Day 3: Saturday 15th August
By morning, another sunny one, the battery is back up to strength. Nevertheless, I try to get at it (under the passenger seat) but find the Allen bolts securing the seat have been worn round, probably by the solar panel fitter at A. B. Butts three years before! I’d like to change the battery just in case but as I can’t shift the bolts we resolve just to be careful about using leccy when the engine isn’t running and when the sun is down. (We have no more trouble from it for the duration, phew!)
We set off at 09.10 and get to Berlin about an hour later, and seek out the campsite indicated by one of our site books. The satnav takes us on a tortuous suburban route and then down a narrow windy lane and sure enough we find a campsite but it has none of the trappings of a commercial touring site. The caravans inside all look very well established and there is no reception in sight. People entering and leaving the site show no interest in us. As we’re blocking the road we drive for another kilometre and find derelict campsite buildings and an open park area – the real (former) campsite. Although it’s tempting to just pull in there we’re not too sure about the security aspects and so instead drive back towards the built-up area to look for a parking spot near to a U-Bahn station. We find one about 20 minutes later and park up – asking a couple of locals if we’ll be alright there for the day. This confirmed we get ready for a whistle-stop tour of Berlin. The U-Bahn station is nearby (it turns out to be Wannsee, the location of the Nazi ‘final solution’ conference in 1942) and it isn’t long before we emerge in the centre of things at the famous Friedrichstrasse station close to the line of the old wall. From here we are soon on Unter den Linden amidst throngs of people there to see a walking race based around the Brandenburg Gate.
A stop in a bookshop is interesting as there are a number of books in English as well as a little gem in several languages that tells the story of the famous photo of Soviet Red Army soldiers erecting the hammer and sickle over the Reichstag in 1945. It was not all it seemed as there are several versions of the photo in circulation and a murky story of image-doctoring and re-enactments – much like the story of the US flag-raising on Okinawa.
It’s a wonderful summer atmosphere with crowds, street vendors and odd people all out to have a good time. The mood of the area is cosmopolitan – more French than German, relaxed and welcoming. It’s a great time to see Unter den Linden, though when we near the Brandenburg Gate we realise the race barriers prevent free access.
Nevertheless we take some photos and then join the queues at an outside café selling Berliner sausages and the like. Two of these bought, with chips, and a couple of demis from the adjacent bar and we enjoy a hearty lunch on the picnic tables round the back. Brilliant start to the holiday proper.
After lunch it’s a five-minute walk to the Reichstag for more photos (we decide against queuing to see Norman Foster’s glass dome from the inside) and then we potter off to the Pergamon Museum. The Collection of Classical Antiquities is not to be missed. The Pergamon Altar is a wonder, amazing both in size and artistry. Further on are exceptional examples of statues and other artefacts, including a beautiful, ornate sarcophagus, evidence of the opulence of the classical era. Then the vast Gate of Miletus (2nd century AD, Roman); and finally into the Museum of Near Eastern Antiquities and the stunning cobalt blue and ochre of the Ishtar Gate, a huge entrance with processional way (Babylon, reign of Nebuchadnezzar II, 604-562 BC).
From the museum we drift down a nearby street market full of tourist tat and GDR memorabilia. We buy nothing. By this time we have decided there is not much more to see in Berlin and as we didn’t find a suitable place to stay over anyway decide we will leave Berlin that evening and find a rest stop on the road. So we did Berlin to our satisfaction in one afternoon! (Yes, we know there must be more to it – mustn’t there?)
We overrule Sally Satnav and take a northerly route away from Berlin on the A10, finding another services rest area for the overnight stop. It has to be repeated: what a superb idea these rest areas are on French and German motorways – compared to pathetic UK service areas that are few and far between, intensively used and run by monopolies for profit, even charging for noisy overnight stops. Why oh why did Labour surrender to the Thatcherite nonsense that the profit making private sector must be the provider of public services? We need public goods provided through taxation – starting with decent motorway rest areas without petrol stations or McDonalds!
As usual we end the day with Scrabble, some wine and nibbles and a few CDs. Tonight’s lullabies are sung by Norah Jones.