TAILS OF A TRAVELLING CAT
Day 7, Berlin to Vienna
Greetings, humans! We have been sitting on a station platform in Hannover for over an hour, our train has been delayed by 105 minutes. So I shall fill the time by writing about our last day in Berlin.
We started by getting the U-train (the German equivalent of London’s Tube) to Checkpoint Charlie, one of the border crossings of the Berlin Wall (yep, more history lessons today, folks). This was the area of the West controlled by the Americans and named after the letter C in the phonetic alphabet (Alpha is the crossing point from West to East Germany and Bravo is between East Germany and West Berlin if you’re interested).
Unlike the Bernauerstraẞe sector of the wall (which was in the French sector), here an artist’s installation marked the path of the wall in the form of brightly coloured purple and blue pipes above the streets where the wall had stood, which I suppose was kind of cool.
What I realised today was that the Wall was not a barrier dividing the city into its East and West halves, but instead a circular wall cutting off the West side of Berlin from the rest of East Germany, a tiny bit of West allowed to remain in the otherwise Eastern country, Berlin itself being firmly in the east of Germany. France, Britain and the US were responsible for controlling their parts of West Berlin, and East Berlin was controlled by the Russians – see my helpful map if you’re confused.
The Wall was set up by the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) to 'protect its citizens from fascism' as it was building a socialist state, however West Berliner’s referred to it as the Wall of Shame and its real purpose was to stop East Berliners fleeing to the West through West Berlin. Credit for this information goes to the information boards posted all around Checkpoint Charlie and at Bernauerstraẞe.
After some more souvenir shopping at Checkpoint Charlie, we moved onto the Topographie Des Terrors, a museum and memorial documenting the events of World War II including Hitler’s rise to power and the Holocaust. The longest remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall can also be found here, even if it was a bit torn down. The concrete tube over the top prevented people climbing it, concrete extending behind the wall stopped vehicles knocking it down by driving into it (I’m not sure how effective this was).
Strangely enough, when the Wall was brought down in 1989, the Limex-Beau company sold off parts of the wall, stamped for authentication to be used as road building materials. I find this very odd behaviour, but then what can one expect, they were human…
Things started to get a bit heavy so we took a break for lunch and visited another nice park and then headed over to Brammibal’s Doughnuts. My humans were very pleased with themselves for finding an all vegan doughnut bakery. They shared (ginormous) glazed ring doughnuts. They were chocolate peanut fudge, peanut banana fudge, nougat and hazelnut sprinkle. I have been reliably informed that they tasted fantastic, if you like doughnuts and are ever in Berlin, Germany or central Europe in general, a trip here is a must.
Doughnuts eaten, we headed over to the Brandenburg gate; it was huge! In case you're interested (and if you're not, I'll tell you anyway), the Brandenburg gate became part of the wall, separating the British West sector from the East. In 1987, US president Ronald Reagan stood on the West side of the wall and petitioned the East to 'tear down this wall'. Was Reagan an influence on its fall two years later? Probably not, but I'll let you make up your own mind.
I liked this area of Berlin, there were lots of old buildings and we also found the famous Tiergarten, but it was another 30˚c day and so we decided it would be a good idea to head back to our room and cool off with a cold shower.
It also allowed my humans to pick up their giant backpacks and say our goodbyes to our host. A short bus ride later, we were seated on our first train of the night, this one to Hannover.
A note on the spelling of Hannover: the English spelling has one 'n' (Hanover) and the German spelling has two, I like it with two 'n's so that is how I'm going to spell it!
This first train journey all went smoothly and we took our last look at the city as it disappeared from view. Berlin has been a fascinating city and we’ve had (accidentally, I might add) a very history based visit, the multitude of parks to eat meals and relax in has also been a great positive.
We arrived in Hannover and set off to find yet another park for dinner and to our surprise, discovered a piece of the Berlin Wall, stamped so there could be no mistake, at the entrance to the park. Strange coincidences.
Speaking of coincidences, I haven’t mentioned the cranes for a while. I am starting to wonder if they have followed us from Oslo, every city we have visited has been rife with cranes in an assortment of colours. Progress is everywhere, or so it seems.
Our night train to Vienna, as I mentioned earlier, has been delayed by 105 minutes, so that’s it for now, we’re all caught up. I’ll write later when the train eventually arrives and we are settled in for the night.
