Baltic 2003: 'Omnibuss, Omnibuss'

Part 4 of 4

Day 16 (> Berlin)

I was in a pretty bad mood by 9 when we arrived at Berlin ZOB (Zentraler Omnibus Bahnhof). But it was sunny, and there was an efficient urban public transport system, so I soon cheered up.

The Two Towers

Mad James was going to take the bus on to London in the evening, so we 'did' a couple of the big sites in his allotted hours. First, to the Brandenburg gate, as featured on all our Euro coins.

Ich bin ein Berliner

In front of the gate was a big football presumably advertising the 2006 World Cup. To the left was a highly entertaining exhibit called 'United Buddy Bears'. Over 100 large ceramic bears stood in a giant circle each one decorated to represent a different country. Highlights included the USA Statue of Liberty bear, the Cuban cigar bear and the bullet-holed Serbia-Montenegro bear.

UK and USA

Any guesses?




Du bist ein Bear-liner

Next, we visited the 'Haus am Checkpoint Charlie'. I may not have mentioned that James is possibly the world's slowest museum visitor. This therefore took up most of the time until his coach departure. Outside, the checkpoint had been reconstructed.

After seeing James onto his coach, I was pretty tired, so my evening's entertainment revolved around eating an extremely expensive ice-cream sundae extremely slowly while reading the Guardian extremely thoroughly at a café in Breetscheidplatz. This square has a brand new fountain in the middle nicknamed by locals the "Wasserklops" or "Water Meatball".

Mmmmm... icecream...

I don't know which way up this picture was,
but it still looks pretty fine

Stained glass in Breetscheidplatz

While I was supposedly in a dorm of six in my hostel (clean, central, expensive) I actually had the room completely to myself, so I unpacked my stuff across the floor and settled down for a much needed sleep.

Day 17 (Berlin)

Berlin is a BIG city. I discovered this today when trying to get the S-bahn across town. One stretch, between the Zoological Gardens and Charlottenburg, is currently out of action and replaced by buses. "Oh, I'll walk" thought I. Two hours later I had made it to Charlottenburg. (OK, I stopped for a McFlurry. And got lost several times. But it was still a long way...)

My first journey of the day was to the Reichstag. The colossal building was inscribed "DEM DEUTSCHEN VOLKE" and indeed most of the German population appeared to be queueing to go in.


I joined the queue, where I was bumped into by some Downingites a long way from home.

Fancy meeting you here

We finally got in and took the lift up to the roof terrace, crowned by a new glass dome designed by Norman Foster. This was one of his better efforts. Interlocking spiral walkways took you to the top of the dome, from where the views were predictably spectacular.

The Millennium Dome

The purpose of my two hour trek to Charlottenburg was, of course, to visit the Olympic Stadium. This was the 1936 stadium, where Jesse Owens had performed superhuman feats in front of the Nazis. But, as in Barcelona, my attempt to run the 400m would be frustrated. The whole stadium was covered in scaffolding pending the 2006 football World Cup. Still, my list of stadiums I've visited is steadily growing.

The Olympic Stadium!

Damn, under construction

Stadium count

The day having rushed past, I headed to Potsdamerplatz - a square that was once split right down the middle by the Wall. The sole remaining wall segment was towered over by the imposing glass and steel skyscraper of Die Bahn.


From Potsdamerplatz to Alexanderplatz. A busker was playing a jazzy version of "Hey Jude". It suddenly struck me why I liked Berlin - it was a real city, not just a tourist destination. There were buskers, not street performers. Not a human statue in sight.

Looming high in the night sky over 'Alex', the bulbous UFO-like pod of the TV tower drew me in. The lift shot up 207m for another stunning panorama of the city, the bright lights forming a starfield over the landscape.

The TV tower

Observation platform

Berlin by night

Day 18 (Berlin)



"You want to check out?!"

No, I want to lie here and hope you go away.


They weren't really in favour of lie-ins at the hostel, even on Saturdays. I dragged myself up, having missed breakfast.

It was, like yesterday, a hot, humid day. The perfect day to visit probably the hottest, most humid location in Berlin - the tropical greenhouses at the Botanical gardens. The giant plants and cacti were relishing in the heat. It was a relief to emerge back into the 'cool' 28ºC outside.



Where's Ulysses?
Sorry, that's a cactus

Food and drink in Berlin is pretty expensive, but there are cheap alternatives - giant döner kebabs abound. The döner got its current form in Berlin, and the big Turkish population ensures it rivals the mighty wurst for popularity.

I had my döner for brunch near the Schloß Charlottenburg, which had huge formal gardens - though no cacti.

Der Schloß (I love those ßs)

Triangular numbers

Then after my tropical excursion I got the U-bahn into town - and straight into a demonstration. I couldn't quite figure out what the demonstrators, mainly students, were shouting about - this was the only English poster I could find.

Another Brick in the Wall?

One of the enjoyable things about Berlin was that you did come across 'things happening' - an impromptu street rock concert, a big group of armoured cars, the Buddy Bear exhibition, an Asian food festival...

The various sightseeing buses charge about €20 for a round-trip of the city so I took the cheat's way out and got on a number 200 bus which also winds its way around the centre, past the main sights on Unter Den Linden - the Brandenburg Gate, the State Opera and Library and the colossal Berlin Dom cathedral.

Day 19 (Berlin >)

It wasn't the greatest start to my final day in Berlin - I somehow managed to miss the announcement "der Zug endet hier" and the otherwise empty train drove into a dark tunnel and stopped. Luckily the driver spotted me whilst walking to the other end of the train and said we would drive out again in 10 minutes.

I was trying to get to the Berlin TechnikMuseum, Germany's version of the Science Museum. Being a Sunday in September, it was one of my few chances to see the Municipal Transport Depot (gasp!), I was informed. More interesting was the L'Oreal sponsored exhibition on hair which I visited instead, because I'm worth it.

The highlight of the museum was the giant hands-on section Technik. All the captions and instructions were in German, but my A-level Physics and lots of random button-pressing, cog-turning and rope-pulling made everything clear.

Before leaving Berlin I wanted to find some more Berlin Wall. The Germans were so excited about knocking it down, they virtually destroyed the whole thing. Apart from the fragment I had seen in Potsdamerplatz on Friday, the only surviving stretch makes up the 'East Side Gallery', which has been used as a canvas by hundreds of artists. It was restored in 2000, but since then, thousands of visitors have added their own thoughts and art.

Handprints on the Wall

Heads up to Berlin

It was time to go and catch my final omnibus, all the way back to London. The World Service were reporting that Latvia had voted to join the EU. On 1 January 2004 they, together with Lithuania and Estonia will take one giant leap towards being an integral part of "the West". A new chapter in their histories will open. But how will it affect them? Will the Hotel Viktorija in Klaipėda ever get refurbished? Will the Latvians ever stop wearing moustaches? Will the Estonian rail companies ever stop locking up hapless backpackers?

Only time will tell.

Matthew Mayer, 2003

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