Apologies - I have been keeping a blogging diary these last few days - but haven't found the time to post here - so let's go for overkill, with four entries for the price of one!!!
Sat Sept 24th - All Night Long ...
Ah yes – my brief summing up of wikipedia's review of the bohemian surroundings of Kreuzberg yesterday omitted the final sentence "Kreuzberg is one of the trendiest districts of Berlin, and many bars, pubs and nightclubs can be found in the area". Believe me they know how to party in Kreuzberg, indeed I think they were at it all night long just they other side of the wall from where I was trying to sleep! I upped and moved to the living quarters at the other end of the apartment, and eventually a half decent night's sleep was salvaged.
Leading onto this morning's breakfast run. I left in good time, but suddenly, one one stop into the journey, the u-bahn ground to a halt, and in the light of the succeeding announcement all German speakers promptly upped and got off. A sympathetic lady explained that due to an incident further on, the line was closed and we would have to find another way around (but she didn't have a clue how!). I was prepared to give up but decided on an alternative that might just get me there. It was touch and go, but I made it to Charlottenburg Palace at just about 9:32 in good time to join in on the end and process towards the 1936 Olympische Stadion. And was I glad I did?
I suppose that running is kind of what I do now. That was never the plan. And I don't know how long it will continue. But it has delivered some great highs, and granted me some real privileges. If it were football, could I seriously take the field with Lionel Messi? Yet I have twice run races alongside double double Olympic Champion Mo Farah, and had I been fast enough I seriously could have caught and overtaken him (though I grant that was always highly unlikely).
And this morning another HUGE high to add to the list. As the stadium came into view I prepared for the run to end, but then we turned off and seemed to be heading away from it. And then suddenly we were in a tunnel. OMG I think I know where this is leading!!! And suddenly there it is – light at the end of the tunnel – and we are seriously following in the footsteps of heroes (the first I remember was a barefoot Abebe Bikila in 1964) as we emerge from the tunnel and do our lap of honour of the Olympic Stadium. Granted we had to walk it 'cos there we so many people but a truly magical moment.
Back to Kreuzberg and I have now been joined by my elder daughter Madeleine. The plan is to visit the Berlin Wall memorial on Bernauerstrasse. As we head out of the door, the party next door has reconvened, and, leaning out of the window, several of the participants invite us to join them! We decline. After looking round the memorial garden we decide on a quick stop for lunch at the "museum bistro". The lady serving wants to know where I am from – "Weymouth" I reply – "unser Stadt – Olympische segeln" I explain (crikey where did that come from?) before adding that I would like to pay for our lunch "zusammen" – "you speak good German" she says (inexplicably) (in English). Maybe she was taking the p£$s – I don't know – but nor do I care – I'm claiming that one!!!
We then headed back to the Brandenberg Gate, and as we emerged, the children's mini-marathon was taking place – as thousands of children headed through the gate to the finish, where I hope to be triumphantly tomorrow. Another wonderfully inspiring sight.
And from there we headed down to the Potsdamer Platz. Something strange was afoot there as marshals were carefully controlling the crossing points there for tomorrow's course. And there was a helicopter circling overhead. A quick google tells us that we were just in time to see the in-line skaters coming through (at speeds of up to 60 kpm!).
We managed to find Lidl on the way home, so now I'm all pasta'd up, loving this city (hope I still feel the same way tomorrow), hoping for a quieter night, and next stop, 9:15 tomorrow, the start line :-)
Sun Sept 25th ... Every Step You Take ...
Sunday Sept 23rd and my assault on the world's fastest marathon begins. A simple journey to Potsdamer Platz, followed by a short walk to the Brandenburger Tor. One thing that has struck me is that the Germans are not great at signposting. I queue with other runners to enter the inner runners only compound, only to be told, as we reach the front of the queue, that our kit bags need to be deposited elsewhere. Eventually I find this gate, in front of the Reichstag, only to be told that we are not allowed to take water in with us!
I deposit my bag and head towards the start area. There is a nice convenient (if you get the meaning) grassy area and I decide to follow the other chaps onto it. NO TOILETTEN! NO TOILETTEN bellows the voice of officialdom. But by now I am in mid-stream – no choice but to see it through. And then off to the start pens, but which one? Surely they will be colour coded, but not a bit of it, our numbers are all a Man City shade of blue. I follow the other runners into block H, before looking at my number and seeing that block G is printed onto it. So I am in the wrong pen :-( Wave three instead of the wave two start that my magnificent Paris "sub-four" should have guaranteed. Oh well stuff it. We'll stop where we are.
