Battleaxe goes overland to Berlin

Berlin - TV tower

Euro-jaunt: through France, Belgium, Netherlands and Germany to visit Tom in Hannover, then to Berlin....

     Got back to find that in our absence a seagull built a nest right outside our bedroom window and is already sitting on eggs.... we can't leave it there - as soon as we opened the window it started screeching furiously - we would get no sleep for the next few months....
     Anyway, last Sunday morning we drove down to the tunnel - not a great start. All of Sussex were queuing to get to the Icklesham car boot, and we were held up for about half an hour. Fortunately Philosopher has a relatively high anxiety level when it comes to getting to places on time, and we had left with plenty of time to spare....
     Uneventful under-sea journey. Not much romance about that tunnel.  However hard I try to work myself up by imagining the tons of water above me, I can't summon any excitement.
      Headed off north, past Bruges, Ghent, Antwerp, then, several hours in, started thinking about where to stop for the night.  I suggested Turnhout - looked an interesting town, so we went in search of a hotel - a total failure, even having asked a policeman. Drove round for ages and then gave up.
We ended up at the Holiday Inn at Eindhoven, a very affluent, high-tech, high-rise modern Euro city, where tall Dutch ladies pedal slowly past on the cycle tracks, traffic moves smoothly and silently, and the buses glide along their bus lanes. Hotel was just up the road from the PSV Eindhoven football stadium.
     Next day, we hit the German motorway network and threaded our way via a positive spiders web of intersections across the Ruhr industrial heartland, towards Hanover. Germans in shiny Audis and BMWs flashed past us at 120mph as I wrestled with the huge European road atlas.
     Tom used to work in Heidelberg, which is a longer and more awkward drive but a much more interesting city, with lovely country-side and many places to visit on the way.  This time, we passed huge chemical works and coal mines, and ex-British army placenames familiar from childhood radio programmes - Family Favourites?  Krefeld and Oberhausen, Osnabruck and Rheindalen. I visited Krefeld when I worked for the NAAFi back in the 70s. I can remember very little about it.
     German motorway service loos cost 70 euros (whoops I mean cents) and are totally automatic and astonishingly clean - the seat revolves to clean itself, the towels dispense themselves when you hold your hands towards them, sanitised hand spray squirts out at you...
     In Hannover, we stayed at the Mercure Mitte, an over-expensive business/conference hotel, but with a secure car park, and in easy reach of Tom's Physics Institute and the Hauptbanhof. The hotel was full of delegates for some International Wood Industry Convention.....
Big Bang whiteboard
     Mostly destroyed during WW2, Hanover is a pleasant if somewhat bland city, very flat, very green, partly restored, partly rebuilt. We found Tom at the Albert Einstein Institute, where he works in theiretical physics, currently on gravitational waves.  I can't begin to explain what he does, but I asked his father, and here is a link to a lay-persons explanation - Tom wrote this article himself.  In the room next to his I found a fabulous classic Big Bang Theory white board.......
Hannover

Hannover

Hannover - Rathaus

     Two days later we took the train to Berlin. We should have travelled in plushy Euro-comfort at the speed of light but someone threw themselves in front of the train, and we ended up nearly two hours late, sitting on the floor in the corridor.
Our accommodation in Berlin, the Adinia Apartments Hauptbahnhof was fantastic - would totally recommend.
     What did I think of Berlin? Fascinating, and we only saw a fraction of it, and need to go again, but not quite what I expected. Much of the city is still a building site, and it felt to us that the new buildings, all international modern, do not give a sense of the city's character - you could be walking round Birmingham. I am not generally in favour of pastiche recreation of destroyed buildings, but a bit more of it would have helped. It felt like the Germans are in such a frenzy to create a magnificant, modern capital out of Berlin they are obliterating the past. Take Unter den Linden - one of the most famous streets in the world. At least half of it was a huge construction site for a new phase of the underground railway, and much was soulless modern buildings with tacky shops and chain eateries underneath.  The lindens had been replanted, but where were the pavement cafes? The fairy lights in the trees? At least the Hotel Adlon had been rebuilt - we called in for coffee. Apparently, nothing remains of the original apart from the fountain in the lobby....
Hotel Adlon
     We were astonished by the massive crowds round Checkpoint Charlie and anything to do with the Wall - again, as I have mentioned above, there is very little left now, and I sense the Berlin planners have underestimated the interest it creates - particularly among young Germans.

Trabi Safari
     Apparently 'Ostalgie' is very big in Germany, and we saw several 'Trabi Safaris' wending their way round town. We also went to the DDR Museum, which was really interesting, but absolutely heaving. We were staying up in the former East Berlin - near the very DDR-style Charite Hospital.
Museums-wise, we only visited the New National Gallery (modern art), which was peacefully empty, and the Pergamon Museum - heaving. I had wanted to see the Babylon Gate (see picture below).
     Lots of street art and hip things about.....
     Found some nice little restaurants, but oddly, we found it hard to find a decent cup of coffee.  The Belgians, Dutch and Germans all seem keen on horrible sterilised/condensed creamy stuff in their coffee rather than proper milk.
     What's with the currywurst? We called in at the Currywurst Museum in Berlin, but I lasted until our final hours in Germany to actually try one - urgh, it was terrible..........
      As always when I go to Europe, it concerns me that Britain might seriously be considering pulling out of the EU - I hope it will never happen.  What do we want to be in this country?  A decaying backwater? 

DDR building

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