Monday, 15 October 2012

A Berlin Diary...

+ Thursday 4th October
I arrive at Schönefeld Airport, southeast of the city, in the late afternoon amid darkening skies. After a 25 minute train journey through Ostbahnhof, Alexanderplatz and Friedrichstraße stations, I eventually arrive at the Hauptbahnhof. This is Berlin's main railway station and is known locally as the glass cathedral. Leaving the station in heavy rain and high winds, I can't help but think that were this the UK, they'd have issued a severe weather warning and cancelled the trains. This being Germany, everything runs smoothly and on time.

I walk the 5 minute journey across the bridge over the canal and down Invalidenstraße to the Adina Hotel. Thanks to an email from Howard pointing out that I turn 50 during my stay, I've been upgraded... Yay! After unpacking, I trace my planned running route for the week. I shelter from the drizzle to enjoy a lovely pasta dish (with much red wine) at Roma, a basic Italian restaurant on Friedrichstraße before retracing my steps to the hotel and retiring to bed.

+ Friday 5th October
My early morning run down through the Tiergarten and back up through the Brandenburg Gate, past the Reichstag and over the Spree is, quite literally, breathtaking. After a wonderful breakfast, the morning consists of a visit to the house in Schöneberg where Christopher Isherwood rented a room and wrote his Berlin novels. This I follow by a skip past Neues Ufer, the gay bar Bowie and Iggy Pop once hung out at.

The afternoon sees me visit every Zara outlet in Berlin in search of a check shirt that I first saw in Cardiff. My quest isn't a complete waste of time: I see Pariser Platz, Potsdamer Platz, Leipziger Platz, Alexanderplatz and everything in between. I think I even pass Marlene Dietrich Platz at one point (but maybe I'm dreaming). I'm thrilled and excited to discover that Alexanderplatz has a branch of C&A (this takes me back...).

That night I eat in Pas´Qua, a tiny basement Italian on Auguststraße. Lovely food and, again, too much red wine. As I totter up the road, I pass an upmarket fancy-dress shop called Maskworld on Oranienburger Straße. I leave 5 minutes later with a ginger afro on which I've just spent €45. The hidden costs of drinking!

+ Saturday 6th October
A very early run, accompanied (part way) by a fox along the Spree embankment, is followed by my first of 3 visits over the coming week to the Reichstag (don't ask). The weather is awful and so views from the dome are non existent, however, you cannot fail to be impressed by the building itself. This, in turn, I follow with a brisk but damp walk to Berliner Dom, taking in Gendarmenmarkt (very neoclassical) and Bebelplatz (very wrapped in scaffolding) along the way. Berliner Dom is a very big church and, other than that, I can't find much else to recommend it.

Next, a visit to the Museum of Photography: If you like huge prints of 70s style glamour shots of nude women, this place is heaven. I don't and it isn't. This is followed by a visit to the Contemporary Art Museum, housed at Hamburger Bahnhof (some impressive Warholes and a couple of Lichtensteins keep me happy). In the evening to the Berliner Philharmonie for a wonderful performance of Wagner and Beethoven by the Berliner Philharmoniker led by Bernard Haitink. I float on air all the way back to my hotel.

+ Sunday 7th October
After an early run and a long lazy breakfast, a morning walk to the house Bertolt Brecht and Helen Weigel shared on Chauseestraße. Today Howard joins me in Berlin. At midday I meet him at the Hauptbahnhof and then to Hackesche Höfe for brunch together. This is followed by a leisurely stroll through the Tiergarten, past the embassies, the Sony Centre, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, the Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism, the Führerbunker (site of Hitler's bunker), the Brandenburg Gate and, finally, my 2nd visit to the Reichstag - very atmospheric in the failing light. The evening sees us eat at the basic Italian, Roma, I'd visited on my first night in Berlin.

+ Monday 8th October
A quick run and breakfast is followed by a trip to Alexanderplatz for a visit to the beautiful Fernsehturm. Great views but I'm more impressed with the 1960s GDR decor inside. Next a train to the East Side Gallery then back to Alexanderplatz for the DDR Museum and a chance to sit in a Trabant - very cramped. From here, a train to the Olympiastadion - undoubtedly a beautiful building; epic, simple, strong and impressive but ultimately, I can't help but feel, rather sinister.

In the evening we eat in Kellerrestaurant im Brechthaus; it occupies the cellar of the house Bertolt Brecht and Helene Weigel shared and which I visited the day before. Lots of photos of Brecht and some wonderful food, made all the better by the friendly staff and the fact that they cook vegetarian dishes especially for me because they have little vegetarian choice on the menu.

+ Tuesday 9th October
Today I am 50. I never thought I'd live so long! This thought occupies me as I run around the Reichstag. A shower, a long breakfast and some card opening and gift unwrapping before we head out to the Pergamon Museum. This museum is seriously impressive with its Pergamon Gate, Market Gate of Miletus and Ishtar Gate - all massive in size; they really take your breath away.

