Sunday 7 September 2014

Back to Berlin

I arrived in Berlin three days ago, on a Thursday, nearly 20 years after my last visit to the city.

It had changed. For a start, my train arrived at the shiny, still relatively new Hauptbahnhof.

This main train station hadn't existed back in 1994.

As we had arrived then by overnight train from Kraków, Poland, we'd crawled into Lichtenberg Station, which would presumably have been Polish trains' East Berlin terminus in the communist days.

Not only was Berlin's main station new, but so was the entire district around it. This was the view from my hotel room over the tracks:

Disorientated by the cluster of new buildings in the Mitte district, including some still under construction, I headed south to see if I could identify anything from my previous visit so soon after German reunification.

It all soon fell into place, though with twists here and there.

First there was the Bundestag building, the former Reichstag, but with its added dome:

Then I took a walk in the Tiergarten and spotted the Soviet war memorial on the way:

Finally, I emerged at the Brandenburg Gate. Yep, this was Berlin:

I walked through the gate onto Unter den Linden. It was a balmy evening and people were milling around, taking photos and chatting.

Then, walking on a little, I saw the Hotel Adlon:

The Adlon had been the city's grandest hotel in imperial times, but I knew it for another reason.

In 1941, the British comic novelist PG Wodehouse (creator of Jeeves & Wooster) had been housed here after he was persuaded by his German captors to give some humorous speeches on radio to reassure his American listeners, who were not yet involved in the war.

The speeches were innocuous but a terrible blunder by the naive writer, who was unaware of the mood in Britain after the Blitz. It was a mistake that took a while to live down, and Wodehouse never returned to the UK, settling instead in the USA.

It can't have been fun for Wodehouse and his wife Ethel at the Adlon, unable to leave a Germany at war and soon realising the gravity of what he'd done.

So I sat in the lobby bar, perhaps where Wodehouse might've sat in the original building (it was rebuilt after war damage), ordered a glass of champagne and drank in memory of my favourite author.

As had been the case once before when I'd visited the prison where he was confined before the broadcasts, we were separated by time - but not by space.

Disclosure time: I travelled across Europe by train courtesy of Railbookers.

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