Trip to Berlin: Part Four

This is part four of my trip to Berlin. For part three, click here. This is the wrap-up of the trip.

Firstly though, the trip home. It was a bog standard 40 hour plane trip, with the only two things of note the really nice girl I met in Singapore airport, and the delay on the last leg. Just after landing into Singapore airport for refuelling and so on, a girl (well, woman, about 25 or so) came up to me and asked if she could follow me because she didn’t understand what she was supposed to be doing (and I must admit, it was confusing). I said yes, and so together we trundled off the plane, looked lost in the middle of a big hall full of shops and no chairs, and then back into the gate through security. We talked, mostly about the country we were from (in my case, Australia, in hers, Serbia). She was travelling to Melbourne to meet her aunts and the rest of her extended family.

The Qantas flight from Melbourne to Hobart was delayed by the fact that the controls for the air conditioning in the cockpit weren’t working. As the pilot said, “we don’t care, but it’s not legal to fly”. The flight time from Melbourne to Hobart is 65 minutes, and we spent almost that much time in the plane on the ground. Apart from those things, and the crappy reruns on the in-flight “entertainment”, it was all fairly normal.

There are a lot of differences between Tasmania and Berlin that I’ve noticed. The first difference was in the public transport system. In Berlin, it’s functional. The trains and buses run perfectly on time at predictable intervals (3 minutes past the hour, 23 minutes past the hour, 43 minutes past the hour and so on for all of them), and are clean and always large enough. They only service the areas where it is profitable to run (not having bus stops and routes in the middle of nowhere). Compare that to Tasmania, where buses come at random times, don’t run near enough in peak hour times, and services areas where there is obviously no profit, which doesn’t help the bottom line, degrading central city performance.

The other huge difference was when talking about buildings. The whole of Australia has had an architectural history of just over 200 years. In Berlin, a house can be “only” 100 years old. In Australia, a 100 year old house is covered in protection acts. They also have a lot of efficient heating, solar panels on a significant portion of rooftops, and double glazing is everywhere (even on some of the trains, as far as my bad eyesight could tell). In addition, recycling was a lot better organised than in Tasmania: bins in the street were organised into 4 sections for rubbish, glass, packaging and paper. A big difference from a single bin for “rubbish”, into which is thrown everything under the sun.

I’ve tried a few new foods too. Sauerkraut was one that when placed in front of me I was a bit skeptical of, though is actually rather nice (it basically tastes like less-harsh vinegar). I’ve tried cherry-banana flavoured yoghurt and cherry-banana yoghurt soft drink, neither of which were very nice. For breakfast, new items included chocolate-covered muesli and scrambled egg spread (bought in jars from the supermarket). Last item of note was the large pretzel, which tastes exactly the same as the small pretzel I am used to. Meal structure was different too. Although occasionally using the large evening meal structure, most of the time it was a smaller evening meal and a larger lunchtime meal (which I quite enjoyed).

Overall, my trip to Berlin was brilliant. Since July last year I’ve been talking to Stephanie online through IRC, MSN, and eventually Skype, and the chance to meet her in real life was awesome (so much so, I can’t even think of decent words). As soon as I can afford to do so I’m going back there for another trip. I’ll make an effort to try and see a bit more of Germany, perhaps staying a bit longer to do so. I’ve convinced Stephanie to visit Tasmania in July, so that should be interesting too.

Trip to Berlin: Part One

Last Monday I began what turned out to be a 59-hour journey to Berlin in Germany for a holiday an adventure and to see my girlfriend, Stephanie. At around 4pm I got on the plane to Melbourne from Hobart Airport, and then after a considerable wait I got on the plane to London Heathrow at midnight. During the wait I started reading the first book of The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, as well as accidently buying a bottle of Pepsi Max (a serious oversight on the airport’s part is not selling Coca-Cola anywhere in the International terminal).

We landed in Heathrow Airport at terminal 4, and my flight to Berlin left from terminal 5. Transferring between the terminals involved an 18-minute bus ride. It has occured to me as I write this that the bus ride between my house and the middle of my city is around 18 minutes on a bad day. I think that worries me. At the other end of this bus ride, I arrived outside one of the biggest buildings I’ve ever seen: London Heathrow terminal 5. I walked inside, up two escalators, along a very long corridoor past a line of depressed looking people, and then into a room where I discovered why they all looked so depressed. Because of the snow falling in London over the last couple of days, a whole heap of flights had been cancelled, and so people were trying to organise other flights. Luckily for me I didn’t have to queue, I overheard a British Airways employee tell somebody to enter Britain, go up to the checkin hall, and book a flight there instead. Because my Australian passport allows me to enter Britain, I did that. At the same time I rang Stephanie (my girlfriend in Berlin) and let her know that I’d be delayed. Of course, she already knew about the snow and the cancelled flight before I was even in Europe.

