A June 2005 trip
to Berlin by 80 Ways Tim
Quote: My friend and I are travelling the world using 80 different methods of transport, each one only once. We're doing it on a budget and in seven weeks.www.80ways.co.uk
We originally checked into a hostel right outside the Zoo Station because it was so convenient, but it was quite crowded and a little bit faceless. A friend recommended the Heart of Gold, and we moved there the next night.
It's further away from the main station than some of the other hostels but it's worth making the effort to get there. It's in a great location for lots of the sights (e.g., Reichstag, Alexandersplatz, Brandenburg Gate). It's quite a quirky place with a real atmosphere. Music's pumping out the whole time in reception, and there's some crazy decor (of particular note were the Barbie doll in a cage and the Elmo amidst bottles of spirits).
It was generally a nice hostel: big and spacious and immaculately clean. They have an Internet connection (probably more expensive than EasyInternet but obviously more convenient), they give a good breakfast (served till 12 noon, so there's no hurry), and they serve drinks at reception.
All in all, this is a worthy hostel.
PS When we told the manager about our around-the-world project, she even gave us some free T-shirts!
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on June 26, 2005
Heart of Gold
Berlin, Germany 10117
30 29 00 33 00
So why was it that 6 days into our trip, I found myself queueing outside an embassy, waiting for yet another visa?
We had left Paris on an electric train (the fact that it was electric was important because it contrasts with what I assume powers the Trans-Siberian train--namely, diesel). We got the sleeper to Berlin, which took 12 hours. It wasn't one of those nice sleeper trains with big, fat reclining seats; rather, we were stuck in a six-berth cabin, sitting bolt upright with four other people. We had three Mexican girls for company and a guy who could speak 37 different languages and talked enough to prove it. He was from Togo, a country that required Thom getting his world map out to locate.
The reason Thom had a map of the world is because his official role on the trip is Chief Navigator. Check the website if you like. It was a title assigned to him fairly arbitrarily as part of a necessary process for us to apply for the grant. But when we were about to negotiate the streets of Paris, I jokingly handed him the map and said, "You're the navigator--you read the map." He did, and he did it very well. In fact, five minutes after taking the map from me in the middle of Paris, he delved into his bag and produced a compass. To go with his compass, he had a map of everywhere we were going (Europe, Mongolia, China, America, the world). He was taking his role seriously, and I was thankful for it. Without the map of Europe, we would have had no idea where Le Havre was in relation to Paris, what road we needed to get on, and where exactly the petrol stations we kept getting dropped off at were. And without that map of Europe, we would have had trouble finding the bus route we needed to get us from Berlin to Moscow.
You see, since last November, when we first pieced together our route, we did a quick search on the Internet and found that there was a handy bus that ran from Berlin to Moscow. The website recommended that we avoid Belarus (because it required a visa for entry) and that we instead go up through Lithuania and Latvia. Upon arrival in Berlin, we soon discovered that such a bus route was very rare and that there were no buses available that would get us to Moscow in time for our train departure and not take us through Belarus.
We had arrived in Berlin that morning from the sleeper and were already frantically trying to arrange the next leg of our journey. Sitting in an Internet cafe with a map of Europe spread out across the floor, we desperately searched through bus timetables to find a route around Belarus that would get us to Moscow in time.
There wasn't one.
We had two choices: get a Belarussian visa or break the rules (i.e. take a flight or another train). It was Thursday, and the bus we needed left on Saturday, which left us with 48 hours to get a visa - a ridiculously short time in any cirumstances, and on top of that, we weren't even in our own country. But we thought we should at least try. It would be a shame to break the rules, but it would be a real waste if we didn't even try.
The Belarussian embassy was quite a long way away, but at least there was one. The "express service" took 48 hours, but obviously, they weren't open on Saturdays, so that meant that even if we got there in time with all the right documents and beat the queue, there wasn't enough time. We still thought we should try.
There are few worse ways to spend your day than queueing outside an embassy, but one of them is queueing outside an embassy when you know that you are never going to get a visa. As soon as we got there, we realised that we didn't have photos. We ran to the nearest shopping centre but were told by several shop assistants that there was no photo booth there, so Thom took the short straw and trekked back across the city to get spare photos from our bags back at the hostel. I, meanwhile, got back in the queue.
I thought I had the easy job, and perhaps I did, but I still had to try to complete a form that was only available in German or Russian. I was assisted by a helpful guy in the queue with me, but I still didn't know Thom's address, didn't have his signature, and still had no photos. I still thought I should try.
...to be continued...
Our plan for the day was to just take it easy and see what novelty modes of transport we could pick up. But before we did that, we had to pick up some insect repellent.
Our trip will take us through China, where there is a risk of contracting malaria from insect bites. We could take antimalarial tablets to prevent this, but we decided that we would rely on insect repellent instead of getting the pills. Some might argue that such a plan is not a very good one, but we thought we would be all right; whenever one of us had doubts about malaria, the other would simply reassure him that our anti-mosquito spray would be fine. However, after discussing it for about the fiftieth time, we realised that we didn't actually have any insect repellent and that now might be a good time to get some.
Not only did the local outdoor store stock various different brands, but the shop assistant spoke English and had an in-depth knowledge of spray effectiveness. We left the store feeling satisfied with our plan.
The next stop was to be Berlin's TV Tower. Some 300 metres tall, it sports a rotating restaurant near the top that we decided would be an ideal mode of transport. We got kitted up and stormed the place. We stomped past a long queue of people to get to the front and got the attention of a girl that worked there (getting her attention was not really that hard, given that Thom had just marched up the 'Exit' steps wearing a top hat whilst I filmed him). She understood our request (we had a German translation) but couldn't help. We then saw the manager, who was also resistant to our pleas ("fur die kinder!"), and we left, defeated.
