You know that feeling of when someone seems to be giving a present for all the wrong reasons? That was, I suspect, exactly what the people of Warsaw felt when Josef Stalin gave them the Josef Stalin Palace of Culture and Science (Pałac Kultury i Nauki imienia Józefa Stalina) as a present in 1952. Like with Berlin's Stalinallee, Stalin's name was removed from the building's title in the destalinisation process which followed his death, but the building itself has survived to the present day.

In constrast to the buildings on Stalinallee, which were designed by local architects with reference to the Stalinist style, the Palace of Culture and Science was designed by the Russian architect Lev Rudnev, also architect of the Moscow State University building (one of seven Stalinist skyscrapers in Moscow, known as the Seven Sisters). A team of 3500 Russian builders was brought in to construct it and, when completed in 1955, it was, at 231 metres, by far the tallest building in Warsaw. With all that in mind, it's fairly easy to understand how it became seen by many as a symbol of Soviet domination.

One thing's for sure - it's huge. It's still the tallest building in the whole of Poland, plus it's quite wide and has a large complex of buildings at its base. Among the facilities inside are a multiplex cinema, a theatre, museums and a congress centre. In the communist days, the 2880 seat congress hall was where the communist party met.

For the princely sum of 20 Zlotys, you can go up to the 'panorama' gallery on the 30th floor. It's open to the elements at the sides, so a bit chilly on a winter's night, but the views of Warsaw are spectacular.

The interior of the 30th floor is quite grand too. If I wasn't in the throes of another black and white moment here, you'd see that the walls are painted a rich red colour.

A great deal of the really lavish rooms aren't normally open to the public, but the building's website has a list of halls for the congress centre, which has pictures of many of the rooms.

Just as intriguing to me is the basement, where there's a strange little security guard's desk, a small shop-kiosk and a cloakroom. Lifts with dark wood-veneered interiors leave for the higher floors and, round by the cloakroom, people sit waiting patiently for...something.

The parallels with Berlin don't end with Stalinallee; after the ruins of the Berliner Stadtschloss were demolished, there was discussion of building a structure similar to the Palace of Culture and Science on the Schloßplatz site. In the end, the function of towering symbol of socialism was taken up by the Fernsehturm, while the former Schloßplatz was occupied by the Palast der Republik, Berlin's own palace of culture.

After the fall of communism, similar debates erupted around the Palace of Culture and Science as surrounded the Palast der Republik, of whether it ought to be kept or knocked down. The eventual result was that the Palace of Culture and Science was made a listed building, protected from demolition. Not a decision that was popular in all quarters, but it does ensure that this intriguing Warsaw landmark remains for all to see.

Berlin-Warszawa Express is a very evocative name to me. It conjures up so many more images than, say, EC45, which is this service's other name (there are several trains a day, each with a different number). It seems to evoke a bygone (and possibly non-existent) age when train journeys were full of mystery and adventure.

To be quite honest, the last time I travelled on it, there wasn't a whole lot of mystery or adventure involved - just a very long train journey. Snow has the power to change everything, though, and it's with excitement that I stand on platform 11 of Berlin Hauptbahnhof, watching the snow fall over the city outside.

The indicator boards say that the train will be around 15 minutes late and, a short while later, I see why. A Berlin-Warszawa Express pulls into platform 13, covered in snow from its journey across Poland and eastern Germany. It seems that this is the train which will turn around and become the Warsaw train.

The train eventually arrives on platform 11, everyone piles on board and the train makes a swift exit. I've got a seat in what Germans call an 'Abteil', a compartment (in this case for six people), which lends a little of the spirit of an old-time train voyage to things.

The train sets off through a snow-covered Berlin, stopping to pick up passengers at Berlin Ostbahnhof before heading out into the open countryside. The further eastwards the train pushes, the more blizzard-like the snow gets. As it crosses into Poland, the view starts to white out almost completely.

Ice starts to collect on outside of the window shortly before Zbaszynek. It starts as small flakes, which then grow to large clumps. At one point, it looks like they might grow to cover the whole window, but then the train stops and the ice starts to melt without the flow of icy air to help it in the fight against the train's heaters.

It's nearly dark by the time the train arrives at Poznan. The station lights burn bright against the dark grey-blue sky. It then passes across an ever-darkening landscape, the black punctuated by the orange sodium vapour glow of the small stations the train speeds through.

