Monday 24 February 2020
Boarding the Lufthansa flight at Tokyo Haneda Airport I was surprised to see the the number of empty seats. Two thirds of business class was empty and over half of economy class. Obviously the coronavirus is having a big effect.
At Frankfurt they only had 2 customs officers on with a queue winding its way back through the terminal well over a 100 meters. I was lucky to arrive as the queue was starting to form but still only just made the flight to Berlin.
The trip from Tegel Airport took nearly an hour in the heavy evening traffic. After checking into the Upstalsboom Hotel and dumping my kit I headed over to the Vienna House Abels Hotel, a large hotel and conference centre across the road from the velodrome and a large swimming complex, where most of the track cyclists participating in the World champs are staying. Kirstie and I enjoyed dinner together and had a great catch up. Kirstie had been in town since Friday and explained hew easy the tram system was to use. “Dad you just get the tram across the road west to the next intersection then get off and get on the tram on the line heading south. Following the instructions and having only glanced at the google map she showed me I got on the south facing tram and the bloody thing instead of going straight ahead turned east and took me back to where I started. So I payed for an Uber instead.
Tuesday 25 February 2020
Kirstie had said I should be able to watch them train at 1000 so I took a stroll to the Velodrome. Luckily Kirstie had warned me they were underground. Basically a big flat paddock with one rectangular and one round concrete structure at ground level, which housed the velodrome and a swimming complex underneath. I headed to the first set of lifts, which brought me out by the swimming complex that seams to have several pools in it. To the north on the underground road was the entrance to the Velodrome, which was all closed up.
I went down to the next level where a door was open so I wandered in. A short distance down the corridor I was confronted by a number of security people who called the English speaker over as I tried to explain why I was there. He made it very clear there was no way I was going in. He probably sleeps with a copy of Mein Kampf under his pillow. Making a careful withdrawal I headed back up to the ground. Then thinking I have to give this another try I headed back down to the public entry. This time a door was unlocked with security people everywhere. I tried to explain again why I wanted in so they got a part English-speaking lady who then took me to a good English speaking lady called Sarah from Finland, who is studying in Berlin and working as a volunteer at the champs. She told the security people that she would accompany and sit with me as I watched. Problem solved. As we walked into the stadium she asked me who my daughter was. When I told her she lit up with “Kirstie is a friend of mine. I have stayed at your house in NZ.” Sarah, a former track cyclist, who rode for both Mexico and Finland, trained at the Velodrome in Cambridge NZ for a while.
After watching the training I headed by tram to the NZ embassy to get some documents witnessed. A very helpful lady called Frances sorted it all out, asking me what had brought me to Berlin. I explained about the cycling and while she was sorting the docs the Ambassador, Rupert, popped in for a yarn, saying the team manager had invited him to come out to say hi to the team but he was a bit tied up as our Minister of Justice was in town.
I wondered around town, through the Brandenburg Gates and past them to the Bunker, which was closed.
Wednesday 26 February 2020
I headed over to the the Allied Museum, which is in the what was the American area. This covers mainly information about the blockade of Berlin from 24 June 1948 to 12 May 1949. The blockade was brought about by the Soviets to force France, Britain and the US out of West Berlin. Bearing in mind Berlin was some 170kms inside Soviet East German territory.
In March 1948 the Allied powers decided to unite the different occupation zones of Germany into a single economic unit. In protest, the Soviet representative withdrew from the Allied Control Council. This coincided with the introduction of a new Deutsche Mark in West Berlin (as throughout West Germany), which the Soviets regarded as a violation of agreements with the Allies. The Soviet occupation forces in Eastern Germany began a blockade of all rail, road, and canal. Only the air corridors remained open.
Over 230 thousand flights flew millions of tons of supplies into West Berlin keeping the city going until the embargo was lifted. The museum contains lots of information on the airlift as well as information on the life of the Americans from the war up until reunification. There is a section of the tunnel the allies build under the wall in the 60’s, from which they tapped into the Soviet communication system. Only problem was that Philby, one of the Cambridge five was still in M16 hence the Soviets knew all about it.
The original Checkpoint Charlie is also located there along with one of the planes used in the air lift.
After the first session was over I joined some of the other parents in the hotel restaurant for a meal and a few drinks.
In the evening I went anI watched some more racing taking a few more pictures of the kiwis as Kirstie had said they don’t have a photographer and in spite of the many professional photographers at these events they never seem to get access to the pictures.
Thursday 27 February 2020
I was staying in what was East Berlin. 65% of Berlin had been destroyed during WWII so much of the city is relatively new built by the soviets with ,wide streets and many of the buildings made to a similar style. The public transport system here is fantastic with trams linking to the several different rail systems around the city.