Unfortunately quite a few people had already done that. I managed after an hour and a half of waiting to talk to another employee of British Airways who booked me in on a flight to Frankfurt the next day. I wasn’t really pleased, but I could tell that under the circumstances it was the best I was going to get. That of course raised the problem of where I was going to sleep that night. After already spending 30 hours in plane seats, another second of uncomfort wasn’t going to go down well. So I joined a queue outside the “British Hotels Reservation Centre” and they found me a hotel near the airport that didn’t cost a mint. BA were giving out £200 compensation for the cancelled flight to provide for accomodation, on provision of a receipt from a hotel. So I made my way to a Holiday Inn, and slept. I woke up the next morning at 5am, and not wanting to go back to sleep in fear of missing my flight (I had been told to check in at 8:30 for a 10:30 flight), I got up and went to the airport on the first bus back. I arrived at the airport at 7am, and already it was busy, mostly with business travellers and a large family “on their way to Cairo”, loudly. In search of something to do, I drew out £20 from an ATM (not remembeing the exchange rate), hoping it would be enough for breakfast. I then walked over to a Krispy Kreme donut shop, and bought a three donuts and cup of tea. It cost £5, so it seems I had quite overestimated the cost.

At 8:30 I checked in to my flight. I handed a baggage receipt to the guy when checking in, and he even managed to confirm my luggage was in London (somewhere) and that it would make it to Frankfurt (probably). During the trip through security I manage to lose my document wallet containing flight details for the trip from Frankfurt to Berlin I had booked the previous night. I didn’t notice until I was fully through security, but luckily an airport worker managed to retrieve it and put it through security to me. After that I found a duty free shop and spent the rest of my British currency on chocolate (about a kilo and a half of it). I’m still eating it now. And that was London. Before I left a contact of mine in England said to “Oh? Heathrow? You’re going to lose all your luggage.” They didn’t lose my luggage, but it’s definitely the most lost I’ve ever felt.

Arriving in Frankfurt was strange. Everything was written in German (to be expected) but about half the signs were written in English as well. I managed to make my way to the Immigration checkpoint, where I was through in under half a minute. I spent longer than that leaving the country in Australia. I arrived at the baggage carousel to find my luggage already spinning around, so I picked it up and proceeded to check in for my next flight. In the hotel in London the previous night when I booked the flight I wasn’t sure how long it would take to transfer from an International flight in a foreign country to a domestic flight, so I went with two hours. I was having panic attacks on the flight thinking it wouldn’t be long enough. It was. It took 20 minutes all up.

Landing in Berlin was the most relieving experience ever. The baggage felt like it took ages to come around, but it probably didn’t. At this stage I was just nervous. After collecting my baggage I went through a series of doors and gates and ended up in the arrivals lounge. I fell straight into the arms of Stephanie. Which was great, because from then on I didn’t have to worry about where I was going anymore. That was her job. Which was a good thing too, because finding our way out of the airport proved to be fun. First we went on a bus to the Hauptbahnhof (their central train station), which was completely insane because I was trying to get used to driving on the wrong side of the road (Stephanie keeps trying to correct me there and point out it IS the right side of the road).

The first thing I have to say about the Berlin train system is that it is COMPLETELY awesome. The second thing I have to say about it is that it is COMPLETELY confusing. I have total admiration for the people who manage it. We caught an S9 train to Stephanie’s house. Although it was dusk going on dark, I still saw some pretty cool sights, like the Berlin TV tower and statues and so on. At Stephanie’s house, I slept. Quite a lot.

The first thing we did the next morning, of course, was have breakfast. And wow, breakfast is cool here. They chocolate-coated muesli (possibly the nicest breakfast cereal ever), and scrambled eggs comes in jars you buy from the supermarket, like a toast spread. Stephanie drinks red tea (Hibiscus flowers or something like that), so that day we went to the supermarket and bought some Twinings tea. Proper stuff. Also that day we went to the Berlin Zoo. We saw quite a few animals, including the Kangaroos that Stephanie was interested in. She was upset because “they didn’t do any skipping”. So we went and ate some McDonalds instead.

I’ll have to leave it at that for this moment. There’s lots more to write about, so be sure that I will.