I must admit there's not much to say right now, but in the same way that a falling tree makes no sound if there's nobody to hear it, I thought that maybe you'd be left wondering if Berlin exists if I don't post something to reassure you that it does...so, it's coming up to 11 o clock and Berlin definitely exists.
I'm off to the TV tower at Alexanderplatz. See you all later!
The train slips smoothly through the beginnings of the Berlin night, past the Funkturm and the angular International Conference Centre lit up in the night, past the bustling Breitscheidplatz and through Zoologischer Garten station, where trains on this route used to stop before Berlin Hauptbahnhof was built.
There is a chill to the air in Berlin Hauptbahnhof and the sound of trains echoes under the huge single span roof that stretches across the six platforms on the station's top level. Deep below, on the basement level, are another eight. There's no mistaking it - this station is a huge affair, with all the escalators that run between all the levels on the inside lending it the feel of a scene from Fritz Lang's Metropolis.
I remember when all that was on this site was the old Lehrter Bahnhof S-Bahn (Stadtbahn - Berlin's local railway, which runs mostly - though not entirely - overground) station. The original Lehrter Bahnhof was built in 1868 to serve this very route, from Berlin to Hannover (via Lehrte); it was heavily damaged in World War II and demolished in 1958, but the separate S-Bahn station remained in use until 2002. It was actually a listed building, but the similarity of its architecture to the nearby Hackescher Markt and Bellevue stations meant that the developers of the new Hauptbahnhof were allowed to demolish it.
Much more could be said about Berlin Hauptbahnhof and some more pictures wouldn't go amiss, but I have to be heading off to the apartment where I'll be staying for the next few days. It's been a fun yet exhausting process providing these regular updates. It's also not so easy to carry a laptop everywhere when going round a city on foot and local transport as I will be, so things won't be *quite* so frequent, but do come back tomorrow - there'll be lots of things to see!
The area the train passes through between Wolfsburg and Berlin is mostly rural. By day, the scenery is quite attractive, with fields, heaths and forests. By night, it's very, very dark. Occasionally the lights from a farmstead or small village flash past, but for the majority of the time, the world outside the ICE's windows is black and featureless.
30 miles or so from Berlin, the blinking red lights of a field of wind turbines come into view, like fireflies in rigid formation. Then come industrial estates and cars, streetlights and stations; before long, the train pulls in to Berlin Spandau and the feeling grows that there's a city out there.
From here, the train will amble slowly through Berlin, to Berlin Hauptbahnhof at the city centre...but that's a subject for another post...
Wolfsburg is famous for being the home of the car manufacturer Volkswagen, something which is certainly hard to miss, even at night, as the train speeds past the 1 1/2 mile long factory with its large lit-up VW logos. It was also one of the cities closest to the inner-German border before unification in 1990. From here on, the train begins its journey into the former German Democratic Republic (GDR) - better known as East Germany.
13th January 1978: a train departs along this very route, headed for Berlin. On board, 200 VW Golfs, the first of an order of 10,000 for sale not in West Berlin, where the model had been available since 1974, but in the GDR, where buying a German car meant a Trabant or a Wartburg. A Wartburg cost around 18,000 east German marks. By contrast, these new Golfs went on sale for between 27,000 and 31,500. Still, the people formed huge queues to get their hands on one; the state of the economy had meant that some people had more money to spend than there were things to buy, which perhaps helped.
Still, the GDR was short on money. In order to buy the shipment of 10,000 Golfs, the government did a swap, providing VW with machinery (which, rumour has it, is still in use producing new VWs in the Wolfsburg plant) and a planetarium by Carl Zeiss Jena , the building designed by Rügen-born architect Ulrich Müther. Rumour also has it that the canteen was also supplied with copious amounts of Bratwurst from Thuringia.
In 1984, meanwhile, the east German vehicle conglomerate/union IFA (Industrieverband Fahrzeugbau; Industrial Association for Vehicle Construction) obtained a licence for building the 1.1L and 1.3L four cylinder four stroke engines from the VW Polo. This went into production in 1988 and in 1989, a new Trabant, the 1.1, was built around the 1.1L 50PS (the 1.3L 58PS was also used in the Wartburg 1.3 from 1988 and the Barkas B1000-1 small van in Autumn 1989). The car came too late, though - the wall fell and interest in Trabants evaporated. The new factory in Mosel (Zwickau), which had been making the Trabant 1.1, was taken over by Volkswagen (the factory had also been producing examples of the Mark 2 Polo). Ironically, the factory is now used for building, amongst other models, the VW Golf - the Golf's infiltration of the east is complete!
