Tuesday, August 16, 2022
This was our last day in Charlottenburg. For our second week we were going to somewhere slightly more outside the city with a swimming pool. I had had some communication with our Airbnb hostess already and I did not like the cut of her jib (she messaged that on arrival we would need to pay the Berlin guest tax and an extra daily fee to use the pool – these were covered in the small print of the Airbnb ad as I discovered on examination but if you ask me, the red hand rule should apply). Over yet another lovely breakfast in Savigny Platz, I mourned Charlottenburg, our charming apartment and our laid back musician host.
Our new hostess informed us that check-in was at 4. She did not seem inclined to be flexible. We were due to check out from Jan’s place at 12. What would we do in the heat of the day with all our luggage? When Jan came to the flat accompanied by a huge bunny (somehow typical), he very kindly said, “Stay as long as you need to, I have to run to a class, can you keep the rabbit?” With that he threw a bunch of rabbit food pellets on the drawing room floor, dropped the bunny beside them and zoomed out the door.
Delighted with ourselves we left the bunny with his lunch and went out for ours to an Asian place around the corner.
After lunch we left Jan’s place and after some difficulty with the Berlin taxi app (it won’t let you register with a foreign number) got a taxi from across the road where the taxi driver was returning from his lunch.
Our new hostess – let us call her Margaret – was there to greet us when we arrived in her place deep in former East Berlin. I think, probably, her heart was in the right place, she was training in a Ukrainian teenager to work for her, but she put the heart cross ways on me. Unlike Jan’s house, hers was absolutely immaculate. The instructions on what we could and could not do and how all the appliances worked took forever. She lived downstairs and honestly, I was terrified to put a foot out of line for the duration of our stay. Had I had young children, I think I might have died of nervousness as the house was full of breakable china at child height. It felt…unfriendly. But I have to say she had the portable air conditioner as promised and the pool (daily fee dutifully paid) was super.
It was much more rural but that was part of the plan. Mr. Waffle and I went to the absolutely enormous local supermarket (the size of an IKEA, impossible to find anything due to too much stuff) and the boys attached Michael’s laptop to the TV and sat down (moving Margaret’s furniture, gasp) to play some game on the big screen.
Wednesday, August 17, 2022
We had a swim in the morning and then Mr. Waffle and I decided to trek into town leaving the boys behind and imploring them to take great care not to upset our hostess. There was one bus stop nearby but the bus came every ten minutes (how often during our stay did I stand across the busy four lane road watching the bus arrive and depart without me? Very often) and it only took 15 minutes to get to the centre. It was kind of amazing because it really felt that we were staying out in the sticks particularly after the previous week when we had been right in the centre.
When we got into town, the Neues Museum had sold out for the day (do you detect a theme in our museum visits?). We went to the cathedral instead and climbed the 267 steps to get a view. Toasty and tiring but worthwhile.
The cathedral itself is largely reconstructed. In a gesture which tells you a lot about the East German regime the only part of the cathedral undamaged during the war was the Hohenzollern chapel but when the rest of the (damaged) cathedral was being restored in 1975, the regime blew up that bit for ideological reasons. Apparently it was amazing and had survived the war entirely intact. Oh well.
Confusingly, a range of Hohenzollern tombs are still available to view inside.
There was a large statue of Martin Luther at our bus stop in town.
He’d been around.
On the bus home there was a couple with a small baby who howled. I felt really sorry for them. The mother waved a muslin square over the pram but the baby continued to howl lustily. The mother was beautifully dressed and looked very fashionable and in control but from beneath her trendy sunglasses, a tear escaped and her husband patted her anxiously on the arm. When they got to their stop, they leapt off and the mother immediately took the baby in her arms. It reminded me so vividly of when herself was a small baby and it took me an hour and a half to drive the 20 minute journey to a friend’s house. Every time she cried, I stopped the car and sat in beside her and took her out of her car seat and sometimes cried myself. Ultimately, this is not recommended but having a small baby has its challenges.
We had a swim with the boys when we got home; getting full value for our daily pool charge.
We had dinner in an Australian bar in the Sony centre in town (judge away, I would). I had Currywurst again but I couldn’t recapture that first fine careless rapture. It was a handy spot because we were going to the cinema nearby afterwards.
