It was probably more like 43.5 hours, but whatever – you have to have headlines that grab, and 48 sounds much better than 43.5.
Anyways, my wonderful mother was treated to a birthday trip to bonnie Scotland this October. This made it a little trickier to do the usual flowers, books, or champagne delivery (as an expat) I refer to most years, and that was to be followed by a slightly more exotic trip to Berlin a week later.
I had a cunning idea , but without a credible – or indeed cunning – plan: I should jump on a plane and surprise her in the German capital.
Logistically, this was a tough call as I had never met her new man (Brian) who was treating her to these trips and I needed some serious insider help to pull this one-off. Reaching out to our Cousin Ann, I needed her to help put me in touch with this mysterious man ASAP – as their trip was towards the end of the week and I had to fix accommodation , transport and time off work etc.
After Ann bumped into him in Maryport’s bustling high street and passed him my email address, he pinged me an email. Explained my ludicrous surprise; he promptly replied with details of the dates they were travelling and the hotel they were staying in. It was on!
Immediately booking myself in the same hotel for two nights, now all I had to do was get there. My friend at Emirates (whose friends and family I’m on) advised me there were no direct flights to Berlin so my choice was either Frankfurt or Munich; quickly checking Google Maps I figured there wasn’t much in it, so booked to Frankfurt return.
Easy-peasy so far – now I simply need to get to Berlin from Frankfurt. Amazingly, there were no direct flights between the two cities at the times I needed them (it would have taken two connecting flights and 8-10 hours to fly between the two major cities). Fuck I thought… it can’t be this difficult to get to a European capital city from Dubai surely?
Trains , I’ll just jump on a train then. Again, no direct trains and another potential 8-10 hours and two trains before reaching the final destination. Argh ‘was ist das’! Why did I even bother to think about this madness… now I’m really screwed.
‘Just hire a car’ somebody said, ‘there’s the autobahn’ they said, ‘it’ll be easy’ they said. So I hired a car with an allegedly five-hour trip up the motorway to reach the techno capital of Europe.
Landing in Frankfurt , exhausted after an overnight flight I barely slept on, I headed for the car hire place and picked up my Mazda CZ3 – a kinda sporty SUV thing – and tried to work out how to indicate and use the radio etc.
Venturing outside the carpark walls and I discovered that Germany has its very own monsoon season and there I was slap bang in the middle of it. With the windscreen wipers going full blast I could still barely see a thing and was driving in a country I’d never stepped foot in before. To say I was shitting myself the entire way is a bit of understatement.
The speed limitless autobahn would grind to a frightening halt closing down to two lanes for roadworks, and see me skimming past cars before I’d realized the actual size of the Mazda I was driving. What was meant to be a five-hour trip, took me over seven hours as I stopped at every service station to smoke a ciggy and thank my lucky stars I was still alive.
Hunkering down in the hotel, Mum would be arriving the following afternoon and I’d be setting off back to Dubai the night after that. Getting a message from her man, just before they arrived, I laid in wait in the hotel lobby, as Ma, Brian and his daughter were about to pop over the road for a quick drink.
I came out and said “Excuse me do I know you?” and as she turned around she was gobsmacked as I hugged her and wished her a belated Happy Birthday . I’ve never seen her so quiet as it took her around 10 minutes to talk to me properly .
The following day we ventured out around Berlin city centre taking in the sights of this wonderful city. Walking through Moabit, by the riverside, it was refreshing just to take a walk in an essentially pollution-free city. As we made it to the centre, – after meandering through the Tiergarten (among Germany’s largest urban gardens ) – we found ourselves in the Bebelplatz. The public square was originally laid out over 250 years ago – its more recent-history is darkened as being the spot where the Nazi Book Burning ceremonies took place in 1933. Today there stands a glass floor panel looking down into a library as a monument to that time.
We wandered around the historic Museum Island area with stunning architecture dating back to the early 1800s, with the gold-crowned Berlin Cathedral and the more-modern TV Tower standing tall and proud centre-stage.
That evening we made it to the rooftop Monkey Bar in the Bikini Berlin part of the city where we had a few drinks with some awesome panoramic views of the capital.
And, in a shorter space of time than the outward journey seemed to take, it was time for me to start the lengthier-than-necessary journey home. Despite the ludicrous logistical challenges that weekend threw at me, it was epic to surprise Mum and spend some quality time with her and her new man in Berlin. Would I do it again? Fuck no. Was it worth the hassle? Hell yes.
All that and without so much as a whiff of the legendary techno scene. Berlin, I will be back one day – but not from Dubai until you fix your airport .