Day One – Thursday 8th March 2012
So, after months of speculation and hype, the 2012 travelling season was finally underway with a trip to Berlin with Ian and Rigger making their debuts in the Terry Mullan Pissing About In Europe Team. A seed of an idea sewn in Ian’s Salisbury living room in May 2011 while he lay there with his injured leg (which he had no doubt been trying to get over) in plaster, whining away about the fact that he had never visited any of the sites of the atrocities committed during the Holocaust, had germinated and bloomed into a journey to one of the world’s most exciting cities where you could still smoke a fag in a bar and erotica and curry flavoured sausages could be found on the corner of every street.
I knew our trip was going to be a good one as it began in remarkable style with Ian transporting us to Bishopsworth Aerodrome on the outskirts of Bristol in his outrageously majestic Vauxhall Omega 3.0 Elite V6 with ABS, cruise control, traction control, electrically heated seats, electrically operated seats, electrically operated mirrors, electrically operated rear blind, self dipping internal mirror, full leather interior, BOSE sound system, four CD auto-changer, individual climate control, air conditioning, electrically operated sun roof, xenon headlights and semen encrusted upholstery. The journey across Somerset seemed to take only seconds even though it was really several minutes; such was the opulence and divine comfort of our surroundings.
Ian described the vehicle more concisely than I could with the words, “It’s a beautiful place to be.”
The airport experience was fine, though it did take several pints of strong drink to calm Rigger’s ferocity after his Bic razor, which the security scanner picked up as a weapon of mass destruction, was confiscated and he was added to Interpol’s 'ten most wanted' list. Posters bearing his photograph appeared in public places across the continent but no one would ever spot him as, without his razor to maintain his smooth and glistening pate, he would turn into a floppy mop top in a matter of hours.
There is something really appealing about drinking Guinness at 3.30 p.m. on a Thursday. Most Thursday afternoons I spend chipping bits off the feet of my lovely clients and I daren’t drink anything in case particles of octogenarian which may have collected on my unprotected face get washed into my digestive system by the Poundland instant coffee (carefully disguised in a much more extravagant looking Nescafé jar) that is served up at everyone’s favourite Natural Therapy Centre in my current home town of Chippenham.
I talk bollocks most of the time, and I must confess that I enjoy it, but a couple o’jars o’stout magnify the bollocks and heighten the experience. I was in such a state of inebriety in the bar of the departure lounge that I came out and told the world about my morbid fear of cauliflower. Don’t these crazy moments just occur more and more when you are on holiday? And isn’t it queer how luxurious an airport bar can seem to be despite its lack of pub atmosphere, it’s overpriced duty free beer, its crap beer, its grubby furniture soaked in beer and its profusion of people in front of you in the queue to be served who have never been in a pub environment before in all of their sorry little lives and don’t know where to start in the process of buying a drink and fanny about for bastard hours before finally deciding to buy half a pint of Diet Coke and moaning because there are no glasses smaller than half a pint . . . and each of these people ordering and paying separately, of course. But hey ho, the fact that a departure lounge heralds the start of some great adventure abroad always makes whatever I have had to put up with in the preceding couple of hours seem all worthwhile . . . apart from the confiscation of the Rigger razor.
Thank you Mr easyJet for airlifting me into Berlin. A pleasant journey, all in all, despite my being told by an officious member of the cabin crew (who I would describe as a Nazi had my story been about a visit to any city other than Berlin) to sit down and fasten my seatbelt because a few potholes had appeared in the airspace just at the point where four jars o’stout I had sipped back at the air strip had decided that they needed to part company with my painful bladder. As well as a sick bag being stuck in the compartment on the back of the seat in front, I thought it was high time that airlines provided a trolley service with empty bottles for the purpose of making the passengers comfortable on a bumpy ride.
So I told the lady in the smart orange uniform and smart orange skin (those easyJet staff take their jobs so seriously) that, following my terminal building piss up I needed something to piss in and she told me to, “Piss off!”
I was glad that I had decided to pay the extra five English pounds for a seat on the port side of the aircraft away from the unruly mob of ruffians, desperados, Ian and Rigger. In the more select seating accommodation I found a most delightful travelling companion in a young lady called Isabel from France who lived in Germany but worked in Bristol but didn’t like Bristol very much so she stayed in Wales while she was there and her husband was Russian. The League of Nations in one household! She showed me photographs of her two multi-national, multi-lingual toddlers who didn’t mind her working away from home because she always brought back with her a suitcase of Mr Kipling’s exceedingly good Angel Slices, and who hoped that one day they too would work in Bristol so that they could take further unlimited delight in these, the greatest known of all English delicacies.
Isabel gave me lots of tips on how to make best use of the Berlin transport system, where to go for a beautiful holiday on Germany’s Baltic coast and where to go to buy the best rubber fetish wear . . . honest!
Berlin turned out to be exactly where the pilot had expected it to be so very soon we (as soon as we touched down I was reunited with Ian and Rigger and Isabel, quite understandably, disappeared into thin air) were hurtling along on a train through railway stations with hilariously funny German names put on the map, I am sure, merely for the entertainment of immature English tourists. The German railway planners must have been delighted with the results as we tittered inanely at place names that sounded like 'fart' or 'norks'.
Hotel City 54, near to the Schwarzkopfstraße (Blackhead Street) underground station proved very easy to locate, clean and comfortable and equipped with a courtyard furnished with 1950s style English seaside deck chairs, a bedside kitchen sink and hob in every room and a most pleasingly friendly receptionist by the name of Verena who commented upon Ian’s snoring a couple of hours before he had even gone to sleep.
All that was missing from our successful first day was a supply of nourishing victuals and Rigger’s razor. Whenever I’m in Berlin I always visit my favourite little Italian restaurant tucked away in a sleepy little corner of Friedrichstraße. Here I gorged on an exceedingly good plate of Risotto Pollo, good quality food with a stodge factor sufficiently high to make you remember you’ve had something worthwhile to eat for hours after the meal. And I find that having a huge plate of rice for my main course takes the edge off that perpetual desire for a bowl of rice pudding.