Something blocks the GPS signal on the way out of Cologne; I suspect the thick cloud doesn't help. It's not until the train passes through Düsseldorf that the receiver locks on to the satellites again.
As the train stops in Hagen, I can't help thinking of the hotel I stayed in during the World Cup, in a place called Wasserloses Tal (waterless valley). Seeing the address, I'd assumed that Wasserloses Tal was one of these street names which has some kind of historical background which has been long since obscured by the course of urbanisation. Not so in Wasserloses Tal - it really was a dry, arid place. The crew nicknamed it Death Valley.
After the valleys come flatter landscapes again and the train passes into Lower Saxony. The area around Hannover is particularly familiar territory to me; I lived here for a while and can't help peering just a little more closely out the window to catch a better view of the rapidly darkening scenery.
The train pulls into Hannover at 17:28; an hour and a half to go until it arrives at Berlin Hauptbahnhof.
The ICE pulls smoothly out of Brussels. The pace feels more leisurely than that of the Eurostar, but in reality, the train still cruises along at over 150mph.
The countryside east of Brussels is flat and it seems like it's possible to see for miles over the open fields, which are occasionally interspersed with patches of woodland. The landscape becomes more hilly around Liege. It's only as I leave Liege that I finally get a network signal, having fallen into a kind of data black hole after entering Belgium.
We cross the German border not too long afterwards, stopping at Aachen, then speeding through the German countryside towards Cologne. Signs of industry become more conspicuous, with factories and mines visible beyond the patches of woodland which surround the railway. A rainbow appears, seeming to end on a motorway. I'm not sure I fancy searching for the of gold there...
The train arrives at Köln Hauptbahnhof (Cologne Central Station) at 14:20. There's only 16 minutes until the Berlin train leaves, so there's just enough time to change platforms and little else. The cathedral looms large over the station, its blackened gothic spires seeming to almost merge with the ironwork of the station roof. The cathedral is somewhat legendary, the construction having been started in 1248, but only completed in 1880. It's such a huge and ornate building that it's never really completely finished, though - I don't think I've ever seen it without scaffolding on one part of it or another.
This is the final leg of the journey - with any luck, I should arrive in Berlin just after 19:00 German time.
The weather becomes grey as the train speeds through France. The frost-tinged gold of the English fields has given way to deeper browns and greens, and dark clouds hang ominously in the sky. A little further on and the hum of the train's motors and whistling of the air around it is joined by the soft patter of rain as droplets are streaked across the windows. The further the train gets, the wetter the landscape seems to become. By the time we reach Belgium, the sky looks positively evil.
The train approaches Bruxelles Midi/Brussel Suid now and the sky is beginning to clear at least slightly. Brussels is of course known as the heart of the EU, as well as for having a statue of a boy urinating (the Manneken Pis). The EU side of things is probably of more relevance to this site - since 1989, the formerly divided Europe has become increasingly united, something which Germany has been keen to drive forward.
The Eurostar arrives at just before 11:00 Belgian time. With plenty of time to spare before the connecting train leaves, there's a chance to wander round the station a bit. Top on my list of priorities is finding somewhere to recharge the laptop, as the last few hours of activity have really eaten into the battery life. Unfortunately the data connection has been non existent between the time I entered Belgium and now (I'm actually posting this from just east of Liege). The only other option for internet access in the station seemed to be a fairly pricey wifi hotspot with a minimum period of 24 hours. Though I've often thought I should spend more time in Brussels, I don't fancy spending a day sat in the station with my laptop cheekily plugged into a power socket which seems to have been left free by the removal of a vending machine. So, sorry to anyone who's been sat there on tenterhooks waiting for updates, I did my best!
Now, despite still being in Belgium, I'm already on German soil...or German carpets at least. That is, on one of Deutsche Bahn's ICE (InterCity Express) International services:
At the moment this one just runs between Frankfurt am Main and Brussels and Belgium (they also have ICE trains running to stations in France, Switzerland, Austria, the Netherlands and Denmark), but Deutsche Bahn seem keen to take advantage of new EU legislation next year, which will allow them to run services to London St Pancras.
Next stop, Cologne!
Well, I've reached France!
Of course GPS trackers don't like tunnels very much, but I think you'll still get an idea of where the tunnel is. There's not a lot to be said about the journey through the tunnel itself, there's not a lot to see! In fact, it's so monotonous that the Eurostar trains are built with smaller windscreens than normal trains, so that the drivers don't get mesmerised.
My route now will be across northern France, then into Belgium, where I'll change trains in Brussels. With any luck, there should be plenty of time for an update then.