Berlin again (Sun 20 -Sat 26 March 2016)

It’s becoming a bit of a regular thing for me and my partner Dave to come to Berlin for Easter. Indeed we spent Easter 2015 here and the blog I wrote about it shows that there is almost a routine we have become pleasantly coerced into. It’s that nice thing about having been somewhere many times and done the touristy stuff so now it just feels comfortable being in a place we know well.

My Fab Easter Weekend in Berlin

Berlin – what is the attraction?

Berlin statueWe both love Berlin with its ability to be both wonderfully laid back but very Germanic at the same time – no problem people walking around in leather gear but don’t cross the road until the green person shows! We always stay near ‘Gay Town’ i.e. the area in North Schoenerg around Nollendorfplatz and Fuggerstrasse. And by coming at Easter and to Folsom Europe in September, the part of Berlin we exist in is very gay with lots of guys wandering about in their particular fetish gear and some crazy gay bars / nightclubs. Big difference to London’s gay scene is the age mix – not just the trendy twinks of east London and Soho nor the young drug queens of Vauxhall but a nice mix of young and old being chilled together.

Early starts, late nights and easy days

Flight to Berlin went fine on Thursday. Big issue was a strike on the Piccadilly line which meant I had to leave home earlier than planned and paid more to get to Heathrow than I normally would. Taxi at 6am (£15) and then enforced Heathrow Express (£22). Would have paid about £4 to get to the airport normally on the tube. Though must say the Heathrow Express was wonderfully luxurious. Chilled around a very busy Heathrow using their wi-fi and reading my book. Nice BA flight over though too early for a complimentary glass of wine. Indeed, sorry to my abstinence friends but alcohol was a major part of my Berlin holiday. Twenty Euro taxi to the hotel and unfortunately no Dave to share any of this as he was having to work and come later in the day.

Arrived at the hotel just after lunch so to a local Turkish food stand for currywurst and chips – yummy and very German. Then the wonderful gay cafe Romeo und Romeo (previously a gay bar though the Nazis turned it into one of their locality offices). Back to the hotel to potter on the pooter and have a sleep before Dave turned up around 8. To our favourite Italian restaurant and then a little drink before back to the hotel; taking it easy on the first night.

One of the great things about holidays are not setting your alarm and waking up naturally. My only problem being naturally I am an early riser. So up on Good Friday by 7.30. Down to breakfast, first person there. Good Friday is just as in London, a national holiday. But Germany is more strict on shop opening hours and even less were open than in the UK. It seemed the only allowances were for cafes and gay lifestyle shops. Weather was drearily grey with rain. A day of pottering around and drinking coffee whilst reading my book or being on the pooter. An early dinner at our favourite burger place then back for a kip before, for me, out to the club Connection. Silly queue to get in but a good night fueled by weiss beer before a check in at the 24 hour party pub (Bull) and bed around 2am.

Berlin victory column Dave had a big lay-in on Saturday so I had my usual morning coffees and went for a walk around Tiergarten; note the picture of the Victory Column which I have always known as the Monument to Prussian Victories. The weather had improved considerably becoming dry with some sunshine. Wandered around some new bits of the garten not been to before. Back to meet Dave for lunch at one of the fab Asian street cafes. He had been to KaDeWe, his favourite shop. I resisted the temptation to go back to bed during the day. Evening I felt quite knacked and chilled so whilst others were getting ready for a big Saturday night out, we had a drink in the hotel bar and watched England come from 2-0 down to beat Germany 3-2. Details on the rest of the holiday from Easter Sunday onwards in next week’s blog.

Sport Relief Sunday

Previous Sunday was Sport Relief at the Olympic Park in Stratford. Happens every two years with Red Nose Day on the year Sport Relief does not happen. I like Sport Relief as it gives people an opportunity to do something physical to raise money. In many ways it is traditional sponsorship but using the digital world to collect and bank the money. Early start for me and Dave, up at 6.30 and a very busy tube to Stratford. Dave went to do his sponsored swim. My main volunteering duty during the day was simply being in the event village and handing out event guides. The village itself was impressive with various free things including riding mechanical horses, wearing a velcro suit so you can stick yourself to a wall, and going on a flight simulator. Weather was cloudy and cold though it did get better later with a little bit of sun. At least it wasn’t raining. Loads of people doing their bit including my partner who swam a mile and in doing so raised nearly £500.

