Die Wahre Geschichte vom Berlin
The first advanced party
from PFR had jetted in from Manchester early afternoon to Tempelhof airport in
Berlin and had dug in at the Park Inn Hotel, Alexanderplatz.
The main thrust of PFR
landed at Schonefeld airport on 1st April 2005 at about 18:45 local time, a
small reconnaissance party headed directly to the hotel at Alexnderplatz, 200
yds on foot then on the S-bahn express, while the main Battalion headed by
General George waited for free amphibious vehicles before stepping on the S-bahn
in the wrong direction and advancing towards Poland faster than a certain German
General some 66 years previously. Having discovered a flaw in intelligence George
did an about turn with his battalion and headed back towards Berlin, for
the serious business of watering the troops before the half marathon.
On arrival at the Hotel,
‘Pike’ (AKA Mr Dimelow) was forced to give his name before checking into the
hotel. The advanced party were already getting leg wobbles from the local brew.
After recruiting Private Goldthorpe, the advance party advanced beyond the
Hotel, Punk rockers, and ‘Rathauser’ in search of Local Fare, which was to
be found at Mutter Hoppe, which according t'tinternet was:
'A cozy, wood-panelled
restaurant that still serves the solid Teutonic cuisine favoured by a
quasi-legendary matriarch (Mother Hoppe) who used to churn out vast amounts of
food to members of her extended family and entourage. Within a quartet of
old-fashioned dining rooms, you'll enjoy heaping portions of such rib-sticking
fare as sauerbraten with roasted potatoes; creamy goulash with wild mushrooms;
filet of zander with dill-flavored cream sauce; and braised filet of pork in
mushroom-flavored cream sauce. Wine is available, but most guests opt for a
foaming mug of beer'.
The description was
accurate, and a good meal was enjoyed by all. The reinforcements were still
having problems with their bearings and finished up veering off to a Potato
(Kartoffel) bar for sustenance.
Saturday again brought
bright sunshine and zero cloud. The first task of the day was to collect the
race numbers which we discovered had to be collected deep from within the old
western territory, from our base in the east. Not daunted by the first
experience of the S-Bahn (Surface rail) the troops regrouped and headed out on
the U-bahn (Underground rail) for the tricky maneouvre of swapping stations to
get to ‘Kaiserdamm’.
The 'fair' at
registration was large, with vast amounts of trade stands and entertainment. The
distribution of race numbers, chips and wickable shirts was done with typical
German efficiency. The batallion was fully chipped, except 'Pike' who preferred
the accuracy of his own watch and was reluctant to part with the hefty deposit
as well as his name.
After registering, shirting and chipping the batallion decided to split into smaller divisions to tackle the full blown exploration aus Berlin. Some headed for boats and took in the sights from the river Spree. Others marched on foot for the long haul back to the East. A large group headed back on the S-bahn for the Reichstag (Parliament building) with its impressive glass dome, which like alot of Berlin brought together a sharp contrast of old and new. The area was impressive with large new buildings spanning the river to the rear of the Reichstag, just to the south lay the Brandenburg Gate which had previously lay on the East-West divide.
New goverment buildings to the rear of the Reichstag
The Reichstag, built betwen 1884 & 1894. A fire rumoured to be started by Hitler's NSDAP party in 1933, was blamed on the Communist party and did much to promote Hitler's rise to power. The building was further damaged at the end of the war, when the Soviets entered Berlin. The picture of a Red Army Soldier raising the Soviet flag on the Reichstag is one of the most famous 20th century images and symbolised Germany's defeat. The bullet holes in the stone still bear testimony to the fighting that took place.
Lunch was taken near the Brandenberg Gate, in a small café making fresh sandwiches with their own fresh bread.
The Café was adjacent to a large building site, where tall cranes were drilling large bore holes. Building sites and cranes are to be seen in almost all areas of Berlin as the expansion and redevelopoment continues at a relentless pace.
On the Eastern side in particular, many of the Eastern concrete blocks remain derelict, presumably as the cost to dismantle is signicantly greater than building new, on a clean site. The worst example of this was the old 'Palace of the GDR', near to our hotel and the race start, which is an ugly square mass of rustic glass and metal supports, still full of asbestos and supporting in large letters the word 'ZWEIFEL' which translates to 'Doubt What'.
George with the Brandenberg Gate on his shoulders,planning another route into Poland ?
After refuelling, the F-Troop headed back through the Brandenberg gate and onto an open top bus for a 1hr 40min trip to take in the sights. We headed West, through the Tiergarten, past the Victory Column (Siegesseule) tipped with a golden statue of the Godess of Victory. It was built in 1873 by Emporer William 1, following victories in Denmark (1864) Austria (1866) and France (1870). In 1938 Hitler had moved this monument from its place in front of the Reichstag to its current position in the centre of the Tiegarten park, guess he must have thought it a good idea at the time, and good pre-war training for the troops. You can still climb its 285 steps to the viewing gantry at the base of the statue. The monument would be just short of the 3km marker on the race tomorrow. The bus continued west to the area around the Zoo and then onto the famous Kurfurstedamm, a 2.5 mile straight and wide boulevard, one of many that dissect the capital, full of shops, cafes bars and restaurants. The busiest area we had seen.
