I went to Berlin last week, a city I’ve never before been to. I’d intended to visit the zoo, although I disapprove of zoos but it’s the biggest zoo in Europe and has a giant aquarium. I’d look at exhibits of creatures that didn’t mind confinement, because they never go anywhere anyway, tarantulas and things that live under stones.
In the event, I never got there. But I learned a bizarre fact. The only casualty of the first Allied bombing raid on Berlin in World War II was the zoo’s only elephant. What tragic serendipity!
I will return to the city in springtime to see Under the Lime Trees Street (Unter den Linden) when the trees are green, or in the autumn, when they are red and gold. Now that I’ve discovered a very pleasing, cheap and user-friendly route to this exciting city, I fancy another five day outing there with my wife.
The journeys there and back were as novel as the city itself, and my costs were paid. Happily, the only direct flight to Berlin is not from Cork or even Dublin, but from Kerry Airport, here in the southwest. No stopovers, approximately two hours airborne, two flights each week. Even for a non-flying visit, Kerry Airport is a venue to be cherished, a veritable gem.
Everything from one’s journey there to the ascent into the sky is appealing. The N22 from Cork is pleasant to Macroom, then switchback, winding and wild until Ballymakeera, then wide and uncrowded to Killarney passing through the kind of magnificent scenery visitors pay to see.
The experience at the airport is like flying used to be back in the 1960s. It is civilised flying. In the hundred-plus airports I’ve experienced, none compare in amenity with Kerry. I discovered it with the excitement I might feel upon discovering a medieval chapel at the end of my garden. When I arrived back after my five days in Berlin, I lingered at the airport, seduced by the chocolate eclairs in the glass-fronted counter of the cafeteria. Each one differently shaped, and with real cream, they were like the one’s my mother made.
Everything to eat in the cafeteria was home-made. I watched the Munster rugby team playing Castres on the television set, and could hear the commentary. Three or four of the cafe’s dozen patrons were obviously going nowhere – they had no luggage. They may have been bachelor Kerry farmers enjoying a hearty Sunday lunch. No noise, no hurry, no crowding thereabouts and the staff, clearly local women, as friendly as if they were inviting you into their homes.
As for multinational Bling, Flash and Louis Vuitton handbag shops, such were entirely absent. Nowadays, airports are all sell, stress and hurry. Even security at Kerry was user-friendly, but as thorough as anywhere else. The Ryanair fares were very reasonable. The walk from the long-term car park, through check-in, security and onto the plane was enjoyable, a rare airport experience. Ryanair had no milk for tea on the way out, and plastic tubes of smelly, reconstituted milk on the way back but, well, nobody’s perfect. The arrival airport in Berlin is Schönefeld, nominated by my hosts as the worst big-city airport in the world – they’ve not been in Jakarta, I think. Like Kerry, Schönefeld is quaint, but not much fun. Security is chaotic, and departure gates involve 2 km walks through corridors of shops like a never-ending bazaar. It was East Berlin’s airport, Soviet-built in the late 1950s.
In Berlin, the streets were super-clean, and folk obeyed the Walk-Don’t-Walk traffic lights, even if oncoming traffic was a distant blur away. Standing back, I used these patient civic-spirited citizens as wind-breaks. Very obedient, the Berliners.
A wonderful innovation was plastic bottle banks at the entrance to downtown supermarkets, and the sight of almost every shopper using them.
At the Brandenburg Gate, in the heart of the rich, ultra-modern city, I saw something I haven’t seen for years, a ‘three card trickster’ with a fag in the side of his mouth bent over a scrap of cloth laid on the pavement and chanting “Find-the-Lady, Find-the-Lady!” (actually it was “Two to one you can’t pick which of the small three boxes I’m manipulating at high speed has the white dice underneath it...”). Nearby, fellow conmen persuaded innocents to try their luck; they always picked the wrong box, of course.
The teamwork was like a choreographed mime. Time, and the city, all bright lights and sophistication moves on, but some minds remain naive as ever; hope springs eternal in the human breast.