I chat with Claire and Bev from Southampton. Have I done any White Star events they ask? Apparently they did the Mad Cow. But we are distracted (and entertained) by a Japanese? couple having a huge domestic (curiously in English :-) ) right in front of us.Wave three starts around 9:45 and we are off and running at about 9:50. I immediately see Madeleine and Marion straight after the start. This is my sixth big city event and the sixth time I've been blessed with a superb sunny day – probably better for the spectators than for me. I would love to think I might be able to get close to that Paris time, but with the crowds, and the heat, I don't see that happening.
But as the crowds thin out I speed up after the first 10k. This really is a seriously flat course. If I didn't know better I'd swear that Angela had had it bulldozed. I get to the half way point in 02:03:04. Who knows – if I can only run a decent second half?!? I'd love to know what it feels to run a negative split in a marathon. One thing soon became clear – I would not be finding out today!!!
I am intrugued by the caption on the back of one lady's shirt, and spend several minutes pondering it. "Der stärkste Muskel ist der Wille" – can that really be? Surely that translates as "The strongest muscle is the willie!!!" - that's a bit much!!!- doh – a huge sense of disappointment as it dawns on me – "The strongest muscle is the WILL" stupid.
I have recently developed a new strategy. Focus on something in the distance, those traffic lights for instance, pretend your legs don't exist, and, ever so slowly, whatever it is gets ever closer, until you are past, and seeking out the next distant object. During the first half I have sneaked past the 4:30 pacers, and the 4:15 pacers. I'm still running steadily aren't I? It's quite a shock when the first 4:15 pacer sneaks back past, and eventually the second one too.
It seems a bit curious that we were given our pre-ordered "finisher" shirts at the expo! And I am struck by the number of runners actually wearing them to run in. You might think this seriously tempting fate, but at least they have bothered to run. I'm tempted to engage in a bought of racial sterotyping here (but I won't).
And then there's those that hog the "central blue line" - unbelievably slowly - refusing to budge even an inch from their predestined path. I'm tempted to engage in a bought of racial sterotyping here (but I won't).
But I push on, stopping gratefully at every water station. No bottles here – just cups – and also taking on bits of banana at every opportunity. Again I am asking myself that same question – WHY (or more correctly WTF). I mean it's great to visit these places isn't it? But they do have half marathons you know – if we were talking half marathon I'd be long finished. After 22k I tell myself – "think 10k" – pretend this is, say, the Egdon Easy. Get it done (and then do another) and you'll be home – nothing to it!!
And slowly the kms are ticking by. I eagerly seek out the next km marker. Some times I miss them, but get a huge boost when the following one tells me I'm a massive 2km closer. At 38km I grant myself the luxury? Of a comfort stop (if you'd seen the state of the portaloo it certainly was no luxury) and soon after that Madeleine and Marion see me for the final (I assume) time. I'm glad I was still running when they saw me, but sneakily tell myself that maybe a short walk is called for. But I don't give in, which is just as well as they manage to see me once more before the end.
Eventually joy as the Brandenburger Tor comes into sight. I go into "focus and forget your legs" mode again. It's getting closer – count to twenty I tell myself – count to ten – count to five – FFS where's the F finishing line. The sting in the tale is it's several hundred metres the other side of the gate – c'mon – one last big push – and I'm there – marathon number ten is completed :-)
After my trip to Valencia last year, and my brief encounter with the inspirational Ingrid Cain from Dudley Kingswinford Running Club, I hatched a plan entitled "World Marathon Majors". But you have to qualify for Boston don't you? No problem – I had a trip to the world's fastest marathon lined up. My big chance! So in that context maybe 04:17:28 is disappointing. But "que sera sera" as the French would say. Maybe it was just never meant to be, and in any case do I really care? I never dreamed, when I started run-walking back in 2013, that the road would lead me to places and experiences like this one :-)
I queue up for my goody bag and a free beer, and seek out baggage reclaim – again the signposting seems seriously lacking and it takes me ages to find the correct area. I am now heading out of the inner sanctum, but then spot a Dorset Doddlers running vest. They get everywhere it seems – North Dorset / Manchester / Berlin!! And so I have a delightful chat with Lucy from the Doddlers (who apparently ran the Giant's Head earlier this year, remembering of course the collection of idiots running around in Hawaiian gear!) and her sister (whose name sadly excapes me).
Afterwards I feasted on Bratwurst, Sauerkraut mit Pommes Frites (and more beer). We were on a roof garden overlooking the thought provoking Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, a foretaste of things to come later on in this trip.