Actually, by the time the train arrived, it was so late we all went straight to sleep, therefore I’m actually writing this in a park in Vienna, so at least you know we made it to Austria, there was a point where I started to fear the train would never come.
In the end, the train was 130 minutes late – that’s over two hours!
A long time for a little cat to be sitting unmoving on a station platform in what, I must be honest, was not a good looking city. It was around 11:30 when the train was an hour and a half late that I seriously began to fear we would have no train and be stuck in this ugly German city forever (sorry, Hannover, I’m sure the areas of you we didn’t get to visit were beautiful).
The train finally arrived after midnight and we settled into our compartment, yes, this train has actual compartments like they do in old films. Although I don’t think the seats slide down into a reclining position like ours did in old films. How would I know? I’m a cat, I read books, I don’t watch films.
Finally! My poor, weary, exhausted, tired etc. body could rest!
Tomorrow I shall relate to you what we did in Vienna.
Until then, Chesh.
Day 6, Berlin
Greetings, humans! What a day, what a day! We started off with a relaxed morning and no plan of what to do or where to go, but took our host’s advice and visited Mauerpark for the Sunday flea market and other assorted festivities.
Once again, this was a walking trip, no buses today. We set off east across the city, crossing one gigantic tree blossom hay-fever-inducing shower and a quaint little park with many nice trees and wooded paths, we were grateful for the shade they provided. It was ridiculously hot today, reaching 30˚c according to the weather forecasts and believe me, we felt every degree, even for a cat that is getting toasty!
We left the small park and carried on along the road to Mauerpark. This was clearly a very popular place to be on a sunny Sunday. We walked through the open grass of the park to visit the (surprisingly massive) flea market. It went on and on, so far in fact that we decided on a break part way for lunch. During this time we overlooked a juggling-type show which was interesting and involved fire – that was my favourite part.
My personal humans then had to leave the park temporarily to get some so-called ‘cash’ out (this isn’t a concept I really understand) but on the way back visited a little shop called California Popsicles where Charlie and Jack bought ice lollies as we British call them. The humans tucked into a mixed berry lolly and a mango lolly containing a frozen strawberry coated in melted dark chocolate. Very refreshing, I’m sure.
Back to the flea market, looking for souvenirs and surprise! We found Korean steamed dumplings so gave them a go – fantastic apparently. My humans had never had steamed dumplings before, Korean or otherwise so that was a novel experience for them. My useless humans didn’t get the name of the stall, but it was in the flea market, and they gave out free samples… of something, my humans don’t remember that either.
Shopping over, we sat on the grass to relax and listen to some of the live music going on. Now this is what I’m talking about! A proper holiday with no water where one can really stretch out and relax. The only complaint – I fear I may never get the smell of weed out of my fur. Can people and cats get high off second hand weed smoke? I probably have anyway.
Next up, dinner time, out of the burning sun. We went to Vegó World Food where we were confronted with a mouth-watering choice of 15 tempting vegan burgers. In the end the humans chose a cauliflower-vegan cheese burger with a very German name and a ‘chicken’ schnitzel cheese burger, both with generous helping of salad and crispy chips, cheap as well, all this for only 9€ each. I particularly liked this restaurant – there were stickers everywhere, mostly anti-capitalist, feminist, anti-fascist and vegan, but there were a fair few cat stickers around too which I was a particular fan of.
We then moved on to Lia’s Kitchen for the second course: the world’s thickest chocolate ice cream, caramel and pecan milkshake. Absolutely fabulous my humans inform me.
Food consumed and my humans basically waddling with the shear amount they had taken on, we headed back to the room.
On the way back though we got distracted when we found some remains of the Berlin Wall on Bernauerstraẞe (straẞe is German for road and pronounced straa-suh). The Wall here is basically now just a lot of the poles they use in reinforced concrete in a long line. If we’d realised mauer was German for wall, we’d probably have discovered we were near the wall while we were relaxing in the park. The wall was originally constructed in 1961 and not brought down until 1989, and much occurred in those 28 years it existed for.