As I was leaving the Gemäldegalerie on my recent trip, people had been putting out deckchairs on a small part of the vast desolate tree free plain that surrounds it. Upon inquiry it turned out that they were laying them out for an open air cinema screening. Notwithstanding my trauma, I was intrigued so I booked us four tickets to see “The Godfather – Part 1” which, as it happened, neither Mr. Waffle nor I had ever seen.
This was the night of the screening or return to the scene of the crime. There was an Arte short first on “The Thinker” by Rodin which, as Mr. Waffle said – sorry about this but it’s true – explains why no one ever watches Arte. Nevertheless, the setting was superb – by night, by day it obviously remains a boiling desolate plain – the temperature, just right and the seats more comfortable than you might expect. We all enjoyed “The Godfather”. Talk about the film that spawned a thousand tropes.
As all had gone so well it was almost inevitable that something would go wrong on the trip home. And so it was. We had some difficulty getting the bus, so much difficulty in fact that we ended up having to get a taxi home. There were recriminations and a disagreement about which bus stop we should have stood at – sharpened by the sight of the last bus sailing past on the other side of the road – the curse of the Gemäldegalerie. Still, all in all, a pretty good day.
Thursday, August 18, 2022
In the morning, we got further value from our swimming pool fee and spent ages tossing a ball around the pool.
I finished the pack of 1980s perfume miniatures which I had been trailing around Europe with me. We found them in the bottom of my mother’s wardrobe and in a waste not want not spirit of which she would heartily approve, I have been using them up. I’d forgotten about those very heavy musky scents which were popular in 80s. I felt like a spy about to seduce James Bond at the casino tables. I have to say, I was glad to see the back of them and have done my duty.
Bathed in the last of the Opium, I trotted out to the bus stop accompanied by the men folk. We went in to the Fernsehturm which is a rotating tower. Tickets were a bit pricey but I recommend. I paid extra to be seated by the window in the restaurant (I mean, if you’re going to go to a rotating restaurant, surely it’s worth spending the extra money to sit at the edge).
I said everyone could order what they wanted. Possibly a bit of a mistake. Maybe bread and water would have been better. However, as you might expect, great, rotating views over the city. Someone on tripadvisor complained that the views stayed the same as you rotated which we found mildly hilarious. Even with 90 minutes of rotating and no radical changes on each rotation, I thought there was plenty to see.For
For dinner we went to trendy Bergmanstrasse in Kreuzberg. It was trendy and there was a direct bus home. A win.
When we got home, I double checked with Mr. Waffle that he had put away Margaret’s outdoor cushions (he had been sitting on the large terrace overlooking the forest). That night there was a thunderstorm. I woke up and went to the window to see the lightening. What did I see on the terrace? Margaret’s sun umbrellas rolling around like marbles. One of them was perched precariously over the edge of the terrace hanging on by a spoke. Below it sat Margaret’s porsche. I ran out into the rain and rescued the umbrellas in the nick of time.
I told Mr. Waffle about our narrow escape in the morning and he was suitably contrite. At the time he was draping clothes over the spiral staircase down to the pool in the hopes that they would dry. This was in our apartment but I couldn’t feel that Margaret would approve. He did point out that we were both in our 50s and living in fear of this woman was ridiculous. But yet.
Friday August 19, 2022
The weather was a bit clammy but not too hot. We were within striking distance of trendy Prezlauerberg but public transport was not ideal so I decided to undertake what google maps assured me was a 15 minute scoot to get there. I got a bit lost and it took 40 mins instead of 15 – a taxi would possibly have been cheaper but never mind, it wouldn’t have given me the same sense of achievement.
Prezlauerberg is lovely. Lots of young families, trendy cafes and antique shops.
I saw some more Stolpersteine as I wandered around. Definitely a constantly sobering sight.
That afternoon we went into the Neues Museum. There was a special exhibition on Schliemann. Mr. Waffle was the person who introduced me to the concept of the Schliemann layer, and here was a chance to find out all about him. He was an absolute disaster. He basically dug up without a care in the world for archaeological niceties. No wonder he found all those layers.
Good museum, though a little tiring.
Entirely unrelated but Mr. Waffle and I were baffled by these large pipes we saw above head height all over the city. Apparently the water table is very high in Berlin and if you are doing any building work, the first thing you have to do is pump out the water from the site. Sub optimal.
