Berlin or Bust!!

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The penultimate weekend in April saw a small rugby club from south-west London venture to the German Capital for a game of ruby. A game not many know about in European’s strongest economy. We helped that reputation a little bit more with what and how a rugby team can!

We all met on Friday 19th at Heathrow at Terminal 1 at 7am. Most came by shared taxi looking suitably dressed (well disguising the bleary eyes) with the club tie duly worn showing footballers how a tie should be worn. This included those who started off drinking at this ungodly hour! Passport sorted and security c;eared, it was through to airside for Duty Free and a good breakfast. Our flight was boarding after 30 minutes delay on it arrival from its previous departure point.

The Lufthansa A321, full, departed for the 1hr 20min flight to Berlin Tegel. The International Airport for the German capital after the closure of historic Templehoff (more on this airport later), and the continuing developments issues surrounding Schoenefeld Airport. On board we had a packed lunch! Well a bag containing either a ham or cheese sandwich, and apple, a sweet (mint)and a chocolate). The drinks came just afterwards – coffee, tea, fizzy and or alcohol.

We landed, picked up our bags, went for a drink in the Red Baron bar, complete with a model of a Fokker Triplane (DR1). It was then off to get a bus to start our journey to our hotel. The ticket on the bus was valid on most transport systems ( a bit like the travelcard in London). We then needed to get off the ‘bendy’ bus and on a train. Our station appeared and off we traipsed to our Hotel – one of the Generator line.

It looked like an Office building. The interior on the ground floor was metal walled with a scheme made to look like a generator/engine room . The rooms we had were a matter of 4 or 3 to a room (generally 2 singles and a bunk bed), with en suite shower and toilet. The view outside were of concrete buildings and a Velodrome and Swimming pools, partly submerged and covered by a park with walkways/cycleways. Having sorted out who was sharing a room with whom and dropping our bags off, we when on a tour of Berlin for some lunch and of course drink!

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So it was onto a tram this time to Alexndraplatz and a restaurant or beer haus. A table had been reserved by our fabulously organised tour manager. The drink (or large tankards, full of beer) flowed and the choice of meal was a mixed platter, consisting of various meat and a few vegetables. Fabulous. After this is was off again to see more of Berlin. Not much was found, more through going to the wrong areas, we should have just stayed where we were. There was even bungy jumping of a tall office block, no one in the club volunteered.

We then decided to go and see more of the city – Berlin wall remains, Checkpoint Charlie , walked past a Trabant museum and then the Brandenburg Gate. We even ventured into the Ardlon Hotel for cocktails. It was the plushest in Berlin. A great experience.

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We ended up not far from the hotel, having come back on another train! Public transport was very good but it did get a little tiring. The venue that became a favourite over the weekend was a kebab shop that had a bar at the back of the shop. Very hospitable if a weird mix of shop and bar.

We were getting more information as to where the rugby match tomorrow (Saturday) was to be played. We were to play the first full Gay Rugby team. They called themselves the Berlin Bruisers. Our very original opponents had called off at the last-minute. Now the only problem was where to play. It was a case : we have a pitch, no we don’t , we have a pitch, no we don’t! Oh well – lets see what tomorrow brings.

Saturday – up for breakfast at around 8am (some got down later due to drinking to the small hours). The weather was good, dry, blue sky, if only a little chilly! So where will  be playing (well, not me – I retired due to shoulder operation I had to have). 3 Taxis had been booked to take us to meet our opposition. We met them at a sports club where there were changing rooms. They were a mix of American, Canadian, German, British and Irish men.  We crossed the road and into a public park. And what a public park – the grounds of historic Templehhof import!

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The famous curved terminal building and apron was evident as were the taxiways. The runways were away for our impromptu pitch (a football pitch with goal posts either end, used for conversions).There were the remains of an aircraft used by the old airport fire service. There were also the remains of what looked like an assault course, rifle range and deathslide.  There was even a crazy golf curse utilising parts of aircraft and other bits found around the airport. There were still signs the Americans had a military presence – US Army Aviation on hangar doors and Softball pitches.

The team we were playing and some of the match was being recorded for a documentary so we could be famous at last!!! After the match, we returned to the sports club for after game drinks and games. In the bar there was a picture of Templehoff taken for the other side to what we saw, and during what looked like an airshow in 1989.

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The opponents were great fun, nothing but the genial hosts and entered in the spirit of the games (unlike our recent tours around Britain). The games were – Spoons (utensil type), Sumo (a club favourite) and the name escapes me but involves going round a broom stick having downed a pint of beer ad running back from where you started. Speaking from experience on other tours – not that straightforward. We made our excuses and headed back to get changed for a night on the town, what was left of it anyway.We won the game which made things better.

Some started off in a hotel round the corner from our’s and headed up to the cocktail bar, before heading out for a meal. This was an Italian restaurant just round the corner from our hotel and not far from the kebab shop bar.

Sunday, arrived and so did the bleary eyed revellers. It was also the day to check out of the hotel and we had a few hours to kill before we headed off to the airport for the return home.

The time was taken up with a river cruise, booked again by our irreplaceable tour manager Dev. The Spree river cruise was interesting. The bridges, the architecture along the banks, from before, during and after reunification. We even ventured down a canal and had to keep a low profile due top the low bridges down here. Lunch was served on board and some got decent service other had to ait till near the end of the cruise. It was good though. Then when berthed, off the boat (with our luggage) and off to a bar for the initiation of the tour virgins. 2 were non playing, the other 2 were not so fortunate!

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Taxis were ordered and duly arrived to take us off to the airport. On arrival, we queued for check in, visited the Red Baron bar again before going through security. The german reputation for efficiency fell flat here. Through a single door, passengers for 4 flights were expected to pass security and customs. One lot of security even asked us for our nationality and noted it on a sheet of paper. Surely this could be obtained from the check in desk! It was only our Lufthansa flight that was being asked! It was a slow process and we did not get through security until 1810 which was our expected departure time.

Once in our seats, the captain apologised for the delay and also mentioned incorrect information about the flight being due to depart another hour later due to some mix up with UTC (GMT) time and local time difference. This at an international airport!

I later find out the Berlin mayor was responsible for opening Tegel and closing Templehof, having tried to get  Schoenefeld up and running. Millions were spent, but no improvement on the facilities in Tegel was obvious. The Mayor of Berlin which is a City state comes from East Berlin therefore is still running his office in the socialist manner and is making Berlin bankrupt. Being the largest part of berlin, the East is still likely to vote for him or a fellow East Berliner in the near future. Such a shame. Not a got reputation on German efficiency.

All in all an dintersting trip to a European Capital. Next year – who knows where!

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