Berlin; only my second trip to Germany – after a seven year gap – and my first visit to territory that once sat beyond the iron curtain. No-one could hope to parse this city in two days, and I had no intention of trying: lured in by a great deal at an interesting hotel, I meant only to relax and sample a few undemanding attractions rather than the weightier legacy of wars both hot and cold. Inevitably, though, the history of this city confronts you, woven into its architectural fabric. Walking to the sony centre for a spot of photography took me through the Brandenburg gate and the holocaust memorial; emerging from the ubahn for a brunch destination I was struck by the juxtaposition of a shopping mall on a street named for Marx; and on spotting an ornate synagogue I wondered how it could possibly have survived nazism, to later find that it did so only barely.
I freely admit to being easily swayed by gimmicks, and building holidays on a whim; I took a huge detour in Norway on account of a photo, and spent four days in Gibraltar on the basis of an inflight magazine. So once I’d learnt of the AquaDom, a two thousand tonne cylinder aquarium with a double-decker lift on the inside and a Radisson wrapped around the outside, I suspected a visit would be in order. A tip-off from head for points secured me a trial of Club Carlson gold, which has the excellent perk of a second night free on a Thursday/fri/sat check in. That’s not quite the same as half-price depending on the respective daily rates, but still, I maintain the ultimate point of loyalty programmes is to save money, and €179 off goes a lot further than perks such as free breakfasts or some extra points! I’ve put a few pictures of the room here.
Now that I’m local to Heathrow, much simpler arrangements can be made: this was an entirely routine cash return LHR- TXL. Despite mourning my loss of BAEC silver, I’ve been finding bronze entirely sufficient for seat selection a week out, and thus secured an exit row both ways. On the outbound I found myself on one of the new breed of a320s – in much, much better condition than others in the fleet. However, for all its visual appeal, the new style seating proved to not be especially comfortable after an hour or so. As I was on the exit, I can’t yet report on the competing effects of reduced pitch vs thinner seats, and to be honest am in no rush to do so! Coming back, I had 22F on an a321, offering perhaps the most legroom possible for a short haul. Despite a high passenger load, 22E was vacant, adding to the space and meaning I didn’t even have to go without seat back storage.
As a photography trip consumes my carry-on allowance I had checked luggage, which made for a disappointing ground experience returning to Heathrow. I would complain about the twenty minutes spent weaving between tensa barriers at border control- except that delay didn’t matter as it was another half hour before bags made an appearance. That may not be entirely true, as they were sent to the wrong belt, but it took that long for an announcement of this possibility. All told, then, it was 70 minutes from arriving at (a remote) stand to bags in hand, which just isn’t good enough. TXL was much better, at least by comparison. With its replacement long overdue its feeling the strain somewhat, but the ‘turn up and go’ design with curbside just metres from the gates – each with their own check-in, security and immigration facilities – is something I find much more agreeable than the cavernous shopping mall approach of more modern airports. But that may be due to my current lack of lounge access!
The tourist attractions
TXL was not the only ‘see it whilst you still can’ location of this trip. The Pergamon Museum draws its name from the Pergamon altar, but the room containing this exhibit would be closing at the end of September for six years of renovations, so I felt a last-minute visit was in order. In one of those small-world phenomena, the opening chapters of a book I’d just started – Mathematical Excursions to the World’s Great Buildings – made reference to the Ishtar gate, and that is another of the Pergamon’s monumental features.
Also on the shopping list was a night shoot of the sony centre – how could I resist somewhere described on wikipedia as having a cyberpunk corporate urban (futuristic) aesthetic? – plus a visit to the sea life centre to experience the AquaDom from within as well as the lobby of the Radisson. However, a pre-departure perusal of trip advisor turned up something that ticked my weird and wonderful boxes – the Designpanoptikum, or “surreal museum for industrial objects” – which rather stole the show! I wrote more about that here.
A report on flyertalk cemented my interest in the Radisson, but also came with a brunch recommendation that I’m glad I took up: the California Breakfast Slam in Neuköln. A fair trip from museum island, but that just works up an appetite for the substantial proportions offered up. In fact, I generally found quantity excessive in German meals – this one had the benefit of ticking the quality box too. The menu runs to only a handful of items, but sometimes it’s better to do a few things well instead of many unremarkably. The eggs florentine I opted for were certainly remarkable!