05.12.2014 - 06.12.2014 0 °C
Going by train from Copenhagen to Berlin doesn't look logical, or even possible - the bit of Denmark containing Copenhagen does not connect by land with mainland Europe. There are a couple of long bridges, but the gap between Denmark and Germany is at least 20 km (more than 50 if you go in via Rostock). I guess you could go via Finland and St Petersburg but it would take forever. So there's a ferry but, unusually, passengers don't get off the train to get onto the ferry - the train goes on the ferry as well. It is a 45 minute trip - just long enough to go to the buffet restaurant, make a hurried selection of random bits of meat and vege then eat frenziedly because you don't want to leave a half full plate behind. I like to have a beer with my food, and thought that since i was helping myself to food, I'd just grab the beer from the fridge. The staff had other ideas - one woman actually slapped me! I tried to find out what bit of Germany we landed on but the crew member I asked had no better idea than I had.
After a quick change of trains in Hamburg, I finally arrived in Berlin's main train station just after dark. It is a huge station, about five levels, very bright and quite difficult to navigate. As with all of the stations I've been in Europe so far, there's a charge to get into the bathroom but I had no Euros and, after wandering all five floors, had failed to find an ATM - had to ask for help. Then it was time to work out how to leave - luckily I knew the train I needed and found a printed noticeboard indicating which platform it left from. So, something that should have been a quick transition took more than an hour to accomplish.
The hostel I chose was fantastic - a classic old building in the Kreuzberg district of Berlin - where the staff greeted me with a free beer. The lounge area was among the best I've ever seen in a hostel. The law firm next door had an interesting feature in its atrium.
Kreuzberg is quite new in Berlin history - built to house workers in the 19th century, it was a pretty poor area through until the 1970's (and quite industrial before then but took quite a hammering during the war). It was a bit cut off from the rest of Berlin because it was enclosed on three sides by the Wall. Through the 1960's, this was one of the places to be - it became ground zero for the German punk scene:this is where David Bowie, Iggy Pop and the like came and hung out, thanks to the legendary SO36 club. It is likely that the Berlin that formed in my imagination from reading about this period was actually Kreuzberg. More recently it has had a flood of immigration, mainly Turkish, and because it is cheap, lots of artists, hippies and musicians have moved in. Now, apparently it is very on-trend. It is an area I should have explored more thoughtfully - done some research and made a plan. I was given directions at the hostel where to find the beating heart of Kreuzberg, but took several wrong turns and never found it - unless they meant the "Sports Bar" I came across with three old men crowded around an old CRT TV.
So I just wandered to see where I'd end up. One of the first things I noticed was that, despite beer and bars being so much cheaper than Scandinavia and despite it being really rather cold, lots of people were drinking in the streets - they'd randomly form little groups at the side of the footpath, and upon departure leave a little cairn of cans and bottles. My walk took me north to Potsdamer-Platz and across to Checkpoint Charlie (quite accidentally, and since I was just looking for dinner, I had no camera with me). I'm convinced that somewhere in my wander I saw one of the few pieces of the Wall still standing but when I went looking for it in the daylight, I couldn't find it.
Just along from the street, there's an enormous museum, the Museum of Technology, which is where I spent my first day in Berlin. It is an old industrial site and goods yard - the old buildings have lots of trains - so many that I actually lost a bit of interest, partly because they were crammed in so tightly and had such bright lighting I couldn't get decent photos.
There is also a historic, functioning brewery (closed when I visited, unfortunately) and it features various technologies, including printing, textiles and photography. My parents had one of these cameras - the Kodak Instamatic - and I enjoyed a linger in the printing room. Quite coincidentally, I'm reading Arnold Bennett's Claymore at the moment, and it presents a glorious (and very funny) account in a Victorian printery (it is a little known fact about me that my preferred career would be to be a Victorian printer).
There is also a main, quite new, multi-storey building featuring computing, boating and aircraft. Looking at the computers, I'd have no clue how to make them work, but I bet they'd not be capable of much.
There were a few boats, although only a couple caught my eye. I don't think I'd have liked being in the sub (a "Biber") very much - not just because they are so small, but they went into production within six weeks of being ordered and had a few "technical flaws" - almost impossible to steer and to maintain trim, an unusable periscope, plus there's the petrol engine the pilot had to share the space with. No wonder the navy fed the pilots speed to keep them alert. The speedboat looks more fun.
Although they called the exhibit aerospace, the theme of aircraft collection is subtitled from ballooning to the Berlin airlift (no Zeppelin, but there was an advertising reel of one in action). The only balloon was a model of something I suspect would not fly. Otto Lilienthal is a big name in early German aviation - not powered flight, but gliding machines, inspired by birds.
Of course, there were lots of German aircraft - these are the ones I had some vague knowledge of
Two aircraft deserve special mention - neither are German, neither are unique, but both had a story attached to them. The first one is a Dakota/DC3 - quite a popular aircraft in its day. This particular one was used in the Berlin airlift (more on this next time). The Cessna 172 is the biggest selling aircraft ever made (even I have flown one), but this one is famous. In 1987 Mathias Rust decided to take it on a bit of a trip - through Finland and Iceland. But on 28 May 1987 he, ah, landed it in Red Square, in central Moscow, which is more than 500 miles inside the former USSR. It was no idle prank:
I thought every human on this planet is responsible for some progress and I was looking for an opportunity to take my share in it. I was thinking I could use the aircraft to build an imaginary bridge between West and East to show that a lot of people in Europe wanted to improve relations between our worlds."
There's a story on DW news with actual footage of the 'plane careening between the cars:
Road transport is in a separate building, mainly cars, with a few oddities, such as the wee car that looks the same from the front as the back, and the NSU Ro 80 which was so unreliable that when drivers of these cars met each other on the motorway, they'd hold up some fingers - one for each time they'd had to replace the engine. There were a few motorbikes, of sorts - nothing normal like a BMW road bike. The taxi is typical of what you'd see in Berlin at the end of the 19th century.
There were a few handsome vehicles as well - a Benz, a NAG Protos (result of a joint venture between AEG and Siemens), and the indestructible Mercedes 190D.