Ich bin ein Berliner

(Totally unable to name this one well; also, not many pictures. Consider yourselves warned)

It all started so well. “It” being yesterday, that is. It was a Friday, and I had the day off work because I was getting on a plane in the afternoon. Yay, etc. I’d woken up pretty early and repeatedly checked the BA app for space on an earlier flight than the one I booked - my ticket allowed free changes on the day of travel - but there never was any, so I resorted to plan A.

First, after saying goodbye to Helen as she buggered off to work, I headed out for a run. I’d arranged to meet Laura en route, as it goes just about 800 metres away from Helen’s place. Laura’s only just getting over an illness which hit after the Great North Run and had barely managed to struggle through 8k a couple of days previous; I, on the other hand, have been knocking out personal bests. And here’s me dragging her round for 10k with virtually no escape points. It was perfect weather for a loop of the Thames: up to Kingston Bridge, over it, back to Hampton Court bridge, then through Thames Ditton to complete the loop.

It was a nice run, bookended with remarkable successes: in her first 100 metres she found a fiver on the floor, and then at 9km she decided fuck it, let’s kill the final km, and pulled off a 5:23 - faster pace than her 5km personal best. I sprinted to get to 11km with a final of 5:04, which is just daft. I feel comparatively invincible when running these days, but this will all be put into sharp focus over the coming days, because I’m heading to Berlin to cheer on my brother at the Berlin marathon.

Having had to hastily reroute thanks to a closing level crossing, we ended nowhere near where we’d originally planned. Spend the found fiver on some drinks and walk back to the start, it’s approaching 10am when I return. Flight is in 7 hours and I haven’t packed anything, booked any transport to the airport, or even checked in - and I’m not yet at home. A groggy cat greets me, having seemingly not moved for the last 2 hours.

So far, so good. I got changed, walked home via Carphone Warehouse and Subway, spent about 10 minutes packing, and watched some wrestling. Finally checked in for my flight, and moaned about Kevin not having got online despite supposedly having arrived in Berlin about 4 hours ago. Then, just as I was standing up to put my iPad away and walk out the door, up he pops on screen.

I left the house about 1pm. To a soundtrack of Last Podcast on the Left’s final episode about Norwegian Black Metal, the journey was about as efficient as I could have hoped. Bus to Kingston arrived almost immediately, taking me past a huge throng of people trying to fit in a restaurant celebrating its opening today... a KFC. Seriously. What?

3 minute wait for the empty-ish express bus to Hatton Cross, 1 minute wait for tube to Terminal 5. Who need Uber anyway? Walked through T5 putting my small bag inside the bigger one and getting my iPad out so I could be hyper prepared for the security lane at the First Wing. A friendly face then an automated gate let me in, and I decanted my stuff into a tray like a boss, with no queue ahead of me. Everything was so streamlined and flowing perfectly, and then I set off the alarm on the metal detector.

Turns out leaving your wallet in your pocket is a dumb idea. For fucks sake, Darren. So I got searched, and had my footwear swabbed, and just generally felt very embarrassed. But soon enough I was through, and into the first class lounge which was absolutely heaving. Very few places to sit, I managed to nab a seat by the window in a little private corner which actually seemed like it might be the best place in the whole lounge - an opinion echoed to me by a member of staff later, as it happens.

So. Champagne, of course. Except not “of course” - turns out there’s a gin festival on, with 5 or 6 types of gin all laid out with accompanying paraphernalia. Would be rude not to try that, but I decided to have the fizz first, and good lord it tasted nice. Then I fetched a plate of vegetables, rice, fish, and cheese, which I wolfed down. Even though I’d had that Subway, I’ve put a lot of distance through my legs so far today and am bloody starving.

I’ll have a banana and a beer too, thanks.

The lounge wifi was pissing me off. I’d successfully connected for a few minutes when I first sat down, but for the rest of my stay neither my phone nor iPad would connect again. As I fetched a gin, Kevin popped up enquiring about whether I could bring an Australian to Europe plug adapter. I have, of course, left my universal adapater at home. Rather than go on the hunt, I tell him to go find a branch of Saturn. He declines, preferring instead to sleep since he’s only had 3 hours in the last 40.

For reasons I still don’t properly understand, I decide to login to work Slack, and read about all the bullets I’ve dodged by being off. Then I go get some decadent cake and more champagne.

Turns out I’ve got quite pissed quite quickly. I mean, it’s been ages since I was last at an airport so I’m making up for lost time. Or something. During my third champagne the gate is announced and, of course, I’m flying from the fucking satellite terminal. Bloody Heathrow. I am so over your damn monorail. Tactical piss, packed, and got the lift down to the secret walkways, in use by just one other punter and about 7 BA staff. My default walking speed proves to be faster than the travelators carry the other punter, even though they were walking while on them. More free exercise!

At gate B35 there’s a fairly long queue for priority boarding already. I issue Kevin a last chance “want an adapter, then?” question but he doesn’t respond and anyway they go and announce boarding for business class and gold card holders only, so I slither through and go ensconce myself in seat 20A.

Hang on. This seat feels wider than I recall. But I don’t remember any announcements about BA making any improvements to economy short haul seating, quite the opposite in fact. So what’s going on? Wait...wait...hold the phone. Is it me? Am I noticeably slimmer? I think perhaps I am! Blimey eh.

