Tag Archives: Tegel

Adventures in Alsace (1)

Manfredas: Do you want to go to Alsace for a few days? 

Me: What would we do there? 

Manfredas: Look at pretty places, eat good food and drink lots of wine. 

Me: In. 

Manfredas picked me up at my door in a dinky Car2Go and off we went.

Like driving a bumper car on a motorway.
Like driving a bumper car on a motorway.

We made it to Tegel airport in around 25 minutes, which meant that we had loads of time before our flight. The plan was to go through, sit down with a cuppa and a pastry and wait at the gate, which was clearly displayed on the board. Ah, the best-laid plans…

Manfredas had checked us in the day before and had the boarding passes on his phone. HAD. That morning, they were nowhere to be found. Having tried and failed repeatedly, we approached the attendant zealously guarding the Priority Boarding lane. She couldn’t help us and she wouldn’t let us through to ask the guy at that desk. NEIN, we’d have to queue up behind the 200 plebs with check-in luggage.

We joined the end of the queue, and I told Manfredas to call Air Berlin to see if they could help. The woman who answered the phone – eventually – didn’t know anything, couldn’t or wouldn’t help, and didn’t even ask for the details of the flight or our names.

Me: OK, plan B. I’ll stay in the queue with the bags, you wait until Zealhilde over there turns her back and then duck under the barrier to the Priority area. 

Normally, Germans aren’t rule-breakers but with 15 minutes to go until our gate closed, we really had no choice. Manfredas succeeded in his mission and I inched our bags towards the distant check-in desks. A few minutes later, he signalled me to leave the queue.

Me: What happened?

Manfredas: The flight’s been cancelled. 

And that was that. No announcement, no notification. Good job, Air Berlin. We joined another queue – this time with other confused and angry passengers. You know the ones – cancelled flights, overweight luggage charges, forgot to print out their boarding passes… We all bonded over our mutual hatred of Air Berlin and had a jolly old time. The woman behind the Desk for Hopeless Causes and Rip-off Merchantry managed to book us on a flight to Stuttgart an hour later.

Stuttgart - home of the Ladies' Standing Toilet.
Stuttgart – home of the Ladies’ Standing Toilet.

We picked up our rental car and were off. By now, we were obviously way behind schedule. Stuttgart is further from Alsace than our original choice of Karlsruhe-Baden Baden and we had lost an hour at the airport. Still, we were in high spirits when we finally pulled into our lunch destination – Strasbourg.

Pretty, pretty...
Pretty, pretty…

At this point, I was so hungry I could have eaten Manfredas, but we were in France, home of fine food, so I was hoping it wouldn’t come to that. I hadn’t banked on France’s bizarre opening hours and random rules. Yes, it seems that France likes to shut down its kitchens, right around the time normal people are ready for lunch. We tried three or four places but none were serving food at that time. They looked at us like we were a bit mad for even thinking 2pm could be a reasonable eating time.


Eventually, we found somewhere in the main square and I inhaled a slice of quiche and a glass of wine. We strolled around the city for an hour or so, taking in the sights and enjoying the laidback French chatter all around us. Our secondary aim was to find a breathalyzer; it’s compulsory to have one in the car when driving in France. Unfortunately, nowhere sold them, nobody knew where you could buy them and half the shops were closed anyway. Le sigh.

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We found the car and hit the autoroute again.

Traffic was much worse than we had anticipated so we were both a bit frazzled by the time we finally arrived in Ribeauvillé. Three laps of the crazy one-way systems trying to find our apartment didn’t help much either. Still, find it we did. Manfredas called the owner. No answer. He called the other number. No answer. He left messages at both numbers in pretty decent French. After a few minutes, she texted back.

Bonjour! La clé est derrière le volet et votre chambre est la première à droite. 

Me: What’s a “volet”?

Neither of us had a notion so we stalked the outside of the building clawing at anything that might reveal a space behind it. Turns out “volet” means “shutter” but we were both giggling uncontrollably by the time we figured that out.

Les volets
Les volets

We let ourselves into our little apartment. I badly needed to use the loo so I went in, closed the door and had a wonderful Sitzpinkel. Then I tried to get out again. NON. The door was on a little metal roller and that had twisted so that I couldn’t move the door. I bashed at it, kicked it, wrenched it – it wouldn’t budge. Manfredas, having come back in from trying to get a phone signal on the street, was greeted by a barrage of swearing and this sight:

Note: This is a reenactment. He didn't leave me trapped there while he took photos.
Note: This is a reenactment. He didn’t leave me trapped in there while he took photos.

He managed to free me and amid a fit of hysterics, we left to explore Ribeauvillé a little. To say that this place is pretty would be the understatement of the century; it’s nothing short of adorable. Narrow, winding streets, gloriously colourful houses, flowers in every windowsill, hearts on the wooden volets… it’s chocolate box charm all the way.

We found a restaurant – not hard to do – and sat down to dinner. I was just tucking in when a bird shat on my arm. Encore le sigh. Still, we figured that was probably all of our bad luck out of the way and proceeded to make the most of the night.

