an idiot in germany

September 2001

Sunday, 23rd September 2001.

I love a bit of mayhem. I left the house in a hurry this morning. I packed in a matter of minutes (that's the spirit - pack wisely before any long trip!) and then Emma and I threw the rest of my stuff up in the loft.

Now, it's a Sunday morning, and not all of us are at our best on a Sunday morning. A busker got on the tube somewhere on the Picadilly Line, which didn't upset anyone too much. And then he was seized by a bout of optimism, and asked everyone to join in the chorus! Not a soul lifted their voice. Not even I, Ian, the Greatest Singer In The World!

There were no buskers on the flight to Berlin, however! As I slumped in my seat in the second-last row of cattle class, two flight attendants (a couple of males called Pepe and Rambi) (I did not make that up) were handing out sandwiches as the in-flight meal. "Chicken or cheese?" they would twitter as they handed unmarked bags to the passengers. "Chicken or cheese?"

They got to my row. Pepe looked at the cart, looked at me and said "You can have chicken or cheese but we're out of chicken." I had cheese.

As I travelled from the airport to the hostel, I noted that denim still reigns supreme in Germany. And its reign shall never end!

Once I'd checked in at the hostel, I headed out to investigate Berlin. The first thing I discovered was a cigarette vending machine. Not too extraordinary, except that it was pretty much in the middle of nowhere. Let's encourage young children to smoke, let's install cigarette vending machines willy-nilly! And at an easy-to-reach level for most primary school age children.

I was still pondering the cigarette vending machine as I crossed the bridge over the Landwehrkanal. My pondering was broken by the sound of an approaching kombi van. You know the sound I mean - the rattle of a klapped out kombi van. I looked up and what should it be but the old Polizei! I watched it pass by, slightly bewildered, and then another van came along seconds later! Why are the police of Berlin driving kombi vans? Are they reformed hippies?

I was still pondering the Polizei vans as I entered the Tiergarten. My pondering was broken by the approach of two joggers. Nothing extraordinary about that either, except that they were both wearing street clothes. Had they originally set out for a brisk walk that just got out of hand? Or were they in such a hurry to go jogging that they just changed their shoes and dashed out the door? Or are these Germans crazy?

The original plan had been to walk through the Tiergarten to Unter den Linden. I am notorious for my lack of direction, and I ended up emerging from the Tiergarten somewhere near the Victory Column on the Strasse des 17 Juni. (ie I wasn't even close to where I was supposed to be.) So in the golden haze of sunset I strolled towards the Brandenburg Gate, only to discover that it's covered up for renovations at the moment. Bugger.

As night fell, I wandered along Unter den Linden, dazzled by the wide range of postcards on sale. Eventually I was overtaken by hunger and I sought out a cheap eatery.