I decided to take the bus from Riga to Berlin for two reasons – 1) it was only €50, and 2) I could take more stuff that way. (It’s by the by that I can’t actually move my suitcase by myself.) As it left at 6pm, and arrived at 1pm the next day, the theory was that I’d watch trees for a while, sleep through the night and wake up just in time for lunch in Berlin.
The bus was really comfy and roomy, and I lucked out with two seats to myself for the whole trip. However, I still couldn’t really sleep, and instead watched the faulty entertainment system as it flashed the Ecolines logo at me in various trippy ways for 20 hours. And if anyone ever doubted how big Poland is, I suggest driving across it. Latvia went by in the blink of an eye, we zipped through Lithuania, then Poland hit. And more Poland, and even more Poland. In fact, around 45 minutes outside Berlin, I think we were still in bloody Poland.
I rolled into Berlin, bleary-eyed and smelling of bus, and hopped into a taxi. The driver turned out to be THE chattiest man on the planet, and I got a full history of Berlin, his family, and anything else he could think of. It was great, and I sort of wanted to make him my new best friend – this would become a running theme with pleasant waitresses, smiling passers-by and friendly shop assistants. I guess four years in Latvia have taken their toll.
Once checked into my room for the night, the rest of the day passed in a blur of:
(As it was only €1.70 and the bar woman was a really nice mammy-type, I stayed for three.)
I woke up feeling full of the joys and set off in search of food, smiling at babies and old people, and doing the odd Fred Astaire jump-click of my heels as I went. What Riga lacks in kebab shops, Berlin more than makes up for, but I wanted somewhere a bit more relaxing so I kept going until I came to a nice little Italian place. I sat, munching away, reading my book and supping on very nice Chardonnay. Just as I was finishing up, a man came over and started chatting to me. (Don’t ya just love Germans?)
It turned out he’s the owner of Berliner Unterwelten, and the leading expert on all things World War 2 in Berlin, has published what sounded like a lot of books on the topic, and been a consultant on a couple of movies. So when he said. “Do you want to go on a tour of a WW2 bunker?”, Good Linda was like “Seriously? What would Mammy O’Grady say to you taking off underground with a total stranger?” Real Linda said, “That sounds cool!” And off we went.
Through a secret door in what looks like an ordinary u-bahn station, we descended into the bunker, which was absolutely vast and went four floors down. I just got a whistle-stop tour, but it was fascinating and I’ll probably do the ‘real’ tour at some point.
My new best friend Dietmar: Do you want to go to a bar that’s got 700 different types of whiskey?
Good Linda: You need to go home. You have to move in the morning.
Real Linda: 700? We’d better get started right away!
We made our way to the Offside Bar, which did indeed live up to its reputation.
We ordered a couple of glasses of wine, and tasted the ‘Whiskey of the Month’ – twice, just to be sure. We chatted away about anything and everything, the lovely bar staff joining in from time to time. When DiDi (as the Yanks call him) suggested heading back to his for a nightcap, Good Linda didn’t get a look in. And so we finished off my first night in Berlin doing shots of vodka in his kitchen. (I don’t think this is standard practice for either German or Irish people, but he’d been married to a Russian and I’d been married to Latvia, so we did ourselves proud.)
This morning, I woke up 5 minutes after check-out time, whirled around my room throwing stuff into my suitcase and managed to make it to reception only around 25 minutes after check-out time. Nobody seemed to notice so I ditched my suitcase and went for breakfast.
Afterwards, instead of calling me a taxi, the manager offered to drive me to my new apartment himself (for €5). Admiring his industry, we set off. I thought that I had rented a room in an apartment for the next two weeks. As it turns out, I have the entire apartment to myself – and it is huge!
The owner popped in this evening. It seems there is a right way and a wrong way to hang dish towels. Germans are funny…
And finally, you know you’re in Germany when you see: