It was -5°c overnight in Magdeburg. The darkness hours had brought a thick blanket of snow and the soft heavy flakes continued to fall as Bertha’s gas heater brought welcome warmth and we watched the boatmen valiantly attempt to sweep clean their boats which were clearly booked for Good Friday lunchtime river cruising.
Despite being a a bank holiday, the gritters and snowploughs had been out to clear the roads. Oh Germany.
We had a remarkably easy journey along the autobahn, admiring the snow-capped tall pines and stark skeletal larch trees whose every branch had been lined in the magical white powder. We headed to Berlin in light traffic, most of which was driving fast into the blizzard and registered to Poland. We were caught up in the great Easter exodus to the East, as Poles and Czech workers returned home to spend the holiday with their families.
The Berlin ring road on the opposite side was a six lane traffic jam as city dwellers attempted to head south. By noon we were pulling into our campsite north of the inner city and close to Tegel airport. Then we encountered Helga. Small and industrious she pushed us out of reception as we attempted to book in. It was her lunch break. Miraculously the combination of my schoolgirl German and probably the more effective waving of a bit of paper confirming ‘aber wir haben ein reservierung’ caused her to show us reluctantly to a pitch.
As we attempted to chock up to get level, another arrival chose to reverse his huge motorhome to his allocated pitch taking out three snowmen, two saplings and a concrete pillar. His wife seemed to blame me for this as I stood in the drifts waiting to call Simon and Bertha into our allotted space. Whilst the hapless couple argued we plugged Bertha into the last available electrical socket and set about leaving to visit the city.
The u-bahn from the campsite took 25 minutes to get into the centre of Berlin at Friedrichstrasser. The biting wind and blizzarding snow didn’t favour the massive construction works going on along historic Unter den Linden, which is subject to a new underground connection being built to connect Brandenburg Gate with the East side Alexander Platz.
Dodging the building sites we saw Lustgarten, where Hitler preached bitter ideology to thousands, and were jostled by hundreds of fellow Easter visitors through temporary wooden corridors past Berlin’s massive Dom.
It was difficult just to keep moving so we found a cheap respite and coffee in McDonald’s – zeitgeist of the West – newly resident in a prime location overlooking Alexander Platz. It was a good place to get warm and to find our bearings as we clearly needed a plan to navigate our way through this city under construction.
Our first impressions of East side ‘Alex’ were of construction works, trams, high tower blocks, overhead railways, advertising hoarding and the cold. We circled the Fernsehturm – Berlin’s iconic skyline monument to television under which a cheery Easter markt was setting up stalls in the falling snow.
Needing basic food supplies we found the only open supermarkt back at Friedrichstrasse, helpfully on the way home but packed with hundreds of people also attempting to stock up for the weekend. We queued a long time at the checkouts and loaded identical goods to those around us (beer, milk, bread and chocolate). Outside, the queue to enter the store easily numbered a hundred and a security guard let two in as two left. A taste of old East Berlin.
The train delivered us back in darkness to a snowy walk back to the campsite passing the candles in the pets’ cemetery. The first hot shower of the trip delivered four magical minutes of scorching hot water and scalded clean we enjoyed a Berliner Kindl beer and shared our first impressions as the snow continued to fall…