Though I can only guess at how late the train is running, the increase in the number of buildings on the horizon give me the feeling it's somewhere near Warsaw. It turns out I'm right - soon enough, skyscrapers appear, and the distinctive Stalinist outline of the Palace of Culture and Science looming through the darkness.

And so, half an hour behind schedule, the Berlin-Warszawa Express pulls in to Warszawa Centralna. Stepping out onto the platform, I see how the outside of the train has ice right the way down its side. Coming from a place where trains stop running the minute a flake of snow is spotted near a railway line, this is quite an amazing sight to me. Definitely a journey with more than a hint of mystery and adventure, thanks to the weather!

The baroque palace of Schloss Charlottenburg is an impressive sight at any time of year, but it's particularly atmospheric in the snow. It's snowing quite heavily by the time I arrive, the snowflakes swirling in the lights of the market. It doesn't prove too easy to take a photo, as the fine-flaked snow seems keen to find its way into my camera.

The big propeller-like thing in the picture below is a Weihnachtspyramide (literally Christmas pyramid), a traditional Christmas decoration from the Erzgebirge (Ore Mountains). This particular one's a giant one decorating the top of a stall selling Glühwein, but you can buy small ones for your home at some of the market's stalls. They have holders for candles, which make the fan go round when they're lit, in turn making all the figures on the Weihnachtspyramide go round. Not all of them work very well, though and of course if it doesn't rotate properly, you end up with burnt fan blades, which isn't very decorative at all! Generally, you get what you pay for.

There's plenty of food on sale - from snacks like Bratwurst and Schmalzkuchen to soups and stews, plus things to take home like gingerbread and marzipan. There's also a wide selection of handicrafts - wooden ornaments, candles, lanterns, hats, scarves and more.

A great place to spend a snowy evening!

This post refers to the service provided before the takeover of bmi by IAG, and is left here purely for historical interest. Flights to Berlin are no longer available through bmi.

The bmi Airbus A319 opens for boarding shortly before 9 and I make my way to my business class seat. We spend a while sitting on the tarmac while an engineer tends to what the pilot calls a "slight technical problem." It's hard to see what's going on behind the curtain between business class and the galley area, but it seems to involve a lot of prodding around in the toilet. I can't help thinking of pilot-blogger Patrick Smith's tale of toilet-disaster at 33,000 feet...

Once things are sorted, the captain promises he'll try and make up for the lost time. I'm not feeling in any rush anyway actually, with the taste of bacon rolls still fresh in my memory. Before too long, we're on the runway and, as the plane shoots into the air, it feels like the captain wasn't kidding about making up for lost time.

Down below, a gap in the clouds shows snow-covered fields, the icy white of the land seeming to blend seamlessly with the fluffy white of the clouds. Once I've finished staring out the window, the flight attendant comes round and asks if I'd like breakfast. Of course, I could say I've already had porridge and a bacon roll, but...well, I'm a sucker for hot breakfasts...

And here it is. A sausage, a half tomato, an omelette, a potato thingummy, some beans, a pot of yoghurt, a pot of jam, some butter, a little dairystix thing full of milk and a croissant and an English muffin from the bread basket. Not a bad spread, I'd say, and very pleasant to tuck into on at 37,000 feet. Perfectly timed, too - the pilots begin the descent into Berlin Tegel shortly after I've finished.

The view outside the windows whites out completely as the plane descends through the clouds and, even as we get closer to the ground, the air is thick with snow.

The snow-covered airport makes for a bleak, yet beautiful sight...which, I think, calls for a black and white moment:

With the combination of the priority handling of my suitcase and Tegel's compact design, I'm out of the airport and on the bus within 15 minutes. Time to hit the city!

Disclosure: this trip has been sponsored by bmi. Opinions remain my own, palms lightly greased with business class tickets and bacon fat.

This post refers to the service provided before the takeover of bmi by IAG, and is left here purely for historical interest. Flights to Berlin are no longer available through bmi.

"Cancel the Christmas getaway!" says the headline on the morning's paper. It's a bit late now, though.

I sit at the panoramic window of bmi's Great British lounge, relaxing with a cup of coffee and a bowl of porridge as the sun rises to reveal a grey morning at London Heathrow.