Elder daughter Madeleine's whistle stop tour ends as she leaves to catch a late night flight back to London. She has a great talent for organising spectator itineries for major marathons. And I returned to the flat to set this down. But what to listen to? – Les Miserables would be totally inappropriate this time – no contest – I have the soundtrack of one of my all time favourite films on the phone. "Life is a cabaret old chum". Somehow very apt :-)
Mon Sept 26th - Another Brick Out Of The Wall
Thanks to Cathy, whose diary of her hiking and hutting trip to Austria has inspired me to maintain a bit of a blogging diary of this trip.
My third marathon abroad and the third time I've stayed in a private apartment booked through airbnb. Not everyone's cup of tea I'm sure and looking at the grafitti on the door when I arrived not a promising start. There can be stress; like not knowing for sure how to get in to the flat this time! and not being able to turn the cooker on in Paris! But ultimately each time it's really worked. As far as the marathon is concerned you can cook whatever you like and have whatever you want for breakfast at any time you want. No panoramic views of the city this time, but this was probably the best yet. As Kirsty and Phil would say – location, location, location. If you stay in a place like this you have to embrace the city and live the life. Three times I've eaten out, Italian, vegetarian Vietnamese, and now traditional wholesome German (plus breakfast in the Bacherei this morning), and never walked more than 20m from the front door. Two minutes to the u-bahn and just half an hour to the marathon start. I would recommend anyone to give it a go.
... And a few reflections on my day as a grock in Berlin
I had pre-booked a couple of hop-on / hop-off bus tours, plus the one hour "currywurst" boat trip. After a quick coffee and croissant in the next door Bacherei I head for the u-bahn which goes direct to the start point. But where is the bus? The info assures me the first bus is 9:10. But now it's 9:20. I decide to walk to the next stop which is a bit more touristy and there is one of the company's reps who assures me I am in the right place, and that the first bus is at 9:30, which is a shame 'cos I was relying on a prompt start to get to the boat trip on time.
People are wearing "finisher's" shirts but mine is already in the wash. But I do have my other badge of honour, my wrist band and am soon talking to a fellow finisher from Cologne. Meanwhile the bus is late – already I'm behind schedule.
We arrive at one of the remaining stretches of the wall in Friedrichstrasse, by Checkpoint Charlie, and I decide to depart the bus early, have a quick look around and leg it to the start point of the boat trip. I arrive there just in time (15 mins before the start). I find a company rep, who tells me I'm in the wrong place and points me on a wild goose chase down the road. The start time is getting close and I head back whence I'd come only to find I'd been in the right place the first time. I am given my token, exchangeable for currywurst, and head onto the boat (which is actually starting ten minutes after the advertised time).
The people in front are checking out marathon results in a newspaper – "welche Zeitung" I ask, and before we know it we are seeking out my result, and I'm conversing (mostly in English) with shirt and band wearer Barbara from near Bern. I decide to go and claim my currywurst, just to make sure I get it. The commentary is something along the lines of a whole lot of "spiel" in German (well spie would be in German!), followed by an English translation along the lines of "this is a bridge". I end up talking to the two ladies behind me, from Windsor, who are worried about the late start as they have a plane to catch but are both delighted to have achieved GFA yesterday :-)
I head back to pick up the bus trip near where I left off – there is a bus just about to leave the stop and I run! and catch it. I soon realise it is one of another companies'. But no-one seems to care too much here. No-one ever seems to check your ticket anywhere. And anyway I prefer their commentary.
From there onto the second, lifestyle, trip which is concerned particularly with what life was like in the DDR. Eventually we head to the East Side Gallery, the longest remaining part of the wall on the banks of the River Spree, where we are told the bus will stop for half an hour! I head to the gift shop and pay 4 euros for my own personal chunk. The lady in the shop assures me it is genuine.
Back on the bus and I go as far as the Neue Synagoge. This should have been razed to the ground on Kristallnacht, 1938, but the actions of a local police officer saved the building. It's after three and I'm peckish. I head back to the river bank to sit in the sun (and consume a large bier and a huge slice of Käsetorte).
And finally I must head back to the apartkment. But not before sitting and listening to this couple playing and singing beautifully– I wish I'd asked their names – I'm suddenly overtaken with a massive feeling of chilled-outedness. And now I'm sat downstairs from the apartment in the Cafe Morena http://www.morena-berlin.com/ listening to some great music – currently Marvin Gaye "sexual healing" – just had Amy singing "Valerie". Another beer please – "my girl" – "I would rather go blind" – see you in Kracow.
Tue Sept 27th - All Shook Up
... that was me after nine hours on a Polskibus ...
