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Phespirit goes to Germany
Berlin     July 2007

During the first half of 2007, all Phespirit's travel arrangements were fraught with tribulations. A blizzard struck southeast England on the morning of his flight to Lisbon; storms over Kuala Lumpur forced a diversion of his flight from Siem Reap; industrial action in Italy blighted his flight from Gatwick to Rimini. So, would things improve in the second half of the year? Not on this trip. His Air Berlin flight, scheduled for 11:25 from London Stansted, did not leave the ground until 16:40. Apparently the plane had suffered a technical failure in Leipzig and a replacement part had to be brought in from Berlin before it could make its way to London. How very encouraging.

As has become his way, Phespirit arrived in Berlin with plans. He'd arbitrarily allowed himself a week for looking around, and this proved to be the minimum requirement. So much to see. His first day in town was a Monday, when many of the mainstream cultural attractions are closed, so Phespirit made this his Jewish day. The high-visibility public resurrection of Judaism in Germany has been accomplished with a laudable balance of pride and shame. Phespirit feared that the vast, jagged, painfully modern, zinc-clad Jüdisches Museum would be a triumph of form over substance, but it actually proved more interesting than he thought possible: an unlikely marriage of gimmickry, tragedy and legacy.

Berlin is awash with cultural attractions, so Phespirit easily filled the rest of his week simply by shuttling between them. Best amongst the countless museums is the Pergamonmuseum. It displays big things. Cavernous rooms house huge archaeological finds from Assur, Sam'al, Miletus, Babylon, Mshatta and Pergamon itself, plus several other pieces presented in smaller ensembles. Phespirit had fallen in love with Pergamon when he visited Turkey in 2002, so it was all the more fascinating to see the Pergamon Altar reassembled, albeit incongruously in central Europe.

The Gemäldegalerie is one of the finest art galleries Phespirit has ever visited. All his favourite pre-19th century painters are represented. There's a Caravaggio, a couple of Vermeers, a few Dous, a Piero della Francesca, the list goes on: Botticelli, Raphael, Canaletto, Titian, Rembrandt, Rubens, Bruegel the Elder, van Eyke, to name but the first few that come to mind. Many more follow. Phespirit's nomination for best in show: 'The Glass of Wine' by Vermeer - close to perfection. Also notable: 'St. Sebastian tended by St. Irene' by Georges de la Tour.

Elsewhere, Phespirit spent a morning at the Reichstag (most of the time queuing to get in) and used the U-Bahn, S-Bahn and Regional Trains to visit the Olympic Stadium, Lake Wannsee and Potsdam. He got completely lost in Potsdam and stumbled upon all manner of interesting places as a result. He went there primarily to see Schloss Cecilienhof, but enjoyed bonus encounters with the Holländisches Viertel (Dutch quarter), Alexandrowka (Russian settlement) and the Belvedere on Pfingstberg Hill. A nice bit of Germanic serendipity.

"Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans" - John Lennon
..... as a Berliner reminded Phespirit.

These are the joys of travel: plans that by-and-large come to fruition, interspersed with happy accidents. Berlin provided all such joys for Phespirit without ever really inspiring him to sell up, cancel the papers and relocate there. But he was pleased to have been there and to have done that.

POSTSCRIPT: harking back to the flight delays, if any visitors are wondering how Air Berlin performed in comparison to Monarch Airlines in May, the answer is 'poorly'. By the time the delay was announced Phespirit had already made his way to the departure gate. The assembled passengers were informed that a bus would take them back to the terminal, where free vouchers would be dispensed for food and drink. What passengers were not told, however, is that they would be de-controlled to start all over again from the Air Berlin check-in desk. No thought was given to how passengers with duty free goods would get back through security. Phespirit himself was miffed because it had originally taken him the best part of forty-five minutes to get through security first time around; any able-bodied passenger would willingly step aside in the queue to allow priority access for a wheelchair user, but a tad more goodwill is required when an entire party bound for Lourdes is ushered to the front of a waiting line. Happily he only had to queue for quarter of an hour second time around, and all was forgiven as he settled down to a nice meal of roast chicken, paid for with £8's worth of vouchers .....

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