I’ve always tried to support my local area, using its services whenever I can. Previously I’ve praised the facilities at East Midlands Airport – which were never going to match anything that the big boys could provide – but at least the place ran efficiently.
But no more. There must be a dozen early morning flights today, and while all lanes in the security area are open, it still feels like a cattle shed. The staff are doing their best to get everyone through, but the process takes around 45 minutes; not great when you’ve already got up in the middle of the night. And now, due to its growing popularity, an extra few gates have been added. Not in the main building but a 15 minute walk away. Given that the gate to Berlin isn’t even listed until 30 minutes before the flight, it’s hardly surprising that some people barely make it in time.
Still, that’s the price you pay for budget travel. And Berlin’s “second” airport – Shoenfeld – isn’t much better. Twisty corridors lead to a baggage area with just two belts for six current flights. But my case arrives promptly, and it’s a relatively easy 45 minute journey into the city thanks to the extensive S-Bahn rail network.
The Leonardo Hotel near Friedrrichstrasse has an air of modern and functional; more of which later. First stop, though, is a little entrance to the city.
Even on a cloudy day, with spots of rain in the air, the Brandenburg Gate is impressive. And like every other big ticket tourist attraction around the world, it’s surrounded by the sounds of many (mainly European) languages, and tour guides promoting walks, cycle rides, horse drawn carriage tours and just about anything else. But despite the cacophony, there is an air of modesty. The are no tacky cafes or souvenir shops crowding the immediate area – though you don’t have to go too far to find them.
In the shadow of the Holocaust Memorial, a collection of solemn stone blocks stretching out across a plaza, is a parade of cheap coffee bars, kebab shops and gift stores. But it’s a welcome change from some locations I’ve visited, where only the high end eateries get a look in near the big sites.
Just a short walk away is the infamous Checkpoint Charlie, the epicentre of divided Berlin in the twentieth century. No irony, then, that fake troops pose for photos next to one of the biggest symbols of a city occupied by unwanted incomers.
There’s also a Checkpoint Charlie Museum, which I’d thought was well worth a visit, until I discovered that another nearby project has plotted the key points of the whole story on the street – free of charge. And the hoardings marked another example of local enterprise reclaiming the neighbourhood, in the form of an urban beach.