I spent a good part of the day strolling the streets and looking around. Just like in many cities old factories are being turned into residential apartment buildings.
In the evening I headed back to the track to watch the the next round of the team pursuit. As there are five in the team and only four race Kirstie did not get to race this one. They raced the US team, who had come first in the eliminations, but their race did not go to plan so they missed out on a medal race. Last year they were placed third.
After the racing I headed into the city centre to a bar. I was enjoying a glass of wine and editing some photos on my phone when my battery went flat. Now back home this would not be a problem just ask one of the bar staff to borrow a charger. But not here, no one has such a thing for an i-Phone. It was pissing down with rain and all the info on the hotel was in my phone. Being a bit dyslexic I could not even pronounce the hotel, let alone spell it. I probably could have found my way there eventually but was going to get soaked in the process. I wandered into a couple of shops but still no i-Phone charger. Then I headed into Dussmann’s book store where a friendly sales guy took a charger off the shelf and took me to a power point. Problem solved.
Friday 28 February 2020
A couple of train rides took me to the old Tempelhof Airport. This site has a history going back to the Knights of the Temple, who occupied it around 800AD. After that it was mainly a military type area until the 1920’s when it first became used for aviation with the Hindenburg airships being launched from there with hundreds of thousands of spectators turning up, as they did when Orvil Wright did his 1.5 hour first passenger flight.
In 1933 Hitler decided he wanted to build a major airport there. In 1935 architect Ernest Sagebeil was given the design task. The 300,000 square meter building was built the following year. With dozens of stairways at the back it was designed to accommodate 100,000 people on the roof for the important people to sit while millions paraded on the grounds below. The whole thing was built in a year (at the time the largest building in the world) but never quite finished as the money ran out and the 100,000 people never got to sit on the roof. It did however work as an airport, the first to have its own baggage handling and freight area. Planes could pull in under the large apron and park beside the steps to the terminal. As the Germans were the Aryan race they didn’t need lifts, but they did put a couple of special ones in for Hitler.
I found an English-speaking tour was on at 1.30 and joined in. As luck would have it we struck probably the best tour guide ever. She knew everything about the place, was easy to understand and very accomodating. We first headed out onto the apron where she pointed out the hangar that had been used recently to accomodate refugees along with several hundred containers that were also part of their accommodation. The large radar station could apparently “see” several hundred miles into the Soviet east during the cold war. The Soviets captured the airport at the end of the war and during the battle many of the building were damaged by fire. During the war the airfield had been bombed by the allies to an unusable state but the buildings had only been only hit twice.
This was the main airport used to fly in relief during the embargo. When it started they could unload a plane in 30 minutes; by the end it was 3 minutes. We headed inside to the arrival and departure hall, which is rather grand with its tall ceiling and large columns making those entering feel small. Then it was up to the dining room, which looked out over the airfield and catered for 2,500 people. In its day this airport was catering for 5 million passengers a year. In the long term it was designed to take 80 million, however planes got bigger and would no longer fit under the aprons so eventually it was closed. It is now a historical place and various parts are rented out. We moved into the grand entrance hall behind the arrivals hall with more large columns, marble floors with underfloor heating (which is throughout most of the building and still works) then we went up a level to another large hall. In this part the limestone cladding had been stripped off to repair other parts of the building. Yes, the building from the outside and in looks like it was built of stone, but like in Rome it’s concrete with stone cladding.
At one stage we went into one of 300 bunkers, which were designed in case of air-raids, which they thought based on WWI experience would only last 30 minutes. Kids’ drawings were on the wall to keep people amused as filtered air was piped in the room. In WWII a partition and buckets were added as the raids often went all night.
Back up lots more stairs we went to a sports room where the US used to bring in locals for basketball competitions. interestingly the CIA blue-room was right next door to this.
Finally we headed down more stairs into the basement where the been film archive bunkers were situated. One of these had caught fire and none of the archives were ever recovered. Parts of the building are still used as a police headquarters. Many movies have been made here including the Hunger Games.
At the front of the complex is the head if the large eagle that once stood atop the entrance. There is also a statue to celebrate the embargo relief flights. I have only scratched the surface of what is here. If you are ever in Berlin this place is well worth a look.
Saturday 28 February 2020.
Racing started at 11am so I headed to the track to watch and take more photos. Later in the session the women’s Individual Pursuit took place with Kirstie and two of her team mates taking part. This is not a race they train for as it is not an Olympic event. Last year Kirstie came fourth in this event; this year she did not do so well, not getting past the eliminations and placing 12th. Her two team mates did a little better but did not make it into the next round. Kirstie has written a really good piece about the race and her experience on facebook.