We strolled briskly back to Zit Street as we felt that our day had lacked exercise and our two hour train tickets had expired but they hadn’t really because we had omitted to validate them in the machines marked ‘Validate or Die’ in the carriage of the train that we had hopped onto at Schoenefeld Airport.
Then it was time to be off to bed for three weary travellers. Rigger and I had a suite of rooms to share but Ian was housed in a separate annex. English people had caused buildings to collapse on an enormous scale in Berlin before, word had got round about his snoring and all of the air raid shelters had been turned into wine bars so I could understand the need for our hosts to take precautions.
The devastating effects of one night of Ian’s snoring.
Holiday Disappointments: No 1
Bugsy didn’t come with us to Germany because he had too much homework to do. As a mark of respect for our absent friend I tried to get on the plane in Bristol using his boarding pass but the security wifey soon spotted that I wasn’t really him because I wasn’t singing Dancing In The Dark at the top of my voice. Anyway, we drank a toast to our missing companion. Well we didn’t actually but I’m sure we meant to and we did drink but just forgot to do the toast bit.
Holiday Highlights: No 1 (by Rigger)
In Bugsy’s honour, I drank twice as much as normal. This is because he drinks twice as fast as me and as I was also ‘drinking for two’ to make up for his absence. I had more than usual for breakfast for the same reason this morning. I wonder how long I can keep up this ruse. I bet the Germans have a word for it:
Absentfreundingeübureßenzeit, I shouldn’t wonder . . .
Amazing Holiday Facts: No 1
Rigger became the fastest person to write in my holiday book in the entire history of my holiday books. He looked at it and wrote. He didn’t speak. I didn’t speak. It just happened. There was no need for days and days of pestering as with the majority of my previous correspondents. Thank you Rigger.
Day Two – Friday 9th March 2012
Stuffed to the gunwhales with cold meat, cheese, hard boiled eggs, dodgy jam, buckets of yoghurt (European hoteliers always go to such lengths to ensure that their guests return from their trips free from yeast infection), cereal that looks like dog biscuits but isn’t quite as salty and chocolate sprinkles, all of which combine to make up the usual fare in the breakfast scenario anywhere outside of England, we embarked upon a mostly walking tour of the epicentre of the Cold War. I could tell there had been a Cold War there as evidence of it remained and I had to wear my Glory Glory Leeds United woolly hat for most of the day to keep my hot head warm.
Berlin had all the things that we had expected to see when we were compiling our holiday itinerary, but as well as beer, sausages and tall blonde women there were beautiful old buildings, fascinating historical sites and modern architecture far too nice for anyone ever to be tempted to drop bombs on it.
The Brandenburg Gate was impressive but not technically a gate. It had no hinges, no sign saying ‘please shut the gate’ or ‘beware of the hund’ and you couldn’t swing on it. But it was alright though so we took a picture or two hundred.
The Brandenburg Gate.
The Holocaust Memorial was impressive in a very stark sort of way, as I suppose you’d imagine it to be. Row upon row of enormous concrete blocks resembling tombs of varying height. Strangely eerie but it didn’t immediately make me think of the millions of European Jews who lost their lives during World War II. It made me think that a very small person could get lost in the labyrinth of small passageways that the structure formed and how lucky I was to have tall Ian with me to guide me. A memorial is necessary and the world should never forget how those poor wretched souls suffered but, unlike some of the places I have visited in Krakow and Prague, this didn’t work for me.
We had morning coffee at a table on the street outside a café over the road from the Holocaust Memorial to celebrate the fact that tall Ian was with us. Our jovial banter, in a scene bathed in beautiful sunlight, seemed all wrong in such proximity to a structure constructed in remembrance of humanity’s most hideous crime. But it was the memorial that was wrong, not us. For something so large it didn’t say enough. It neither chilled my bones nor moistened my eyes.
Coffee on the street in a foreign city on a Friday morning is even more pleasant than Guinness in an airport lounge on a Thursday afternoon. A most enjoyable and refreshing pastime but, in hindsight, I wish I had had a piece of cherry cake. I decided to say no more about cherry cake at this juncture and to merely let the story unfold over the course of the next few Berlin days. I would add that regret became entwined with confusion as on the bill (die Rechnung . . . my most used German word) that the red haired Turkish waitress brought to us was written on Orangina headed notepaper even though we had all had coffee. As the day wore on I found that the more non-Orangina products that I drank, the more confused I became to the extent that by 3.40 a.m. on Day Three I was as confused as a newt. Another aspect of our Beano in Berlin that will unfold further down the page.
There wasn’t a cashpoint within miles of Checkpoint Charlie so if the U.S.A. Army had decided to call their frontier post Cashpoint Charlie they’d have looked pretty silly. We eventually found an A.T.M. inside a bank in Potsdamer Platz and Ian, at last armed with his fistful of Euro, suddenly looked a lot happier and knuckled down to being a tourist. His “Zwanzig Bensons bitte” delivered confidently at the tobacconist’s soon became the phrase of the holiday . . . so far!
Another phrase of the holiday so far manifested itself a couple of hours beforehand. I know, I’m not very chronological, but I’m on my jollies so I shouldn’t have to care about chronology. Outside the Reichstag, a magnificent nineteenth century building and home of the German Parliament since 1999 but closed to us because we hadn’t pre-booked, a German travel guide snapped at me, “Will you step to the side?” but more as an order than a question. I obeyed his command and stood on the steps waiting for him to make some sort of statement or to provide some wise words of travel guidance but he had really only said it demonstrate German efficiency and because he was far too polite to say, “Get out of my fucking way.”
But why was the Reichstag fully booked? How could a Government building be too busy for us to be able to go in and have a proper gander? I will never slag off Chippenham Town Hall again, though I might stand on the front steps and order passers by to step to the side.
