Day 3 – Düsseldorf to Berlin
The CVJM offered a good breakfast (I took my own teabags, of course). I have brought 110 teabags with me, knowing that 40 wasn’t enough for a week in Austria; I’ve only used three so far so I think I might be bringing some home with me.
Anyway, after breakfast I faffed about reading, checking train times and all that kind of stuff. As the train from Düsseldorf to Minden was hourly I decided I might get the one an hour earlier than my schedule to give me an hour and a half in Minden to get some lunch and to allow for any train delays.
The railway station at Düsseldorf has the helpful signage that displays for you where on the train you will find the bike carriage and where to stand on the platform for that part of the train (platforms are divided into A-F). You can see from here the picture of the bike under D, which is where I positioned myself.
As I was waiting for the train I decided to put my Information Boards on the seat. These are laminated A4 sheets in German (with English on the other side for when I am in Holland) which give an overview of what I am doing. I had left them on my trike last night (it was stored in a stairwell in the hotel) and when I went to pack up the Info Boards this morning I realised that someone had slipped a pound coin into the packet of flyers – so I have received my first donation in Germany (although possibly from an English person). I realise that people won’t know what I’m doing unless I display the boards when I’m off the bike and hopefully they will generate some conversational opportunities.
The train drew in and I was standing in exactly the right place. It had nice wide doors and a huge carriage space for the trike. As usual, though, the bike area was fairly near the loo which can be a bit whiffy.
Anyway, I was going to have two and a half hours on this train so I settled down reading a book on my iPad, occasionally posting things on Facebook and answering emails. The marvels of modern day communication!
Yesterday I downloaded the Deutsche Bahn iPhone app which is really good – it shows you realtime reports of your train and where it is, when it will arrive at each station etc, and if it’s running on time. I was rather surprised to note that, rather than getting in to Minden at about half past one, it was scheduled to arrive at 13:49, so was half an hour slower than the train an hour later. That seemed unusual for Deutsche Bahn so I looked at the original train I was going to get and that one was taking longer as well (I had the printout from Deutsche Bahn UK’s booking office to check against). Then, in the small print, I saw “wegen bauarbeiten”… on account of engineering works. It looks as though they had diverted the train from its normal route. If I had got that train I would have arrived at Minden a minute after my Berlin train left. That would have been rather unfortunate!!
However, fortunately I had just under an hour at Minden (which seems to be rather like Crewe – loads of trains stop there but there’s nothing much actually there). I bought a frikadelle baguette for lunch, plus a packet of crisps (being Germany the packets of crisps are giant and you only ever have the choice of Paprika flavour, Salt & Vinegar or Sour Cream; I chose Paprika). They filled up any remaining space in my pannier!
I was waiting on the correct platform half an hour before the train was due and my DB iPhone app assured me it was on time. It duly arrived and – horror of horrors! – was one of the trains with narrow doors. There was no way my trike would fit through them.
Fortunately there was a conductor right there and he helped me pick the trike up and turn it sideways so it just squeezed in. I got as far as the lobby between the trains and then the doors shut and the train set off. The conductor helped me get the trike through the doors into the carriage. There were lots of perturbed-looking people with bikes in racks who thought I was going to block their route out (they explained they were getting off in Hannover, I had said I was going to Berlin) so to save space I folded Alfie so he took up very little room indeed. Everyone was happy.
An English-speaking German man got on the train at Hannover and talked to me about my trip (having read my Info Boards, of course!) He offered me a bottle of water and half his sandwich, but I was OK. I remember some Germans giving me a bottle of water previously when on tour – it’s these random acts of generosity which add a sparkle to the day. Anyway this man’s youngest son is in London and has been complaining about the rain for the last couple of weeks – the chap said I had picked the best week to leave the foul British weather and come to warm and sunny Berlin, and he’s right!