It turns out the headline is referring to continuing cold weather, rather than the nuclear holocaust that the horror-toned headline might suggest. Even if the world was about to end, though, I'm not sure it would be enough to shatter the atmosphere of civilised calm in here. A gentle sound of business talk and intense newspaper-reading fills the air, punctuated by the crockery-clanking sounds of breakfast. Outside the window, planes trundle along the taxiways after coming in to land.

It has to be said they've got themselves a great location here, upstairs in Terminal 1, right above the gates that bmi's aircraft board from. The check in staff should be able to help you find where it is, but in case they don't, you just have to turn left once you've been through security, go past the World Duty Free shop and follow the 'airline lounge' signs. It's a bit of a maze of corridors and stairs, but if you keep looking for the bmi logo on the signs, you should get there! You'll of course need a business class or flexible economy boarding pass for a bmi international flight to get in.

Is this the most relaxed start to a Journey to Berlin ever? I think it might be. Still, nearly time for the flight to board...and I've just spotted the bacon rolls on the lounge's Aga.

Disclosure: this trip has been sponsored by bmi. Opinions remain my own, palms lightly greased with business class tickets and bacon fat.

Lurking in the British Pathé archives is an undated clip of an aircraft arriving at the Royal Air Force's Berlin base at Gatow. It taxis, comes to a stop and a figure steps out, Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, Commander in Chief of the British occupying forces in Germany. On the plane's side, just by the tail, we see the registration: KN628

This plane, a Douglas C-47 acquired by the RAF from the US Air Force in May 1945, was given to Montgomery for his personal use in July 1945, after he was appointed military governor of the British zone of Germany.

C-47s, the military transport variant of the DC-3 airliner, were built in large numbers during World War II: 10,174 were built between 1941 and 1945. They became known as Dakotas in the UK, stemming from an abbreviation of Douglas Aircraft Company Transport Aircraft. As a result of the large numbers in use at the end of the war, they were a common sight in Berlin and they became strongly associated with the Berlin Airlift.

In June 1946, with Montgomery being appointed Chief of the Imperial General Staff in Britain and having less need to travel by air, KN628 became a general VIP aircraft with 24 squadron. It returned to Montgomery in October 1948 when he was appointed military chairman of the Western European Union's commanders in chief committee.

In 1955, the RAF retired KN628 and it was bought by Derby Aviation Ltd, an air charter company (part of the larger Air Schools Ltd, which had been established in 1938 to train RAF pilots) operating from a small grass airfield in Burnaston, Derbyshire. The aircraft was re-registered as G-AOGZ and was put into passenger service, as part of a small fleet of C-47s, running scheduled flights, initially to Jersey, then later to other destinations in the UK and mainland Europe.

In 1959, the company became Derby Airways. A few years later, a little girl stepped off a Derby Airways Dakota onto the apron at Guernsey airport, ready to begin her summer holiday with her parents. In her hands was a Kodak Brownie 44A and, as she and her parents turned to leave the airport, she took a picture of the plane after its journey from Burnaston:

The plane was G-AOGZ - Monty's C-47. The little girl was later to become my mum and the airline was later to become - you've probably guessed it by now - bmi. Monty's plane's now in El Salvador and the airfield at Burnaston's now underneath the Toyota factory, but bmi's still flying...and Berlin beckons.

I promised exciting things and, with a little help from the nice people at bmi, I have exciting things, in the shape of the latest Berlin expedition.

bmi's been flying from London Heathrow to Berlin Tegel since March this year and this time they've invited me to come and sample all the fine things they have to offer, at their could I refuse?

This one's a tale of two cities - and two countries. After a brief sampling of Berlin's current Christmas market offerings and other goodies, I'll travel on the Berlin-Warszawa Express to Warsaw to explore the Polish capital...then back to Berlin again, for more adventures where the guidebooks are afraid to tread!

As always, you can follow me here and, new this time, on Twitter.

A chocolate bear

One year ago today, I set off on the journey to Berlin that launched this website, making this's first birthday (well, sort of, anyway).

Like any child, the site's grown throughout the year and, also like any child, it's now eyeing up that big chocolate bear...

Thanks to everyone who's supported the site in the past year. There are plenty of exciting things on the cards for the future, so I hope you all keep watching this space!


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