Robert Hampton

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This is my little corner of the world wide web. If you're visiting for the first time, you might want to start by reading a bit more about me. I blog here about anything that interests me: mainly culture, Liverpool, politics, trains and a whole lot more besides. The latest posts are below and there's more in the archives. For other sections of the site, follow the links in the navigation bar above.

30th September 2014

Schwules out for summer
Posted by at 8.11pm | Gay, Out and About | No responses

Olympia-Stadion station offered the tantalising prospect of the U-Bahn museum, however the sign indicated that it was open very rarely, and Sunday afternoon was not one of those times. I continued to the platform for a train back into the town centre.

U-Bahn Museum

I had just a few hours left in Berlin. Time for some culture. I headed for the Schwules Museum on Lützowstraße. “Schwul”, for the uninitiated, is the German word for “gay”, as made famous by the city’s mayor, Klaus Wowereit, who came out in 2001 by declaring “Ich bin schwul, und das ist auch gut so.” (“I’m gay, and that is a good thing”).

Berlin’s gay scene is legendary, but I hadn’t immersed myself in it on this visit. On the Friday evening I had gone to a bar, Blond, which I had visited last time I was here, but had restricted myself to a couple of drinks before heading back to the hotel. On Saturday, I was too tired to even consider a night on the town. On top of all that, there was (unbeknownst to me at time of booking) a “fetish festival” taking place that weekend, which meant that Fuggerstraße was full of people in leather thongs and dog costumes. All very fun, but not necessarily something I wanted to take part in (plus you had to pay to get in).

schwules-museum

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26th September 2014

Berlin Day 3: Standing on Hitler’s Balcony
Posted by at 9.26pm | Out and About | No responses

Sunday didn’t get off to a promising start. I checked out of my hotel and emerged into heavy rain. Oh dear. First order of business: find an umbrella.

This was not as easy as it sounds. Sunday, in Germany, means that most shops are closed. I took a shortcut through a fragrant U-Bahn station and emerged onto Kurfürstendamm, where the throbbing heart of Berlin’s retail offering was shuttered and silent. However, there was a stand selling umbrellas. I was charged €7 for a bright orange umbrella, which was wrong on many levels, but it kept me dry.

Kurfürstendamm

Suitably sheltered from the elements, I strolled down Kurfürstendamm in search of Fasanenstraße. Like the pathetic sandal-wearing leftie that I am, I had perused the Guardian web site and found an article recommending 10 of the best breakfast and brunch spots in Berlin. One of its recommendations was Café Wintergarten on Fasanenstraße, and it was just a few minutes walk away from my hotel.

As an aside, I wish I’d found this article a couple of days earlier. My breakfast on Saturday had consisted of a Snickers bar that I’d extracted from a U-Bahn vending machine. Still, better late than never.

Berlin Fasanenplatz

I walked down Fasanenstraße, reaching a pleasant little square in Fasanenplatz. The rain had abated by this point, but there was still a dampness in the air. The carpet of fallen leaves gave the place a really Autumnal feel.

It was only then that I realised I’d walked too far, and had to retrace my steps back to the Café. Then I walked too far again. I turned around more times than Bonnie Tyler, but eventually found the café. It was in a building slightly set back from the street, and the blob on Google Maps wasn’t quite in the right place. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

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22nd September 2014

Berlin Day 2: OK Computer

My second full day in Berlin was Saturday. I spent the morning riding the Berlin U-Bahn. I ended up back in the city centre at around 1.30pm. My sole nourishment so far that morning had been a Snickers bar from a platform vending machine, so some proper sustenance was needed. I got back on the U-Bahn and took a short ride to Alexanderplatz. Here I found Galeria Kaufhof, the massive department store. The restaurant on the top floor had been recommended to me by my friend Dave.

The restaurant is a self-service affair. I picked up a tray and explored the buffet selections on offer. Again, I was thankful that I had made the effort to learn a bit of German before coming here, as I was able to decipher the differently labelled foods on offer: Gemüse, Obst, Salate, Fisch, Pasta (OK, the last two are fairly obvious).

The choice was slightly bewildering, and there were lots of people waiting impatiently for their turn at each counter, so I didn’t have time to stop and consider my options carefully. Eventually, I scooped some pasta, some meat and some hash-browny type thing onto my plate and made my escape.

I took my plate to the checkout, where the cashier invited me to place it on a set of scales. Food here is priced according to weight – €1.85 per 100g. Annoyingly, I went just over 500g, so the price was rounded up to 600 grams.

I found an empty table and sat down, glad of the chance to rest my weary feet for a few minutes. Where did my stamina go? I’m sure that, a few years ago, I would have been able to roam the streets for hours without so much as a single blister. Now, it was barely 2pm and my body was complaining. I must be getting old. From now on, I am only going to take part in activities that can be done sitting or lying down.

It wasn’t just me that needed a recharge – excessive use of Instagram during the morning had run my phone battery down to zero. Continuing the rest of the day without a phone wasn’t an option – I needed access to maps to help me find my way around, and also it was the only camera I had with me. I would have to go back to the hotel to charge it up, even though this would probably eat an hour or more out of my day.