Amazing Holiday Facts: No 2
The whistley bit from Einstein A Go-Go by 1980s rock legends, Landscape became lodged in my noddle for almost the entire day and it seemed to amplify itself every time I saw a picture of Albert Einstein, or someone offered me ein Stein in a bar or the theory of relativity came into our conversation. The only real relief from this affliction was twenty minutes of that old Elvis standard, Oliver’s Army as we were mulling around Checkpoint Charlie. I decided that when I returned to England I would have a word in Mr Churchill’s ear about this. And ironically, at 3.40 a.m. on Day Three, I couldn’t stand up for falling down.
Amazing Holiday Facts: No 3
Whilst we were standing in Pariser Platz, admiring the Brandenburg Gate in the beautiful Berlin sunshine, Ian asked me what I thought of the new Jag. No matter how much I tell him about my automotive ignorance he remains ignorant of my ignorance. He’d have got a better response from me if he’d asked me what I thought of the new Fokke.
Berliners are very proud of their posh new buildings which have transformed a place of utter devastation into something spectacularly clean and modern and gleaming but without it being clinically so. However, I began to grow rather fond of the tatty old lump of concrete, coated in graffiti and exhausted chewing gum, that is the Berlin Wall. I know it was a bit nasty in its day but I really didn’t think that they were looking after it enough and worried that when it eventually crumbled away completely they would be sorry. How do you say ‘I told you so’ in German? But my motto being when in Berlin, do as the Berliners, I broke a couple of lumps off the decaying Deutches divider for sentimental reasons.
To kill some time, Rigger and Ian bought themselves each a wrist watch in a shop that also served as a supplier of prizes to bingo halls in rundown seaside holiday towns in England. The place was an absolute Mecca of tat but sadly didn’t stock ‘Greetings from Swanage’ egg timers or ‘Skegness is so bracing’ butter dishes. They paid €14.99 a piece for a timepiece and the nice lady assistant with a smirk on her face and euro signs in her eyes threw in a beautifully crafted presentation box containing a torch as powerful as a million candles, a calculator for calculating the extent that the customer had been ripped off, a 1970s kipper tie and a lady’s intimate vibrating product to justify the price.
I can’t remember exactly where this fitted into the proceedings but at some point during the course of the afternoon we took the time to tuck into a an enormous helping of chemicals and stodge known locally as currywurst and chips, we went to Cock Street and we made childish jokes about big fat German sausages, but we did so with style and panache and isn’t that what holidays are all about? We took the piss but no one got hurt, unless they were listening to us and they owned a sausage factory . . . an unlikely combination.
Amazing Holiday Facts: No 4
Ian and Rigger must have sensed that I was missing my beautiful children so they did their best to rectify the situation by mimicking them. Discussing subjects about which I have absolutely no knowledge, bickering slightly, taking the piss out of each other and me, and going for an afternoon nap whilst on holiday in an interesting and exciting holiday place are all things quite typical of the younger members of the Mullan family and Ian and Rigger performed them to perfection, as if they were a my kids tribute act.
So whilst the young whippersnappers in our party snoozed the afternoon away, I went for a walk in a slightly residential area near to our Schwarzkopfstraße home. A residential area that boasted a big lump of Berlin Wall, lots of big, old, tatty walls that were not the Berlin Wall despite them being walls in Berlin, an ancient cemetery, a household recycling centre, a branch of Aldi supermarkets and a slightly downmarket rival called Penny right next door to it. I bought three bottles of German beer in 0.5 litre plastic bottles with screw tops in Aldi and a bag for life. The whole lot only cost me €1.70 and I think the bag accounted for about a third of that. A pleasant and productive walk indeed.
Also while they slumbered I transferred myself and my belongings to a different hotel room. By that I mean a different room in the same hotel, though the alternative possibilities did get my mind working rather. The reason for my relocation was that Rigger was worried that his late night antics would keep me awake in the room we were sharing . . . he had to get up to empty his colostomy bag every couple of hours during the wee small hours . . . that’s why they’re called the wee small hours. So, after all these years of using artistic licence (i.e. lying), I really was moved into a penthouse suite on the top floor of the hotel. Two levels of bedroom joined by a peculiarly crafted wooden staircase and containing eight beds. The towels were all a bit on the small side but it didn’t matter all that much because I had eight of them to myself.
A bottle of chilled Berliner Kindl polished off the remaining minutes of my two hours of solace and then the Fun Boy Three were reunited to wander off towards the city centre in search of German beer, German food and German anything else that took their fancy.
We began our session of cultural enlightenment in the ‘Irish Bar’. Strangely though, the Irish Bar’s lings to the Erin Isle were even more tenuous than most of the members of Jack Charlton’s 1980s Republic of Ireland team’s ancestry based claims to have a right to pull on the beloved green jersey. The Irish Bar was really only called the Irish Bar because we said it was. It did have some remarkable objets de tat on the walls and it did stink of ciggie smoke which would make some Irishers feel at home but apart from that it was pure Berlin and it sold lush beer, which was all that mattered. Over the course of the evening, my very good friend Ian and I discovered that we rather liked beer so we stayed in the Irish Bar just to make sure we weren’t mistaken.
We did manage a wee three hour breather from the beer drinking equivalent of the Berlin Airlift to go and investigate Alexanderplatz, buses, trams, Texan girls who only knew three words of English (oh my god . . . uttered very, very slowly to make sure they got them right), a bloke from Chicago called George von Bismarck or Otto Walls or any permutation of those depending upon who he thought might be listening as he was no doubt on the run from the Ministry for State Security, a very amusing young German serving wench called Susan who piled our plates with fine victuals and plied our livers with drink in a bar where the door wouldn’t shut properly and it was dead cold outside and every time someone left it open some other American customers moaned at me to shut it because I was sitting nearest to it and I didn’t go screaming at them, “But it’s not as cold as fucking Alaska” but I nearly did, and a dancy sort of clubby bar where they wouldn’t let Rigger take photographs so he went home in a sulk about that and the fact that Ian had started drinking girly Cube Libres.
An hour or so later, Ian and I hopped on a tram not knowing where in the name o’Jaysus we were going but magically the last stop at the end of our tram’s ride turned out to be right outside of the Irish Bar so we thought it would have been rude not to have popped in for a nightcap. Inside the Irish Bar, as well as copious amounts of beer, there was dancing. Mine and Ian’s only involvement in this activity was to sit and stare at the two middle aged women who were doing all the dancing by the bar near to where we were sitting. We would have liked to have joined in. We knew all the moves and we had our brilliant white John Travolta suits on. We were just too pissed to stand up.
