My favourite Easter in life so far was in 2005, when I visited Berlin, and Germany for the first time. A previous post on here I mentioned how I was in Machester (for England v. Northern Ireland) on Easter Saturday 2005, before leaving to Manchester airport for a flight to Berlin on Easter Sunday, so this post will take off (pun intended) from when the flight took off. It was a late morning flight, which saw us fly direct to Berlin. Germany had by now adopted the Euro as their currency, so I never actually got to use the Deutsch Mark. I had a beer on the plane, where I met Dean Nutt for the first time. Quite a lot of us had booked the trip together, staying in a few different hotels.
Our flight landed and because there was a load of us, we all got taxis back to the hotels. I was rooming with Michael and Gavin McClelland, two of my best friends and two who have known me since the 1980s. We stayed in a very drab, grey type hotel called the Hotel Aldea. I wasn’t really ready for the culture change in Berlin, but once we checked into the hotel, we were ready for some beers and to explore this fantastic city. The Aldea Hotel, as far as I recall was surely in East Berlin, the former East Germany. I think we noted this due to the grey drab walls in the hotel and the fact it was so clean (a job for every fucker in communism eh?) and the corridors were like prison type ones. The key for the room was also massively heavy and this had to be left at reception every time. The location was perfect for seeing the city (but not, as we’d learn later, for getting to Ost Bahnhof for our train to Warsaw…), sandwiched in between Kurfursten Damm and Potsdamer Platz and pretty close to Brandenberg Gate. The local U Bahn stop was the BulowstraBe one.
We had planned 3 days in Berlin as part of mine and Michael’s birthday celebrations on route to watch Poland v. Northern Ireland in Warsaw. It was the brainchild of Michael McClelland and Mike and Gav did most of the organising. Once back at the hotel, I grabbed a quick beer and watched some Easter chicks in a cage in the hotel bar. In our party there was Colin Bowles, Andrew Webb, Dave Watson, Skin (Ian McKinney), Dean Nutt, Gavin and Michael McClelland and me. We stuck together nost of the time, and also met up with many other Northern Ireland football fans, who had all somehow ended up in Berlin during these few days…and so on the first night we headed out for some food and drink and culture in no particular order.
We first noticed the Berlin Wall pathway design in the road as we walked through the massively wide streets, the wall seemed to twist and turn like a snake or a Beatles road song subject as we had the words ‘Berliner Mauer 1989’ shooting up at us. I wore a red and white quartered Northern Ireland shirt and had expected it to be reasonably warm. However it was baltic and I froze in the German winter. Everyone else had the knowledge to wear coats or fleeces. After a short dander we reached Potsdamer Platz, where a large Easter Egg eclipsed some modern glass structures. It was Easter Sunday and hence Berlin was very quiet. We headed for a bar that did food and Skin noticed ‘Alex’s Bar’, so we went in there in respect of Alex Best, wife of Northern Ireland legend George. This was by the Sony Centre. In there I needed a piss, and by the time I had come back the other five lads had all ordered a beer and a cheeseburger, so I did the same. Cheeseburgers became a bit of a trademark on this trip actually…
That beer tasted gorgeous and we planned the night and the next day while drinking local German brew in glasses that were heavier than those in my local. Then Dave Watson mentioned that his mate Tim and his girlfriend were due to meet up with us. We ended up walking for a bit and finding them. I had actually spoke to Tim (Beattie) once before the previous Saturday at the England v. Northern Ireland match, but I didn’t know him. A strange serious of events actually on this very trip culminated in a certain three individuals (myself, Beattie and Millar) becoming the main men in the as yet non-existent SOUTH OF ENGLAND NORTHERN IRELAND SUPPORTERS CLUB. More on that elsewhere. Tim was with his girlfriend, Charley. When Dave found out about this, he said we have to call Tim ‘Checkpoint’ (obviously the pun based on the world famous Checkpoint Charlie at Stadtmitte in Berlin). We bumped in to them on a street which I’m sure was close to Oranienberger StraBe (Orange Burger Street!). There we met Tim, Charley, plus Roan and Wendy, two more Belfast Northern Ireland fans on tour in Berlin.