I was about to just get up and go, when I spotted that other customers were taking their used trays away with them. I followed one of them and discovered that there was a conveyor belt to take away used plates. I put my used tray on it, and it was swiftly whisked away through a small door. Technology – you’ve got to love it.

I went back to the hotel. While my phone recharged, I watched some excellent German television – Top Gear on RTL Nitro. Jeremy Clarkson dubbed into German? Hmm, maybe not.

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18th September 2014

Reichstag Night
Posted by at 10.32pm | Out and About, Trains | No responses

Just before 4pm on Friday afternoon, I reached the Reichstag building in central Berlin. I’d seen the building from the outside on my last visit to the city, but this time I was going to actually see inside. It’s a grand structure, with the famous inscription DEM DEUTSCHEN VOLKE (“To the German people”) providing a bold statement of intent, even though the slogan has not always been adhered to over the years.

Reichstag building

Here’s my best GCSE history lesson: the Reichstag building was the seat of the German parliament from the late 19th century, until in 1933 it was severely damaged by fire. This was the event which notoriously gave Hitler all the justification he needed to abrogate basic human rights and establish a totalitarian state. Like much of the rest of Berlin, the building was left in ruins at the end of World War II. Although it was repaired after the war, it saw little use during the Cold War division of the city. Only in 1999, when the Bundestag returned to Berlin post-reunification, was the building finally restored to its former glory.

As part of the restoration, a new glass dome (designed by Sir Norman Foster) now sits atop the building. It is open to the public by prior booking, offering excellent views across the Berlin skyline. I was eager to go – practically the first thing I did after booking my plane ticket was to head to the Reichstag web site and arrange a visit.

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17th September 2014

Exploring Berlin
Posted by at 10.10pm | Out and About | No responses

After the ordeal of my flight, I slept for a few hours, but my body clock refused to let me have a lie in, and I woke around 8am. I dozed for a little bit longer, but eventually gave up and got up. I emerged from the hotel around 9.30am.

First order of business was to pick up a Berlin Welcome Card. This card costs €25 for three days, and not only gifts unlimited travel on Berlin’s extensive public transport, but also discounted admission to over 200 different attractions. There was a Berlin Tourist Information centre on Kurfürstendamm, just round the corner for my hotel, so I went there to get the card.

After that, I thought about where to go next. I was still feeling sluggish and needed to blow away some cobwebs, so headed for the Tiergarten.

Tiergarten

The massive 520 acre park is a haven for wildlife and a welcome quiet spot in the heart of the city. It’s surrounded on all sides by insanely busy dual carriageway roads, but the park itself is an oasis of calm. The park is also, apparently, a hotbed for nude sunbathers, although the cool, overcast conditions precluded any of that on the day I visited.

Siegessaule

I ended up in the centre of the park, near the Siegessaule (“Victory Column”). A café nearby offered “Baguette mit Salami und Käse” for a reasonable price, so I headed up to the counter and ordered one, putting on my best German accent. I summoned up the knowledge gleamed from my “teach yourself German” books: “…und eine Flasche Cola, bitte,” I added.

The woman behind the counter replied in English. How did she know?!

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16th September 2014

uneasyJet

Liverpool JLA

I have just made my first ever solo trip abroad, spending three days in Berlin. It was my second visit there and overall it was a wonderful few days, which reaffirmed my view of Berlin as my favourite of all my European cities I have visited so far.

Before I go on to talk about what I got up to, I need to describe the “fun” I had on my flight to Berlin. Those of you who follow me on Twitter will already have a rough idea of what happened, but I want to get the facts down. Actually, a Norse epic poem may be the best way to write about what happened, but that’s a bit beyond me, so you’ll have to make do with a blog.

I was nervous. I’ve been to Berlin before, so I wasn’t entirely unprepared, but I was still anxious about being a lone traveller in a foreign land. In my head, I replayed all the worst-case scenarios that could happen. Urban unrest, bad hotels, striking train drivers, eruptions from unpronounceable Icelandic volcanoes – all of them could put a spanner in the works. I tried my best to put those thoughts to the back of my mind, but not entirely successfully.

I turned up at Liverpool Airport on Thursday afternoon in good time for my flight. I’m well versed in security and related procedures thanks to the expert tutelage of Andrew Bromage, so I got through the checks quickly and was in the departure lounge with plenty of time to spare. I bought a Boots Meal Deal and sat down alongside my fellow passengers to wait.

Easyjet

The flight was called and we climbed aboard the plane. Just before the scheduled departure time of 18:10 we were taxiing along the runway, ready to take off. I sat back and relaxed. I would be in Berlin by 9pm, checked into my hotel by 10pm. Then, maybe, I would have time to slip out to Blond for a quick drink while… ahem, admiring the view.

