Ever wondered where the National Lottery's 'voice of the balls' Alan Dedicoat goes on holiday? Probably not, actually. Still, if you ever did, I can tell you he was headed for Berlin this morning...as, of course, was I.
It was an early start this morning, a taxi picking me up at 4:30 (too early to take the tube or train, unfortunately, by far the cheaper options).
I make the mistake of buying a coffee on the way to the gate – I plan on sipping it slowly as I wait for the flight, but it turns out to be ready for boarding way before I'm finished and when I get to the gate itself, there's a big sign saying "No hot liquids beyond this point". I gulp my coffee down, one of the staff at the counter shooting me a slightly dirty look, as if it was due to my own madness that I'm stood there gulping down cappuccino. I do briefly consider trying to convince the staff that it's not hot, but merely warm, on its way towards cold, but I can't help thinking of the last time I flew to Berlin, when a half-full 200ml container of hair gel (which I have to admit I'd forgotten was in my bag) was confiscated for being 'way too big' despite the fact they must have been able to see on the scanner that it only had 100ml inside it (which in turn reminded me of how the Stasi had equipment for opening up tubes of toothpaste sent to East German citizens in the post, spreading out the contents on a board to check it...whether they then put it back again in a way that kept the stripes in the right order, I'm not sure).
I board the coach to the plane sans-coffee, but still munching on a sandwich, an item which I presume had been deemed inoffensive enough to take on board the plane (and certainly rather less offensive than some of the things which get served as in-flight meals). It's then that I notice that I'm sat opposite Mr Dedicoat, who boards the flight just ahead of me as we get off the bus. I suppose I can now add celebrity spotting to journeytoberlin.com's list of activities.
It's still dark as we take off at 7am, with the yellow-blue beginnings of dawn somewhere beyond the clouds. London is still lit with the orange glow of sodium vapour streetlights as the plane rises above the suburbs, the yellow-blue making way for warm orange-pink twilight as we ascend through layers of cloud.
The cloud over mainland Europe is a thick blanket of white, with not even the smallest glimpse of land showing through. The plane begins to descend at 8:10, the captain announcing that the current temperature in Berlin is 'a rather chilly -3 degrees centigrade'. While I know that such wintery temperatures strike fear into the hearts of some, I can't help feeling a bit excited at the announcement. Rather like people who travel to hot countries in the summer, I like travelling to Berlin in the winter, for the cold weather.
I remember the winters of my childhood, when thick snow fell on London and we could make snowmen in the garden. I'm sure they weren't all like that, but those are the memories that stick. I'll never forget the huge snowman which someone built in the park one year, which had a hollow in the base big enough to crawl inside; unfortunately this meant it was also big enough for dogs, one of which had left a large 'present' inside it. There are limits even to what a three year old child is prepared to crawl through.
There's been snow forecast for Berlin this week; from my experience the Germans seem to have a better idea of how to stop dogs from leaving 'presents' in it.
The clouds thin as the plane makes its final descent, revealing a golden winter's day in Berlin. It was on a day like this that I first saw the city, from an S-Bahn train heading to Alexanderplatz from Zoologischer Garten and there's still something special to me about days like this. The plane touches down at Tegel Airport just before 10 local time and joins the other planes docked at the airport's hexagonal terminal building, basking in the morning sun.
So here I am in Berlin, safe and sound. There's plenty more to be said about Tegel, but the day's just too nice to be spent sat behind a computer, so I'll leave all that until later. It's time to get out into the city!