I have been to Berlin many times, but I first flew there in 2001. This was the best way to get there, as it’s a long walk from London. I flew at six o’clock in the morning on September the Twelfth. This was the day after September the Eleventh. No surprise there as twelve usually follows eleven, however this was that September the Eleventh.
As you can understand, I had a few reservations about flying on that day. There are a lot of things that go through your mind when something like 9/11 happens, especially when something like 9/11 has never happened before. And it wasn’t even called 9/11 at that point. I suppose us Brits might have called it 11/9, if we’d been asked, but we were too busy shitting ourselves to think about a catchy name.
Our soiled pants were the result of a great big smoky question mark that was left floating in the air that asked, ‘What will happen next?’
Hence I didn’t particularly want to go near any buildings taller than a bungalow, let alone set foot on a potentially kamikaze aeroplane. If an Airbus was likely to become a Groundbus somewhere over mainland Europe then I’d rather be sheltering with my loved ones in my garden shed. The manufacturer claimed it to be bomb-proof, or rain-proof, or one or the other.
But then again I’d never been to Berlin, and it was somewhere I’d always wanted to go.
The flight left from Stansted Airport, which is a bit of a drive from where I live. This meant rising at the ungodly hour of three in the morning. Given the earliness of the hour I’d almost forgotten the previous day’s events. All my mental energies were focused on staying awake whilst driving through the dimly lit East End of London. I still managed to hit a cat, a milkman and three prostitutes.
As I’d expected, security was very rigorous at Stansted. Hence why I’d left home early. It comprised two x-rays, a full baggage search and an over enthusiastic internal inspection by Mr Coldfinger the security guard. However, given the recent events, my general feeling was that ‘security’ was a little like the anal probing I’d just been given, i.e. you couldn’t have too much of it.
I landed at the old East Berlin airport and caught the train into central Berlin. In doing this you travel through mile after mile of deserted pine forest. It’s the sort of place that you can imagine Michael Caine dodging the bullets of leather-coated East German Stasi whilst he hastily buries a briefcase containing secret documents. In the background you can hear the barking of Alsatian dogs as they strain at the end of taut leashes held by round-helmeted Nazi Storm-Troopers looking for English parachutists dangling from branches.
You have to use your imagination, it’s not a very exciting journey.
Don’t go to Berlin expecting a beautiful city, that isn’t the charm of Berlin. The city centre is Europe’s biggest building site. The old Berlin Wall had acres of no-man’s land either side of it. When the wall came down there was suddenly a wide strip of premium European real estate freed up. They’ve been building stuff on it ever since.
It makes you wonder who owned the no-man’s land though, perhaps it was whoever got there first. No wonder all the East Germans were eager to break down the wall with whatever came to hand.
Back in 2001 the Brandenburg Gate was covered in scaffolding and tarpaulin. I’d gone all that way to Berlin, and their most famous landmark was completely hidden from view. Apparently they couldn’t decide what colour to paint it, so they were having a public vote on the matter. At the time I wondered why they were bothering. Within a few weeks it would probably be a heap of rubble with an American Airlines tailfin sticking out of it.
After a couple of days in Berlin the picture of what happened on September the Eleventh had fully developed. The most awesome aspect was the shadowy figure of a new phenomenon, the suicide hijacker.
Consequently every passenger in the departure lounge for the flight home was eyeing each other up with the utmost suspicion. One particular gentleman of Arabic appearance seemed to attracting the most votes as ‘He most likely to want to join Allah ASAP’. The final piece of condemning evidence, in my opinion, was that he was reading a magazine.
This was based on the premise that a suicide bomber wasn’t going to be halfway through an interesting book.
My attention then shifted away from this octogenarian Arab with a Zimmer frame to a younger suspect. This felonious looking individual had a badly scarred face. This was no doubt the result of an accident whilst training in the desert with Semtex. More revealing though, as I pointed out to the stewardess, was that he had a t-shirt with Che Guevara on it. I mean, how much more evidence do you think she’d need before alerting the pilot?
Still I suppose I must have been attracting a fair bit of suspicion myself. When I reached up to get my hemorrhoid cream out of the overhead locker I was jumped by twenty passengers.
I suppose it may have had something to do with the black balaclava my wife insists I wear to keep the cold out.
For other fun in Germany click here