Saturday, Day 1
I checked my bike in with EuroDispatch at St Pancras, bought snacks and settled in on the Eurostar.
“Hello, my name is Jerome and I am a train manager. However I’m not your train manager. Your train manager and the rest of the train staff are on another train, which hasn’t yet arrived in London.”
On arriving in Paris I went to the Catacombs and tried not to let the queue put me off. I queued for nearly 3 hours – I was famished and annoyed by the couple in front of me who kept snogging. The catacombs gave a good impression of the vastness of the network underneath Paris and the ossuary was interesting, but I wasn’t sure the time I’d spent queuing was justified.
After saying hi to my friends Tim and Dan, who were visiting Paris, I went to wait for my train.
When the platform was announced, I wheeled my bike to its reserved coach. A group of French teenagers wearing pink tshirts tried to use my bike as a stand for their crates of beer. I looked for coach 98, where my reservation was. Further up, one guard said. Further back, said another. “There’s no carriage 98 today, sorry,” I was told finally. “Get on 117 and we’ll sort it out on the way.”
Coach 117, I noted, was going to Munich. I had an argument with two guards, in French then in German, and stormed into a vestibule to sulk. A German lady asked me if I was going to Berlin in coach 98 too, and invited me to sit with her family. She told me that we’d have to change carriages when the train divided at Mannheim, at 3am.
At 11pm we were told we could change at Strasbourg instead, and we’d have beds from there to Berlin. Hooray! The family – the young girl excepted – were drinking beer and kept my spirits up. We arrived in Strasbourg late (many jokes about French timekeeping) and were told off for being rowdy in the corridor before crawling into our bunks.
Sunday, Day 2
I climbed out of my bunk when the guard brought coffee. We trundled through the countryside, tracking it on a mobile so we knew what to look out for.
I got out at Berlin Hauptbahnhof and said goodbye to my adopted family. I was sad to see them go, the journey would have been awful without them.
Berlin was bright and there were a few people out running. I headed to my hostel, via a couple of tourist spots.
After dropping my stuff off, I went to the Wall exhibition at Bernauer Straβe. It was very moving, superior to anything I saw in Berlin on my last visit (in 2003) and more thought provoking than the touristy Checkpoint Charlie. I cried looking at all the pictures of people who died trying to cross the wall. I remember watching the wall coming down on TV – I had no idea what it meant (I was five years old). Perhaps even after having studied Cold War history as a major part of my degree I still don’t understand.
I could have stayed much longer at Bernauer Straβe but figured that I hadn’t come to Berlin to cry all over the place, and went to the Trӓnenpalast, where another sneaky tear snuck out. This was another fascinating exhibition, lots of personal stories.
Once I was done gorging myself on Cold War history, I met a friend for lunch in Kreuzberg. We had a long lunch with great conversation and despite our sometimes gloomy choice of topics, I left happy.
That evening I wanted to go to a Balboa night that I’d read about and took the cheery little yellow U-Bahn to Werschauer Straβe. I couldn’t find the venue and kept being approached by dodgy looking guys, and decided to leave before I got more creeped out. By the time I went to bed I felt weird, like I’d failed Berlin.