The flight is totally rammed, as they’d said. As is typical I am dozing off by the time we come to take off, but I manage to take notice of the frankly really quite funny Sport Relief safety video. Thumbs up for that. But once it’s done I’m back listening to podcasts: Edge and Christian having a natter with John Cena. I play a couple of games on iPad; the view out of the window after the ascent is mostly just clouds.

Rather than buy anything to drink onboard, I have the can of Tiger I’d liberated from the lounge because I have neither class nor shame. Richard Herring talking to Limmy is up next in my ears, and they start discussing Monopoly strategy at exactly the moment I’m taking a photo of the Monopoly-dog-shaped bookmark I’ve got on my notepad.

By the time we land (itself a bit hairy, with a few crosswinds), I am totally not in the mood for the next bit of the journey. I’d read a bit about Berlin Tegel airport in advance. It all sounds so strange, and I was already annoyed by the fact that the Germans - the Germans - have not got trains or tubes to the primary airport serving their capital city. But Kevin had told me the express bus was a piece of piss, so let’s see if I can manage it while drunk.

First, I’m stuck in a queue still on the airbridge. Immigration and customs is done literally at the departure gate area, with men in booths taking a seemingly dilligent look at each passport, then the passenger, then back to the passport. Then the baggage carousel is right next to that, so it’s a bottleneck of people. But the good news is there’s no huge walk to get landside - once I’m done queueing it’s a matter of seconds. I get out €80 and fail to buy a Coke Light, then follow signs to the bus, which seem to lead me to a central hub from which the terminals emerge as spokes. Past gate A0 - wait, you have a gate zero? - and outside, the bus stop is obvious - especially because there’s a bus at it.

I don’t want that bus though, because it’s way too crowded and anyway I need a ticket. The machine is mercifully simple to use, and I join the queue for the next bus, all the while staring at the minibuses to Szczecin and wondering if I could’ve sorted out a parkrun after all. But such stupid thoughts are extinguished by the arrival of the next TXL Express, which carries us all towards Alexanderplatz.

Once sat down I change my hat, and plug my phone into a USB brick becuase fuck you iPhone SE battery life. The Express bus proves not very Express, since it has loads of intermediate stops, and I decide to get off at Berlin Hauptbahnhof instead of Alexanderplatz. Citymapper told me it’s a short S-Bahn ride from here to Ostbahnhof, which is just a couple of minutes walk from my hotel.

Oh dear. I have so much fail at Berlin Hauptbahnof. I find a platform with some trains to Ostbahnof, but they’re not S-Bahn - I don’t think my ticket is valid on them, therefore - and anyway nothing for 20-odd minutes. I walk around, and around, and around, failing dismally to spot anything which I can definitively identify as an S-Bahn despite the large letter S in a few places, and eventually give up and get back on the next bus to Alexanderplatz. Somehow, throughout this idiocy, I lose my pen. How the fuck did I lose my pen?

The route to Alexanderplatz is a mix of touristy stuff and a great deal of scaffolding. Google maps says it’s a 20-odd minute walk from here to my hotel and I’m not in the mood to try the S-Bahn again so fuck it, let’s go on foot. Taking the wrong turn immediately is not the best start, but I’m only slightly wrong, taking the second best route, and I repair it fairly quickly. The walk is solely on huge busy roads, away from shops and life and next to some tower blocks and latterly some strange arty-farty anarcho-syndicalist coffee shops and bars, or something. Or perhaps not. Maybe in the sober daylight I’ll discover what they really were, I anticipate Kevin will be interested anyway.

Finally, I’m at the hotel. It’s a good job Kevin had decided against meeting me in lieu of getting more sleep, given it’s taken me almost 2 hours to get from the airport to here. Should’ve got a heavily regulated cab. But it’s all behind me - I’m at the check-in desk and, um, what? The lass is asking me for “the voucher”. I have no voucher. I have no print outs. I hardly ever print things out, and it’s rarely needed. But she’s insistent she needs “the voucher”, and points me at the computers over the way where I can print. OK then.

German keyboards and Windows. These are things with which I have very little experience. I now have a little more, that experience being “what the fuck is the QWERTZ layout all about?” and “how the fuck do you type @?”. Never did work out the latter, resorting to cut and paste just to type in my email address. Turns out it’s AltGr+Q. WHAT IS THIS MADNESS.

Eventually I’ve printed out the receipt from the booking site I used (Rocketmiles, for extra Avios) and she’s content to let me in. Phew. Room 235, the elevators are that way, and breakfast is served at different times on all the three mornings I’ll be here. OK then.

There’s no Coke Light at the vending machine. My room has a single bed, not a lovely luxurious hotel kingsize bed. AFC Wimbledon are losing two fucking nil to the dirty Franchise back home and there’s a map of the Berlin marathon in the hotel lifts.

I’m back at the bar about half hour later, drinking an Augustiner and eating 2 pretzels. Then another. Reception is constantly busy, with slim marathon runners checking in with their fat spectator friends and family, plus a lot of wheelchair bound folk. AFCW miss a penalty and lose the game. The three loud besuited men next to me are having a right old giggle about Kim Jong Un. Perhaps it’s time to put this day to rest.

Created By
Darren Foreman

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