Quest for a Parkrun Z Day 1 – Berlin
15th May 2019
So the old man’s quest to become a parkrun alphabeteer (running a parkrun beginning with each letter of the alphabet) has brought us to Poland, via Germany, with a brief foray into Slovakia.
I went to University in Rostock, north of Berlin in 1988 and was a regular visitor to what was then East Berlin. I’ve only been back once since unification, and it’s rather a weird feeling. Not only how much a place, particularly one with such a turbulent history, has changed. But also, how you can walk along a road which is so familiar, then reach a part you have never visited before, because there used to be a wall in between.
We fly into Berlin ahead of schedule (an EasyJet first). Then pass through immigration. I get stopped by immigration – so much for freedom of movement. We pick up our hire car and get charged an additional €53 for taking the car across a border (which is actually another EU country and part of Schengen, so technically not a border?) Another freedom of movement fail.
Once we’ve checked into our hotel; Erlanger Hof, we head into the city for a whistle stop tour. We take a tube to Alexanderplatz. This was once one of my favourite places and home to my favourite restaurant, The Alex Grill. It’s very different now; the fountain is surrounded by winos and the restaurants on offer – McDonalds and Burger King do not offer the best steak and chips ever.
We opt instead for Currywurst and chips in a little café on the river overlooking the cathedral; Bandy’s Currywurst.
Next stop, by order of daughter number two, is the Rittersport Shop. I’m not sure why she made this request, she must know that the chances of me buying chocolate and keeping it uneaten for ten days are spectacularly low, but she has fond memories of our visit here in 2014, when a large amount of Chocolate Fondue was consumed.
Then we continue our walk (with pauses to photograph fibreglass bear sculptures – who can resist an art trail?) past the ever so tacky Checkpoint Charlie with its fake military post and fake soldiers who pose for photos with tourists.
On to the Memorial to Murdered Jews; a bemusing collection of concrete rectangles. Apparently they ‘produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere, and the whole sculpture aims to represent a supposedly ordered system that has lost touch with human reason’.
An obligatory photo op at the Brandenburg Gate before our final stop, the Reichstag.
We have tickets to visit the Bundesstag dome, but have forgotten our passports, so return to our hotel for an early night. We have been up since 3.45 am so it’s been rather a long day.
Quest for a Parkrun Z Day 2 – Dresden
16th May 2019
Not the best start to the day. I sat on the toilet and the seat hinge snapped. This has left me in a bad mood for two reasons: (1) I am sad that my arse is so enormous that a toilet seat can’t bear its weight, and (2) the seat subsequently slipped, pinching aforementioned enormous arse, thus hurting more than just my pride.
Once the toilet seat debacle is over, we check out. We had planned some more sightseeing in Berlin but the weather is hideous, so we set off instead on the 115 mile drive south to Dresden.
Before we leave, I attempt to buy some postcards in the nearby Neukölln Arcarde. I enter the shop, spend a not inconsiderable amount of time selecting my postcards, then approach the cashier. She tells me she doesn’t open for another 15 minutes. I thank her for letting me know so promptly and depart empty handed.
My weather App claims it’s fine in Dresden. Right on cue, after 110 miles of driving through rain and fog avoiding hundreds of Polish lorries which appear to be involved in a huge game of Dodgems, the clouds turn a lighter shade of grey and the rain finally stops.
I have visited Dresden once before, in 1988 to attend a football match. It was the day I introduced my German boyfriend to English cider, thus the memories are somewhat hazy. This time, I shall attempt more sightseeing and (marginally) less drinking.
We arrive in Dresden at lunchtime, so head for the Yenidze; a tobacco factory built in 1907 in an oriental style with chimneys resembling minarets. It is topped with a golden cupola surrounded with stained glass. It allegedly contains a rooftop beer garden with spectacular views over the city which is allegedly open. However, when we reach the sixth floor beer garden, there is a handwritten sign directing us to a horribly overpriced restaurant upstairs instead. We descend and buy some pizza rolls in a nearby café.
After lunch, we head for the South Bank of the river to the old town, an area which was devastated by British bombing and a subsequent firestorm in 1945. Many of the buildings have been restored to their former glory. There’s the grand 19th Century Semperoper and its funky modern offspring Semperoper Zwei with weird faces on its corners.
Next door is the Zwinger, an 18th Century baroque palace built for Augustus the Strong after he returned from Versailles with palace envy.