It soon became clear, however, that all was not well. I became aware of an unusual smell in the cabin. A strange chemical-ly sort of smell. In fact, it smelled exactly like TCP. I started thinking of that One Foot in the Grave episode where Victor uses it briefly and the smell lingers on him for days.

I wasn’t the only one who noticed it. The other passengers and cabin crew were aware of it, as was the captain, who announced that the plane was returning to the terminal building for the engineers to take a look at what was causing it.

This announcement was greeted by a collective groan all round. A second, louder groan soon followed, when it was confirmed that the problem was not going to be an easy fix and we were all ushered back into the departure lounge.

I tried to stay optimistic. It would be a simple problem to fix and we would be on our way within an hour or so. Right?

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7th September 2014

Yes, no, maybe / I don’t know / Can you repeat the question?
Posted by at 11.38am | In the News | 2 responses

We’re less than a fortnight away from the Scottish Independence referendum (indeed, postal votes have already been sent out) and the latest opinion poll has shocked a lot of people.

A poll by YouGov for the Sunday Times sent shockwaves through the political establishment north and south of the border as it showed the yes camp had 51% to 49% for no, excluding the don’t knows.

Of course, it’s only one poll (others show No still ahead), but there does seem to be a swing towards “Yes” in the final days of the campaign. It’s a far cry from the situation just a few months ago, when a No victory was thought to be a foregone conclusion by all concerned.

I’ve followed the campaign from outside with interest. I watched the TV debates (except the first one because the stupid STV player didn’t work) and have been impressed with how engaged ordinary people have been with the process. Turnout is expected to be very high, perhaps 80%. It’s a far cry from the typical British election, where a lot of people simply can’t be bothered.

I can empathise with the Scots who want to break away. From my vantage point in the glorious north of England, London looks increasingly remote and disconnected from the rest of the UK. It’s a giant vacuum sucking in the wealth, jobs and talent, at the expense of towns and cities elsewhere. Our political leaders, meanwhile, are increasingly out of touch with life outside the Westminster bubble – Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg have never had a job outside politics, while the main entry on David Cameron’s CV is the hardly impressive “PR for Carlton Television”. I don’t think any of the three main parties properly understand the problems of ordinary people, and the less said about UKIP, the better.

That’s my feeling, living in Liverpool. Scotland is already a separate country within the United Kingdom. There’s a line on the map, signs on the roads and everything. It has its own legal system, banknotes and parliament. If I feel disconnected from London and its institutions, that feeling must be even greater north of the border.

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5th September 2014

Happy Birthday to My Loose Acquaintance
Posted by at 7.00pm | It's My Life | No responses

Neil Turner tweeted this to me this morning:-

Of course, this doesn’t apply to your Facebook message. Thanks for all the birthday wishes! :)

30th August 2014

Jaw! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing.
Posted by at 10.23pm | It's My Life | 2 responses

“Yeah, you need to go back to the hospital.”

I didn’t like the casual way the dentist said this. I also didn’t like that I had barely taken my coat off and plonked myself in his chair before he said it.

The story so far: I had a wisdom tooth removed a couple of weeks ago. Then it became infected. A week on from a feverish emergency dentist appointment, I had been lulled into thinking all was well and had even gone back to work on Wednesday. The next day, I was scheduled to see the same dentist, and assumed that he was going to give me the all clear.

Oh sure, I was still all swollen up, and there was still a certain stiffness in the jaw which left it unable to open wider than a centimetre. This meant a continued diet of soup and porridge. Well, it was either that or post slices of Tesco Value wafer-thin ham through the narrow gap.

I had hoped that this was all just a side effect of the surgery and it would clear up on its own, even if it was a little slower than usual. But when the dentist gave the bad news, deep down it didn’t come as much of a surprise.

I went straight home and phoned up the clinic where I originally had the operation done. After a great deal of to-ing and fro-ing on the phone (not helped by my not being able to remember my surgeon’s name) they said that they could maybe offer me an appointment next week sometime, and they would call me back.

Screw that.

So on Thursday afternoon I marched into the A&E department of Fazakerley Hospital. A super-duper new A&E is being built there at the moment, but I had to contend with the older, slightly run-down building. It felt slightly cramped (probably because of the amount of people waiting) and there was a Coca-Cola vending machine with a partially peeled off sticker by the coin slot, proudly declaring that it was “New 5p and 10p ready!”

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25th August 2014

Bridal Train
Posted by at 8.29pm | Liverpool, Trains | No responses

Merseyrail pulled out all the stops on Sunday to get bride Leanne Cole to her big day.

Leanne said: “We didn’t want to pay for a flashy car when we’ve got a perfectly good service on our doorstep and we’re on a budget.

“There is an Italian tradition where they walk to the church. I really liked it and thought I would walk to catch the train.”

After her family spoke to station staff at Fazakerley station, Merseyrail provided a special train to Liverpool Central on Sunday morning and decorated it for the occasion. For pictures and video of the big day, see the Liverpool Echo web site.

This train is also available for birthdays, office parties and bar-mitzvahs, folks (NB this probably isn’t true).