Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Taking a ride around Berlin...

Tuesday 3rd June 2014: After a fairly hectic morning involving the conference I was attending and general glitches with my lap top, I finally managed to relax with a beer in a place called Rosado, a kind of Argentinian steak house restaurant, except that I only ordered a cream of tomato soup and a Warsteiner. The annoying thing about the soup was the phrase 'cream of...' because, while I would have quite happily settled for a much healthier and simplistic tomato soup, it arrived with a huge dollop of cream in the middle of it. Not pleasant. Why, I wonder, didn't they chuck in a couple of flakes for good measure and possibly a cornet, and call it a 99?
Bike number 3113 in the Hotel President Berlin's car park prior to my ride.
Anyway, as with most things in life, I got used to it. I was sitting outside of the restaurant under a canopy, watching the traffic as there was little much else to watch. This, it has to be said, was a late lunch. By the time I'd gotten out of the conference venue and walked back towards my hotel it was almost 3pm and I was feeling very tired. Tired and emotional if the truth be known, but the beer relaxed me and although I was depressed about my lap top (I was certain it was game over for my old and faithful computer) I felt suitably chilled out as I made my way back to the hotel to dump my case and all the conference gubbins before heading off to the railway station to buy a ticket for tomorrow's journey to Hagen.

Yours truly with the bike out on the streets of Berlin, 3 June 2014.
I had exhausted all the boffins at Apple regarding the state of my computer. Earlier I'd been to the over-trendy Apple Store and discovered that I might have a major problem of the 'you're going to need a new lap top' variety. I entered my hotel room in a forlorn, depressed and cheesed-off state of mind. Everything, I said to myself, was so fucking futile.

The bike in the Tiergarten.
But then I had a brainwave. Well, not a brainwave exactly, just an idea. What if I take the battery out of the computer and put it back in again? It didn't make sense – and it probably wouldn't work – but what if it did? So I used a teaspoon to release the battery from the underside of the computer. I dusted it out and replaced and secured the battery and guess what? It only worked! "Thank you, God! Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!" I exclaimed, looking, for some reason, at the hotel room wardrobe. I can honestly say that I hadn't felt more pleased with my life in ages and resolved there and then to hire a bike from downstairs and take a ride around the city.

My two destination objectives while on the ride
I had things to do, like buy my railway ticket for tomorrow's journey to Hagen and I thought I'd pay a visit to the Reichstag too. Who needs to spend a fortune on taxis when 12 Euros to hire a bike is perfectly reasonable? Hiring the bike proved trouble-free and soon I was out in the hotel car park with the keys to bike number 3113 (note that's 13 backwards AND 13 the right way around in one number). I bring up the number 13 for the simple reason that it seems to be following me around at the moment and I don't know why.

Yours truly at the Reichstag – next stop Berlin Hauptbahnhof to buy a ticket
I turned left out of the hotel and used one of Berlin's many designated cycle lanes to move along Schillstrasse and Klingelhoferstrasse, which turned into Hofjagerallee. I soon found myself in the Grober Tiergarten, the most amazing park space in a city centre I'd ever come across. Riding along quiet, car-free lanes with only other cyclists for company I passed through some amazing parkland consisting of woods and green space and lakes along with the occasional statue or sculpture and not forgetting a red squirrel. It was simply wonderful and ultra peaceful with nothing but birdsong and the whirr of bicycle wheels to keep me company. This ride takes Berlin to the top of my chart for cycling around foreign cities – way ahead of Montreal and Essen and a tad better than San Antonio and Indianapolis, although the latter compares favourably with Berlin.

Where east meets west at the Brandenberg Gate, Berlin
I rode through the park until I saw a sign for the Reichstag and decided to ride there and take a few pictures. When I arrived there were school parties, people chilling out on the lawn and a general atmosphere of well being, which was pleasant.  The railway station wasn't far (no more than a five-minute ride, so I hopped on to the bike again and, having padlocked my bike outside, went into the station in search of the ticket office.

Berlin's holocaust memorial
Berlin's main railway station was amazing. A modern building of glass and steel with tracks above and below where I was standing, plenty of food outlets and shops and plenty of hubbub. German railway stations are great places to be as there's always somewhere to get something good to eat and there's always somebody around. Everything is so organised, even the ticket office works on a ticket-based system: you push a button on a machine and you're issued with a number and then you wait for your number to be called. The wait was certainly under two minutes and within five minutes I'd bought my ticket on the 1427hrs train to Hagen tomorrow afternoon.

The Rosengarten inside the Tiergarten, Berlin
As happy as Larry, I waltzed back to the bike, unpadlocked it and rode off in the general direction of the Reichstag and, of course, the Tiergarten where I enjoyed cycling around the park as the light began to fade. Looking into the wooded areas on either side of me, I started to think about what it might be like camping out for the night (not that I had any intention of giving up my warm hotel bed) and just as these thoughts entered my mine I saw that Berlin's homeless had got there before me: fine in June, but I wouldn't fancy it at any other time of year.

Earlier on the ride, prior to entering the Tiergarten
Near the Zoological Gardens I found a kind of pub/restaurant in the park offering some very pleasant outdoor seating amongst the trees and – although I never had any – some excellent-looking food of the pizza and salad variety. I ordered a much-needed beer and chilled for 20 minutes or so before re-mounting the bike and making my way through some traffic to reach Tauentzienstrasse and eventually my hotel. I rode straight into the car park, locked the bike and handed in the key at reception.

Something has to be said about the bike. Alright, a woman's frame and one of those Dutch-style affairs, this one had that pedal-backwards mechanism to aid braking as well as a front brake. There was a dynamo, so the light came on automatically, a bell to warn pedestrians and other cyclists that I was there and, the best bit, a stand, which proved invaluable. Every time I wanted to take a photograph, I simply stopped, put the bike on the stand and wandered off to do the necessary. The bike was solid, as are most things German, and totally reliable. I wasn't anticipating a puncture, put it that way.

Berlin is a great city to ride around because it has dedicated cycle paths and the needs of the cyclist have been taken into consideration by the town planners.

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