It’s an amazing thrill being somewhere new, somewhere strange. And perhaps the best I can do is just go with it; it is a tight rope walk – balanced with fear & excitement! All my plans to learn some German in the lead up to this trip have fallen, rather typically, somewhat flat. I see now, stood at the busy taxi ranks, among the crowds, that I am woefully ill-furnished to even ask the simplest of questions! I decide, on a whim, not to take a taxi to Kreuzberg (a twenty minute ride) – it all seems too simple, too lazy, too tourist, too English (?)… I will investigate the buses & the U-Bahn – I am here for adventure. But first I must discover so much… which bus, what direction, where from, when… how? How do I buy a ticket?!
Even the simplest tasks become great & new discoveries. I wander the crowds, I hover at ticket machines, & I watch. After some time I see that there is a routine to the ticket buying. I wait for a machine to become free & engage it with my mind & my Euros! After only several attempts I am rewarded with a ticket & some change: I’m in the game! With a little more observation I see that each ticket needs to be validated (one of my first ‘real-time’ German language lessons is here on the ticket in my hand… ‘Bitte hier entwerten’ – ‘Please validate your ticket’). This is done by inserting it briefly into a different machine at the side of the ticket dispensing machine: it’s a kind of ‘franking’ device. The ticket cost 7.70 euros & appears to let me travel on both the bus & the underground (I’m sure that this is right unless I was just lucky &, if so, then surely, I have committed a crime on foreign soil already! (unwittingly!). From my map I figure out that the nearest U-Bahn that is of use to me is (I think!) Jacob-Kaiser &, after scoping the coming & going buses & the everchanging overhead signs, I see that the X9 or the 109 will take me through to there. I let one bus leave without me. Then another! I don’t really know why I do this – it is, I suspect, mostly from a similar feeling one might get from standing at the lip of an open door, several thousand feet high, with a parachute strapped to your back instead of a rucksack! There is a sense that, once aboard, once departed, I will be served deeper & further into a strange land with little or no way to communicate! The next 109 arrives, people board it, people leave it, I read again (for the 15th time!) the destinations listed over the front of the vehicle: Jacob-Kaiser is certainly there midway down the list… I board, the driver thumbs me through & off we go. It strikes me at once that, perhaps, this is not so different to getting on a bus anywhere! I’m learning! I listen to the onboard announcements & watch the names roll across the screens. And, after some twenty minutes, I hear & see what I’m looking for Jacob-Kaiser. I get off! Now I am away from the sanctity of the airport on the fringes of a city & I am at the entrance to a subway, the Jacob-Kaiser U-Bahn. I descend – what else is there to do?
The station is just that; an underground station – but different, subtly different. I recognise it as what it is, of course, but it has a certain something else to it; a strangeness, a newness, an excitement – there are several tidy little shops on the concourse selling fruit, drinks, flowers etc. I descend further & decide which side of the tracks I want to be on & await the U7 train into the city.
Jacob-Kaiser – Jungfernheide – Mierendorff Pl – Richard Wagner Pl – Bismarckstrasse – Charlottenberg – Adenauer Pl – Konstanzerstrasse – Fehberlliner Pl – Blissestrasse – Berlinerstrasse – Bayerischer Pl – Eisenacherstrasse – Kliestpark -Kaiser-Wilhelm Pl – Mehringdamm.
Back on street level I am clearly in a city. The sun shines. It is busier (not overtly). There are bicycles everywhere. I check my map & begin walking what will become to me over the next few days a familiar journey, down wonderful Barutherstrasse, the quiet, shadowed tree-lined pedestrian walkway, the cemetery with its busy & brightly graffitied boundary wall, the hush of rubber tyres as the cyclists pass by (the Berlin bikes -despite being a great band name! – are a never failing to delight sight: such an array! More of which later). Barutherstrasse cemetery is well worth a visit if you find yourself here. Suddenly, it is clear that Barutherstrasse is some kind of cut through, a connector, between the busier streets/districts of Merringdamm & Zossenerstrasse. In reality, this idea of a connector is true: Barutherstrasse is, as I mention, mostly pedestrianised. It is only accessed by municipal vehicles such as road cleaners & the cemetery workers.
A misturn here & there as I figure out my map (&, no doubt, due to the growing excitement of it all!) & suddenly, across the street, I see the sign for Johanniterstrasse where my destination is (Hotel Johann, Johanniterstrasse 8, D-10961). Johanniterstrasse is quiet, residential, there is a small park. It is sat behind Zossenerstrasse, which appears to be a busy ‘through’ road & Blucherstrasse, a vibrant & buzzing street with local shops. And bicycles! This is Kreuzberg-
The Hotel Johann is wonderful! A 3* bronze-sand coloured building. It is very welcoming & clean friendly & reasonable. My room is amazing! I’m on the first floor. A large, bright space with simple, smart, contemporary furnishings. The windows, draped in vast voile, & shaded, look out onto peaceful Johanniterstrasse. This is my temporary home. I love it!