Sunday, August 23, 2009

Berlin and on to Koblenz

In Berlin I stayed with my friend Dave and his girlfriend, Laura. The first few days I just slept during the day as getting there had been an enormous hitchhike, 24 hours in fact, to make the 1200 kilometres as the crow flies (via Munich).
Everything was going well uptil the outskirts of Berlin, 2 VW camper vans and 3 cars taking me between 100 kilometres and 400 kilometres apiece, although I did spend about 4 hours in Munich, stuck in thew centre and by the time I reached the motorway it took a lot of thumbwagging in the stifling sun for Jurgen to take pity on me and whisk me off up the autobahn. But at Berlin things slowed up a lot and form 50 kilometres away it took me a further 7 hours to reach Dave's house in the centre. One ride took me in towards Berlin and then away again, heading out towards Dresden down another arm of the capital´s motorway network, there being no service stations for the Polish family to drop me at. The one they did find was only servicing southbound traffic, so I then had to backtrack 3 kilometres to the northbound one and make a dash across the autobahn too! I then got a lift from a lorry driver who took me to the north edge of the city (Dave lived in the south) and then I took the metro to what I thought was Dave's and it turned out that there were two streets of the same name in Berlin, so I got the metro again and by 830am was there at Dave's. Nathalie, my friend from Amsterdam who had come to meet me here too had already arrived int he city and was staying at Dave's, I had forgotten that I had given her his number! So it was funny to see her when the door opened, saying "'ello!" in a broad french accent, Nathalie and Dave having never met each other until then. That night we went clubbing, after a long and abortive stroll through the city in search of a squat party, which Berlin has many of. Oliver, who Nathalie had moved out to stay with through couchsurfing rescued us from the middle of we did not know where and in his car took us to a cult Berlin venue, the Kaffe Burger bar, for the Russe Disco an extremely perky Russian themed mix of music and an uninhibited dance floor clientele. In keeping with the cities creative flavour, the disco is run by an author, but I was alive to none of this and by the end of the evening when we left at 5am, I was a shadow. This was a third night without sleep. I really need to learn to say no.
The following night was a little less hectic, but not much so, Dave and Laura taking me out to see more of the groovy nightlife. First up, a rooftop bar on the top of a multistory car park, the upper deck of which in summer is covered with sand and decking so people can shake of their shoes and enjoy a drink in a deck chair. IT was good and relaxing, and from here you could see laser beams playing across the tall buildings on the skyline. In winter, it is just filled with cars. From here, Laura went home as she had a lot of work on, and Dave and I went to the rather wonderful Doctor Pong, two rooms, one with a bar and another with a table tennis table. Simple, but not as simple as the decor, which didn't exist, the grey space around the table lined with basic chairs and here and there stray wires poked from the ceiling. To get a beer, you asked a really friendly girl behind a hatch for a lager from a kitchen-style fridge, and then paid a deposit of 5 euros for a raggedy racket and our game began. Everyone was walking around the table, gently knocking the ball back to the other side, and when someone made a mistake they would drop out. At some times around 30 people would be crushed around the table at the outset, but by the end when 6 or 7 people remained, the players began to play their shots. Dave was really good and managed to get to the last 3 , but I was pretty rubbish and was quite happy to be a part of the communal atmosphere for a brief few shots.
To round off the evening, Dave took me on to a socialist bar near Dave's flat, called Cafe Morgenrot, where we shared a beer and Dave told me how if you came for the all you can eat Brunch, which is a common activity in Berlin, you are asked to pay (between 4 and 8 euros) what you can afford.
A lie in and then Dave treats me to a ticket for the Hertha Berlin football match at the Olympic stadium. The match is rather dull, but the stadium was worth seeing, several statues around the stadium of very strong and serious young men with extremely large and obvious genitalia standing by square horses and the large rectangular columns and vast fascist architecture of the stadium provide a dramatic setting for sporting events in the present day and serve the city well.
Another day I took the tour and there were also several days of much needed flopping in there too too, before having to say goodbye to Dave and Laura, who had been very kind and good company, and Waseem and I then decided, as we were to be staying at Ali´s house, a UCLan friends, in Koblenz that night we took the regional train offer where by you get two tickets for the price of one if you take the slow regional trains. 11 hours later we arrived at Koblenz, en route running out of the station at Magdeburg to see the enormous Hundertwasser (artist) designed apartment block, in a fantastical sweet shop and organic "Castle" style, its walls painted bright pink! This was one good idea Waseem had of many, I would probably just have sat in the station and people watched, but the half hour was used well.
By 840pm, we were at Koblenz, the historic town built at the confluence of two great German rivers, the Rhine and Mosel, where Alis brother Atilla picked us up and delivered us to Ali's parent's Italian restaurant, where we ate, and their guest house, where we slept. The evening was great, it was good to see Ali again, if briefly, and Ali's father kept my beer glass topped up throughout and the food was delicious. Otto at the end of the bar, a regular, kept sending peach scnhapps over to me, and while I tried to find places to stay and means of getting there on the Internet, waseem managed not to lose at dice and Ali went off to pray.
And so the next day Ali and his dad dropped us off in Koblenz and here, deciding on the novel idea of trying to walk to Luxembourg, set off to buy a sleeping bag and some supplies for the journey.

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