From the 'Ku-Damn', as the Germans refer to the Kurfurstedamm, we passed the 'Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedachtniskirche', a memorial church built in 1895 by Wilhelm II in honour of grandfather Kaiser Wilhelm I.
The building was destroyed in 1943 by allied bombers, leaving only the western tower standing. In the 1960's restoration work began under the guidance of architect Egon Eiermann who built the adjacent stained glass tower, again a good example of the sharp contrast between old and new.
Every hour the bell in the old tower, known as the 'hollow tooth' rings out a tune composed by the Louis Ferdinand , great grandson of the last emperor.
Tomorrow it would be the 13km marker.
We travelled down the Tauentzienstrasse and passed 'Kaufhaus des Westens'. Europes largest department store, known to the Germans as 'KaDeWe', opened since 1907. Our guide told us we'd find anything we wanted here, I nearly got off the bus to visit the sub 1:30 counter, but thought better of it. The seventh floor is apparently a food junkies paradise where you can select from 1700 different types of cheese, nice if your name's Gromit. 1000 kinds of sausages and hams, and 800 different breads, bet none were as good as Dave's.
The bus stopped near to the ‘Spaghetti statue’ to give us 10mins to have a quick explore. I dived into an exclusive boutique where a denim handbag was on offer at 198 Euro, reduced from 320 Euro, ‘danke aber nein danke’. From here we headed back east towards ‘Checkpoint Charlie’. Not before passing the Bauhaus Museum, the Neue Nationalgalerie, and the Philarmonie, where the Berlin Symphony and Philharmonic Orchestras play when they're at home.
We travelled through the area called Potsdamer, to where some of us would return on Sunday. The area was largely in no-mans land during the East-West divide. Recently it was the biggest building site in Europe. Now the area holds office and apartment blocks that tower towards the sky and are largely coated with glass. The centre piece of the area is the Sony Centre that holds Cinemas including an Imex screen, bars, restaurants and clubs. The Sony Centre is a large area covered with what appears to be a large tent, that at night changes colour from pink, to blue to purple. Then again that could just have been the red wine.
What a place to get 'Rathaus't'
large memorial just next to the checkpoint contains 1065 black crosses, each one
representing a victim of the East-West divide.
We weaved our way east and passed the last remains of the wall. The path of the wall is marked by 2 rows of cobbles that are inlaid and disect new roads.
We traveled down Gertraudenstrasse and over the river Spree with the
Nikolaivietal area on our left. Then headed North, past the Altes Museum
and Humboldt Univ, with its book market in the entrance area:
The bus headed west before dropping us at our start point, the Brandenberg gate. For 14 Euro it was good way of seeing the city, and not a bad way of saving the legs for tomorrow.
After disembarking we went back through the Bran gate and wandered down Unter Den Linden, before turning left along Friedrichstrasse. We were heading back home to Alex'z but wanted to take in Museum Island along the way. We called in for Coffees under the railway arches, which must have been old eastern block. The earth certainly moved in the loos when a double decker S-bahn train passed over head. Refreshed, we headed east and called in at Berlin Antik-Und Flohmarket, 60 small stores set under the railway, selling old pictures, pottery, furniture, clothing from the 1920's, art deco, jewellery, coins, medals and books. Mike tried on hats and gave us a few impersonations. At the Pergamon Museum the F-troop bumped into Dave Jane & Raymondo who had just finished their tour. We swapped days then decided we'd head home and get showered for the neet. We passed the Berliner Kunst-und Nostalgiemarkt, where the craftstalls were packing away their wares, turned left back on Unter den Linden, then towards the TV tower and the Park Inn Hotel.
We had arranged to meet at 19:00 in the bar next to the hotel, from here we headed out over Alexanderplatz, at the Rathaus we turned left onto Stralauer Strasse and headed towards Nikolaivietal. The area lies at the heart of old Berlin with its narrow cobbled streets, we took a path on the right and came to St Nicholas Church the oldest parish church in Berlin (13th Century). We continued south a short distance until we again met the river Spree and walked past the many restaurants positioned on the riverside. We chose 'La Riva' tempted by the pasta on offer. The decor was grand and the food just as good, the fish soup was superb, the water expensive, and service un-German, but hey this was Italian kein Deutsch.
We ambled back along the river, back through the cobbled streets to the Rathaus and back to Alex'z. There was a film being made in the Platz with the punks and hippies gathered round an open brazier, well cupped they were too. Time for some rest and the challenge ahead, gute nacht und nachspeise phantasiert.
Click here for Chapter 2: Click Here Race Day