It was at this point when we passed a shop called Kunstsalon. I found it hilarious, trying to make out that it was a shop selling Cunts. I got Charley to take my photo there, while in the darkness of a Berlin Easter, the others conveniently found a bar! We walked into what is now referred to as “The Sailor’s Bar” (really not sure why, there were some boat photos on the wall). In there we had a full table to ourselves as we drank German lager to our hearts content and warmed up with a few light hearted songs and comedy. It was a great wee night. But it wasn’t over for all of us yet. On the way back I stopped and bought some porn and sex items. I was dating Lauren at the time and would use them when we got back. Actually we split up shortly after that, so perhaps I used the porn to have a wank to myself instead. Anyhow after that all the lads wanted to head back to the hotel. Just before we did though, we posed in military style beside a mural stating “Ice bin eine terrorist”, scarily we all look like terrorists in the photo, which has me displaying the Northern Ireland fleg as well. It was an amusing moment. I wasn’t tired yet though and it was Easter Sunday in Berlin and I wanted to stay out and party. So did young Dean.
Dean and I then found a 24 hour bar where we drank until 4 am in what was basically a brothel. I didn’t have the money or feel compelled to pay for any sexual favours, and as most people will know, I wouldn’t fucking do it when I have a beautiful girlfriend. And let’s get this right, Lauren was as good as it will ever get. She had it all, and I wasn’t prepared to cheat on her! I was happy to down the beers and get pished with wee Dean (whose cousin, Sammy ended up living down the road from me in Bournemouth for a while!). It was then time for bed and the day of sightseeing on the Easter Monday.
Up early and enjoying the ‘different’ German breakfast in the hotel, where we enjoyed cheese and salami on bread, served up by some very attractive quiet German princesses. Then we had maps and walked to where the first bus stop on the City Bus Tour was. This had been the plan, as had been the plan to visit the Jewish Museum, Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin Wall and then that night to meet at Brandenberg Gate and embark on another pub crawl with yet more Northern Ireland fans. Life was becoming good in Berlin…
As we waited for the guided bus tour, I grabbed my first beer of the day and we all had a lovely sausage currywurst. My first proper sample of German food. This was eaten with mustard and ketchup. Then we were on the bus, which was a guided tour and had headphones. It cost about 30 Euros for the day. We were taken past a very old Church, which I photographed, the church had survived both wars and was tilted to one side and preserved. It looked quite out of place and old in amongst so many new buildings. There was a lot of comedy moments on the bus tour. The English speaker kept using the words “erected” and “erection”, which I kept shouting out on the bus. It was hilarious. Why couldn’t they have translated the German as “built”, it means the same thing and doesn’t mean your willy is ready for action. “The erection of this building occured in 1974” said the tour guide!! “This structure was erected after the second world war”. Oh really?!
As the Bus Tour continued we also enjoyed the names of some German places. A flower shop was “Blumen”, which in Northern Ireland is the name for the fans of my hated rival football club, Belfast Linfield (I’m a Glentoran fan), and there was the classic “Bottschaften”, it sounded like smebody was thinking about anal sex. We then exited the bus at the Jewish Museum stop. This was to be an excellent insight into the whole Second World War, The Holocaust, Hitler’s Regime and the Anti Semitism. Culture and thought provoaction for my ignorant Northern Irish soul, I tell you. If you don’t know about The Holocaust, read up on it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holocaust . It should be taught at schools. The horrors of this period were evident in the Jewish Museum, from stepping in.
I got a student day ticket and we walked round ourselves. “Six million screaming souls” sang the Manic Street Preachers in their 1994 song “The Intense Humming Of Evil”, and here as we walked OVER the “screaming jews” in the Museum in what is “The Void”. This was a dark room with a little bit of sunlight, where we walked over metal plates of faces. This was the void. This was the horrors of The Holocaust. A chilling thing to do on an Easter Monday in 2005. With a world of opportunity outisde our windows, we should be most grateful for our life here and ponder on those horrible deaths of the Jewish under the demon of a Hitler Empire. I walked through the indoor Holocaust memorial (In 2007 I would also visit the more recent Holocaust memorial by Brandenberg Gate) and each structure was a way of saying “A person has died. It doesn’t matter who. A life was taken, so callously.” I’ve often thought such a monument could be built in Northern Ireland to remember the victims of the ‘troubles’ we endured. Perhaps in times to come we will see this happen. We’d need peace first really, wouldn’t we?