We left the Irish Bar at 3.40 a.m. Ian said it was the most inebriated that he had ever seen me. Having broken that record I decided that it would be a good idea to visit the Olympic Stadium the next day.
Day Three – Saturday 10th March 2012
And then there were two. Ian was a bit tired and decided to have a lie in until 3.40 p.m. If Bugsy had been there with us he would have described Ian’s day as a minibar wankfest. Bugsy’s words, not mine! Watching the previous night’s dancing had worn Ian out so Rig and I set off out into the big Berlin world without him. For the first hour there was some suggestion of him catching up with us but when he realised that we had ventured further than the Irish Bar he sadly withdrew from the proceedings and snuggled up bed with his vivid imagination.
Holiday Disappointments: No 2
I was bitterly disappointed with myself for spending the whole day taking the piss out of my very good friend Ian. Rigger helped me though! And so did the nice receptionist at our hotel and the bartender lady in the Irish Bar and the woman in the gift shop at the Olympic Stadium and some Texan girls that we met who only knew three words of English and . . .
Amazing Holiday Facts: No 5
The cherry cake I had in Berlin’s iconic Olympiastadion, venue for the infamous 1936 summer Olympic games and home of Hertha B.S.C., was the most gorgeous cherry cake, or Kirschkuchen, I have ever eaten in a football stadium. A warm, buttered scone I once had at Bromsgrove Rovers’ Victoria Ground was so delicious that it will stay etched in my memory forever but Hertha are top of the cherry cake league by a clear margin.
Holiday Disappointments: No 3
The clubby little bar type place that we went to on Friday night was disappointing for lots of reasons but for chronophobic reasons I omitted to mention them when I was writing about Day Two. The bar wasn’t exactly meine Tasse Tee but that’s beside the point. No, the disappointing bit was that they wouldn’t let Rigger take his photos and, despite us paying an entry fee of €3 each we didn’t get a ticket to stick in my holiday journal. This caused me to enter into some serious negotiations (please remember that by then I had had a couple of glasses of strong drink) with yer woman on the door who happened to have the longest name in the world. She did seem to be a very pleasant woman and the combination of my electric personality, smooth patter and constant nagging ground her down so that eventually she agreed that what she was stamping on people’s body parts as proof of payment she would stamp on a separate piece of paper for me and she signed her name but I only had a small piece of paper so she had to significantly shorten it (see below).
The clubby bar door lady’s stamp and signature.
Back to Day Three
Knowing that Adolf Hitler had once stood in some of the very spots that I was standing in within the Olympiastadion and around it chilled every corpuscle of my blood. Knowing that Hitler had possibly eaten cherry cake from the same little café that Rigger and I had done chilled even the warmest parts of my body. I’ve been to places before that were occupied during World War II and, thinking back to what horrors might have taken place there, I felt quite shaken but in Berlin, for the first time in my life, I set foot on some of the places that some of the top bossmen perpetrators of the atrocities set foot themselves. I don’t need a memorial. I just need moments like those to remind me.
But it would have been easy to forget as Berlin was such a friendly, welcoming place during my stay. The War, I am delighted to say, is a thing of the past and is being forgotten for all the right reasons. I felt as comfortable amongst the German people as I did amongst my own people. This bit didn’t come as a surprise as I had met and spoken to some lovely German people in other areas of Germany and a number of other countries in the past. I believe that it can be said of so many countries that the ordinary men and woman in the street want to be at peace with their counterparts beyond their international frontiers. The problems, sadly, are all caused by the politicians.
Our guide in the Olympiastadion was particularly warm and friendly and did her job with just the right balance of serious information and light hearted banter. She talked openly about why the stadium had been built and what had gone on in Berlin during the 1936 Olympic Games. What’s done is done and it was time to move on. Other problems have blighted the arena in more recent years such as Zenadine Zidane’s sending off in the 2006 FIFA World Cup Final and Hertha Berlin’s (the current tenants) current struggle to avoid relegation from the Bundesliga. I regretted not asking our lovely tour guide lady her name. She probably did tell us but I was too busy gawping with Rigger at the young Ukrainian girls in our group to be bothered to listen to her. I rather hope she was called Bertha . . . from Hertha.
Any road, this monumental structure, built almost entirely from dark stone with grey seats and a grey roof and very little in the way of colourful advertising was incredibly foreboding as well as being steeped in history. A large area of land outside of the stadium had been dedicated to other sports including football, athletics, hockey, shove pfennig and equestrianism since the inauguration of the Olympic park in the early 1930s.
Amazing Holiday Facts: No 6
I’m a TV star in Europe! We watched Hertha’s reserves playing a pretty serious looking league game against Z.F.C. Meuselwitz in a small but tidy stadium of Dr Marten’s League proportions and fielding the world’s fattest goalkeeper until we were moved on by Security for not having paid the entrance fee. I bet the job’s worth steward was well hacked off when he watched the sports round up after the local news on Berlin telly and saw me and Rigger there behind the goal.
The Bell Tower (Glockenturm) wasn’t named after former Manchester City and England midfielder, Colin Bell, and was well worth a wander up despite the murkiness of the day. We could see most of Berlin’s tallest buildings and Ian from the top of it but the fence around the viewing platform was too high to allow us to lean over and spit our exhausted chewing gum down the cleavage of passing young ladies.
Amazing Holiday Facts: No 7
In the Hertha Berlin club shop I saw something I had never seen before and will probably never see again. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Scousers were paying money for things that they wanted to take home. Rigger told the Scousers that we were Glory Glory Leeds United fans. They sang unpleasant songs about us as I stole their wallets . . . ha ha ha ha ha laa!
Amazing Holiday Facts: No 8
The awful farty smell of the drains continued to penetrate our nasal passages and cause discomfort even though Ian was miles away in his hotel bed. The process of elimination was kind to Ian on that day even if the after effects of the previous night’s Weißbier weren’t.
Thanks to the incredible efficiency of the Berlin transport system we swiftly returned to the Wedding district of the city, adjacent to the Mitte-Scheuneviertel district where our hotel was situated, to shop for victuals in the slightly-cheaper-than-Aldi Penny Supermarket right next door to Aldi. Rigger bought cold, cooked sausages and I bought pears so we could go back to Hotel City 54 to offer our reunited absent friend a big fat sausage or a juicy pear in the most innuendous of innuendo ways. It made the poor suffering soul smile, probably for the first time that day . . . apart from when he was looking at his book full of pictures of pretty ladies.
Soon we were down on the street with a fist full of Euro and a hunger for action. So we went for a wander round a bit of Mitte-Scheuneviertel that had so far been uncharted territory. Dodgy alternative art workshops and a fine array of Asian restaurants adorned Oranienburgerstraße as we went in search of suitable establishments in which to fill our bellies and slake our thirsts. I wouldn’t have minded just having an Oranienburger but apparently there is no such dish so we dashed down a side street (Große Hamburgerstraße) where we found the Sophieneck bar and restaurant which oddly enough didn’t sell hamburgers but it did do a nice line in smoked pickled herring and Weißebier in a gorgeous little watering hole environment of the German traditional style. And rather strangely, it wasn’t named after the bit of my oldest daughter’s anatomy that connects her head to her shoulders.
At the beginning of the twentieth century the Sophieneck was home to a laundry. A change was to come quickly as the coach firm from the Sophienstraße 32 needed more space and the laundry was then used to house coaches and horses.
In 1924 (I’m not making this up, by the way) Gertrud and Ernst Balzer arrived from West Prussia, bought the back part of the Sophieneck and opened a bakery in 1926. The middle part of the Sophieneck was an undertaker's. The staff in the Sophieneck will tell you that the pub is haunted but only by friendly ghosts who like a good beer. The front of the Sophieneck was a café owned by Mrs Erdmann. There were four tables with white tablecloths and good homemade German food was served up until the beginning of the 1940s. From then until 1961 Mrs Erdmann’s café was used as a warehouse by the undertaker.
Family Balzur were still baking bread, but by now Ernst and Gertrud’s daughter, Traudel, had taken over and in 1984 she moved the bakery into Sophienstraße 30, where it can be seen today. In the summer of 1984 the State began with the reconstruction of the Sophienstraße. In 1986 Sophie Mullan was born in East London of simple Yorkshire parents and the Sophieneck was opened, but not by the team who are there now. They took over in 1994. They are people who know and love the area, and are proud to be part of the corner’s history.
Holiday Highlights: No 2
I didn’t see this happen but Rigger did. I wish I had seen it because, despite it being exceedingly cruel, it formed the basis of possibly the No. 1 in-joke of the trip which Ian, Rigger and I will always understand but no one else ever will.
Ian is the tallest person I know, apart from Sharin Foo from Danish band, the Raveonettes. As we were walking along a Berlin street he saw a dwarf lady on a small bike and shouted, “Weyhay!” to draw attention to the poor, unfortunate, small person’s small stature and a small stature which appeared even smaller than it really was due to the proximity of Ian’s extremely large stature. From that point on, the word “Weyhay” was heard whenever any of us saw anybody who was the slightest bit unusual in their appearance or a small bicycle (of which there were many), but at least we had the common courtesy to say it very quietly.
We left Sophieneck at a very civilised time, returned directly (but via a Wall’s ice cream shop) to our very civilised hotel and went to bed at a very civilised time.
Day Four – Sunday 11th March 2012
Having slept like Klotz we rose from our beds like salmon for the fly because all over the world Sunday morning was car boot sale time and East Berlin was no exception. We hadn’t actually planned to do any ‘booting’ whilst on holiday so we were totally unprepared when we spotted the throng of eager vendees from our seats on the M5 tram and hastily alighted, despite not being equipped each with the mandatory Morrison’s Bag For Life for transporting our purchases home.
Soviet style Lego, Pokémon cards, Carmen heated rollers, rustic old instruments of torture, lamps made from empty Mateus Rosé bottles and a Salt Mine Barbie in her original packaging adorned wallpaper pasting trestles that had lived for years in the darkest cellars of the darkness of Communism and had now come out play in the Capitalist sunshine. I may have been wrong but I strongly suspected that buyers setting up at a boot sale would have been frowned upon or even imprisoned and tortured in those tyrannical days of Erich Honecker and Egon Krenz whose regimes would have recognised and stamped out the green shoots of private enterprise.
Many items were inspected by members of our group but little was purchased. I came close to buying some old Dynamo East Berlin football programmes but just as I was putting my hand into my pocket to draw out my wad of Euro I remembered that I already had hundreds of old football programmes at home that I rarely read so what chance would these additions to my collection ever have of being perused as long as they were written in German? I put them back on the table and went to look at the seaside style ‘Best wishes from Minsk' crested silver plated teaspoons. I had hoped to find a second hand dead horse for sale so that I could go on the BBC telly show, Flog It! and make a few quid.
Ian almost bought a Vauxhall Omega but it didn’t have a self dipping rear mirror so he too changed his mind at the last minute.
Rigger, on the other hand, splashed out on a machine for viewing photographic slides and negatives which apparently his lovely femme back home would be delighted with and he too was delighted with Ian for spotting it . . . which was nice.
Grinning from ear to ear upon our discovery of, and Rigger’s success at Das Boot Sale and our ‘going bush’ by rubbing shoulders with the locals in their non-tourist Sunday morning activity we left and jumped on the next tram to the Stasi Prison to bring us back down to earth, and it certainly did.
Holiday Disappointments: No 4
The Stasi Prison was a disappointment on three counts, they being:
1) We arrived there twenty four hours too late to be shown round by a guide who was a real life former Stasi prisoner.
2) We arrived there two and a half hours too early to be shown round by a guide who did the job in English.