In other water related news, later that evening there was a problem with the water and I sent Margaret a message via Airbnb. She responded immediately: “The technician is coming.” Some time later, she messaged that the technician had been and the issue was resolved. When she said that the technician was coming, I didn’t think she meant then at 10.30 on a Friday night but clearly even plumbers tremble before Margaret’s forceful personality.
Saturday, August 20, 2022
After my triumph of the previous day, I persuaded a slightly reluctant Mr. Waffle to scoot into Prezlauerberg with me. Due to my efforts of the previous day, we got there no trouble. I was delighted with myself. We had breakfast and wandered around the Saturday market.
In the afternoon we went to the outdoor Berlin Wall Memorial. I thought it was really well done and very interesting.
Mr. Waffle and Michael went back to the house but Dan and I stayed on for a bit. When it was time to leave, I realised I had made a terrible mistake. We got there by tram and bus relying on Mr. Waffle to navigate. For reasons unknown Google maps holds buses in utter disdain and did not include any bus routes and Mr. Waffle was not there with his bus app. We were on our own. We hopped on a tram anyway and got out at a junction that looked vaguely right. Spoiler alert, it was not right. We ended up tramping back in the rain for miles.
Daniel was terrific, patient, cheerful not at all grumpy.
I on the other hand became gloomier and whinier by the second.
Eventually we got to a familiar landmark – the Lidl near the house. We picked up dinner because it would have killed me to have to go out to the supermarket again that day.
Sunday, August 21, 2022
We went in to mass near Friedrichshain. I will tell you this, they can celebrate the 300th anniversary of the re-introduction of Catholicism to Brandenburg all they like, it’s still pretty difficult to find a Catholic church.
The priest was Brazilian and the congregation was small. He asked whether any of us were visitors from the altar. I was horrified, Catholicism is not a spontaneous audience inclusion kind of religion. Anyhow an American family took the hit and we looked at the floor. The priest included that line from the “Our father” – “for thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory”. Protestants include that as part of the prayer but Catholics do not. Had I got up at 8.30 to go to a Protestant service? Mr. Waffle pointed to the statue of the Virgin Mary which made that seem unlikely. In fact, reassuringly, the whole set-up screamed convent chapel and school and, on inspection so it proved. The school was called after Edith Stein who is one of Europe’s patron saints – who knew. Poor old Edith converted from Judaism to Catholicism and became a nun (I’m sure her family were horrified) and then, the Nazis carted her off and killed her anyhow. Depressing.
We then had a lovely breakfast in a Russian cafe beside the local synagogue. I would give Berlin the best overall breakfast experience in Europe award.
Afterwards we scooted the short distance home. Mr. Waffle had become so confident that he even stopped crouching on the scooter and was able to exchange some rudimentary conversation. We could legally have parked the scooters ourside Margaret’s house but I knew she wouldn’t like it so I hid them down the road.
We had a quiet afternoon: a swim; a walk in the forest near the house for me and Daniel and a scoot around the glorious allotments. I had learnt from our trip to the DDR museum that about the only individual indulgence that the regime tolerated was gardening. The regime wasn’t enthusiastic but ultimately decided that gardening might be a good place for the population to channel energies which might otherwise be used for protesting. Having so little for themselves, they seem to have poured their hearts and souls into these small allotments. They were amazing and the pictures don’t at all do justice to the variety and delight in these postage stamp sized plots.
Monday, August 22, 2022
We got a taxi to the airport. Dan and our Kurdish taxi driver discovered a shared enthusiasm for Fenerbahçe FC. In discussing the fortunes of the club, Dan displayed a fluency and ability in German which was both reassuring (as he is studying it for his final school exam) and surprising (as he hadn’t spoken much German at all over the holiday, perhaps the occasion hadn’t really arisen). The taxi driver was from a place called Mardin. He was full of enthusiasm. “Is it very warm?” I wondered fresh from my fortnight of baking in Berlin. “Well, yes,” he said proudly, “it can get as hot as 50 degrees but it’s a dry heat.” Nevertheless, I think Mardin in summer time is not for me. It was his children’s first day back at school. “Ours are going back on Thursday,” said Mr. Waffle. “What, Thursday, this Thursday?” said Dan in horror. Poor Dan.
The airport experience was fine actually although we did spend some time queuing at the wrong check-in desk (maybe herself is right that we are holding her back with our poor airport performance). And then we were home and our luggage was home too.
If you are still reading, I salute you. More domestic news in due course.