Wining, not whining
Wining, not whining


Stay tuned for part two! À bientôt! 

The mother of all visits

The day after Cecil flew out (hopefully fully clothed), Mammy O’Grady landed at Tegel Airport for her first visit to Berlin. Now, I’m sure most people’s mothers can visit and have a perfectly normal, totally drama-free trip, but well, this is me, so let’s begin, shall we?

She thinks she probably saw the gigantic TV Tower but can't be sure.
She thinks she probably saw the gigantic TV Tower but can’t be sure…

Mammy O’Grady’s flight was due to land just after my evening lesson ended which gave me enough time to make my way across the city to meet her at her hotel. My sister had stayed at the same place a few weeks earlier so I knew exactly where I was going. In fact, I was a bit early so I circled the block looking for likely places to eat. MO’G likes her food…

I walked into the hotel lobby just as some guests were leaving in a taxi. I was a bit surprised at the way the receptionist looked at me; OK, so I’d worked a 12-hour day, but I didn’t think I looked like a complete hobo. I turned away from him and started discreetly scrabbling in my bag for a hair brush, just in case.

Receptionist: Can I help you? 

Me: Um, no thanks. I’m just waiting for my mother. She’s staying here.

Receptionist: This is not possible. 

Me: (Harumph – you can call me a hobo but not Mammy O’Grady…) No, she is. She’s just not here yet. She’s at the airport. 

Receptionist: NEIN. The hotel is closed. 

At this point, I took a look around. The reception was much darker than I remembered – and empty. The roaring fire was no longer roaring and the lifts had been cordoned off. Hmm, maybe there was something to this hotel closure he spoke of…

Me: But, but, it can’t be closed. Mammy O’Grady is staying here. 

Receptionist: (taking pity on the confused hobo in front of him) What’s your mother’s name?

I gave it, he tapped at his computer for a few seconds and informed me that MO’G had been rebooked into another – even better – hotel just around the corner.

I managed to get MO’G on the phone, tell her the odd news and redirect the taxi to the new hotel. Thankfully, she was travelling with a friend or I think this would have sent her straight back to the airport.

Receptionist: I’m really sorry about all of this. I wish I could offer you a drink but the bar is closed too. 

Me: (Dammit) What happened here anyway? 

Receptionist: (with a (probably imagined) haunted look in his eye) There was an accident… The hotel has been closed while an investigation is being carried out.

Curiouser and curiouser. Anyway, I didn’t have time to ponder just then, so I marched around the corner and got to the door of the other hotel just as a confused MO’G and friend were pulling up in their taxi.

Fart with earth gas

Greetings, hugs and vague explanations and theories out of the way, we  made our way to reception. The super-cute receptionist flirted with my mother outrageously while checking them in, keeping up a machine gun-like flow of verbal patter like a German Don Juan on speed.

So this was what 4+ star service was like…

We walked away from reception, with MO’G glowing from her first exchange with a handsome, young German gentleman.

MO’G: If I were ten years younger…

LO’G: TEN?? Jesus. You’d still be old enough to be his mother. 

We stepped into the lift and in a scene vaguely reminiscent of Zoolander, MO’G hit 4. Then her friend hit 4. Then MO’G hit 4. Nothing happened.

(Image taken from asianefficiency.com)
(Image taken from asianefficiency.com)

Me: (with only moderate, daughterly eye-rolling) You need to use your card.

Much giggling later, we arrived at room 4034. MO’G swiped the card. Nothing happened. Her friend swiped the card. Nothing happened. MO’G swiped the card. Nothing happened. Her friend swiped the card. Nothing happened.

Me: Oh, for God’s sake. Let me try it. 

Nothing happened.

Me: Are you sure that’s a 4? Maybe it’s a 9?

So we traipsed to room 4039 and carried out the same procedure. Nothing happened. Back to room 4034 for several more attempts and a lot of handle rattling. Suddenly, the door opened, not because the card had worked, but because a ridiculously attractive older man had opened it, from the inside. I wondered how long he’d been watching the three mad women through his peephole before deciding we were probably harmless.

MO’G: (getting the hang of German directness in record time) You… you’re in our room.

Sexy stranger: (with a smile on his lips) No, this is my room.

It was true; he did look rather comfortable in his hotel slippers. After a rather confusing, amusing conversation (and an invitation to join him), I called reception from the phone in the hall. It seemed the receptionist had been so busy flirting, he’d written down 4034 instead of 4043. Mystery solved.

When I got home later that night, I Googled the first hotel and “Unfall”. It turned out that a 37-year-old Finnish man had died of smoke inhalation in the sauna there, following a fire. It also emerged that the fire alarm system hadn’t been operational for weeks in the run-up to the fatal accident. No wonder there was an investigation underway. While the irony of a Finn dying in a sauna was probably lost on the Finn, it wasn’t wasted on me. To the best of my knowledge, the hotel is still closed.

Anyway, not one to let a hotel closure, a fire, a dead Finn and an attempted break-in stop her, Mammy O’Grady ended up having a ball. She loved Berlin and has decided she will come back for another visit in the spring.

I guess I should start preparing myself now.