3) The mere fact that the Stasi Prison existed. Grim was just not a strong enough word to describe it. The Ministerium für Staatssicherheit (The Ministry for State Security), but known affectionately as the Stasi, used it as a detention centre for suspects on ‘remand’ between 1951 and 1989 but it had been opened by the Soviet KGB in 1945 as an internment camp.
People were imprisoned there for such reasons as trying to leave the country, or telling political jokes. Prisoners were kept isolated and disoriented, knowing nothing of what was going on in the outside world and subjected to physical and psychological torture.
After the mid-1950s, Stasi executions were carried out there in strict secrecy, and were usually accomplished with a guillotine and, in later years, by a single pistol shot to the neck. In most instances, the relatives of the executed were not informed of either the sentence or the execution.
After the Berlin Wall fell, X-ray machines were found in the prisons. Indeed, three of the best known dissidents died within a few months of each other, of similar rare forms of Leukemia. Survivors state that the Stasi intentionally irradiated political prisoners with high dose radiation, possibly to provoke cancer in them.
Not having a blummin’ clue what our German guide was saying (though I could tell that it wasn’t funny), we sort of mulled around on our own, working out for ourselves what had gone on there in those sinister times. In fact, I was sort of pleased that we hadn’t been under the guide’s tow as it meant that we managed to have a look down some dark and evil corridors that he didn’t show the German speaking members of his party and we managed to discuss other aspects of the malevolence that surrounded us, such as the appalling East European 1970s wallpaper on the walls of the interrogation rooms and the dodgy looking stains on the lino floor covering, and also the fact that Leeds United had won 2-0 away to Middlesbrough (courtesy of text messages from Bugsy who was supposed to be doing his homework back in the U.K.) while we were busy being horrified. I couldn’t help but wonder if any of the wallpaper pasting trestles that we had seen earlier on at the car boot malarkey had ever been used for pasting that hideous wallpaper in those hideous rooms. As a former paid up member of Amnesty International, I was quite pleased that I had resisted the temptation to buy a second hand Goblin Teasmade for surely it would have been tainted by the blood and tears of tortured dissidents. This must answer the age old question of why you can never get a decent cuppa tea outside of Britain.
My head and the Stasi wallpaper (by Rigger).
A young German girl with lovely olive skin, beautiful smiling eyes and a willingness to chat to strange, middle aged blokes was precisely what we needed to take our minds off the atrocities committed in the name of the Communist State of the D.D.R. and we found the very thing at the Restaurant Schonehusen just down the road from the prison. She served us fine platters of German cuisine, foaming tankards of strong German ale, little bottles of Underberg digestif bitter (I asked her for underwear but she gave me Underberg) and little bits of dark brown toast on which we spread goose fat and sprinkled salt which reminded me so much of my dear old Nan’s bread and dripping when I was a kid.
I was tempted to ask her if, back in the dark days of the Cold War, any of the guards from the prison used to nip in for a brew or an Underberg while they were having a break from being the shield and sword of the Communist Party but I didn’t because she was probably too young to remember and one of them might even have been her father (or mother). I did ask her to show me on my map how to get to Friedrichshain, the former East Berlin, and what her name was. She was called Melanie Fitzner. Ian, who had fallen in love with her, decided that he would look her up on Facebook on his return to Blighty, but as I was the last to leave the restaurant, she caught hold of my arm and confided in me that she didn’t go by her real name on social networking sites but could be found under the epithet of Mucky Mel . . . and winked at me.
Melanie Fitzner's Underberg.
Using a Melanie’s written directions and a variety of trams and trains and boats and planes we found ourselves in the former East Berlin about an hour later. An hour’s fannying about on public transport (albeit very efficient) later we found ourselves in a Formica topped sports bar with a pint of fizzy lager each as we watched Swansea City beating Manchester City on telly. I knew I had to either walk or sleep. Rigger and Ian agreed so they went back to the hotel for a sleep and I went for a walk along the majestic boulevards of Friedrichshain, which in bygone eras had served as a red light district and as home to the senior members of the East German Communist Party . . . but not at the same time . . . I bet! Karl-Marx Allee was my favourite but there was also Frankfurter Allee which, had Bugsy been with us, I am sure would have been declared Euphemism of the Week.
I wandered around not knowing where I was going for well over an hour. I love just roaming aimlessly, alone in foreign places, soaking up the atmosphere that always excites me because it’s always so much different to what I am accustomed to at home. I never care how or why a place is different, just as long as it is different. I thrive on culture shock and although Berlin wasn’t all that different to England (just cleaner, better organised and friendlier) it presented a big enough contrast for me to love my time there.
But it started to rain and it got dark and the afternoon’s beer and Melanie Fitzner’s Underberg caught up with me so I trammed it up from Alexanderplatz back to Schwarzkopfstraße and went into the little café adjacent to Hotel City 54. There a cup of strong coffee and a groß lump of Kirschkuchen was just what the Arzt ordered to revive my flagging body so I sat there for an hour absorbing the hot beverage, the rich fruit cake and the positively charming ambiance of the place as I wrote some of these words. At this point it struck me that our trip was drawing to a close, like just about everywhere I have ever travelled I had fallen in love with Berlin and that heavy, not wanting to go home feeling had started to manifest itself in my gut once again.
Holiday Highlights: No 2
En route to Friedrichshain, while Rigger was in a shop buying a razor (which he said was for the purpose of shaving his head but I suspected was for carrying out a Stasi style guillotine execution of the security staff on our return to Bristol Airport as retribution for them confiscating his original razor), Ian and I got chatting to a slightly dishevelled man in his late sixties called Klaus. Klaus asked us if he could ask us some questions, the nature of each being prompted by the answer to the preceding one but with one exception. See if you can spot the odd one out and win a lovely prize.
Klaus’s question and answer session went as follows:
Question 1 - May I ask you some questions?
Answer 1 - Yes.
Question 2 - Where are you from?
Answer 2 - England.
Question 3 - Which town in England are you from?
Answer 3 - Leeds.
Question 4 - Have you ever heard of Leeds United?
Answer 4 - Yes, sort of.
Question 5 - What is the name of the Leeds United stadium?
Answer 5 - Elland Road.