On our way back to the hostel, we noticed a playground featuring monkey bars that we felt would be ideal for our cause. An hour or so later, we were still playing in the sunshine, swinging on bars, doing chin-ups and climbing around the frame. Thom found entertainment by repeatedly walking backwards and forwards along two large metal bars. He went back and forth, back and forth, attempting not to lose balance when he turned around.
He slipped off and cracked his side on the bar. He clutched his ribs and ran around the playground, gasping for air. I have to admit that I was trying not to laugh. Here was Thom, in a pair of three-quarter-length trousers and no top, running--no, galloping--around a Berlin playground, groaning like a sea lion!
He kept running around in circles with the look of despair typical of someone who's just winded themselves and can't breathe. I felt his pain but knew it would subside in a minute. But a minute went past, and he was still gasping. He ran to his phone and started to frantically punch buttons. I assumed he was trying to type me a message, but he was too panicked to do so.
He managed to dial 110 (emergency services) and handed me the phone.
"Sprechen ze English?" I asked.
"Nien" came the reply.
My friend couldn't breathe, and I was stuck on the phone trying to get an ambulance from someone who spoke a different language from me, and I didn't even know where we were. Panic set in. I grabbed the nearest passerby and explained, through hand signals and wide eyes, that we needed an ambulance. He seemed to get the message and said it would be five minutes.
By this point, Thom had started to breathe better--a huge relief since five minutes is a long time to go without air. He was obviously still in pain, and breathing wasn't as easy as it should have been, but at least it was taking place now.
I went to see if the ambulance was coming, and I heard a siren in the distance. Moments later, a police car screeched into the park, and two police officers were running towards the playground at full pelt. Thom flagged them down, and they reluctantly stopped.
"Vou ist die kinder? Vou ist die kinder!?" "Where is the child, where is the child," they were shouting.
Thom explained, somewhat ashamedly, that there was no child and that he was the one with the emergency. They replied that the firemen and paramedics were on their way.
We exchanged a look of fear. What had we done? At the time, it had seemed like the world was about to end, but now we just felt silly. Sitting in a kid's playground, having just fallen off a climbing frame, our emergency no longer seemed so urgent. We tried to explain that Thom was okay now but that we had phoned because he couldn't breathe. Whether or not they got the message, I don't know, but they soon left and cancelled the ambulance.
But Thom wasn't all right. We walked back to the hostel, and he tried to lie down, but it didn't really work. There was a hospital just around the corner, so we decided to head there. At least, it should have been "just around the corner" if I'd taken us the right way. Thom was the navigator, and I usually just followed his lead. This reminded us why. After about a mile's unnecessary trekking, we found the hospital.
"This never would have happened if we had our E111 forms," Thom noted en-route.
My mum had been constantly been hassling me to pick up my European insurance form from the post office, but with a million other things to do and the ease with which it could be done, I never really prioritised it and hence never got it. We had been joking about not getting injured in Europe for the last week, and now we had managed it. Of course, we still had international health insurance that would cover us, and it might even be possible to claim retrospectively, but we still maintained that the event took place solely so as to give our parents an "I told you so" opportunity.
After giving out the 100 euros for medical treatment, Thom's x-ray revealed no broken bones, and the doctor reassured him that his spleen had not been ruptured (which was nice to know). We hobbled back to the hostel, x-rays clamped firmly under-arm, and spent the last few hours relaxing before embarking on a 36-hour bus ride that would no doubt prove pure bliss for Thom's battered body.
Despite all Thom's efforts, we never did get a ride in an ambulance.
Sion marked it on the map for us and off we trotted. He had already paid them a visit on our behalf but we still thought it best that we did it properly. The management weren’t too keen on the video camera but were more than happy to let us use their "Conference Bike".
Just as described, it was a seven-seater bike with all the pedallers arranged in a ring. But the machine really has to be seen to be appreciated. Whilst I am sure it would make a wonderful setting for a conference, it might also find a good home in a science-fiction horror movie. A bright orange, space-age combine-harvester being pedaled down a Berlin street by a man in a top hat was quite a sight.
On a high from our latest and greatest means of transport, we head towards the Brandenburg Gate. We got distracted en route by a women selling ‘curry wurst’, which, we have been told, is a prototypical example of German food. The vendor finds the two of us filming our purchase to be highly entertaining, but her smile might have lasted if she could understand English; Thom wasn’t all too impressed with what was essentially a frankfurter drowned in ketchup, with a spoonful of mild curry powder.
Further up the road, we spied a square that was filled with an arrangement of short, stone blocks of varying heights. My eyes lit up: "You ever heard of free-running, Thom?" He had.
So we set up the tripod and proceeded to prance around like idiots, hopping across blocks in the top hat and posing for the camera. Suffice it to say that we drew a lot of looks from passersby, but we were used to it by now and carried on regardless.
Aside from posing in a velo-taxi outside the Brandenburg Gate and doing forward rolls past the Reichstag, the day passed without event. We rendezvoused with Sion in the evening, and he took us out to a Berlin beach bar. I wasn’t aware Berlin had any beaches but discovered that someone had the brilliant idea of dumping a load of sand on the riverbank, sticking in a couple of palm trees, playing some appropriate music, and serving up beer. Genius!
It was great to just sit back and relax (on the beach, no less!) and have some company. Sion was telling us about a walking tour he could arrange for us (we were debating whether it would qualify as a method of transport), and he showed us the brochure. I don’t quite recall why exactly it came up, but somehow the itinerary for the tour overlapped with us telling Sion about our free-running near Brandenburg Gate, and we realized that our "stone blocks" were in fact a memorial for the murdered Jews of the Second World War! I had spent my afternoon hopping around a war memorial in a top hat.
80 Ways Tim
London, United Kingdom