On winning at life (or at least on the train)

April 24th.

I had a train to catch this afternoon and I caught it.

The end.



The truth is, as usual, somewhat lengthier and involves a confrontation with a couple of officious ticket collectors, but I still won. And winning is what it’s all about, right?


Take 2.

I had a train to catch this afternoon. The sort of long distance train that you book in advance to make the journey affordable. The sort that you shouldn’t really miss because getting the next one is not just an unnecessary nuisance, it’s a really expensive unnecessary nuisance (and in this case would probably also mean getting in really late and not being fit for tomorrow’s meeting).

That meant leaving work early and catching two other local trains to get to the station. I started looking at train timetables a few days ago. I checked again this morning and decided on a connection that left me quite a lot of contingency time (more orderly people would probably have left double..)

I occasionally have an urge to be more organised. Part of that involved spending the Easter weekend finding the bottom of my washing baskets so that I would have a wardrobe full of clean, dry clothes to choose from. It didn’t stretch as far as actually packing..

I got involved in a late-night discussion instead of packing and had to pack this morning instead. By the time I’d agonised over the weather and what I was going to wear when, and watered all the plants, I ended up leaving ridiculously late.


I got to the station and remembered that I needed a ticket for the journey to work but didn’t think about what I was doing and bought a ticket for the whole of Berlin instead of just the area I need.


The tickets are valid for travel in one direction for up to 2 hours. You can get off the train as often as you like during those hours, but you can’t go back in the direction you came from.

Work lies almost directly between my house and the station I was leaving from later. If I left work a few minutes earlier than I’d planned, I could get to the station using the same ticket I’d come in with. I figured it was a lucky mistake after all.



As is probably obvious to anyone who either knows me or has read more than three of my posts, I left work a couple of minutes later than I should have done. I got to the station half a minute or so later than the train should have left.


There are trains scheduled every 10 minutes, so it wasn’t really a problem

I say ‘should have left’, because it turned out it was running late so it arrived before the next timetabled train.


In a different universe I would have got to the station without further incident.. However. This isn’t that universe. This is the universe where “maximal nerve-wracking” is my automatic setting.

In this universe the ticket controller got on the train at the exact moment the time on my ticket ran out.


By the time he got to me.. “Your ticket ran out 4 minutes ago”


“Where are you getting off?”

“Uh..here.” I pointed at the next station. I wasn’t planning to get off there, but it seemed like a good idea to not be on a train with an invalid ticket at the same time as the controller. (Not having a valid ticket in Germany carries a 60€ fine). From that station the trains go approximately every 3 minutes, so it shouldn’t matter too much if I waited for the next one. Especially seeing as the train-timetable-app said the next train was running a few minutes late…

“Ok.” (That’s the abrieviated version. He was very grumpy but jobsworthily pleased to have someone to rant at).

He watched as I got off the train..

..and then got off too.

He sat on the bench with his controller friend and looked as if he was content to stay for the duration.



I was only three stops away from where I wanted/needed to be, two from where I needed to change, but there was no chance I could walk there and still catch my train.

I went back to the ticket controllers.

“I’m sorry, I made a mistake. I wasn’t supposed to get off here after all. I need Other Station instead. Can I get the next train with this ticket? It’s only two stops… Please?”

They weren’t very happy, but they did rather dourly allow me to get on the next train.


More accurately, they made sure I knew just how much I wasn’t allowed to use tickets past their use-by time, then escorted me onto the next train and watched me to make sure I got out where I said I would…

I luckily had to change platforms to change trains, and they got back on the train to check the tickets in a different wagon, so they didn’t see the last 3 and half minutes of my illicit journey.


I arrived exactly 15 minutes before the train left, exactly as instructed by the ticket :).


There were major building works at the long-distance station. And rather confusing signposts. And I was trying to catch a train that doesn’t exist on the timetable, rather like the Hogwarts Express, except that I didn’t know which platform to aim for.


My ticket said check the boards and the board said check your ticket.


