As some of you may know, we recently visited Berlin, one of the cities that was always on our radar but never on our itinerary whenever we do the long haul trip from Australia to Europe. It always just seems to have missed the cut. Finally though this time round, we decided we have to. Since our son was doing a French language course in France and we were going to visit him anyway, we bundled it all up and Berlin was in. But because of a mismatch between school holidays and us taking leave, we ended up travelling separately into Europe. This meant poor husband was the last to arrive by himself and I met him in Berlin at the bus station. So to kick our Berlin series off, here is his account . . . . .
Berlin was not at all what I expected. My usual approach to travel normally consists of printing out the boarding passes, packing for winter/summer and asking Sze Wey what has she planned for us when we arrive. This fits nicely into the category of surprise and delight for me and it has worked most of the time. This time round, I did make a teeny bit more effort as I was travelling alone and hence I had to work out how I get from the airport to the hotel. Of course, there is always the taxi option but I can’t possibly admit that to Sze Wey. So I had to google Berlin and it was just as well because I discovered that Berlin has two airports! What a surprise it would have been if I ended up in the wrong one. I would never have lived it down.
Nevertheless, this laziness with planning ahead meant I had some time warped idea of what Berlin was before the wall came down. (The movie “Bridge of Spies” which I watched on the plane certainly did nothing to help there.) As it was the case, that image was truly intact when I landed at Tegel airport. It is definitely not the kind of silverware you want to bring out at a dinner party. In fact, it looked a bit old and tired. But then do not mention this to the locals! This will only start them off on how Berlin was meant to get a NEW international airport and now ten years later, the whole project is mired in overblown budgets and gross misplanning. As a German friend of mine said later, it is definitely not Germany’s finest display of German precision and engineering.
Traveling on the airport bus in the dark, it was hard to make out much either. The dark looking buildings all looked similar in shape and size. Basically consisting of standard blocks, one after another, they all reminded me too much of my wooden block creations from pre-school. I was wondering if I had gotten on the right bus.
But soon enough, city lights take over the skyline and entering the bus depot at Zoological gardens, it is completely transformed. Right in front of me stood the brightly lit majestic looking Waldorf Astoria (nope that’s not where we stayed). Then to our left a cinema mega complex with giant colorful screens. This was followed by what appears to be a deliciously named shopping complex called Bikini Berlin. Apparently, this name has been preserved from the 50’s when the building was a two tiered structure which reminded the locals at the time of the latest swimwear fad, the Bikini! And then along the whole stretch to our right was the Kaiser Wilhelm church and the festively decorated Christmas market. If I had switched off my internal GPS for one moment, I would have thought I was in Rodeo drive in LA
Nevertheless, as we walked along Budapesterstrasse to the Intercontinental Hotel, we could see traces of the older buildings. And we also noticed that the streets and pavements are generously wide. Enough for a tank to drive through! So, Berlin is a mixture of new and old as most cities are. But it is certainly an eclectic mix. Despite being jet lagged and tired from the flight, I was really looking forward to Berlin. Described once as ‘poor but sexy’ by its former Mayor, I reckon the ‘poor’ bit is long gone. It looks all grown up befitting of the capital of Germany.