I did joke to Mike and Gav that I was going to ask at the counter for a “Bacon sandwich bitte”…but my conscience got the better of me, I gathered it would be in bad taste. The Jews don’t eat pig, though ironic that during the horrors of The Holocaust they’d possibly have eaten anything to stay alive. I bought some souvenirs in there and then we waited for our bus tour to come back round. The wait was about 20 minutes, so we had an ice cream each, engineered by me. Then the bus took us and dropped us off close to Stadtmitte, where Checkpoint Charlie is the massive tourist attraction. This was totally fascinating. We stood staring at the image of the soldier and the former checkpoint, where four leading countries ruled the border between East and West Germany, or East and West Berlin, but BOTH. The souvenir shops had to be visited as well and I bought a ‘Checkpoint Charlie’ T-shirt and keyring, as well as a postcard, a present for my girlfriend and a piece of the Berlin Wall. We spent around 20 minutes walking round Checkpoint Charlie, posing for photos, reading the information and Michael bought one of the Russian/Communist style furry wigs and two flegs (which strangely, and I’ve only just realised I have these!!!). So I will have to give these flegs back to Michael in September. One is the former USSR fleg, the other one is the former DDR fleg. Great place for souvenirs and great tourist location. The shop at Checkpoint Charlie also makes a note of the citizenship of each customer.
After this we saw some graves of the soldiers killed there, actually it was just a memorial with crosses, then we walked round to the Berlin Wall, where unsurprisingly not much of it remains, and probably only for tourist reasons. Great photo posing by the wall and then walking round reading all the details of how many East Germans died trying to cross into West Berlin. Instead of getting back on the Bus Tour though, we then decided to grab some grub before heading back till the hotel to get changed and head out for the night. I can’t remember the name or location of the restaurant, but it was more nice food and a beer in what was now Berlin sunshine. Soon I was having a carryout and getting ready to meet everyone at Brandenbergh Gate.
I really cannot remember whose idea it was to meet at Brandenberg Gate, but the deal was be there at 8 pm to meet all the fellow Northern Ireland fans. Maybe it was posted on popular website Our Wee Country, but anyway it was some idea! I didn’t actually know any of the others, but had met a few the previous Saturday in Manchester. They were members of Glentoran NISC and the North of England NISC, headed by Garreth Todd. We got some photies by the gate, and also hopped over for a photo by the British Embassy, which was literally just off the main square at Brandy B G. Dave Watson also pointed out that it was at Hotel Absolon (I think) where Michael Jackson famously dangled a baby from the balcony window. We did a chant of “lets all do the Jackson” before heading to my favourite street name, Orange Burger Street where we went in till the nearest pub to start the pint sinking.
In the first pub, they had the internet and I remember John Hart posting on the Our Wee Country forum. This bar also had Van Morrison on their CD, and I recall about 15 Norn Iron fans being in there. It all happened rather quickly really, as some NI fans headed for food agreeing to meet us in the Oscar Wilde pub a bit later. We all met in there, and I was very surprised that Nial Coulter and Owen Millar were actually in the year above me at Bangor Grammar School. Mind you my attendance at school was shit, so maybe not such a big shock. In there I also met “Magic” who had also lived in the Marlo area of Bangor, random that and Rob Gray was there another key man in the North of England NISC. The Oscar Wilde pub was great craic, Toddy had broughten in a CD of all the Northern Ireland songs and the dude behind the bar put this on as we all sang along. We even had The Great Escape on there, which given the history probably wasn’t the best idea. I seem to remember leaving the Oscar Wilde pub with Colin and the North of England boys as we searched for a nightclub or another open pub, which in the end we didn’t find so somehow ended up back at Toddy and Owen’s hotel bar. By the time we got back to Hotel Aldea, there wasn’t much time for sleep and soon we were up and the short adventure in Berlin was closing its doors. Not before more calamity and mayhem, however.
