Berlin: A chronography

By: | Post date: June 29, 2008 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: Countries

It was quick, but very much worthwhile. In fact, reporting on Berlin will take up several days of Greek downtime.

Be warned, my German is a lot worse than my French, which impose a layer of haze in my interaction with the outside world. I was sublimely lucky that Gert and Laura were prepared to mediate with the world for me. As always, I am not worthy of the kindness of my friends. (Or so I keep telling them.)

Berlin itself? Well, there’ll be much photography attached, but here was the sequence of events. (All times approximate to the nearest hour.)

Saturday 13:45

Arrive in Berlin.


Finally escape from passport control, which, in a fit of German efficiency, was brought right up to the airplane exit (past a strip of Baden–Württemburg, on which more below).


See Gert.


Make way to busstop.


Start asking Gert questions about Berlin for the next six hours, instead of bloody well buying a guidebook or looking it up online like sensible people do.


Change buses at Hauptbahnhof. Get introduced to annoying Berlin Bear figurine.


Make it to sunny downtown Kreuzberg.


Survive ascent up four flights of stairs with two immobile suitcases in tow.


See Laura.


Dump suitcases, beeline for coffee, start klatsching.


Leave with Gert for quick explore of the city.


Make it to Telephone Tower, where a bird’s eye overview of Berlin is to be had.


Make it inside the Telephone Tower, negotiating tourist peak time.


Start gaining bird’s eye overview of Berlin.


Realise am out of battery on my camera, start delegating photography to Gert.


Stop getting bird’s eye overview of Berlin.


Start exploring Berlin on foot. The following sequence was involved, roughly:

  • Dom
  • Palast der Republik (about to be completely gone)
  • State Library, Humbolt Uni, Opera House, Museum of Contemporary Art, and assorted Frederican buildings
  • Frederic Statue
  • Unter den Linden
  • Brandenburg Gate
  • Lame schlager concert on other side of Brandenburg Gate
  • Holocaust memorial
  • Conspicuously inconspicuous: The Bunker
  • German Ministry of Finance, which use to be the GDR Hall of Ministries, which used to be Göring’s Luftwaffe offices
  • Chunk of the Wall
  • Checkpoint Charlie
  • Unattractive West Berlin streets; to Gert’s disgust, one of them was named after E.T. Hoffman
  • Somewhat ill-thought out Alley of Visionaries. You too can tread on multilingual platitudes. And if you’re Turkish, be puzzled by the missing vowel of MERĦBA.

  • OK, OK, I’ll explain. Merhaba is Turkish for “hello”. The word is originally Arabic, and also features in Maltese as merħba. If you’re one of the many Turks of Berlin (and Alley of Visionaries is next to or in a Turkish suburb), the inclusion of MERĦBA in the multilingual salutations must look peculiarly askew.


Scheduled to meet Laura for Austrian dinner.


Actually make it to Austrian dinner.


Have the Biggest Schnitzel In Christendom delivered to table.


Pluck up the courage to start eating the Biggest Schnitzel In Christendom.


Emerge from Austrian dinner forswearing schnitzel for at least the next day.


Work way into Kreuzberg Jazzt! street party.


Make fatal acquaintance of Hefeweißen–Grapefruit beer cooler.


Make fateful purchase of Deutschland football cap. Start being accosted by merry German football fans, get struck dumb.


Get caught by sudden torrential downpour outside Döner Kebab shop. Be assured by proprietor: “German weather. Cannot trust him.”


Make it back to Kreuzberg Apartments, shlep mattress up four flights of stairs.


Discover that Gert & Laura’s neighbour Gabi, God bless her socks whoever she is, has left her wireless open to all comers. Abuse the privileges for the next quarter hour.



Sunday 05:30

Oh God, am I *still* on Yerevan Time?


Wake up, abuse Gabi’s internet connection some more.


Pretend to be asleep some more.


Give up trying.


Furtively shower.


Bid a good morning to Gert and Laura.


Get introduced to Laibach’s techno/industrial rendering of The Art of Fugue.


Get the bus for the airport.


Get to airport with twenty minutes to spare before boarding.


Find I’m 7 kg overweight, because I didn’t read the fine print on Olympic Airways baggage allowances. Because they made it so easy to find out what the baggage allowances were. Get told to pay €105 at Olympic Counter.


Clear security.


Realise that they actually meant the Olympic Counter back at the main building of Tegel.


“Could Mr Nick Nicholas please come to counter 73”. (Dr, dammit, Dr Nicholas.)


Counter official relents and lets me pay her personally at the counter. I still need someone from Olympic to make her way over from the main building with my receipt.


While we’re waiting, I help translate at the counter for some Albanians going back to Greece from Majorca, whose luggage has been misplaced. Counter chick asks me to confirm that their Greek visa is still valid. Who died and appointed you Greek border security already, I fail to exclaim.


“Please to excuses me, madam, is possible I can go to flight without the receipt?”
“Oh, no sir, there it comes now.”


Guiltily abandon the Albanians to their fate, because I’m boarding already.


I’m not boarding yet (back of the queue), and two relieved Albanians join me. They had their luggage after all, they’d just misplaced the label.


Albanian dude offers to help with my suitcase. I am suitably mortified.


Nick tries to remember how to say “Where in Albania are you from” — and fails. (So I do not utter the ungrammatical Nga ku në Shqiperi… uh… është?)


Board the Olympic flight to Athens scheduled to leave at 11:50.


Start smalltalk with German woman next to me. The fateful Deutschland football cap strikes again. To my surprise, I understand about 80% of what she is saying, as opposed to 20% in Kreuzberg.


The plane actually leaves; remember, they work on “Greek time”.


I start writing up my Berlin blog.


Food arrives, and smalltalk resumes in earnest. I am still mostly (though not entirely) struck dumb by lack of German; but that’s ok, she talks enough for both of us. 🙂 She has spent a lot of time in Greece, so on the rare occasions I let on that I’m not following, she annotates with Greek; English gets used only a couple of times. (My blog is behind, but I do have to do some living in order to have something to blog about.)


Arrive at Athens.


Find Athens has no facility for purchasing wireless access; you have to have roaming with one of about five European telcos. Retarded, seriously retarded. Am fearful that will not get on line for the next ten days.


Hello again, Costly And Immobile Suitcase. You’ll pay for this. Coz I already did.


To relieve some weight, mail Notis’ thesis to Australia. Greek Post Office staff indulge in customer service that is both lackadaisical and good-humoured.

*Chat among themselves for three minutes.*
*Start handing over stamps*.
“What star sign are you?”
“Uh, Virgo?”
“Have a Saggitarius stamp. We have plenty on offer.”


Board Metro train for Athens. Next stop, Constitution Square. Next next stop, an uncle in Upper New Smyrna, who’s going to be very disconcerted by my Deutschland football cap….

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