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Feb. 2nd, 2018

Something So Right

Homeward Bound

The news broke this week that Paul Simon would be closing Hyde Park's BST festival in July, and that the gig would also close his touring career, more than 50 years on from the Tour of One Night Stands.

I've bought a ticket, obviously. I'm already sad at the thought of never seeing him again.

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Jan. 31st, 2018

Dogfight [by the_gneech]

Road Movie To Berlin: 4

I'd planned to do another museum on Monday, but I was a bit museumed out, so I fell back on my usual hobby of shopping at the Alexanderplatz. I picked up a half price Jack Wolfskin jacket in two separate shades of outrageously bright red, which I look forward to inflicting upon the world, then headed for Arakin's office so we could have a late Mexican lunch.

Afterwards I collected my case, which he had kindly taken to work so I didn't have to trundle it around Berlin all morning, then headed back out to the airport.

(Is Schönefeld the only airport where you can buy a selection of vibrating cock rings from a dispenser in the ladies' loos? I was going to take a photo but people kept coming in and I was too embarrassed.)

The flight was fine, my bike was where I'd parked it, and I was home before 10pm. I seem to have left part of my heart in Berlin, however.
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Jan. 29th, 2018

The Spy Who Loved Me

Road Movie To Berlin: 3

On Sunday I levelled up in city breaks by making a side trip to Wolfsburg, home of the Volkswagen factory. I had discovered that the AutoMuseum Volkswagen was hosting an exhibition of Bond cars, and this seemed reason enough to go and explore somewhere new.

Taking an intercity train in a foreign country on my own was a new experience, and I enjoyed the journey even though I spent most of it worrying about being on the wrong train/having the wrong ticket/getting out at the wrong station. It all went FINE, of course.

I did, however, initially manage to go to the wrong museum, the much bigger and posher AutoStadt. I paid for entry and spent about half an hour looking round before it dawned on me that something was Not Right. I was too embarrassed to try and explain, and perhaps obtain a refund, so I just crept away.

Fifteen minutes' walk brought me to the right museum, which was much smaller and friendlier. I paid 6€ and the lady on the front desk instructed me to have 'lots of fun', which was a dangerous suggestion in the circumstances.

I looked around the rest of the museum, which was all completely delightful. Who doesn't love Beetles, and camper vans? They even had Herbie (well, a promotional Herbie, not an actual film star; I imagine there wasn't much left of the ones they used in the movies).

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Then it was time for the bit I'd really come for.

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The exhibition is called WOB-007, by the way, because WOB is the number plate code for Wolfsburg. I am nothing if not educational.

Someone had made a list of every single VW to appear in a Bond film, with screenshots, which was quite a labour of love. Sadly, the only one on display was a pickup lorry from the 1967 Casino Royale. (I'd been hoping to see the Beetle from On Her Majesty's Secret Service, which was the only one I could think of.)

This was a much smaller affair than the London Film Museum's Bond in Motion, but contained numerous items I hadn't seen before because they belong to private collectors or museums in Germany. I was particularly excited about the 200 quattro from (of course) The Living Daylights, which spends much of its time locked up in Audi's vaults and had been allowed out to play because the marque is part of the Volkswagen Group. It was also great to see a selection of German posters and press cuttings, as well as lots of toy cars.

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Lots more photos on my Flickr >

Once even I had seen enough, I wandered the town, found a lovely wolf pack sculpture, and ended up in McDonald's eating a Nutella muffin before the train back.

McD's was also offering a burger with rösti, which I would definitely have tried if I hadn't been going out for a meal with Arakin and my furry-writer friend Rob on my return to Berlin.

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Jan. 27th, 2018

Dogfight [by the_gneech]

Road Movie To Berlin: 2

The Deutsches Technikmuseum has a plane on the roof, so I was obviously longing to go there. We did this on Saturday, spending five hours in the museum and seeing barely a quarter of all it has to offer.

The top two floors of the main building are devoted to aviation, and it was great to see this from the German point of view. The centrepiece is a Junkers Ju-52 airliner, one of my favourites, and there are artefacts from the history of Lufthansa. It's also interesting to see the Second World War from the other side, with a wrecked Lancaster bomber next to a display of air raid shelters and first aid kits.

The plane on the roof, meanwhile, is a 'Raisin bomber' from the Berlin airlift, and there's a display about this that will make you cry.

However, my favourite thing may have been the drinks cabinet from First World War ace Ernst Udet's postwar plane.

After a restorative coffee and cake, we tackled the cars in the building next door, followed by a section on the internet and smart homes excellently entitled DAS NETZ.

