Sunday, 1 June 2014

In Berlin...

Getting to Berlin from London is, as you can imagine, far less stressful than going to the USA. For a start, the journey time in the air is just 90 minutes, and when you arrive you're only an hour ahead of the UK. I know, this is obvious, but it's worth mentioning as we in the UK are very lucky to have Europe on our doorstep and it's fantastic to be so close to a great city like Berlin, especially now that the wall's down. Yes, I know, the wall's been down for some time now, since 1989, but it's worth remembering that it wasn't that long ago when there was East and West Berlin and that today, the city is united as, indeed, is Germany.
Berlin's Bike Share bikes – nice looking machines

I flew out of London Heathrow Terminal Five at 1535hrs and after a bag of Koh Samui Thai Spice (honey red pepper almonds and Thai spice cashews with pineapple and coconut) which was amazing, and one of those small plastic bottles of red wine, we were ready to land at Tegel airport.

Now I know that the Germans are known for their ultra-efficiency, but I found it slightly odd to be just off the plane and in the covered 'jetty' that links the aircraft with the terminal building and to already find myself in a queue. I was wondering what the hold-up was all about, but it turned out that passport control was literally at the end of the jetty and a few feet beyond that was the baggage reclaim – a small reclaim, if I'm honest, but fast and 'intelligent'. An intelligent reclaim? Well, yes. As I stood there waiting for my non-descript black suitcase to appear, I noticed that baggage coming up the ramp gave way to those already on the carousel, as if they possessed an intelligence of their own. Perhaps they do and we just haven't noticed. Imagine that: as you sleep, your suitcase is watching you.

Soon, my case appeared and I grabbed it – or rather I tried to grab it, missed, and was ably assisted by a fellow passenger who grabbed it for me, preventing it from doing a full circle on the conveyor. Once I had my suitcase I was only a matter of paces away from customs and then the public area of the airport. Everything was a matter of feet away, meaning that the plane itself was probably no more than 50 yards from where I could hail a taxi, which I did!

I love German taxis. First, they're Mercedes Benz and second they are the colour of Heinz Cream of Mushroom soup.

Tegel is also surprisingly near to the centre of Berlin – a mere EUR25 taxi ride away and then, once in my hotel (Best Western President) I found that everything was close at hand: the metro station was a short walk and resembled a northern England masonic hall, there were buses and, most importantly, there were bikes.

While in the taxi I'd been looking out for a bike share scheme and there is one – and in true German fashion, the bikes involved are pretty smart-looking and have a baby seat at the rear, presumably for mums (and dads) with babies. What I also liked about Berlin was that, clearly, they don't anticipate people stealing the bicycles. I noticed that many bikes, while padlocked, are not padlocked against anything but instead are supported only by the bike's integral stand, with the padlock around the rear wheel and frame.

But forget the bike share scheme! While the bikes are good, there's a far better option: the hotel bikes. For just EUR12 per day I can hire a good, old-fashioned European-looking bike from the Best Western President, which puts a whole new slant on things. I might even ride to the conference I'm due to attend over the next two days rather than take a much more expensive taxi. But I think I'll be taking the metro and then walking to the Brandenberg Gate, where I need to be, but I'll be hiring a bike on Tuesday afternoon, once the aforementioned conference is over. The hotel in which the conference is being held, incidentally, is the same one where the late Michael Jackson once hung his baby out of the window (at least I think it is). I remember being there back in 2003 (or thereabouts) while working as editor of Hotel & Restaurant magazine. At that time they had, in addition to a wine list, a mineral water list, and claimed to have different brands from different parts of the world. There was, if I recall correctly, a mineral water sommelier too (how poncy!).

Beer by candlelight at Antica Roma, Berlin
The Best Western President seems pleasant enough. The room (416) is what you might expect, but guess what? There's no restaurant! It seems that every hotel I stay in these days doesn't have a restaurant, but, as I've said before, it means that I have to get out and about and find somewhere to eat. Today, I found a nice Italian restaurant nearby and took a seat outside (it was warm as it is in the UK at the moment). I ordered pasta with salmon and shrimp in a cream sauce – Penne Papalina – with a tomato salad and Tiramisu to finish (my favourite dessert) plus a beer and a cappuccino– all for EUR25.60. I'm here for a couple of days so I might make Antica Roma (Wittenbergplatz 5-6, 10789 Berlin) my restaurant for the next day or two as it's good value-for-money and close by the hotel. Another thing I liked about Antica Roma was the candle on the table. Other tables had candles too and there was something very soothing about the creeping twilight and the flickering candles.

I've started re-reading Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger, mainly because when I initially read it, it somehow passed me by – in an intellectual sense – and also because I've heard so many people talk about how it was a book that changed their perspective on life and literature. Also, when I first picked it up many years ago I don't think I was in the right frame of mind intellectually to understand it (or want to understand it). I'm reading the same copy I bought back in the day, which I've kept in remarkably good condition.

After dinner, with the light fading fast, I took a brief stroll around some of the empty streets of Berlin to the rear of my hotel. I found a small German bar and was tempted to go in, but common sense prevailed and I headed back to the hotel instead, not only to write this post, but also to get a good night's sleep ahead of the busy days ahead.

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