This year after qualifying well, we ended up 6th in the TP after making some execution errors. In the IP I knew I had to…
In the evening i went back to watch more racing and particularly the Women’s Madison final, a 30 km race which is raced in pairs with riders slinging each other forward as they change out and come back into the race. At one stage a rider rode between the two as they were holding hands for the changeover causing a dramatic crash. One would think “how did that happen -why didn’t she brake or slow down?” These bikes have no brakes and do not free-wheel so it is very difficult to slow down, let alone stop.
After the racing Kirstie and her team mates, along with a few others whose races had finished racing for the week met in the top floor bar for a few drinks.
Sunday 1 March 2020
I headed to the Brandenburg Gate to join a walking tour of central Berlin. Our guide, John, an Irishman with a good sense of humour and plenty of knowledge, took us for a stroll around the centre of Berlin, giving us a rundown of Berlin during and after the war and into the Soviet era.
We started by the Brandenburg Gate, adjacent to the US embassy, near the famous Hotel Adlon, where Micheal Jackson did his famous ‘hold the baby out over the balcony’ trick. The hotel looks old but was only built this century and is apparently 13k euros a night for the penthouse.
Interestingly when the Russians finally captured the centre of Berlin they concentrated on the Reichstag building, almost completely destroying it, not realising that Hitler had never used it. A photo if the Russian soldiers holding a flag up on the building caused Stalin some grief as one of the soldiers was wearing two watches.
The whole area around the centre of Berlin apart from the gate was pretty much flattened. There was not a tree left standing as the people had cut every one down for firewood. The Russians buried 2,000 soldiers not far from the gate in an area that became West Berlin so each day during the Soviet era a ceremonial guard was marched into the west to to stand guard on the memorial that also had supposedly the first two Russian tanks to enter Berlin and the first two artillery guns to engage the city.
Next stop was the star representing the famous spot where President Regan gave his ‘take down the wall’ speech. The actual spot was in the middle of the road but the plaque is on the footpath. Next was the 25 million euro Holocaust memorial consisting of 2,200 concrete rectangular cubes which people have all sorts of different interpretations of.
Then we came to the spot where Hilter had his bunker and headquarters. The above ground building was 400m long and built of stone. The soviets demolished it stone by stone and sent the stone to Russia to build war monuments and memorials. Apartments now cover the area. The famous Hitler bunker was pretty much unknown to the public and completely destroyed and buried until the internet came along – then people started turning up at people’s apartments and asking if Hitler lived there so a sign is now in place indicating where the bunker was. John told us the story of how Hitler got married to Eva Braun one day then she bit on a cyanide pill and he shot himself. Their bodies were wrapped in a rug, brought to the surface, doused in diesel and set on fire. The Soviets managed to track down Hitler’s dentist and get hold of his x-rays to properly identify the body.
Around the corner we came to the only Nazi building left standing in the city, formerly the air ministry it now houses the finance department. With some two thousand rooms and seven kilometres of corridors it is impressive.
Around the corner from here is a section of the wall still standing. Now what a lot of people don’t know about the wall is it was originally put up as a fence overnight. Prior to that people could cross from the east to the west and get money and housing as an incentive to stay. Stalin got a bit miffed that all these people wanted to leave the Soviet ruled area so on the night of the 12-13 August the Soviet soldiers laid down 30 miles of barbed wire through the centre of Berlin. Easterners were not allowed to cross to the west and the number of check points for Westerners to cross to the east was reduced. Even now Russia is harder to get out of, than it is to get into. On the 15 August they began replacing the barbed wire with concrete to protect their citizens from the pernicious influence of the decadent capitalist culture of the west.
You will see in the photo below the pipe on top of the wall to make it hard to get a grip when trying to climb over. The pipes were given to the east by the west to help them improve their infrastructure.
Just down street there were a bunch of cars that looked like Ladas but were in fact the famous Trabant, manufactured from 1957 to 1990 in east Berlin. With a composite body, an east-west engine, no speedo, indicators or fuel gauge, and made to order. they were apparently quite popular.
You can now hire them and go on a Trabant convoy drive around Berlin. According to John you normally end up getting towed for part of the journey.
Marlyn, originally from Quebec and now living in Germany, was the only other person on the tour on their own so we had a good chat along the way.
The famous Checkpoint Charlie, was the third checkpoint: Alpha, Bravo, Charlie – not the name of some US soldier as apparently a lot of US visitors think. This is not the original building.
After a coffee at the Charlie cafe I headed back to the track and sat with Kirstie and some of her team mates to watch some more racing. One of which was the mens final 50 km Madison, in which the two Kiwi competitors won the silver medal.
All too soon it was time to head to the airport for the long journey back to NZ.