Sunday, 9 November 2014

Berlin: Arrival

You gotta love Pret. The guy in front of me didn’t stay around for his change. The guy behind the counter gives it to me to drop in the Pret Foundation box. My flight is bumpy and the crayfish and rocket salad not enough to distract me, but we land safely and I’m greeted by a text from Simon telling me that the balloons that traced the Berlin Wall’s route through the city for the 25th anniversary celebrations have already been released. Having not had the time to visit the poppies at the Tower of London I had hoped to overfly them on the ascent, but was unlucky. Having found out after I booked my non-flexible flight that I would arrive on the 25th anniversary of the downfall of the Berlin Wall I was due to arrive just as the celebrations finished. The illuminated balloons seemed to me a perfect symbol and I am sorry to have missed them.

I had planned to take the bus to the city but opt instead for a taxi to save time. It was only after we set off that I noticed the driver smells strongly of alcohol, but his driving is no more hair-raising than other German taxi drivers. The approach to the city involves extensive underground tunnels some of which have been closed, presumably to divert traffic away from the celebrations. This causes some huffing on the part of the driver but he finds a route to the hotel and I arrive around 10pm. Stopping only to drop off my bags and change into trainers, I set off for the Brandenburg Gate.

It’s quickly apparent that the celebrations are over, not least because of the number of people coming towards me carrying the stands on which the balloons had been mounted – some wheeling them on bicycles or pushchairs, others carrying them. As I travel north from Potsdamer Platz the crowds swell and it becomes difficult to make progress against them. I am struck by how quiet they are – given the amount of empty bottles and cans and plastic cups on the ground I imagine significant amounts of alcohol have been consumed.

Reaching the side of the Brandenburg Gate I weave my way through the trucks waiting for the last people to leave so that they can enter the area and begin to take away the event equipment. I work my way round to the front of the gate for my first proper view of this iconic building. There’s a fairly large area cordoned off in front with sound and lighting rigs inside, so it’s hardly up close and personal, but I still feel the sense of a place where history was made.

Returning to the back of the gate (based on the orientation of the chariot on the top), it feels like the end of a festival. Stragglers are lurking but mostly the people have left and the ground is strewn with their detritus. The road stretching back into Tiergarten park is lined with food and drink stalls and the road between them is liberally scattered with plastic cups. Somebody has a lot of clearing up to do. I find a mobile merchandise stall and buy some 25th anniversary souvenirs in case I can’t find them later (as it happens, I don’t), then head back to the hotel. As I leave the venue, the truck sent to pick up the balloon stands is racing to get to them before the revellers do. I hope the revellers win – I imagine they will be valued memorabilia, and I can’t imagine them having any other use.

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