This time last Friday I was having a beer breakfast in Berlin awaiting a taxi to take me two hours south to the iconic MLOVE conference near Leipzig… I had just arrived from Warsaw where I’d seen Italy beat Germany 2-1 at the Euros.
Suffice to say the taxi finally arrived and we drove along the spine of Germany to arrive at a castle for the final afternoon of the conference. As the car wended along what used to be the West/East German border my mind drifted back to my previous visit to Berlin almost 30 years ago.
In 1984 I was hitch-hiking my way down to Greece from a girlfriend’s place in Sweden and wanted to see the Berlin Wall. I presumed that Berlin was on the West Germany border and it was only when I arrived at the border that I realised that West Berlin was in the middle of East Germany. Ah, days of unlistened history lessons and pre-Google youth.
I was given an East German visa that was only valid for the road to West Berlin and would have been arrested if I had left it. I was dumped by my lift outside the main station at 3am and watched all sorts of nightlife and lowlife roll by. Kids on BMX bikes, transvestites, people taking to themsleves, it was like living inside a Lou Reed song and the most amazing city I’d ever been to.
When the Metro opened I met a girl on the train who had been clubbing and who invited me to stay at a big squat in the scruffy Bohemia of Kreuzberg. I was there for a week, talking bad German and going to the wall every day. It was everywhere and anywhere, a little like being in London and catching glimpses of the London Eye from different angles.
I eventually went to a place called Unter drei Linden (Under three cherries I think that means) where everybody went to hitch out of West Berlin and blagged a lift to Koblenz and then the traveller’s story went off and away to the next stage.
Back in 2012 and the MLOVE conference at the castle where my presentation on mobile in the wild lands of Somaliland seemed to go down OK. Note to event organisers… it is alway good to have a big well at a conference so presenters can strip off and jump in it when they’re finished. So I did that, talked to some mighty minds for a couple of hours, picked up a couple of bottles of wine and got the taxi back to Berlin with two others.
One of the guys in the cab was a guy called Wolfram (what else could he be called) and I basically told him what I’ve just told you. He then saw it as his mission to take me back to the Wall and show me how things had changed. He also decided I would eat well and drink lots and lots of big steins of lager.
Bonkers, pieces of the Wall still existed in the same way Stonehenge does now, a much smaller entity than it was, but still powerful. What’s more Wolfram knew the East Berlin station for the night train to Warsaw and a flight back to London the following afternoon. Him and his missus dropped me off and I thought what a fine lot German people are; always have been.
Let’s just say I was refreshed when I got to the station with three minutes to spare only to find out the train was 20 minutes late. What? This is Germany. What? A late train? A late Teutonic train? How could this be possible?
Very bloody possible as it turned out. Every time the deadline came there would be a message saying that it was going to be another 20 minutes. Then the final blow, one minute before the promised departure time and after an hour at the bahnhof, a message saying it would be two HOURS late.
I had the right hump and went to the (surprisingly open) Information desk, was given six Euros of beer vouchers (handy!) for my inconvenience, told them that I expected perfect trains from the Germans, was thanked for my attitude towards Germans, and then told that it wasn’t actually the Germans’ fault, it was down to the Russians because the train was bound for Kiev and it had broken down… there would be no train to Warsaw.
Plan B, went to the kebab shop, spent my vouchers and then came up with a brainwave. I had hitch-hiked out of Berlin 28 years ago, why couldn’t I do it again? Genius. I got a taxi to a dodgy part of East Berlin and stuck out my thumb. It was 2am, but somebody would surely feel sorry for me and take me to Poland.
An hour later I was still there, my hangover started to kick in, some unsavoury characters were showing a little too much curiosity in my being and bag so I flagged down a taxi and found the nearest cheap hotel.
I didn’t get to Poland. In the morning I found a cheap BA flight to London and flew home, with a very small, but very important adventure embedded in a wistul middle-aged man’s body.
It was a f*cking glorious, glorious 48 hours.