I found the right platform by chance and after going up and down escalators more or less at random and checking all the platform displays. Some of which said check the display..

Whee? I guess..

When the train arrived it was full and the thermostat was broken


But I was on the right train train at the right time and I did get a seat and there were openable windows and we all got there safely.


And that was the end of another successful travelling day.


(Yup, I’m off gallavanting again – there are meetings tomorrow and Friday that I want to go to, followed by people I want to visit for the weekend)

On red lights

There is a solitary red street light on the road next to the river through the residential area.

Does that make it a red light district?

On driving across Berlin with a fridge

While it wasn’t nearly as cool as hitchhiking round Ireland with one’s miniature fridge, I’d argue that driving accross Berlin during rush hour with a nearly-full-sized fridge on the folded down back seats of your car is slightly more nerve wracking, especially if it’s dark, drizzling, and the rear windscreen wiper doesn’t clean the top third of the window and the fridge covers the bottom half. Even more especially if you usually park under a lime tree and the entire car, but most notably the mirrors and windows, are slightly sticky, dusted in yellow grit and decorated with bird poo.

The fridge, the car and I all made it back in our respective one pieces* and that was the end of another educational day.
*as in, ‘got back in one piece’, except there were three of us. Not to be confused with onesies. There is no way I am going to dress either my car or my fridge in a onesie. The chances of me wearing one myself aren’t much greater.

On letting balloons free – part 2

This is the part where I explain, in my own way, what I was doing (and why) last night.


For 3 days, a “wall of glowing balloons on sticks” was put up accross the city. They blocked roads, filled pavements and generally got in the way. People would probably normally have complained about the chaos, except this was different. Instead of getting annoyed about them, people stood next to them, took pictures of them, took pictures of themselves standing next to them, walked along beside them, looked them up on the net, or saw them on the news. It was more of a festival than a nuisance.

Crowds of people gathered on the night of the 9th to watch them being let loose. The wall disintergrated and floated off into the sky, carrying their message(s) with them.

There were certainly loads of tourists among the crowds, but these onlookers were mostly residents, people who live in Berlin, or ex-residents, who’d lived here 25 years ago and for whom the evening was more memory than reality.

It was a re-enactment of the past.


Berlin used to be a city.
After the second world war the British, the French, the Americans and the Russians divided Germany, and Berlin, up into approximate quarters, or sectors, and each was in charge of their piece of country and city. Russia was communist, and wanted to enforce it’s communism, regardless of popular opinion.
Lots of the people who happened to live in the DDR, the part run by the Russians, didn’t appreciate what was going on, and left.
It didn’t take long for the DDR, the Russians, or the Soviet Union, to realise that they were losing inhabitants at a worrying rate and decided to do something about it.
They built first a barrier and then a wall accross Germany and around West Berlin.
The barrier went up so unexpectedly, some people got caught out. Unaware of what was going on, they went shopping, or to work, and never came home. Families were split up, streets were divided down the middle, houses situated on the border were considered no man’s land and the residents evicted and/or rehoused. In some cases, people escaped through the windows – until they were boarded up that is.

Over time, the borders were strengthened to the point where the guards were allowed to shoot anyone within a ‘safety’ distance and automatic shooting systems where set up to get the rest.

West Berlin was an island in the middle of East Germany. It wasn’t a deserted island though, despite efforts to cut it off – there were even times when planes dive bombed the City with food parcels. It wasn’t a forgotten island either. If you could get into West Berlin you were ‘safe’ and could get a new passport and travel to west Germany and wherever else you wanted to go. If you were caught, things didn’t look good for you.

Several years went by and far too many people died.

Then, in 1989, the people protested, and the wall was taken down. Or at least the gates were opened. (Some other stuff happened too, but that’s complicated)

Free to travel, free to do what they wanted, free to meet up with long lost relatives, free to say what they wanted without going to jail. Free for the first time in approximately 30 years.

That was 25 years ago.