As we travelled through Wolfsburg he told me all about VW and their history and all their factories (he used to work there in management, I think). He explained how rich Wolfsburg is as a city and that the mayor was exceptionally good at parting rich people from their money to build museums etc. He pointed out of the train window the new science centre endowed by “a fat arab lady” which is supposed to teach physics to children. He had lots of other interesting comments about places we travelled through and had a quick chat about David Cameron and his uselessness (this is something most of us can agree on).
I was getting a little concerned about getting out at Berlin Hauptbahnhof as the train had one further station to go to. It was such a job lifting Alfie in with the help of the conductor – what if he didn’t reappear? Fortunately my friend from Wolfsburg, Hans, said he would help me and when we finally reached Berlin (after two and a half hours) he organised all the other bike-owners in the carriage to let me and my trike and luggage out, then to let him and his bike out as he would initially be helping me with the trike. We arrived in Berlin, Hans sorted everyone out and lifted the trike out for me on his own, I then moved it out of the way and started reassembling it. Hans shook my hand and went off, then another of the chaps with bikes in the carriage asked me if I needed help carrying the trike down the stairs. I thanked him and said that I knew the lifts at the Hauptbahnhof are large enough for the trike (which they are), so off he went. Another example of the helpful friendliness of the Germans, or are they responding to me looking damsel-in-distress-esque (except I don’t look much like a damsel!)
Somewhere in all this trike moving the bungy cord James gave me to attach my jacket to the bike in a waterproof bag got left behind so Deutsche Bahn have won that from me. It kind of makes up for me not paying them 15 Euro for my journey yesterday from Venlo to Düsseldorf…
After a minute or so Alfie was put back together and I headed out. I hadn’t reckoned with the wait for the lift, however, which was rather long – at least five minutes. Still, I got to admire the view of the big open square outside the Hauptbahnhof with various government buildings in the background.
The lift came, I squeezed Alfie in it and asked for the ground floor (Erdgeschoss). We went down a floor and someone wanted to get in so I had to get out, but I didn’t realise we weren’t yet on the ground floor and so didn’t get back in the lift. I couldn’t face waiting another five to ten minutes for it so decided to make my way out some other way, choosing a lesser-used entrance (which involved fighting with double doors which refused to stay open – until some passing Germans saw my struggles and came and held them open for me). I had to go down a couple of flights of steps but I knew this was finally the end of my train travelling and so managed one last effort’
And then it was a half mile cycle ride to my hotel, the Best Western which is tucked away between Friedrichstraße and the Brandenburg Gate but which is very decently priced and has good, functional WiFi in the room (last night’s CVJM Hotel WiFi kept dropping out every five minutes).
It was a relief to put down all my luggage and relax. Carting the panniers around when they are this heavy has rather mangled my fingers – I’ve taken the ring off that hand as it was digging in but my fingers feel like they are almost blistered. Hopefully from now on things will be a bit easier as the luggage can mostly stay on the trike!
I went out for an evening meal and noticed that the building next door looked rather strange:
I half wonder if it’s an old Stasi building or something, it’s not too far from the Wall. There was no information about it anywhere though, although I saw a man going in one of the doors so it’s clearly in use.
I found a Chinese restaurant which was very large and half of the customers were Chinese so I thought it would probably be rather good – and it was. Here’s my Mystery Chicken Dish which was arranged to look like a fish!
Tomorrow is the start of the tour proper. I’ve done three miles on the bike and about twelve hours on trains in the last two days so am feeling the need to stretch my legs and do some pedalling. The forecast is sunny and 22 degrees for tomorrow (with a few spots of rain around lunchtime possibly) so it should be a great day for riding. At 9am I am meeting my good friend Ines who lives in Berlin; we will have breakfast together and then she will take lots of photographs of me setting off from the Brandenburg Gate. I plan to ride to either Borkheide (41 miles) with the lovely-looking Hotel Fliegerheim or to Belzig (58 miles) which has two hotels, one of which is a converted castle and the other is a converted mill. Choices, choices….