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I am a doughnut

Just a quick note to explain my silence last weekend – I was in Berlin. While I’ve visited Germany a number of times, and even lived for three months in Aachen, it was my first trip to that city. My sister and her family were spending the weekend there, so I flew across and met them. It was stinking hot, Unter den Linden was being dug up for a new U-Bahn line and stunk of sewage, the Brandenburger Tor is touristy and disappointing, the Holocaust Memorial is impressive, the Deutsches Technikmuseum is cool (if you like boats and aeroplanes and trains, which I do), the Kurfürstendamm is consumption so conspicuous you can’t see it happen because they won’t let you in the shops unless you’re wearing a gold Rolex or something (the shops even have bouncers!), the Käthe-Kollwitz Museum is worth a look (I especially liked her two graphic cycles, ‘The Weavers’ Revolt’ (1898) and ‘The Peasant War’ (1902 – 1908)), Checkpoint Charlie is a bit rubbish, the stretch of Berlin Wall remaining on Nederkirchnerstraße is worth seeing, as is the Topography of Terror exhibition on the same site…

Far too many capital cities are nice places to visit but you wouldn’t want to live there, but I think I’d happily move to Berlin. We met up with a friend of my brother-in-law, and he lives in Prenzlauer Berg, which used to be East Berlin, and is a very nice area. Plus, of course, the public transport in Berlin is excellent – S-Bahn, U-Bahn, trams and buses. And cheap too. The express train from from Schönefeld airport to Alexanderplatz in the centre of Berlin takes twenty minutes on a large, modern electric train. And costs €3.10. The Heathrow Express costs £20. An all-day zone 1 ticket on the U-Bahn is €6. The worst part about visiting any European city is returning to the UK and realising how comprehensively our robber governments have fucked up our public transport infrastructure. I mean, is there anyone who seriously thinks privatising the railways has improved it? If yes, I have a statue on a very tall plinth in Trafalgar Square for sale…

Despite only being careful and not quizzing every eaterie on the ingredients in their meals, I managed to avoid making myself ill. One café we visited labelled some of its sandwiches “laktosefrei”, but that was the only place I saw doing so. I ate Italian twice, Arabic, and on our last night in Berlin – typically – we discovered Nikolaiviertel just down the road from our hotel, which contains a number of restaurants/bars serving German food. One thing worth noting, however: when in Berlin, don’t wear a black collared shirt with epaulettes. I did, and some bloke wandered past me muttering something about “Totenkopf”.

In all, definitely a place worth visiting, in spite of the weather, and I’d certainly go again. When I was in Aachen in 1992, we considered spending a weekend in Berlin, but discovered we were closer to London and that it would take about nine hours by train. (Even now, it’s still seven hours by ICE from Aachen to Berlin.) It’s a pity we never made the effort, but at least I’ve rectified that now.

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