Last night was a trip through memory city. 8000 lit up helium balloons were set up along the path of the original wall. 8000 people were each given a red jacket and the privilege of letting one of the balloons up into the air. I was one of those 8000 people.

The wall of balloons ‘fell’ the way a line of dominoes falls; one by one, each balloon free-er waited for their neighbour to release their balloon before releasing their own.

I have never seen the city so full!  😉

On flying home* for Christmas

Two weeks ago I bought a ticket for a flight to Berlin.

Last week I checked in online, printed my boarding card and packed my bag.

On Friday I got a train from work to the airport (and was there on time), went through security, unpacking and repacking most of my suitcase in the process.

Once on the other side, I scanned the departures board to find my gate. I got there with a few minutes to spare.

Half an hour or so later I was still waiting. No one had said anything about a delay, but I fly fairly often and they rarely bother to inform you if it’s less than an hour or so.

Anyway, I phoned the DB to let him know that I would be late and that he didn’t need to set off yet. He was already on the road and asked me how I could phone him from the air. I did a slight double take, and told him I was still waiting for take-off. He’d apparently checked the website and it had told him I was in the air. This caused a puzzled silence.

Turns out there were 2 machines scheduled to fly to Berlin simultaneously with 2 different airlines. I hadn’t checked the departures board properly, and hadn’t even registered the miniature symbol in the corner of the screen at the gate.

I asked the hassled people at the gate if I could fly with them instead (there weren’t many people waiting) but obviously that wasn’t going to happen, they couldn’t even sell me a ticket for the flight because they’d already started boarding (at least on the computer).

After I checking the alternative Berlin gate and finding no one there, I went back to the main hall.

It appears one isn’t allowed to go through security the wrong way. You have to be locked in a small box first which then opens on the other side.

Almost an hour and a lot of talking later I got my ticket rebooked for the next flight.

(In the meantime I’d phoned the DB a couple of times, spoken to the staff at all the airline help desks including asking the other airline how much tickets cost for their next flight, but their computer booking system was down and the bloke said it would be extortionate being as how it was so late. It isn’t their policy to fill as many seats as possible…).

I went through security for the second (third if you count going the wrong way too) but this time it was full and I didn’t bleep.

The plane was delayed by about 15 minutes and once on the runway we had to wait for ages because of an accident.

The flight itself was non-eventful but man, was I glad to get to Berlin.


*Berlin isn’t my home, but DB’s…

On ‘coincidences’ (and Berlin)

On Thursday I decided to go to Berlin.

Naja, ish.

While it is true that I decided to go, it wasn’t entirely my decision. I was invited to a meeting. The sort that it would be silly not to go to. Some of you know why, some don’t. It’s not entirely relevant. The only relevant part is that I need to be in Berlin on Thursday.

Wednesday is the 1st of May. In Germany it’s a national Holiday. I decided to take Thursday and Friday off work, get the train on Tuesday evening or Wednesday morning, go to the meeting on Thursday and spend the rest of the time being a tourist before coming home on Sunday. I’ve been in Berlin before, but only briefly and I didn’t walk around much.

On Friday I took my holiday form to the person-who-signs-holiday-forms’ secretary. She looked at it and said she was going away the same week. As the polite, interested person I am, I asked her where she was going.. I didn’t really particularly care, but it’s always good to have secretaries on your side 🙂 and talking to them beyond “hello, here you are, thanks, bye” always helps.

Turns out she was going to Berlin.

AND has a spare seat in her car.

AND is willing to take me with her 🙂

AND is going to bring me back with her on Sunday.


She’s leaving on Monday afternoon, so I added Tuesday to my holiday form before going to celebrate my good fortune in a beer tent 🙂

I spent today on the phone. Practically everyone I know in Berlin has ‘offered’ to have me over to stay 🙂

I’ve also invited to a lecture, to look round 2 glassblowing workshops and to some kind of concert/party, as well as to join in with whatever’s going on on the 1st.

Watch out Berlin – here I come!!