Digital: HullCoin, Cities of Learning and catch-ups

HullcoinWas some good digital stuff in the week before going away. Monday, up to Hull and back in a day for a meeting with HullCoin and BIG. Hull Trains are great. On-time, nice running stock, and free fast wi-fi. Why can small train companies like Chiltern Railways and Hull Trains do the latter so well whereas big train companies like Southern and Virgin are crap? A good presentation to BIG on the potential for thsi project, hopefully they can be brought on board as a funder. But a very tiring day not arriving home till 8.30.

Tuesday was a conference at the RSA on Cities of Learning as delivered by the agency LRNG – an American concept about getting people and agencies working together to encourage learning and under-pinning it with a digital platform that particularly enables people to badge their learning. May be something to invest in. This was also sadly the day that evil terrorists did more cowardly bombings killing people at Brussels airport and on that city’s metro.

Wednesday wasn’t specifically about digital though that came into it. Had a morning catch-up with Sarah Brennan at YoungMinds – an agency who have undergone a digital journey that I have very much supported over the last few years. One of their big successes is the website to advise young people on the official and unofficial side-effects of prescribed medication HeadMeds which came about through the Innovation Labs initiative I managed. Then onto a meeting with Nick Stanhope at Shift. Shift is an exciting agency that designs products for social change. They oversee a diverse and interesting portfolio including History Pin, healthy fast food, and gaming to improve mental health. I would particularly recommend Nick’s recent blog about 5 lessons from developing technology to solve social problems

Health and Efficiency

Quiet on this front last week. No gym at all due to Sport Relief on Sunday and work on the days before going to Berlin. Some walks such as on Wednesday walking from London Bridge to Farringdon and then around Tiergarten. Primarily based at Dave’s so no chance to use mum’s scales to record my weight – I always try to keep to readings from the same scales. Legs definitely feel better when not taking statins. Bloods on Wednesday for various stuff and call to GP next week on whether OK to move onto a new class of statins.

Books and Reading

Three books read over last week and a wonderfully eclectic mix.

Cornelius Medvei The Making of Mr Bolsover Strange book and I was left wondering if the author is actually someone more established writing under an alternative name? Study of a middle-age man who turns into an eco-warrior and gets elected to the council. Weird because he writing about interviewing the man’s nephew in order to get the story. Based in Lewes which is a place I know and the kind of alternative lifestyle depicted here could happen there. Good but ultimately perhaps too clever for its own good and I am left with a feeling that there is some sort of joke on the reader.

Christopher Fowler is one of my favourite English sci-fi/horror/fantasy writers and his output is prodigious. He has created an engaging detective couple in Bryant and May. White Corridor is the fifth one in the series and you can feel the books maturing and becoming easier in their skin as time has passed. Like all thrillers, a bit too clever and multi-layered sometimes but a good book basically containing two stories for the price of one.

I found Timur Vermes’ Look Whose Back in a charity shop (surprise, surprise) and was drawn by the fact it is published by Quercus, an edgy publisher whose choice of books I respect. It was ironic to read it in Berlin as it is a novel about the return of Hitler who wakes up in 2011 thinking he was still in Berlin at the point just before he commits suicide. I didn’t get all the references to modern German culture but it was intriguing to see how dangerous an ideologue can be and how they can become populists in modern society by being ‘outspoken’ (obsessed?) and appearing anti-establishment i.e. Donald Trump and Boris Johnson.

Two Dr Who audio-books listened to. Winter for the Adept an adventure done early on when these audio-books were new featuring the 5th Doctor (Peter Davidson). Very much like a good radio drama – simple and enjoyable. Followed by a later 8th Doctor (Paul McGann) one, Cardroiea. For me this typified what happens when audiobooks go wrong. Perfectly fun but a weak and predictable story set in some sort of in-between space. Ultimately a bit flat.

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