The next morning all was calm again, we checked out of our lovely hotel after having our last breakfast at 'our' cafe. We walked around the corner to Hackescher Markt train station. On our way to the station we saw, for the first time, people sleeping on the footpath under the railway arches. Presumably we had not seen them before as they usually slept in the park, out in the open. The storm last night had forced them to seek shelter.
We took the train to Wannsee, a couple of stops before Potsdam. We couldn't travel all the way to Potsdam because we only had a 3 day 'Welcome Berlin' pass for zones A and B, Potsdam is in zone C.
We were met at Wannsee by Petra and Gary, friends who were looking after us for the next 4 days.
We had met Gary through the Citroen car club, he has a 2 CV in Berlin and holidays in WA regularly. He is a Texan, and has lived in Berlin for over 20 years now. Petra is a native Berliner and came out to WA in January for the first time.
They share a house in Werder (Havel) about 10kms south west of Potsdam.
As we were in Wannsee by 11.00am we decided to go straight out to one of the places on a long list of "things to do" list - (our route to this museum took us over the bridge that we call the 'exchange' or Smiley's people' bridge - it's where the spies from East and West were exchanged.)
The museum on the list was the Luftwaffe Museum, it also happens to be one of Gary's favourite museums - the fact that he's been flying helicopters for over 30years and works in Berlin as an emergency medical helicopter pilot might have something to do with this. He acted as our guide and I admit to being amazed and interested in it all. Michael was absorbed and entranced.
There was so much to see that we had to break for a light lunch, and of course, more great German coffee.
Later in the afternooon we drove out to Werder and crossed over onto the 'Insel' (The Island), if you look on a map you'll see just how much water there is around the area, the Wannsee and other lakes flow into each other and the river Havel winds through them.
We found a lovely restaurant for dinner, and Petra introduced me to a German "girlie drink" - beer and lemonade, but it's a cordial type lemonade and you can have either green or red. I chose red and Petra had her favourite - the green. Very nice it was too.
After dinner we strolled around this gorgeous place with its narrow, cobbled streets and brightly painted houses. This whole area was in East Berlin and before the wall came down all of the houses were a uniform grey concrete. After the wall fell people had access to paint and celebrated. It really is a very pretty place.
Any guesses what this next photo is?
The sun was long set by the time we walked back to the car.
The next day started with fabulous brochen (bread rolls), assorted cheeses, hams and salamis and of course kaffe. Then it was time for another "to do" or rather a "must do" - take Gary's Amphicar out on the Wannsee Lake.
The car was built in 1958 and is one of about 12 in Berlin, it is quite a sight when a whole group take to the water but today there was only us 'driving' on the Lake.
After doing all the safety checks and taking a test drive we were all aboard and drove down the boat ramp.
We got lots of smiles and thumbs up from folks on boats and on land. We also caused one canoeist to have a fit of giggles, so much so that she had to stop rowing.
We cruised around the lake for a couple of hours before driving back up the boat ramp and onto the road.
We stopped for Michael to collect Gary's 2CV and he followed us back to Werder.
We sat in the garden, under a tree enjoying olives, crisps, dips, etc whilst the BBQ was getting hot but we unfortunately had to throw out all the olives when an inconsiderate bird dropped a 'deposit', this landed on the neck of the wine bottle and splattered into the olives - could have been worse I suppose, with a better aim it could have gone into the wine bottle.
It was just after midnight when we were inside having another kaffe when we heard a lot of bangs outside. Yours truly was the intrepid one to investigate and as I opened the door the sky lit up - someone across the road was celebrating something in style and was letting off fireworks. A great end to a great day - we stood in the garden and enjoyed the free show.
The next day started with another great breakfast (going back to Weetbix is going to be a hard). We sat around chatting, we were practising our German and Petra was practising her English. The builders working on Gary and Petra's house alerted us to to the fact that there was a car on fire in the street, just a couple of doors up, not one of 'ours' fortunately. I grabbed the camera and we joined the neighbours out on the street, waiting for and then watching the volunteer fire brigade. Very dramatic, especially when the tyres started exploding.
It's all happening in Berlin!!