When the museum closed at six I took the U-bahn out to Alt Mariendorf to spend my evening with Marcy and her two teenage cats, Max and Moritz, who immediately assumed I was their new best friend and came over to say hi. For the rest of the evening they divided their time between snuggling adorably in their basket, playing adorably with a laser pointer, and snuggling adorably next to us, while we ate pizza, drank wine and talked scooters.

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Jan. 25th, 2018

Cat Air

Road Movie To Berlin: 1

(Don't worry, I will eventually run out of Berlin-related song and book titles.)

When I visited Arakin in Berlin last November, the subject of his upcoming 40th birthday came up, and we both agreed it would be nice if I came over for that.

So on Thursday I found myself heading once again to Stansted (where Arakin's birthday present, a set of shot glasses, was flagged up at the security screening and had to go off for a special x-ray). Thanks to the free lounge passes I get with my bank account, I fortified myself with a meal and a gin & tonic in the lounge before joining the milling crowd at the gate for my Ryanair flight. A couple of comedy gate changes and some luggage-wrangling later, we were airborne.

(Ryanair, by the way, have a new cabin baggage policy whereby unless you pay for an upgrade, you can only take a handbag or equivalent into the cabin; your cabin baggage-sized suitcase goes in the hold. This is actually fine as it saves all that struggling to cram it into the overhead locker/under the seat in front.)

I enjoyed the flight as always, though it was too cloudy to see anything (as we approached Schönefeld, a panicky voice called out "We'll never land in this!", but seconds later we did just that), afterwards making my way to the Alexanderplatz and then onto a tram for Arakin's flat like a total Berlin pro. Drinks and snacks awaited, and boy was I ready for them.

Friday was Arakin's birthday, and he had taken the day off. We had breakfast with his friend Sandy, who afterwards showed us round the huge public library where she works. This was great and I was instantly distracted by a collection of children's books from the DDR.

Our next stop was the cafe at the Spy Museum for birthday Vesper Martinis, which I swear was Arakin's idea.

In the evening there was a birthday meal at a French creperie where they clip the menus inside old Tintin books. I had a raclette pancake containing cheese, ham and potatoes, and it was so good I am still thinking about it.

One of the party guests was an enormous German Shepherd named David, who spent his time walking about under the table.

My friend Marcy from the Modern Vespa forum, to whom I introduced Arakin on my last visit, came along too. As the only non-furry, she received an eye-opening crash course in what it's all about.

Afterwards everyone except Marcy, but including David the dog, came back to Arakin's flat, where I performed an important cultural mission by introducing our German friends to gin & tonic.

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Jan. 15th, 2018

Dangerous Curves

Happy New Year

So. Remember my new bike, that I got to replace my old bike that got stolen?

Well, shortly before Christmas, it got stolen.

I was riding it at the time, so it was technically more of a mugging on this occasion. Two youths on a scooter; they forced me over to the side of the road, shouting at me to get off the bike, and when I refused they pushed me off it and took it. My bag was in the topbox, so they got my wallet and mobile, too.

It's all been incredibly annoying, but last week I took delivery of a shiny and gadget-laden 16 plate model, so I can draw a line under it all and look forward to many happy and safe miles.

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Dec. 6th, 2017

Alice Street

Überlin 5: Monday 27/11

With Arakin off to work and a couple of hours to kill before I needed to be back at the airport, I set out into a sunny but eyewateringly cold morning to have a farewell coffee with my scooter forum friend.

Marcy had kindly picked a hipster café near an S-bahn station that would take me directly to Schönefeld, so I couldn't mess it up. With decor lovingly crafted from crates, and Fleet Foxes on the sound system, I felt very at home.

We talked bikes, Berlin and conventions (furry and Star Trek), and agreed that I should come back in warmer weather and hire a scooter. Then I walked to the station and had a pleasant journey through the winter countryside, spotting a kestrel and a Mitropa dining-car (as seen in the DDR Museum) along the way.

I had time for a gin and tonic in the lounge, followed by coffee and cake, before my flight was called suspiciously early so we could all stand in a queue at the gate for half an hour.

The flight and my journey through Stansted were smooth, though, and I made it home in time for Remington Steele on 5USA.

Verdict: still in love with Berlin. Going back sooner rather than later.

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Dec. 4th, 2017

This IS me (by schwitters)Default

Überlin 4: Sunday 26/11

This morning I was going to participate in a fine Berlin tradition, at the suggestion of a friend from the Vespa forum: brunch!

Arakin and I joined my scooting pal at her chosen café, and made our strategic choices from the vast buffet, where breakfast foods rubbed shoulders with macaroni cheeese and all the components of a roast dinner.

