Robert Hampton

Another visitor! Stay a while… stay forever!

28th September 2015

Hamburger Helper
Posted by at 10.05pm | Out and About | No responses

Regular readers of this blog (if there are any left) will know that I have a bit of a thing for Berlin. I’ve visited there twice, and I want to go back. It’s the most exciting, cosmopolitan, liberal city I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing.

However, it turns out that other German cities are available. My friend Boris was returning to his native Germany to celebrate his birthday in Hamburg. Would I like to come along, he asked. The chance to visit a new city with my own personal tour guide? I hesitated for approximately 9.5 nanoseconds before saying “Ja!”

So, on the evening of 17th September I found myself at Manchester Airport waiting for a Germanwings flight. I arrived far too early for the flight, but I didn’t mind, as Manchester is a massive, sprawling terminal and I was grateful to have the time to saunter gently from the railway station to security to departure lounge.

Germanwings use fun-size aircraft on the Manchester-Hamburg route, with just four seats in each row. I was perturbed by the cabin crew’s insistence that I put my wheelie case in the hold – I don’t like parting with my luggage – but it arrived at the other end without incident.

Hamburg Airport is connected to the city’s extensive S-Bahn system.

Hamburg S-Bahn

One change of train later and we were exiting the U-Bahn at Lohmühlenstraße, where we promptly got lost, wandering around the grounds of the nearby St Georg Hospital for a good 15 minutes or so. The rumbling of my wheelie suitcase probably woke up every patient. We eventually had to retrace our steps to the station, then take a different route to our hotel, the Relaxa Bellevue. It was late, and we went more or less straight to sleep once we’d checked in.

Next morning, we ventured out of the hotel and across the road, onto the shores of Lake Alster to admire the view.

Hamburg Lake Alster

I had a feeling that this trip would be very nice indeed.

9th November 2014

Berlin, Take My Breath Away
Posted by at 12.18pm | In the News | No responses

Imagine you’ve just arrived in London, after getting off a train from the provisional capital, Manchester. You get on a Northern Line train (Bank branch) at Euston. After King’s Cross you hear an announcement that you are about to leave the Western Sector. The train proceeds, but it doesn’t stop at Angel – it crawls through the platform at walking pace, enabling you to peer out at the dimly lit station. It is dusty, derelict and dimly lit. You can just about make out some guards standing at the platform exit. They look bored, but the guns they are carrying are still intimidating. The pattern is repeated at Old Street, and Moorgate.

Finally, you reach a station that is open – at Bank you alight to change onto the Central line. You take a wrong turn and find yourself heading for the exit, only to find your way barred by a border guard. You don’t have the right papers, of course, so you turn back and return to the platform. This time you were lucky; you could have been arrested for trying to cross the border.

This is the daily grind that Berlin’s U-Bahn passengers faced during the Cold War. The division of the city between 1961 and 1989 sliced through the public transport network, leaving it very much a Tube of two halves.

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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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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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26th June 2012

Raised in a Bahn
Posted by at 11.21pm | Out and About, Trains | No responses

Berlin S-Bahn train at Schönefeld Airport stationI tend to judge a town by the quality of its public transport. A city could have the world’s best cuisine, culture and nightlife, but if its subway system is scruffy, it will lose a lot of points in Hampo’s Travel Guide.

First impressions of Berlin’s transit network were, in fact, not good. We wanted to use the train to get into the city centre, but Schönefeld Airport station is an absolute dump. This could be excused because they were expecting the airport and its station to be closed from the beginning of June. However, there’s no excuse for the complete lack of information to guide incoming passengers. We had a vague idea that there was a “RegionalExpress” train into Berlin city centre, but we couldn’t find its departure platform amidst the jumble of destinations on the departure board and missed it.

S-Bahn interiorWe ended up instead on an ambling S-Bahn train. These suburban trains are great, but stopping at every little wayside station meant it took forever. Also, the train terminated at Sudkreuz, some way short of our intended destination. We had to change to another S-Bahn line, then transfer to the U-Bahn to reach the station nearest to our hotel. It took a lot longer than we thought it would.

Fortunately our later experiences cancelled out this initial trouble, and I’m pleased to report that – from this tourist’s point of view at least – Berlin’s transport is generally quite good.

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