airport.
I got to Alexanderplatz with about 3 hours before I could check in at the hostel. I went and dropped my bags off and then headed out for a wander before I checked in.
I went to Alexanderplatz and walked around there and then found a supermarket to get a drink and some food. On my way there, I stopped to have a look inside St. Marienkirche. By the time I went to the supermarket and got food it was time to check in so I headed back there and checked in and had a rest for about 30 minutes.
I then had a walk down Karl-Marx-Alle as I had seen a fountain there that I wanted to look at (hopefully it’s becoming more apparent how much I love and am mesmerised by water). Once I had done that and took some pictures, I then walked along Lichtenberger Straße to see where that would take me.
To my surprise, and delight, it brought me to Platz der Vereinten Nationen which just so happened to have a tram stop AND a water feature (yep, water). The installation is called Grünanlage mit Brunnen or Green Area with a Fountain. One of the things I love about German is that pretty much everything is a literal translation of what it is. Take Wednesday for example. They don’t have a specific name for Wednesday. Instead, they call it Mittwoch which translates as midweek. Another one is hospital. The German word for it is krankenhaus which literally means the house of the sick.
After I was done here, I hopped on the tram (because why the hell not) and ended up at Hackescher Markt and found a Rewe so I could get some more sustenance. All that walking was making me thirsty and tired!
I then took another tram to see where it would take me and to see if I could find a supermarket to buy the goodies I was going to be bringing back with me. The tram ended up being cut short and I saw there was a Lidl so I went there to get some crisps and a drink. When I went to go in I was told I needed a basket and I said I didn’t need one but they insisted. Did I then turn around and walk out because of that – of course I did. It’s like you don’t even know my me fellow readers. Tsk Tsk.
I then walked to the nearest tram stop and went to the end of the line and sat there for about an hour just to give my feet a rest before heading back for the night.
Today was the first full day that I had in Berlin and I decided that I would deviate from my usual way of doing trips. I didn’t take a sightseeing bus but instead did a walking tour and then a self guided tour the rest of the time.
I headed to get food and drink to take round with me on the tour
I made my way to meet the guide at the Neptune Fountain at Alexanderplatz. It was so nice to see a lot of people out and about and a lot of people doing the tour. The company I used is called Walkative and the guide was both informative and funny. He was very well versed on Berlin history and that was really good as he wasn’t making it up as he went along.
He started off by telling us about the TV tower and how the Soviets built it as a symbol of their ingenuity and power so the west could see that they were able to build stuff too. The tower was apparently build by workers coming in from the west. The symbol of the eastern power was built by the west. The irony.
We stopped by St Mary Church too and you can see the different styles of architecture on the outside. When Berlin was burning way back when, they wanted to save the church and the only way they could figure out how to stop the church from burning was to shoot a cannon ball at the tower (it was wooden). It preserved the church but also destroyed the tower. I guess they accomplished what they needed to.
We then headed to Museum Island to see the Royal Palace. The Soviets didn’t like it so ordered it to be destroyed and after the war it was rebuilt. You can also see on the island that there are different styles and colours on the buildings. If you are going to Berlin for the ancient history you may very well be disappointed. Berlin was practically destroyed during the war and was rebuilt after. The darker parts of the buildings you see are what Hitler thought was worth preserving and had them hidden so they wouldn’t be destroyed. It’s a very weird sentence to write but it was also very weird to hear it being said.
We made our way to the Humboldt University. One of the good things about this university is the number of Nobel Prize winners it has produced. Our guide – Chris the Canadian (he told us to call him that in our reviews of the tour) – lamented that Canada has produced a total of 16 Nobel Prize winners so far and this single university has produced 29 so far. There is also a memorial in the middle of Bebelplatz (formerly Opernplatz) that you can look down on and it is empty bookshelves that can hold the 20,000 books and original manuscripts that were burnt during the Nazi book burnings. Original works by the likes of Einstein and Freud were lost forever – simply because they were Jewish. Anything by Jewish authors or those works considered un-German were burnt. There is a poignant plaque in the ground with a quote from a play called Almansor by Heinrich Heine.
The line reads “That was only a prelude; where they burn books they will also burn people” How prophetic and also how very sad.
From here, we headed towards Checkpoint Charlie and Chris had to explain that it was called Charlie because of the Nato alphabet and not some guy called Charlie. He told us of a story of how people tried to get over the wall and he told us of an official who used a zip wire and seatbelt to get him and his family to the west. The guards watched and said to their superiors that they thought it was the Stasi testing to see if it could be done.
Once we left here, we headed to the site of Hitler’s bunker. Hitler was very paranoid and trusted no-one. When he came to take his Cyanide capsules to end it all (because he was a coward in reality), he didn’t trust that they would work so he gave a drop to his dog which killed it. He and his partner then took the pills themselves. He also ordered that his body be burnt so the allies couldn’t do anything with it. They tried to burn his body but it didn’t burn properly. The Soviets found the location of where the soldiers buried his body and identified it as him from his dental records. They made sure his body was properly burnt and scattered his ashes in the Spree.