The wall was not just a wall, part of it was a façade of the houses to the East side of the wall and a separate blockade. These houses in the wall allowed people to flee into the West, often aided by Western forces who held fire-fighters' nets under windows to allow for safe escapes. However, these windows were quickly blocked up by the Russian controlled East and soon the houses themselves were torn down, today all that remains are some bricks from the lower floor, providing an outline of the buildings. We stood in these ruins and could feel the atmosphere of the place. We read stories of people’s escapes, friends and families separated by the wall. Visiting it at sunset, I’m sure, added to the eeriness of the place. The wall was heavily fortified, alarms, dogs, anti-vehicle defences, barbed wire and spikes. Despite this, there were still successful escapes, even once the houses had been torn down.
The remains of the wall were a powerful reminder that for the people of Germany, the effects of World War II lasted so much longer than 1945.
Wow! I got quite philosophical there! Well, that was that, after the Wall, we walked back to the room and that pretty much sums up the day.
We’re onto Vienna on our first night train tomorrow, but that gives us another full day to spend in Berlin, this time hitting the south of the city.
Until next time, Chesh.
Day 5, Copenhagen to Berlin
Greetings, humans! Firstly I would just like to offer my congratulations to anyone still reading this. I know what a short attention span you have and how easily distracted you are by cat videos on the Facebook and the Youtube. In terms of your short attentions span you are not very unlike a cat, I fear you will become bored of me, but then I remember I am the Cheshire Cat, how could I ever be boring? Luckily for you, I can talk about myself all day!
Right, you will be wanting to hear (well, read) what I got up to today. As with yesterday, I shall inform you in two parts. I am currently on the first of two trains for our journey to Berlin. This train goes to Hamburg (mmm, burgers…) and it is late, but more on that later.
The day started with my personal humans as I shall now refer to them, a name I of course came up with entirely without Jack’s help, getting the bus. We left the room we’d spent the night in, crossed the road and boarded my first bus. All was well until my stupid, stupid humans got off at the wrong stop. This was mainly Charlie’s fault, I mean Nørrebro, Nørreport, they look nothing at all like each other! This careless mistake resulted in my humans walking into town looking for the train station, giving up and getting back on the bus. We then arrived at Nørreport station and made the short train journey to Østeport.
From here, it was a short walk towards the Little Mermaid, but on route my personal humans got distracted by the water… oh I am long suffering. Charlie thought the water was star shaped, Jack thought it was shaped like a turtle, frankly I do not care what it was shaped like, as they crossed it and we became surrounded.
Turns out, there was a fort called Kastellet in the middle. We carried on and made it to the Little Mermaid (Den Lille Havfrue in Danish) Not as little as I expected, but not huge, pretty much life-sized. Jack said it is built on a rock in the sea so it is covered at high tide, Charlie said it was something to do with Hans Christian Andersen who was apparently a famous Dane. Now, I might not know an awful lot about human pastimes (mostly because I have no interest), but I do know a lot about books, Hans Christian Andersen was indeed a famous Danish author who wrote the Little Mermaid in 1837 – a fountain of knowledge, am I not?
We then walked back to the fort and through the area within its guarding walls. Not only is it in the centre of such terrifying water, it is built on steep banks and heavily defended by big cannons and a mighty windmill.
The cannons were very similar to those we met at the Akershus fortress (see the picture of me sitting on one from Day 2) and the windmill was truly magnificent, although no one ever explained to me what a windmill is actually for. Based on its position on the edge of the fort and its passing similarity to those wind turbines we saw from the train I can only assume it converts wind into green energy for fort defence purposes.
We then walked back to the station and were given slightly confusing but mostly helpful directions by a mildly drunk Scot who was now living in the area. This was an interesting experience…
Directions obtained we got the bus into Christiania for lunch. We walked through Freetown Christiania, another interesting place. Lots of food, no cars, weed (which I avoided, thank you very much), brightly painted shacks and everything you might associate with an alternative lifestyle. We passed back out of Christiania and visited Fala Fala, a vegan falafel stand inside the Copenhagen food market. This was a warehouse-like building on its own (very square and constructed) island overlooking Nyhavn, crammed full of every type of ethnic street food one could imagine. If you love food and want to try many different cultures’ foods without much walking involved, come here! Fala Fala served up falafel, hummus and tonnes of veg in a pitta with a side of chips and more hummus. Charlie also braved some kind of spicy aubergine based dip with chilli seeds in it. I’m rather glad I wasn’t offered any of that, I have a rather sensitive palate. Despite that I heartily approve of the generous portion sizes, both the chips and the pitta sandwich all for 100 Danish Krone (something along the lines of 11 British pounds.
