Things are different now. Our holidays have to fit in with the other things in life whereas it was the other way around when we were living in the UK. We both miss that time but it was too good and we knew it could not last. So, we had our New Years in Sydney and our tour of the N.S.W highlands at Xmas/New year and we have done a few odd things thereafter (odd as in various not “odd”) and now we are preparing for the “big trip” – 25 days in the Scandinavian regions and central Europe.
As we pack, I pull out my copy of the “Ghost Empire” by Richard Fidler. A thick tome all about the Byzantine Empire and the author’s bonding with his son on a trip to Istanbul and back in time to Constantinople (the Second roman empire of the East), I have put off reading due to the business of life. I expect some of you reading this will know Richard – he was host of “Conversations” on ABC radio. I found his show fascinating and did not listen to it often enough.
Our trip to the airport and our wait for the plane gave me the opportunity to start reading. From the moment I read the Acknowledgements (who does that?) I was hooked and did not want to put it down. Knowing the author’s voice, I felt as though he narrated the whole book to me. At the airport in Brisbane, on the plane to Singapore, in the airport at Singapore, on the plane to Helsinki and then on the plane to Berlin I read the book lost in the world of the Romans from the time of the Assyrians through the birth life death and resurrection of Christ to 330AD when Constantine I founded and built Constantinople. I did have dialogue with Kerry and I did commune with the world but always I could not wait to get back to Constantinople.
Thirty-eight hours of travel and we landed in Berlin. We had a brief stopover in Singapore and then in Helsinki where we boarded an EasyJet to Berlin. Our travel plans worked well, but all seemed to unravel when we land at Tegal Airport in Berlin. We caught up with Kerry and Rod Hayes who were to be our travelling companions. Kerry H had booked a taxi for us at Tegal but the driver was not waiting with his sign for us when we exited the terminal. Low level panic ensued with all of us searching the terminal and Kerry phoning him. Thirty minutes later our driver presents – he did not have a cab and therefore had to park some distance from the terminal at another terminal. Of course, we made it to Flowers Apartments in Mitte the centre of Berlin.
Berlin is strange in that it does not have a central business district. This may be a result of the city being divided after the Second World War. The east is being revived and the west is somewhat stagnant. Our apartment was large for a studio apartment. It was long and narrow, so we got the benefit of many windows pouring in daylight. This proved somewhat of a trap in that the sunset was after 8.00pm at night. Knowing we were only here 5 nights we got the necessities from our suitcase showered and changed into fresh clothes and set off exploring. Strangely there were a number of empty blocks around the city. Immediately across the road from us was an overgrown vacant block, at the end of our street Mulack Strasse. Where it joins Alte Schonhauser Strasse, is a street with tram lines and no tram except in emergencies. No traffic either. Really strange for the centre of the city. The buildings are all low rise but 20th century architecture – this once was East Berlin.
Everywhere there are push bikes. Some have been abandoned. There are scooters lying about like drunks just as we have them in Brisbane and community motor scooter/bikes and cars sitting around waiting for the next driver. We walked along Alte Schonhauser Strasse to Weinmeister Strasse in the general direction of Alexanderplatz one of the major squares in Berlin where we found the Metro which would be handy later on and Rod and Kerry discovered Father Carpenter their favourite coffee shop. It is tucked inside a small square at the end of an alley. At the very end is evidence of the old East Berlin.
Our goal was in sight – Alexanderplatz has a major television tower planted in the middle of it and it stands as a directional landmark above all surrounding buildings. In the square it is market day (Saturday and Sunday the markets set up to tap into the tourists milling through Berlin). Food is a central theme. Huge wok like frying pans containing prepared sausage dishes to mushrooms to chips are available at reasonable prices. A few vendors provide the foods in a bread shell. It can form part of your meal or if discarded it does not pollute the environment but feeds every kind of bird. There were the traditional BBQ and deep fried something stalls but no strudel stalls. How disappointing.
We decided to have a more substantial meal and went back towards Weinmeister Strasse encountering Bistro Kneipe. A small establishment brewing its own beers and providing pub meals. Rod and I tried one or two of the beers and each of us enjoyed our substantial meals. Again, the price was quite reasonable.
I noticed that Berlin (in fact the whole of Germany) was in the midst of an election. Angela Merkel is retiring so the political advertising was everywhere. One of the things we went to the Platz to obtain was our public transport “Berlin Card”. Berlin has buses, trains and trams and this card for 30 euros each gave us travel on all public transport for 4 days. The key bus routes are the 100 and 200 routes. These routes terminate in Charlottenberg but there is an immense amount in between – the museum sector, the Teirgarten (Berlin’s Central Park), some embassies (the picture of the Aeroflot Building hides the Russian embassy), and the Brandenburg Gate ( close by the American embassy, beside it the French embassy and around the corner the British embassy). The 100 line bus takes its passengers past the Reichstag and Bundestag through the Terigarten past Charlottenberg Schloss (palace), past the memorial to the unification of Germany by Bismarck to Charlottenberg whereas the 200 line skirts the Teirgarten passing through Pottsdammer Platz and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe back to Brandenberg Gate and onto Aleanderplatz.
Charlottenburg is now a suburb of Berlin. It is home to the Berlin Zoo and includes a remnant of WW2 in the form of the shattered remains of a church. However, our goal was to find the Monkey Bar. We circled around a bit before realising any place that advertises it is open 25 hours a day has to be monkeying around. A non descript hotel concealed on its top floor a bar with fabulous views back towards Mitte overlooking the zoo and the Teirgarten. But this was not all half of the floor included the restaurant “Neni” with similar views and atmosphere. The food seemed interesting and reasonably priced but no booking available. We decided to return to our apartments crossed the road to pick up the 200 line bus and while waiting entered an arcade to find a weird water clock. We arrive 5 minutes before 12.00 noon so we could wait to see the culmination of 12 hours of water dribbling into various flasks and beakers.