Tuesday morning and I'm on a Polski bus heading out of Germany. Maybe a chance to reflect on the visit to Berlin. I reckon this is my fourth visit to Germany – and the second since reunification. Not everyone will visit this country. A lady I met on a holiday a year or so back, would never countenance a visit and I have to respect that point of view.
Berlin is a city totally unlike any other I've visited, and quite possibly, unlike any other in Germany – a city, it would seem, constantly living with its past, and a city it would seem constantly wanting to apologise for it. But also a city that is itself a victim of events that it still appears struggling to come to terms with. But yet a city that is the capital of Europe's economic powerhouse and right at the centre of any evolving European superstate.
During the breakfast run on Saturday, as we circled the Olympische Stadium, I noted that we were entering Jesse-Owens-Allee. You can bet it didn't have that name back in 1936. Travelling around, and doing the tourist bit, I am struck by the constant referring to National Socialism; the constant message being that it was a terrible thing. It's not so much a case of wanting to expunge it from history as to bend over backwards to redress this balance, and to be constantly saying "sorry".
I was born just twelve years after the end of the Second World War, and I recall how much, growing up, the war was still a part of everything; how my grandmother would enthrall us with endless tales of what happened during the war; seemingly endless black and white episodes of "Dad's Army"; and how Woolwich was still scarred with numerous "bomb-sites", each one it seemed being used as a car-park! Think back to 2004 (Jose Mourinho becomes manager of Chelsea, Boscastle floods, Boxing Day tsunmi ... ). How vividly do you remember events from then? And of course who, of my generation, would ever forget that classic comedy episode? – "I mentioned it once but I think I got away with it!". Would that be written today? And indeed would we still find it funny. As far as Berlin is concerned, it is mentioned, and at just about every opportunity.
And yet those doing the apologising are, by and large, the children and grandchildren of those that committed the perceived crimes – how does that stack up? How many apologies from the offspring of the perpetrator does it require to equate to a personal apology by someone long since dead?
Following Sunday's marathon, we walk through Berlin's striking and thought provoking "Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe" and then had a very nice lunch on a roof garden overlooking it. But clearly not everyone was as impressed by this memorial as I was. For instance, I came across the story of revolutionary socialist Rosa Luxemburg, murdered in 1919, her body thrown into the canal (now celebrated on Berlin's canal boat tour). The point is made that we don't know exactly which murdered jews, and murdered by whom, the memorial is commemorating. But clearly Germany in general, and the Nazis in particular, do not have a monopoly on anti-semitism.
Yesterday's second tour, the "lifestyle" tour, took us along the Bernauerstrasse, home to the Berlin Wall memorial, which we also visited on Saturday (the Berlin wall – a.k.a. the "Anti-Fascist Protective Measure") And there we learned of other atrocities – of street clearances - of inhumane murders - of families split in two - of nine-month pregnant women jumping out of second story windows to escape. I seriously struggle to believe that all this happened during my lifetime. Walking to the start on Saturday I listened to a Berliner descibing how although the wall may not exist in real terms, its scars clearly remain between east and west.
I certainly don't profess to understand the history – the Balkan crisis (the "powderkeg of Europe") that lead up to the First World War, Franz Ferdinand (the Archduke – not the rock band), the Versailles settlement, war reparations, Naziism, anti-semitism, the holocaust, partitioning, the air-drop, the cold war, the iron curtain, glasnost and perestroika, reunification, federal Europe, Brexit. But it is not always straightforward to draw a line between the perpatrator and victim, indeed one man's perpetrator may well be another man's victim.
I've thoroughly enjoyed my four days of marathon tourism. Berlin is no Paris. There is no new stunning vista awaiting you around every corner. Unlike Krakow, they had to build their "medieval" quarter in the 20th century. Maybe it is a city to be "lived" rather than just seen, and hopefully my apartment in bohemian Kreuzberg has given me the chance to do just that.
I always believed that the great vaue of studying history was the chance to learn from the past. Sadly, I have recently become far more cynical about this. After all, if we were so good at learning from earlier mistakes, surely the holocaust would never have taken place? Regretfully I come to the conclusion that mankind in general, and MANkind in particularly, has it in itself a propensity to fight endless wars, and to perform acts we choose to call "inhuman".
But there are things that every child should be taught, and things that should never be allowed to be forgotten. Running the London marathon was something I always felt a need to do, yet thought I never would. I guess the same is true of visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau. And now running has given me the reason to come to Berlin and to extend this trip to visit Poland. And running introduced me to a fellow runner, to whom I am immensely grateful for sharing with me a little part of their family history. It somehow makes everything these next couple of days seem so much more real.
Thanks for reading :-)
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