We then headed to the Memorial of the Murdered Jews of Europe. This was one of the places I wanted to see. The memorial is by an Israeli artist and he was very vague in what it represented and left it to people to make their own interpretation of it. Our guide told us we could sit on the stones but not stand on them (I mean, who would even do that!). As I was walking around and looking along the stones it was in a wave kind of pattern. The first thought that came to me was how life was turbulent for those souls after the rise of the Nazi’s – and the wave pattern signifies the turbulence. It was very moving and very poignant to be there. It gave me great cause to reflect and be grateful for how relatively easy my life is. If I had been the person I am today alive back then, I most certainly would have been in a concentration camp or killed. The fact that I have a mental illness and the fact that I am gay would have signed my death warrant. How grateful I am to live in a country where this is not looked down upon.
We headed to the final stop at the Brandenburg Gate. Chris the Canadian told us how the French took the statue off the top and took it to Paris. Napolean wanted a souvenir of his victory over the Prussians. Once Napolean was defeated in 1814, the Quadriga was taken back to Berlin and adorned with an Iron Cross and Eagle and placed back on the top of the gate and was renamed Victoria.
In 1987, Ronald Reagan made his famous speech to Mikhail Gorbachev at the Brandenburg Gate in which he said “Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall”.
There is a hotel called Adlon right by the gate (where many a celebrity and high ranking government officials stay [apparently at €26,000 per night]) and this was where Michael Jackson dangled his baby over the balcony in 2002.
After the tour was over, I decided to head to the Reichstag/Bundestag and have a walk around. I also wanted to sit by the river before going to walk some more. There wasn’t a huge amount that could be done as they were setting up for the Berlin half marathon the next day. I then headed to Tiergarten and had some food and had a nice stroll around the park before going to Potsdamer Platz and back to the memorial. I then headed through the Brandenburg Gate and walked down Unter Den Linden and stopped at Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz.
I sat here for about 45 minutes. It was so peaceful and you could barely hear the noise from the street outside. It was lovely. Once I was done here, I headed back towards Museum Island for some more pictures and then to go catch a tram to see the gilded dome that was in my eyeline. As I was walking towards the tram I figured I should get some food and I also remembered I needed to get a Covid pre-departure test. As I was eating I booked the test and it was pretty straight forward – way easier than Madrid. I booked online, went in, paid (sadly it wasn’t free for foreigners – just citizens), got tested, got my results in about 15 minutes.
I was then done for the day and went back to the hostel.
Total steps: 25,265
Total miles: 11.8
Below are some of the pics from today
One other thing that I found really fascinating about Germany is that you are now allowed to ask the government if you ever had a Stasi file kept on you. If so, you are allowed to see what the file contains. I bet it makes for some very interesting – and also painful – reading. The guide told us that there have been people who were as young as 3/4 having had a Stasi file kept on them. How sad that the government at the time thought the only way to control its citizens was to have secret files on them and to also actively encourage spying on you by people close to you.
I had to leave super early to get to the airport for my early morning flight. The plan was to sleep until about 03:00 and then catch the S-Bahn to the airport. Due to the strike by DB and S-Bahn drivers I had to use the bus which meant getting up 45 minutes earlier than planned and then finding a ticket machine to buy a ticket.
I had been waiting at the stop for about 30 minutes and there started to be a queue of people. The hell I was going to let anyone get on before me when the bus arrived. I pushed my way on and made sure I got a seat as the ride was just under an hour and i’ll be damned if I was going to be standing for that length of time.
I got to the airport with plenty of time to spare. I found the departure hall and just headed for security so I could get through and get some much needed food and drink. The queue for security was about 20 minutes so it was good I just went straight there. I got all of my bags swabbed because of all the Haribo and Kinder I brought back. Haha. I had to leave some t-shirts and shorts at the hostel to make room for it all.
The boarding process was horrible at the airport. They weren’t checking documentation until at the gate and they were slow about it too. One of the gate agents was rude and aggressive to pretty much everyone. She told me my Covid test was too old. I had to explain that 20:00 on the 21st gave me 14 hours left on it (since she obviously couldn’t count or tell the time). This whole crap show was the reason we were 30 minutes late taking off.
I slept most of the flight again and woke up on final approach to Stansted. Getting through the border here took about 15 minutes. I wasn’t in much of a hurry as I had almost 3 hours until my train left. I got some Rahsberry (I know, it’s Raspberry but Jason can explain it to you) Pepsi Max and headed to the platform. I thought I would chance my luck and get on the first train to Peterborough. I had good fortune because the inspector saw I had a ticket and was happy with that.
All in all, I had an amazing time in Berlin. I told Jason the next logical step was to come back with him since I had been already with Jamie and with Ken.
Total steps: 84,496
Total miles: 39.7
You can view all of my Berlin pics here.