As we waited for the U-Bahn, Dave Watson had kindly worked out the directions to the Ost Bahnhof station via the U-Bahn, but it wouldn’t be easy and the boys took a while to get ready that morning so making the “party train” to Warsaw was going to be some task. As we waited for the first U-Bahn Dean said to me “You chancin it?”, at this point the train arrived and there was no time to buy a ticket. Then as we got onto the train it was packed to the rafters with Berlin office workers on their way into work. The station stop was BulowstraBe. There were no seats so we all stood round our bags like obvious foreigners. Dean somehow managed to get a seat and just as well he was in the corner really, as one of the funniest moments ever occurred. Dean had been on the drink for too long clearly as he barfed up in front of the whole train. Not once but about 3 times. Everyone was in stitches, probably even Dean who had no water to drink and in a hot stuffy packed train, it was the least wanted place to be sick on that particular day. That said, we had no time to waste and it was on to find Ost Bahnhof.
The eejit that I am I had two massive bags and I played catch up as we dandered through unknown streets and in search of platforms and ways to the correct station. It appeared there were two places to catch the party train. One was at the central station (where Toddy and co had already got on, and flew by us waving their scarves and singing Norn Iron songs as the train eased to a halt in front of us.) Another funny moment happenend here when Mike said to me that our tickets were for the wrong day, indeed they were!! So while we all searched for a platform to Warsaw, Mike went and somehow managed to get the tickets sorted out. Then once we got them, there was still time for me to buy some Becks beer, Dean to recover with an ice cream , me to bang “Is This The Way To Amarillo?” on my CD player and the train to arrive awaiting us NI eejits who had just made it in time. What a relief that cold tin of Becks was. On the train there were no spare seats which didn’t bother me one bit, as I had my carryout, my music, some excellent Polish countryside and was ready for the 6 hour train. On looking for a seat at first, I entered a booth in a carriage which had 6 seats (Tim and Charley occupied two of these, there was a lady in another). I said to the lady “Please is this seat free?” She looked blankly, to which I said “I’m really sorry I don’t speak Polish” She replied “I’m not Polish; I’m German”, to which I responded “Thats alright love, I’m not from Brazil, I’m from Northern Ireland.” At that point Mike and Gav had got us a booth, but I wasn’t in the mood for sleep just yet and joined the NOE NISC in the party corridor amidst green and white snakes, green balloons, polish violinists, Owen Millar and my chilled Beck’s. Within minutes we had left Berlin behind for now and there I was headed headed into the iron curtain or whatever into the Polish wilderness with nothing but a Northern Irish smile. Nice dreams these journeys, even fucking better when they happen.
Auf wiedersehen Berlin!
Who was there – Jonny Blair, Michael McClelland, Gavin McClelland, Dean Nutt, Skin (Ian McKinney), Dave Watson, Colin Bowles, Andrew Webb, John Hart, Magic, Rob Gray, Nial Coulter, Garreth Todd, Owen Millar, Tim Beattie, Charley Holyhead, Roan Robinson, Wendy plus many and various other Northern Ireland fans.
Where we stayed – Aldea Hotel, Berlin (near BulowstraBe station).
Strange Currencies – Euros.
Nationalities Met – German, Northern Irish, Polish, English.
Beers tried – Beck’s, Berliner Kindl, Engel Export, Pilsator Pils, Schultheiss Pils, Berliner Pilsner, Radeberger Pilsner.
Key Song – Neil Diamond – Sweet Caroline (the first time I heard this tune sang with the words “Sweet Northern Ireland”)
Moving Moment – Standing at Checkpoint Charlie.
FACT – The “Ich bin ein Berliner” goof – According to an urban legend, John F Kennedy allegedly made an embarrassing grammatical error by saying “Ich bin ein Berliner,” referring to himself not as a citizen of Berlin, but as a common pastry: Kennedy should have said “Ich bin Berliner” to mean “I am a person from Berlin.” By adding the indefinite article ein, his statement implied he was a non-human Berliner, thus “I am a jelly doughnut”. The legend seems to stem from a play on words with Berliner, the name of a doughnut variant filled with jam or plum sauce that is thought to have originated in Berlin.