We left Brussels and got the train from Midi station to Cologne and then all the way on to Berlin yesterday. The train was swish and amazing - putting Blighty trains to shame - even the food in the buffet car was pretty good. It was a shock to find that all the staff were suddenly German and we had to brush off a bit of the lingo. Just before we reach Cologne we were informed in a lengthy diatribe (in four languages: French, Dutch, German and English) that the train was going to terminate before our destination due to some problem and we'd have to swap trains. When we got to the station we discovered that the waiting train was full of people who promptly disembarked to get on our train whilst we got on theirs; so we swapped trains with them and ended up in the same seats. Oh and a tip about getting on a train without a reservation but with a large wheelie case: don't get on first; wait for everyone else to get on and get their seats and get on last and find a free seat. I expect you already knew that!
After 3 trains for the price of 2 we arrived in Berlin and after a slight struggle managed to find the correct S-Bahn train to near to where we're staying. We didn't manage to buy any tickets again (too confusing) and luckily didn't bump into any propusk-inspectors. In fact it seems all very lax on the Berlin system. Getting a propusk seems to be something you do because you're a good person. There aren't any ticket barriers on or off and we haven't yet met any inspectors. That said we did diligently buy some tickets this morning (once we'd worked out what to do).
First thing we did this morning, after a late start, was to go and reserve some seats on our next train: from Berlin to Poznan (Poland). Of course I asked the woman behind the counter if she spoke English, and of course she didn't, but with a smattering of German, and writing things down on paper it worked. We knew the train number, destination and time, but just needed some seat reservations (we have Interrail tickets, but these alone aren't enough). I showed the info to the assistant and she then told me that the train didn't run from there, and that it was another train from a different station at a different time that we needed. However, just before getting to the ticket desk we'd seen the very same train we'll get on Sunday just about to leave on the info board, so we stood there with me saying "nein" a lot and pointing at the details again. Eventually she admitted it existed and soon after we had our seat reservations (9 euros).
Then we had a bit of a look round the city. When I say a bit, I mean it, as we didn't have a map of the place, knew really nothing about it (save a couple of names of things), and didn't know where we were going. Anyway, we got the S-Bahn to Potzdamer Platz because we'd heard of it and saw a poster for a Dalí exhibition near there. It was very modern with really not much sign of Checkpoint Charlie or the Wall left. I had the distinct feeling of having arrived there 25 years too late. There was an information sculpture made from bits of the wall with a guy dressed in a DDR uniform and carrying a soviet style flag that you could have your photo taken with. We overheard an ginger bearded fellow tell the guy in uniform that he was from Swansea, Wales and then walked around randomly.
We wandered around a bit more, and ended up in the massive and beautiful Tiergarten, which is a big park in the centre of Berlin. After getting a bit peckish we found a restaurant in the park, which had some really decent quality food and drink and ate there. The schnitzel and brattkartoflen were fantastic.
Then we headed back to our Airbnb, which is in the north-east of the city in old East Berlin. It's a lovely flat in an area of residential blocks with a lawn out the back lined with acers and filled with birdsong. The flat's great. It has a washing machine, but it's not plumbed in because, it appears, the waste pipe is too short. I did consider connecting it up and using a bucket, but I think that's probably stepping over the mark a little. One thought for those renting out flats on Airbnb: it'd be good to leave some basics in the flat, such as oil, sugar, salt, pepper, vinegar; in short, the sorts of things you don't want to go buying yourself, especially if you're backpacking/suitcasing around the place.
The transport system here seems excellent, with trams and trains and bikes everywhere. The trains aren't as easy to follow as the system in Brussels, which was exemplary. Incidentally I found out that when West Berlin was annexed, the authorities decided it would be great to rip up the tram tracks in order to promote the automobile. As a consequence the trams are pretty much all in the eastern part of the city. So were the commies or the capitalists the more sensible and foresighted in this respect?
Tomorrow we'll head back into town; hopefully hire a bike. I'm particularly interesting in the Computer Spiele Museum near to Alexanderplatz.
(P.S. In case you were concerned that this blog may bring out the inner Eric Olthwaite in me and feature lots of trains and details about trains, be concerned; we're going to be doing a lot of trains!)