Question 6 - What is the crowd capacity of the Elland Road football stadium?
Answer 6 - About forty thousand.
Question 7 - How many kilometres is it from Berlin to Leeds?
Answer 7 - It’s about two hours in a plane.
Question 8 - Could you spare me fifty cents for buy a cup of coffee?
Answer 8 - Yes indeed my good man.
I gave Klaus a whole Euro and he almost wet his pants with glee. He shook our hands four or five times and kept saying, “Now Klaus can have two cups of coffee.” I really believed that the money I gave him would be genuinely spent on coffee rather than to buy alcohol or drugs as many people who approach me for money in the street seem to do. Klaus was an absolute star and, as he proudly held his newly acquired coin aloft he continued to express his delight from the other side of the broad boulevard after we had parted, I wished I had given him more.
Klaus and his Euro.
After a hard day’s tramping around we thought we’d just have a quiet night out so we nipped round to the cosy little authentic German residential area type bar by the tram terminus in Pflugstraße only a couple of hundred yards from Hotel City 54. There they sold that impossible to resist, crazy old Schwarzbier (as schwarz as a badger’s schwarz bits), served up at our table by a young serving girl who was even keener for us to knock the stuff back than we seemed to be ourselves and, to help it slide down our reluctant throats, alternate rounds were delivered with accompanying glasses of schnapps on the house.
Closing time came at round about midnight, the girl finished her shift and went home, the bossman took over, closed the shutters, locked the doors, found some larger glasses to serve our free schnapps in and put on a CD by an East Berlin ‘The Doors’ tribute band (we all joined in the chorus of Hallo, Ich liebe Sie) to enhance the atmosphere in a place where German efficiency and German hospitality melded beautifully.
All in all a brilliant and unforgettable night out, although uneventful and there were bits of it that I couldn’t remember the next morning.
Day Five – Monday 12th March 2012
I rose from my bed like a salmon for the fly with a bit of a hangover. The salmon that is, not the fly. But that prompted me to wonder how much Schwarzbier it would take to get a fly stotious. Not much, I’d have wagered, and that’s why you never see a fly with a huge credit card bill.
So there I was, a tad hungover but still hungry for the last breakfast (not supper). The previous day’s visit to the Stasi Prison was still at the forefront of my mind so I asked the waitress for Egg on Krenz but she just muttered something about an anchor and that she was glad I was going home later that day.
It was Monday morning so the breakfast rooms of places like Hotel City 54 would have been relatively deserted in tourist spots the length and breadth of Europe as happy weekend wanderers had returned to their places of work. Ian and Rigger were still in Berlin (I had assumed) but were still sleeping so I felt alone again naturally. I chose a table in a corner of the dining room, out of the way of any other diners breaking their fasts. A nice bit of peace and quiet giving me the opportunity to write some of these words until a hen party mostly from England, but partly from Germany, came and sat at the table right slap bang next to me to do a post mortem on their Sunday night of sex and drugs and rock and roll and to slag off their ‘slag’ friend who had pulled ein junger Junge. Struggling (but not very much) to avoid eavesdropping on their conversation, I was inclined to agree with their criticism of their open legged travelling companion as it came to light that she had done the deed with her Herr in the top bunk in the dormitory style bedroom that they had all been sharing. The girl who had occupied the bottom bunk spoke of a cascade of discarded clothing landing on the floor beside her bed, an episode culminating in a pair of knickers landing on her face as she tried to sleep. Fortunately no one had been wearing them at the time. The culprit apologised and the remainder of the group muttered something about being glad that they were going home later that day.
Ian appeared to fail to appear for breakfast again. I wondered if he had been the man in the top bunk. He wasn’t in the breakfast room at breakfast time, he didn’t answer when Rigger and I knocked on his room door and he didn’t respond to text messages or phone calls. So with great reluctance, we I tuned in, checked out and set off for the big city without him. I felt a bit bad about this later as he had been in the dining room all along, though after the designated Bundes breakfast time, and we had missed him by a whisker (oh curse that woman who confiscated Rigger’s razor). We probably missed him because he was foraging around beneath the hen party’s breakfast table.
The Rigmeister and I had had a good, blow-the-cobwebs-away walk into town to Hackescher Markt, had a cup of coffee and been shopping for fridge magnets and pastry cutters (an essential item of every half decent traveller’s kit) when Ian eventually caught up with us. To help make Ian feel as though he hadn’t missed anything, we went back and had another cup of coffee in the same café in Hackescher Markt and we were prepared to do the whole morning’s fun all over again but time was getting on, we had a huge museum to catch and we had a plane to catch.
I’m really sorry if this grim tale sounds like a mere platform for me to poke fun at poor Ian. Ian was a great bloke and the trip wouldn’t have been anywhere near as good had he not been there with us. But for some strange reason he just lent himself to having the Michael Schumacher taken out of him. I would have been quite happy, or delighted even, if he had done the same to me but he just didn’t and I don’t know why. Though, late one night after a gallon of Schwarzbier, he did suggest that perhaps with me is not good cherry eating.
Rigger, on the other hand, in the wonderful world of piss, was more of a taker than a receiver. Such is the complexity of the English language (particularly my little corner of it), both of these sound like the same thing but they are not. Rigger was a grand master of piss taking which deemed it impossible for anyone else to take the piss out of him. He was a challenge, a prolific striking partner and a major source of new material in my bid to upset everyone in the world who wasn’t exactly like me.
Love them or adore them, Ian and Rigger were excellent company on our Teutonic trip . . . not like that swot git Bugsy!
Holiday Words of Advice: No 1
With me is not good cherry eating.
‘Mit mir ist nicht Kirschenessen’ literally translated means ‘with me is not good cherry eating.’ The English equivalent of this is ‘It’s best not to tangle with me.’ The Terry Mullan equivalent of this is, ‘Touch my cherry cake and I’ll rip your face off!’
Amazing Holiday Facts: No 9
We passed a pleasant hour sitting and sipping at a table outside our Hackescher Markt coffee bar heaven which incidentally had the tiniest toilets and the largest toilet attendant in the world to the extent that the two gents’ cubicles combined were smaller than the fat Turkish lady crap commandant that I had to give a whole Euro to for her services . . . and she did a rubbish job of wiping my bum.
