Day 10 – Thu 15 Apr 2010 – From Munich to Berlin

Went out for a walk and a run early in the morning as usual. Further south of the hotel is quite a nice area with what appears to be a hospital / health precinct. Had breakfast and left the hotel.

The train is a bit of a wait till 0920. Deutsche Bahn are uncharacteristically muddled this morning. Services have been disrupted and my train is now departing from a different platform. I missed the announcement but one of their staff spotted me waiting and came to tell me individually. The seat bookings for the next leg haven’t been loaded into the train’s system yet, so I take a seat tentatively until the indicators show which are free. Headed out of Munich on separate high-speed tracks but going fairly slowly, only 199 km/h.

An ICE en-route from Munich to Berlin (Photo: S terfloth)

The train originated in Innsbruck. The next stop is Rohrbach which means we will go through Dachau, but I may miss it due to the noise barriers bordering the track. Just got to end of the S-Bahn lines at Peterhausen, which means we’ve passed it. The DB attendant on this train is something of a Brunhilde. Looks like she used to represent East Germany as a weight lifter, but very pleasant and helpful. Still, I’m not about to give her any cheek.

En-route (I think we’re still in Bavaria)

Onward to the north and past Nurnberg (Nuremburg) the countryside gets more hilly and forested. I notice a lot of towns have few true suburbs. It’s more like an urban area that changes abruptly into countryside.  Past Steinbach the train goes through deep forest. I think we’re getting close to the old East German border now. Sure enough deep in the forest on the road running beside us is a simple sign saying this was once the border between East and West.

Moving into the old East Germany

Even now the next station still looks scruffy and a bit like a German railway stations look in World War II movies. Pulling in through Leipzig the city still has a lot of rundown areas. We come to a stop at the station set in a vast marshalling yard. Actually I’m in the very last carriage so we’re actually just poking out of the end of the Hauptbahnhof platform.

The vast rail yards just outside Leipzig station

A second driver climbs on board to operate the (double-ended) train in the reverse direction. He goes through checks and seems to be communicating with the existing driver at the other end. After a couple of maneuvers, presumably to make sure he has full control, the train moves off in the opposite direction than before. It’s cool having a ‘driver’s eye view’ through the glass backed driver’s cab. We do quite a fast run through much better developed areas. The driver can make the glass wall go opaque if desired and does so for a short period. The countryside is fairly flat; mostly open country with copses of forest.

Leaving Leipzig – Front view through the ICE driver’s cab

All of a sudden there’s a big thump. We just had a bird strike on the front windscreen. There’s a big red feathery splash which the driver quickly removes with the washers and wipers. The second driver has now come up to the front. They get a radio call and start slowing down, even though the signals ahead are all still green. After about six signals we get a yellow and red, then three yellow dots in the triangle pattern below, and the driver slows down even more.

Just then another (regional) train absolutely rockets past us on the opposite track (but going the same way as us). Apparently it is out of sequence with us and the maneuver is to get it back on time. As we subsequently come around a curve we can see the other train, now well ahead, has changed back onto the same track as us and our signals turn green again. Then another radio message and our train quickly accelerates back to cruising speed. I’ve never seen Australian trains do something like that.

The huge (above surface half of) Berlin Hauptbahnhof (Photo: User:Angr)

About 1510 and the Berlin suburbs start to appear. We get signals indicating our route ahead and enter tunnels under the city. Out front you can see a maze of tracks ahead in the darkness, punctuated by numerous signal lights, and a set of platforms at Berlin Hauptbahnhof looms into view.

Well, German railway stations have been impressive so far, but the Berlin Hauptbahnhof is in a class all on its own. There are eight platforms deep underground for international, intercity and inter-regional trains. You ride an escalator up to the next level and it’s a full-on shopping mall with multiple level of shops, mostly food outlets and travel related, but there are dozens and dozens of them. Above those layers are another eight platforms for S-Bahn and other services running at right angles to the platforms deep below. The whole thing is contained under one roof. As usual the station toilets are coin entry and utterly spotless. There are also showers and a little kiosk for buying soap, toothpaste, aftershave etc. in the same centre.

Berlin Hauptbanhof – the ‘cross-platforms’ above one of the concourse levels (Note the dog – people are allowed take an animal with them on the train)

Caught an S-Bahn to Charlottenburg, then a U-Bahn for a short hop to check out possible hotels mentioned in Lonely Planet. Settled on the Art Nouveau, which is on the fourth floor of the typical residential buildings in the area. It’s reached by one of those old-fashioned lifts that runs up the inside of a spiral staircase. The couple who run it are delightful in an arty and Bohemian sort of way They have a breakfast room that also has tea and coffee available at any time, plus an honour system for alcohol, fruit juice and snacks. The room itself is huge with high ceilings and a rather odd looking TV remote control.

My room in Berlin after a doona ruffling nap

Went back to the Hauptbahnhof later and booked a sleeper berth for the coming Saturday evening service to Stockholm. Walked down to the Reichstag and to the Brandenburger Tor. Nearby a French passerby asked me (in English)  if I could take some photos of him in front of the latter, then waxed lyrical about how I was first person to ever get exactly the sort of photo he was after. Apparently most people do either a distant shot of the site, or a close-up of the person. What he wanted was a mid-shot of him in that place (seems obvious to me).

Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg gate) – the very axis of European history

Berlin has quite a different ‘feel’ from Munich. It doesn’t have the megadose of beautiful people. They’re all more in the ‘normal range’; sort of ‘Parramatta’ rather than ‘Elizabeth Bay’. The city is also unconventional, even without the wall; which must have made it very strange indeed. It has a huge park on one side with a massive boulevard running up to the Brandenburger Tor near the diplomatic and government precinct. The commercial and business centre seems to have has drifted more east with reunification.

The Reichstag building with its famous glass dome

While the people are more ‘average’, there are still very few feral-folk and people are still always ultra-courteous. The area I’m staying in is an interesting mix. Fairly ordinary in some ways, but very full of boutique shops, studios and eateries. Has an upmarket and arty feeling, but without being snooty. Sort of a Double Bay but with Epping people in a happy mood. The city I’ve seen so far has a strong sense of history. It’s been so much at the very centre of the key events of the past century that it’s become imprinted onto its soul.

Again Berlin feels like a very safe place. People are remarkably well-behaved. I mean you see people give up seats on trains and wait for people do get off trains before they get on. They’re not frantic to get anywhere, yet the place is pacey. There’s also a lot of variety in the people. No one seems to care much if someone is a dressed well or casually or whatever. You see businessmen in suits chatting to each other as they ride their bicycles home from the office. And you don’t have the ‘mind the gap’ and disabled people don’t need help on and off the train, because the ‘gap’ is never more than a few centimetres and the trains are nearly always exactly level with the platforms.

No, it’s actually the TV remote control in my room

Meanwhile a volcano has erupted in Iceland and volcanic ash is affecting airports in the UK, Northern Europe and Scandinavia. My trip to Stockholm could get interesting. Apparently Hamburg hotels and trains are already fully booked out.

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