I had a first round of scrambled eggs, bacon, smoked salmon, cheese and a bread roll, then returned for curry and rice plus a few potato croquettes because I really like potato croquettes, wrapping up with a mixed bowl of rice pudding, custard, apple puree and fruit compote.

Arakin and I strolled back to the station past the city's own Bob Dylan tribute busker, who was deep in A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall, and headed for another great Berlin institution: the flea market at Mauerpark, where I inevitably bought a stupid army surplus hat that would make all my Berlin-based friends roll their eyes at me when they saw it. My head was cold. That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.

After this we visited the free Berlin Wall Memorial, dedicated to life on both sides of the Wall and the people who escaped, or failed to. There's a recreated section with the 'death strip' and a watchtower, which looked suitably creepy in the fading light.

The evening's wandering took us close to Checkpoint Charlie, where I was able to tick off another Living Daylights location: the corner of Kochstrasse and Wilhelmstrasse, site of the block of flats from which Bond shoots at the KGB sniper.

Then into the warmth of the Rausch chocolate shop (featuring such wonders as a chocolate model of Berlin's TV tower) and café, where we were joined by Rob. Choosing from the extensive cake and hot chocolate menu was tricky; I went for a chilli hot chocolate and a "gentleman's little cake", a concoction of dark chocolate and apricot jam.

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Dec. 1st, 2017

The Spy Who Loved Me

Überlin 3: Saturday 25/11

Today Arakin and I were going to the DDR Museum, the museum of everyday life in the former East Germany. We dashed through the rain to the tram stop then queued in the rain for the museum, which turned out to be well worth it.

If, like me, you are interested in both the Cold War and foreign and/or retro consumer goods, this is paradise. Jars of pickles! Plastic egg cups shaped like chickens! Really awful toilet paper!

Much of this will be familiar to fans of Goodbye, Lenin, who will also enjoy watching one of the Sandman stop-motion shorts designed to get children in the right frame of mind for bed.

One section of the museum is a mockup of a flat, so you wander from child's bedroom to kitchen to bathroom, examining the books, cleaning products and shower hoses so specific to this place and time. There's even a Trabant with a built-in driving simulator, so you can experience the thrill of piloting an underpowered car made from PVC around a housing estate.

It's lighthearted, but they don't shy away from telling you the more serious stuff: the rigged elections, the hushed-up pollution, the compulsory military service. (I turned out to be very good at a game where you match East German military slang terms to their meanings. This is because I have a filthy, filthy mind.)

By the time we emerged, it was mid-afternoon and lunch was long overdue. Nurnberger sausages at the Augustiner came just in time to stop me killing anyone.

It was getting dark, and it was still raining, but there was something particular I wanted to do in Berlin and now seemed like a good time.

I was going to the café where James Bond stops for an espresso in the short story The Living Daylights before deciding whether to go for a stroll in the park or visit a brothel.

[Spoiler (click to open)](He chooses the former.)

The internet had told me that Café Marquardt was attached to the Kempinski Hotel and was now called Café Reinhard. We went in rather timidly, because it Looked Posh, but were welcomed and seated in the window.

It was warm and cosy next to the heater, and candles in silver holders burned on the tables. There were even newspapers on a wooden rack, just like in the story.

I had an espresso (Arakin kindly offered me some of his latte too, so I wouldn't have to suffer too much for my art) and a ridiculous slab of raspberry cake Bond would have rejected out of hand but I enjoyed very much.

Coming in from the cold and rainy afternoon, the delicious cake and the feeling of being in a special place whose other customers were probably entirely unaware it was special made for one of the best memories of my trip.

Back at the flat, we asked Amazon for a spy movie and it suggested The Spy Who Came: 48 minutes of sexploitation from 1969 that proved more baffling than shocking. Not recommended.

Here's a song I discovered at the DDR Museum. Enjoy!



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Nov. 30th, 2017

Alice Street

Überlin 2: Friday 24/11

Arakin went off to work, and I headed into town for a day of strolling and shopping. I spent a silly amount of time wandering the Alexanderplatz transport hub due to my inability to read the map properly and work out what kind of train I wanted, but this, too, was all part of the tourist experience.

I visited a motorcycle clothing shop and an aviation shop, but managed to keep my cash in my wallet. In a bookshop near Tempelhof I found a book all about eastern European motorcycles for 5 euros, and had a successful chat with the bookshop owners, who had been unaware there was a DDR Motorcycle Museum in their city. (They recommended the Spy Museum, which I visited on my first trip. Good guess.)

I returned to Arakin's flat using his spare keys, but was soon summoned out again to go to a very nice Chinese restaurant, where we dined in the company of another UK fur who has made Berlin his home. We followed this up with ice cream before heading back to the flat for a quick game of 10 Minutes to Kill.

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