Sunday, July 5, 2009

I Am Here and So Is Checkpoint Charlie!

I arrived in Berlin on Thursday night after a long night and day of travel. I left Miami on an overnight flight on Virgin Atlantic. This is my first time taking them but they won the airfare competition out of Miami. I don't like overnight plane rides. I can never sleep and most of the flights connecting me to Berlin involved a long enough layover where I would have been miserable, feeling wornout and ready for a shower and nap. I discovered the Yotel in Terminal 4 of Heathrow. This is a compact cabin hotel based on the Japanese cubicle hotel rooms but a little bigger, plus you can book it for 4 hour increments. Perfect!

Why must we march for miles and miles off an international flight to get to the immigration lounge? Heathrow has little air conditioning which does not help the experience. Getting through the line once I got to there was relatively quick. The great signage helped me find the express train between terminals to go to the Yotel. I got to my Superior Cabin at 10:15am, only 15 minutes late for my booking. The bed is kind of a reverse murphy bed. It looks like an upright sofa but you press a button on the side and the whole thing slides down each rail on the side to spread out. I had a snack, a nap, and shower, and then went back to Terminal 3 to the Central Bus Station for my coach ride to the Stanstead airport and my Ryanair flight to Berlin.

I had a sandwich at the Caffe Nero at the bus station and then waited for my coach to arrive and then leave at 3:35. I still napped on the way (it's 90 min.) but occasionally woke up to view the country side. I saw an old Norman tower on some land off the expressway. I only caught a glimpse and would have liked to know its history. How long has it been there? Anything momentous happen there?

Heathrow was busy and crowded but I got through it. Stanstead was a mess. The self-service kiosks weren't working despite the signs to use them. That meant going to a 3 row deep check-in that appeared to move slowly. I got checked in and was reassured that my flight would be held open for all passengers. Still, by the time I got through security and sprinted through the long, winding gate, my flight was boarding for departure in 60 min. They decided to open the rear of the plane to enter so I managed to scoot into a seat and relax.

I landed at Schonefeld airport which is a little further out but it was a fast trip to the Hotel Maritim. The young man at reception couldn't find my reservation. Did I know there's another Maritim hotel in town and had I confused them? I showed him my printout of the reservation confirmation and he agreed I was in the right place. At last it turned out he was searching under Gayle rather than Williams! I got to the room and was quite happy to hit a real bed.

Friday was my rest day. I discovered the hotel's massive breakfast buffet and started seeing salalmistas. I made my way over to the Sony Center and discovered the German Film Museum. 6 euros later I wandered through the history of German film. It's full of mixed media and you start from the 3rd floor and wander down. Signage is in both German and English and some of the audio interviews were English as well. I liked the parts on the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Marlene Dietrich. The first floor exhibit commemorates the 20th year of reunification through the photos and videos of German citizens, global news coverage of the events, and locally made film documentaries for West and East German television.

After a tasty lunch at Vapiano's, I wanted to walk up to the Brandenberg Gate but got caught in an afternoon rainstorm. I was drenched and while drying off under an awning discovered Anne Barnhardt and Dora Loh were next door having lunch. They saw me so I finished drying off and talking with them until the rain was gone. They went up to Brandenberg before LAMP while I went back to the hotel after grabbing a sandwich for the room. I got there, got dry and cozy but didn't feel like going back out for the 8:30 showing the IAI exhibit.

So, yesterday and today were SALALM committee meetings. More friends are coming in but it's easy to see this will be a much smaller group than usual. Such are the ways of the economic downturn. In the meantime I hope to get out again and discover more of this intriguing city!

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