From the food hall, we also had organic apple juice, made from three types of apple and beetroot juice, including carrot, apple, lime and ginger. I thought this a rather odd combination, but Charlie liked it.
Stuffed to bursting with food, we walked back to the bus and journeyed back to Copenhagen station to get the trains onto Berlin. We arrived early with the plan of checking the platform number and then hanging out in Tivoli Gardens until the train was due. This being us, things didn’t work this way of course.
The train platform wasn’t yet up, so we decided to go to Tivoli Gardens for a bit and then head back to the station nearer the time the train was due. Turns out Tivoli Gardens is a theme park immediately opposite the station and not the free public gardens Charlie was lead to believe by the WebWideWorld.
After this truly heavy disappointment (you may have noticed by now our love of parks), and the lack of green shady areas around the station, we sat and waited inside the station for half an hour. The train was then 20 minutes late and moved to a different platform (fortunately it was the neighbouring platform so all we had to do was turn around). When the train did arrive, there was quite a lot of confusion trying to find the seats. We spent a lot of time trekking through alternating very hot (standard class) and beautifully cool (1st class) carriages before getting off the train and trying from the other end. Seats eventually found, we settled down for a four and a half hour train journey. I’ll be taking a cat nap for the most part, my humans can do as they please.
A final note about Copenhagen before I stop for now. As mentioned briefly last night, it is definitely more full of old buildings than Oslo – no Great Fire of Copenhagen I can presume. In the day it’s not dark at all either which is always a positive, and just as blistering hot as Norway. It’s very flat here (but then compared to Oslo I suppose anywhere would appear flat) but there is too much water everywhere; a river, canals, the sea, it’s too much, I can’t wait to get to landlocked Berlin.
Mein Gott! The train has just made an announcement – the train is going on a ferry and going across the sea. I did not sign up for this, why do these things keep happening to me?!
I shall retire from writing now, hyperventilate for a good few hours and pick up the narrative again later.
Part II – I’m continuing this story technically on Sunday morning, but for narrative purposes, let’s pretend it’s still yesterday.
So, the train actually went on a boat, a very big boat on its own special tracks and everything. To make matters worse, we weren’t allowed to stay on the train in the relative safety of the hull but had to go up on deck and watch the water. Wrapped up in Charlie’s jacket for protection from the evil stuff, I was taken first to an indoor area with sea views and then out onto the decks, once more surrounded by water. 45 minutes we were on this boat before being allowed back into the mildly more secure train and off onto the relief of dry land. My humans had a great time, you won’t be surprised to hear, watching one piece of safe and sturdy land disappearing to be replaced with nothing but water in every direction, stretching out to the horizon before finally being able to glimpse the harbour and the return of safety. At least the boat didn’t bob!
We were now on an island, our arrival point known as Puttgarden. Not long later we crossed some more water onto the mainland by a mildly less scary bridge and carried on our journey through countryside, the hills of Oslo still only conspicuous by their absence. Although we weren’t sure at the time of our exact crossing of the Danish-German border, I now know it was our arrival at Puttgarden which heralded our arrival in our fourth country (I’m counting Sweden as a country even if we were only there for a few hours – our unscheduled stop at Lund allowed us a bit of extra time there).
Around an hour and a half later, we arrived in Hamburg where we had an hour and a half to kill before the next train to Berlin. On looking for a nice place for dinner we unwittingly walked into a street festival. There were food stalls and live music and people everywhere. The personal humans thought it would be wise to sit here and eat dinner on the curb. Despite my fear of being trampled, the atmosphere was amazing, although rather loud for a little cat on a pavement. The music we listened to during dinner was excellent though, so one must not grumble too much.
After dinner we wandered around the city before getting on a seemingly short train (only two hours!) to Berlin. By now it was too dark to see anything and arrival at Berlin was after midnight. The station was gigantic and the outside appeared to be constructed entirely of glass.
From the station, it was a short bus journey on the night bus and a walk up a rather pleasant road to our room which has a massively high ceiling and our own balcony, although we are yet to go out on it.
Arriving so late meant it was pretty much straight to bed, ready to explore the city tomorrow (well today). Until then, Chesh.