The next day we couldn't decide where to go, what to do and realised that it was actually rather nice just sitting around chatting so we continued to do that all day. In the evening Petra cooked a great dinner and all too soon it was time for Gary to head back to his 'weekday' digs, nearer to his work place.
Our last day in Berlin and the rain started around dawn and settled in for the day. Petra was a fabulous guide and drove us out to Park Sanssouci but it was raining so heavily that we abandoned any idea of walking around. We drove around the grounds - truly splendid, it rivals Versailles in size and splendour.
There is a university in the grounds, how amazing and surreal it must be to walk to classes along some of these corridors.
In central Potsdam we braved the weather and got out of the car for a photo in front of the 'mosque'
in fact it's not actually a mosque - it's the Wasserwerk Sanssouci, the minaret in built to disguise the chimney of the special steam pump that powers the fountains at Sanssouci. It was built in 1842.
We also went out to Alexandrowka, a small community of about 12 houses built in 1826 to house the Russian choir which was originally set up to entertain the troops in 1812. The choir members were recruited from Russian POWs who had fought with Napoleon.
Today some of the dwellings are owned by descendants of that choir.
I loved this place - so different from some of the square grey concrete houses but of course even they looked dull compared to Sanssouci.
Our tour around was taking us ever closer to the airport but we had time for one last stop, (secretly another one on the 'to do' list). We detoured to Gary's workplace. An ADAC emergency medical relief helicopter station based at a hospital in Tetlow. Due to the bad weather Gary wasn't flying, he wasn't even on standby so we were treated to a tour of the helicopter and base.
Gary brought the helicopter inside for us to 'examine'.
We had just finished our kaffe when Gary's bleeper did in fact go off - rain or not the helicopter was needed. In less than a minute and a half the medics were on board and Gary was gone. What a dramatic exit!
As we were getting tight for time we had to have 'fast' food for lunch - we got some lovely Vietnamese dishes from a little 'imbis' and the Petra dropped us off at the airport.
At the airport there were the usual long queues but apart from the guy checking boarding passes for entry into the security area everyone was very pleasant. This guy was sitting at a desk and made the man infront of us take a step back so that he was standing infront of him, not alongside him whilst he scanned the boarding pass.(Maybe he had a sore neck and couldn't turn his head, then again maybe he was just a grump).
At security we were greeted pleasantly and asked if we were German or English speakers. A nice change from the moronic grunts we'd had in Luton.
We were all gathered down by the gate, watching the rainfall on the bitumen; we could do that easily because there wasn't a plane standing there blocking the view. Ten minutes before we were due to take off our plane arrived, everyone then did their respective jobs around the plane, passengers got off, passengers got on and we took off only 3 minutes late. We were impressed.
Then it was back to hell -sorry - I mean Luton Airport.
As we had just missed the bus to St Albans and had 50 minutes to wait had plenty of time to people watch.
We learnt a few things too -
1. Check timetables before travelling.
2. Print out all booking forms, receipts and tickets.
A young couple were told that despite passports and full details on the laptop they were carrying, without a piece of paper the driver of the "EasyBus" shuttle into London could not take them. They were forced to return to the airport spend 20 minutes finding somewhere and pay 3 pounds to get a print out from the laptop. Then they were allowed on board. Immediately behind them were a couple of girls who just walked straight up to the driver, asked how much, paid and got on. The note they handed over was just tossed onto the van dashboard and no paperwork was issued. (maybe point 2 should be - Don't use EasyBus).
3. Avoid using Luton Airport. (Michael says that it's a shithole but I won't because it's a rude word.)
Any Aussies reading this are probably saying 'Whinging Poms' but really we're whinging Aussies.
If they had a more volatile nature (like some European countries) and not their passive, 'don't make a fuss' attitude to things there would be riots in the streets.
After spending a night in St Albans we crossed back to Reading for a few days.
On Friday night we went out to dinner with some old friends. We met Jonathan, Jane and Ed back in the early 80s, and they are still lovely people. It was as if we'd last seen them a few months ago, rather than a few years! The company and the dinner were excellent.
On a side note - our little 'netbook' has been sick and needed resuscitation. Although it's still early days we think that the surgery was a success and after a couple of days recuperation we are back up and running. IF there are any more long delays in the blog posts - it could be due to a relapse, or then again we could just be having too much fun!!