The toilets here also had a rubber padded outer wall, rather like those of the interrogation rooms at the Stasi Prison, suggesting to me that something might have gone on inside there that might have made a person emit a spine chilling scream. I wondered what the German words were for Izal Medicated . . . oh those paper cuts don’t half smart!
Eventually we set off for the Deutsches Historisches Museum, via the world’s largest charity shop, the massive queue for trips to the top of the Television Tower, and most of Berlin. The charity shop was as big as a British department store and even sold Kitkats which baffled me somewhat as I just could not get my head round the possibility that someone might donate unwanted delicious chocolate coated wafer fingers, even if it was for a good cause.
Unfortunately, the charity shop was completely in the opposite direction to where we wanted to be but at least it meant that we had to walk past magnificent historic buildings such as the Rotes Rathaus, Berliner Dom, the Altes Museum and Busty Brunhilda’s Bar and Brothel, and we had to cross broad, majestic branches of the River Spree to get to Museum Island where our own chosen museum of the day was situated. A most pleasant walk indeed, impaired only by my companions’ needs to evacuate bowels and soak aching feet in bowls of Radox. I dragged them to the Deutsches Historisches Museum, metaphorically speaking of course, as they were always walking out of reach of my dragging arm about two hundred yards behind me. As I lead them along I prayed to the Matabeleland God of the Corn that they would find the museum interesting and worthwhile and not kick the shit out of me down the first dark alley that they could find.
Nineteenth Century Woman With Magnificent Zeppelins.
(alternative title: Allegorie des Sieges)
By Franz Gerhard von Kügelgen.
One of the more visually striking portraits on display
at the Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin.
easyJet Isabel had told me that the Deutsches Historisches Museum was a fascinating, though very large museum that required a whole day to be appreciated fully. By 2.00 p.m. we had arrived there, deposited waste matter from our digestive systems and urinary tracts and refilled them in the museum café with coffee and Kirschkuchen so we had a good two hours available to take in two thousand years of German history. I was very impressed by the design, scale and organisation of the place (but hey, that’s Deutschesland), though the last one hundred years were much more interesting than the first nineteen hundred. But the museum officials hadn’t seemed to try to hide anything about Germany’s past and they hadn’t made any suggestion of national prowess or domination as I would perhaps have expected, particularly in the fields of football, technological innovation and cherry cake. Which leads me nicely into . . .
Holiday Disappointments: No 5
There was no word at all of Jürgen Sparwasser. Nowhere in the whole of Berlin did I see or hear his name. So yet another ‘desperately seeking’ mission ended in failure. I really had expected him to pop up somewhere in the museum, especially as there was so much attention paid to the East versus West situation during the Cold War and subsequent reunification, and as football had such an important place in the German way of life. Surely his winning goal for East Germany against West Germany in the 1974 FIFA World Cup finals (held in West Germany, including the Olympiastadion in West Berlin) was worthy of a mention.
There was also no sign of him in the D.D.R. retro souvenir shops. I would have loved a post card or a fridge magnet or a novelty fish slice bearing the image of his face. The East Berlin car boot sale mysteriously had dog eared old collectable Panini stickers of every footballer in the world except him and Frank Strandli. I would have expected to find an old F.C. Magdeburg replica shirt with his name on the back or Melanie the waitress might have been a big enough fan to have a tattoo of his autograph. Perhaps she did but it was in a place that we couldn’t see!
We rounded off the museum tour with a final café and exquisite lavatorial facilities stop and then all that remained was a trip back to Hotel City 54 to collect our bags and then a trip to the nasty old airport.
There wasn’t a through tram from the Deutsches Historisches Museum to Schwarzkopfstraße. We had to change at Hackescher Markt (resisting the urge to nip in to our café to have another brew and another struggle with the fat Turkish lady in the tiny lavvy) and had to endure a wait of nine minutes, which could be described as lengthy by German public transport standards. Here Rigger disappeared for eight of the nine minutes but returned with chocolate covered marzipan bars just seconds before the last tram to Zit Street turned up. How did he know? In my opinion this was the only acceptable substitute for Kirschkuchen . . . apart from Schwarzbier and Weißbier, of course.
Things I know about Berlin:
1) Bloody good transport system. Trains, trams, buses. All clean, quiet and plentiful.
2) The ‘Chic’ look in Berlin for the ladeez is blue denim jeans, calf-length boots and padded jackets. I pronounce it to be a good look, having perused it at some length.
3) It is perfectly possible to have bewildering panoply of snacks in between other snacks. Every third shop anywhere in Berlin sells food. Nobody can ever go hungry here. Perhaps it’s a reaction to the hunger of the 1920s.
4) Schnitzel is nice, especially when served by a lass called Melanie.
5) Cashpoints can be elusive. If the search had been for Jürgen’s Sparkasse, we did eventually triumph.
6) Peripheral to Berlin, but still pertinent, I’m 48 years old, not 28. I must remind myself of that the next time I’m tempted to go out drinking until 4.00 a.m.
Amazing Holiday Facts: No 10
Panoply is a word I had never heard before. It turned up twice today. Once in Ian’s closing speech (above – see point 3) and once in the Deutsches Historisches Museum, it being a word for a full suit of armour. He’s a clever man with his words is our Ian. But it was such a shame that the trip was coming to an end so soon as there was no further opportunity to drop it into our conversation.
At Bahnhof Alexanderplatz we illegally boarded a swish train to the airport. A double-decker, virtually silent job with tinted windows, individual coat hooks, self dipping rear mirror and xenon headlights. We didn’t have the correct ticket for this train but as we had bought so many Berlin transport tickets to cover every eventuality except that one, we didn’t feel at all guilty about it. And besides, I had rather hoped that a ticket inspector might stop me, discover that I did not have the correct paperwork and forbid me from leaving the country.
But he didn’t.
Amazing Holiday Photographs
You've read the book. Now see the pictures.