I am delivered by KLM (Newcastle via Schiphol) to Tegel & as the sliding doors of the airport close behind me, I realise, all-at-once, that I am in a strange environment; a visitor to a new planet.
This sensation is not so much because the outside of Tegel airport looks or feels any different to any airports that I’ve been through (not so many). It is a delicious, sensory rush, at once both subtle & overwhelming: the sudden realisation that the everyday things so familiar to me (as not to be even noticed back in England – the language, the signs, the styles, the smells -) start, with immediate effect, to fall away, to be replaced with something altogether new & fresh: It is all emcompassing; terrifying & exhilarating; I let it all wash over me (as if I had any choice… other than turn around & return to the soul-free inner workings of the airport! – and that was never going to happen!).
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!