We then hot-foot it to the Neues Museum in search of the bust of Nefertiti, followed by a quick visit to the Alte Nationalgalerie. In the afternoon we trek out to the Schwules (Gay) Museum but it's closed - out and proud 7 days a week apart from Tuesdays when it's a bit closeted! Still, a pleasant walk and a welcome relief from the objet d'art. Back at the hotel for a quick dip and sauna before getting a taxi to Alpenstuek, a restaurant on Gartenstraße. A lovely evening thanks to Howard. Happy birthday to me!

+ Wednesday 10th October
After whipping around the Reichstag on my run, we head out to the excellent Bauhaus Archive. This is followed by a marathon trek around the Gemäldegalerie's 900 paintings. Ordered chronologically, the Medieval religious art is wonderful but as we progress into later eras, I have to admit, I become blind to these masterpieces. By the time I get to Rubens I give up. Gluttons for punishment, we press on to the Neue Nationalgalerie, which by this point, quite frankly, we couldn't care less about. In the afternoon we visit the Jewish Museum, which is excellent and, at times, quite moving. It's worth a visit, not only for the contents but also the architecture of the building.

In the evening we make our way to Potsdammerplatz for the opening ceremony of the Festival of Lights. It's lovely to stand in the crowd and enjoy the spectacle. We take in some of the monuments and buildings bathed in various lighting effects as we make our way from Potsdammerplatz to Pariserplatz and onwards to Friedrichstraße and eventually Pas´Qua, the tiny basement Italian on Auguststraße that I'd eaten in on Friday. We are rewarded with good food and some unexpected entertainment, as the kitchen staff argue quite audibly.

+ Thursday 11th October
After my run, we decide to pop into the Bode Museum, as we have some spare time in the morning. The building is more impressive than the art it contains. We then visit the Reichstag (my 3rd and final visit) for a guided tour, which is fascinating. The dome is closed for cleaning but we've already been there (twice!). In the afternoon we visit the Berlinische Galerie, which I've been looking forward to seeing, with its late 19th and 20th Century collection of art. Difficult and sometime bleak pieces covering some troubled times for this city.

After a shower back at the hotel we make our way to Tipi am Kranzleramt in the Tiergarten for a cabaret dinner and a show by the excellent Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. Very funny and entertaining. To bed, happy and a little bit drunk.

+ Friday 12th October
My last run around the Reichstag. The weather is beautiful. After a relaxed breakfast, we pack and check out. We spend the morning strolling through the Tiergarten and then along the Spree in the cold and clear sunshine. By lunchtime we're back at the hotel to pick up our bags before heading off out to Schönefeld Airport.

Our flights are about an hour apart: me to Bristol then Howard to Liverpool. I leave Berlin not just a year older but having somehow slipped past a half century on this earth. It has been a lovely holiday - a time to relax, unwind and ponder what this new chapter of my life will bring. During my daily runs around the Reichstag, I have thought long about concentrating on becoming a more responsible and mature person; a thought, I'm happy to say, I have whole-heartedly rejected.

1 Year Ago:A strange day...

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Tempus fugit...

Time flies, or more accurately, time flees. And doesn't it just! It slides through our fingers with a slipperiness and speed that surprises. Along with forgetfulness, nasal hair, length of tooth and baldness, the speed at which time passes also increases with age.

This year has flown by; as soon as Easter was over it felt like we were tipped into the pomp and circumstance of a damp Diamond Jubilee, which segued into the Olympics and then the Paralympics, all played out to a soundtrack of moans about the weather. The union flags have now faded to a motion blur on my retina as retailers, unable to contain themselves, prematurely ejaculate their silver and gold gaudy Christmas sparkle into a landscape where the leaves have yet to turn brown.

It's been 22 days since my last post but it doesn't feel that long; it feels like I wrote it some time last week but, if I think about it, I know that isn't true. In some ways, it was easier to write a post every night. Having set myself the challenge last year to write a post each and every day, I had no other option so I just got on with it. Now I dither... a lot. Mind you, I quite like dithering. Many see it as a negative trait but I see it as a luxury. When life is lived at full tilt and where the breakneck pace at which most things are undertaken is seen as a mark of success in itself, there's little room for dither.

I want to put the brakes on. I want to slow things down. I sometimes feel like I'm on a train that whistles through a station that isn't one of the scheduled stops whilst I try in vain to read the platform signs to figure out the name of the town we're hurtling through. I want to be able to read the signs. I want to enjoy the journey. I'm prone to rushing; I've done it all my life. I'm good in a crisis. I'm learning to think and then force myself to slow down and, when I do, I enjoy it so much.

In a week's time I shall be 50. I never thought I'd live this long. Live fast, die young is the phrase that springs to mind - I'm still waiting. I certainly don't feel how I imagined I'd feel at 50: settled, responsible, confident. No, inside there's an immature 13 year old bursting to get out. I'm not sure where the last 37 years have gone. I seem to remember it was 1975; I lay back on the lounge floor, my Diamond Dogs LP was playing at full blast and just for a moment I closed my eyes... Next thing, it's 2012 and I'm pushing 50.

1 Year Ago:Heterosexuals say the funniest things...