Onwards to another palace, the 15th Century Residenzschloss, former home of Saxon kings. It contains a large collection of treasures, which we don’t go to see because it’s expensive and we’re tight.
Instead, we continue to the 1960s Kulturpalast – all glass and socialist murals.
Then cross the road to the Spring Market where we take a break and have a beer.
We round off today’s sightseeing at the Frauenkirche. This church was literally reconstructed after the war. The altar alone consists of 2,000 separate pieces, all painstakingly stuck back together like an enormous 3-D jigsaw. Outside, the building is made more striking due to the combination of burned black original stone and pale yellow modern pieces which join together to form an almost replica. The contrasting pieces act as a reminder of the devastation which took place here.
We finish the day with dinner at the rather dubiously named Zum Schiesshaus – don’t get those vowels round the wrong way! I have Chicken in Cheese and Horseradish, which is delicious. While the old man opts for the Large’ Pork Escalope; basically a flattened pig.
Quest for a Parkrun Z Day 3 – Dresden
17th May 2019
It’s my last day of visiting old haunts. I have enjoyed my trip down memory lane. There is still a distinct difference between east and west Germany; here, it’s more laid back and the people are friendlier. Other ways they remain linked to the past; the Wifi is rubbish, there’s still a Woolworths and a C&A, even the odd Trabant.
We start the day with a different car; a tour of the Gläserne Manufaktur (the Transparent Factory) where they manufacture the VW E-Golf. The building, made almost entirely of glass, sitting in the corner of a park, is quite a sight. We opt to walk the two miles to the factory because we have been told it is difficult to park there!
To be honest, the factory is little more than a PR stunt. In this high tech, state of the art facility, they make 70 cars a day. Cars are assembled (all the parts are manufactured elsewhere and brought to the factory by tram) by a combination of robots and men in pristine white dungarees.
There are up to 70 factory tours a day, where you can follow a car through the assembly process. Apparently, the robots could function seven times more quickly, but the line runs slowly because the workers feel the pressure of performing in front of so many people. Once complete, the cars are mostly exported to Scandinavia – the Germans are yet to embrace the idea of electric vehicles.
The factory tour is actually really interesting. However, my favourite bits are seeing a badly behaved child fall into an ornamental pond and watching a remote control lawnmower chasing some ducks round the lawn.
After our tour, we head for the Grosser Garten. As the name suggests, the garden is so large that it has its own railway to transport visitors round its main attractions. Unfortunately, the old man is too tight to pay the €6 ticket price, so we make do with just visiting the Botanical Garden. It’s not the best garden we’ve visited; part of the reason may be the enormous hare we watch scoffing its way through the exhibits.
We round off our final evening in Germany with an obligatory kebab. I don’t want to walk far so we go to a tiny shop round the corner called Hamid’s, where the kebabs turn out to be stonkingly good.
Then we turn our attention to financial issues (this is urgent as we have no cash and the old man requires beer and doughnuts). Our card, replacement for the one cloned in Argentina, has very stringent security measures. In order to use it, you must first go online and authenticate the card. Authentication lasts for 10 minutes. With such poor Wifi coverage, this is no mean feat. The nearest cashpoint is an 8 minute walk, so the old man has a 2 minute window in which to authenticate the card at the hotel and hotfoot it to the cashpoint. If there’s a queue, he will need to return and start again. I have visions of this becoming quite a saga, and I am right.
Attempt 1) – 12 minutes to reach the bank – fail.
Attempt 2) – reaches the bank in time, but machine explains it doesn’t give money to foreigners – fail. (And another freedom of movement fail.)
Attempt 3) – at bank in tourist area which advertises the fact it is prepared to deal with foreigners. Card not accepted – fail. Rude email to card provider.
Attempt 4) – different card – success!
We now have plenty of Euros. I don’t like to mention to the old man that in a few hours time we leave the Euro zone and will presumably need to go through a similar palaver to obtain Zloty. Our final day in Germany has been tiresome. Bring on Poland…
Quest for a Parkrun Z Day 4 – Dresden to Wroclow
It’s Saturday, aka parkrun day, and we are running Pieschener Allee parkrun. We manage to find the start without problem. There are a total of 26 runners, mostly ex pats. Everyone is really friendly.
The course is a pleasant out and back run on a footpath along the River Elbe. It’s also very flat, so I run my 3rd fastest ever 5k time. And coming 24th sounds quite good too. Although, in reality, I came last, apart from the tail walkers.
We return to our hotel, shower, check out and depart for Poland.