travel back in time

Tuesday 28th December, Berlin, Germany
*scroll down for the latest journal entry. It's at the bottom, mate*

Who said it wouldn't be fun? That it was just silly, and they didn't want to ride?

You'll be relieved to know that we didn't have bacon and eggs for breakfast this morning. We returned to the same little restaurant, and waited for my mate Sebastian to turn up. Sebastian was driving across from Hannover, three hours away, with his friend Susannah. They arrived just after ten o'clock and after a lot of handshaking, hugs and introductions, I asked Sebastian if he would help me to order some of the sausage and vegetable that all the local Germans were eating the day before. The lady behind the counter just shook her head. Sebastian asked her something, but she would not be moved. She was telling him, as it turned out, that we could not order that dish until eleven o'clock. Never mind about that it was hot and steaming in the food warmer on the counter. She was German and she had her rules. So we sat waiting till eleven o'clock when she gleefully served us generous rations of delicious sausage and vegetable soup.

As has become something of a habit for Maria and me, we more or less retraced the steps of our previous day's explorations, myself taking it a little more cautiously with regard to the coffee and Gluwine. We hit the ski slope again, Sebastian managing to convince the birthday girl to take a turn.

Having said that, we had a great time. In the evening, we went to meet up with the German girls- Ariane and Steffi, and their friend Antje- to celebrate Maria getting one year older. They had given us directions to a bar that they knew, in the suburbs, in a kind of Arabic neighbourhood. We found the street name, and Maria, Sebastian and Susannah were striding ahead of me, absorbed in excited conversation. Happy to allow myself to fall behind, I daydreamed aout one day opening my own backpackers hostel, gazing blankly into the illuminated shop windows as we passed. Without realizing it, I found myself ambling across a hillock in rural England, looking across the valley at a tiny village, mostly sleeping after a still, damp night. From each chimney a thin wisp of smoke rose sluggishly, a dark grey brushstroke too impotent to climb more than a few metres before giving up, almost as if finding an invisible ceiling. With nowehere to go, the smoke crept its way sideways, joining with smoke from the neighbours and their neighbours, and painting a distinct line across the pale whitish morning. From my vantage point as I descended towards the village, the pungent smell of smouldering coal filled my nostrils, sweet like treacle, not at all unpleasant. I wondered if this was a real memory, or something my mind had created- a compilation of photographs and scenes from movies. From somewhere I heard a familiar voice.
"Do you smell that?" Sebastian asked, and I snapped back to Berlin. "That's coal burning" he explained, "and whenever I smell it, it reminds me of the East, when my father would take me to East Berlin not long after the wall came down. Everything smelt like burning coal."

Well, the pictures speak for themselves, don't you think?

Happy birthady Maria. You'll find that being middle aged isn't so bad!

We roamed around a few different areas of the city during the day, but I've got to say that my opinion of Berlin didn't change. Fascinating history it may have, but charm and character it lacks in truckloads. Okay, I've only been here these two days but it doesn't take two days for Paris or Madrid to endear themselves to the visitor, nor London. Even smelly, noisy Athens has its redeeming qualities, a likeable but indescribable energy. Berlin- I guess as a result of being mostly flattened during WWII and then having half of the city sit stagnant for a few decades- doesn't seem to have developed any real unique 'personality'. Old seems to melt into new everywhere, interspersed with bleak communist era block buildings here and there. I never once said to Maria- nor she to me- "What a lovely suburb/street/park/square". You can feel free to disagree with me. But I will be right. Fortunately, Berlin doesn't share the ridiculously high prices that you find in London or Paris either. In fact, we were pleasantly surprised to find this city not much more expensive that Madrid. You had to search a little, but there are still simple, filling meals to be had for two or three Euros. A small beer can be anywhere from one to two Euros, and we mostly paid a Euro or less for a cup of coffee... a stark contrast to gorgeous Paris, where I remember (read: will never forget!) being slugged 5.50 Euros for a cappuccino. Yes it was a damn good cappuccino, but hell it wasn't worth 5.5 Euros, and then to add insult to injury, I had to fork out another 60 cents to use their bathroom- which was the main reason I entered the cafe in the first place.

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