Quickie holiday

I felt a bit guilty about leaving the office in the middle of the afternoon, but I had a train to catch. Luftwaffenmuseum Gatow were hosting an exhibition by IPMS Deutschland and that was a reason as good as any for a weekend holiday for Honeybuns and me, so we eagerly tagged along our friend Ulf.

We had some time in Malmö before boarding the sleeper train to Berlin, so raided the local Pressbyrån for food. Lots of pasta salads of various kinds, the only edible thing I found was rather dry sushi in a plastic box. Well, it sufficed to keep body and soul together.

We had berths in a couchette. Now, while SJ complains that the X 2000 trains are getting long in the tooth, the rest of the rolling stock are completely ignored: The car was clearly older than I was, even still festooned with the classic admonishing Ströyer cartoons and the toilet paper had a distinct East state character. We shared the compartment with a talky young couple and a non-talky buff woman with major tattoos. We soon arrived in Trelleborg where we after quite a bit of shunting were rolled into a ferry bound for Sassnitz. The rest went up to have a look-see of the ferry, but I tried to make myself comfortable in bed, and the rest soon returned, having found nothing interesting. As often, I slept fitfully and definitely awoke as the German border police loudly inspected the passports of the travellers in the next compartment. They did however not seem care about us, possibly the people next doors were not intra-EU travellers, of some suspicious skin colour, or whatever other juridical complication.

A sight for sore eyes.
Finally we rolled in at Berlin Hauptbahnhof (tief) at 06:01, rather bleary and worse for wear. No shower for cheap couchette travellers. We stumbled out in the steel-and-glass building, like something out of a Tati movie. While we wouldn’t be able to check in at our hotel until after 15:00, maybe we could at least dump our bags there, so we set out to find Motel One Berlin-Hauptbahnhof. No problem, it was visible as soon as we exited the station. We got to the checkin desk and declared that we had bookings and within minutes we found ourselves clutching keycards to our rooms. Yet another two minutes later we were having glorious showers!

Berlin at dawn.
The healing and restoring magic of hot water from above soon had us bright and bushy-tailed again and we set out to find breakfast. Admittedly there was a breakfast buffet downstairs, but the vegetarians did not find the carefully aligned rows upon rows of sausage, ham, sausage, ham, sausage, and sausage to be that appetizing, so we went out on the city to see what food we could find. Nothing on a Saturday morning at 06:30, it turned out. But, surely there must be something at the station? We returned there and found a little shop offering salads, smoothies, fruit juices and other delicacies. I peered at a good-looking salad. It looked pasta-free, but you can never be sure, so I asked the lady behind the counter. Some minutes of confusion ensued until she realised that I really was asking whether there was any pasta in the salad. Of course not, who’s ever heard of a salad with pasta!?

Now, both washed and fed we located the tourist office, got maps, postcards and stuff and then tried to figure out how to get to Gatow. The guy at the travel information had no idea at first, but looked up something and printed us an itinerary that looked rather complicated. We decided to go for a taxi instead.

A long line of Soviet air power.
The taxi drove away for quite some distance, but finally ended up at the General Steinhoff-Kaserne. Well, the general idea was correct, so to speak, but it didn’t look very museumy. The taxi driver inquired at the gate, got further instructions and we drove on for a few more minutes until we got to the museum gate. Ooooh! Lots of aircraft out, but first things first: We located the hangar where the exhibition was being set up, in the space between exhibited aircraft.

Now, it has to be admitted that many of the models weren’t exactly Spitzenqualität with regards to the quality of finish, but the underlying ideas were often excellent. As this was an exhibition, rather than a competition, there were many themed exhibits, such as “Captured German aircraft in Soviet markings”, “All versions of the Fw 190”, “Pioneer aircraft up to 1914”, “Early jets”, “RAF aircraft stationed in West Germany”, and so on. (There were of course also exhibits of surface-bound vehicles, but I’m just not as interested in/knowledgeable about such.) The spirit was one of ”models are for building”, and I heartily agree with that.

My favourite, a burned-out Wellington, very impressive.

I wasn’t even aware it had been issued as a model: The EWR VJ101.

A quite unusual subject, an Etrich Taube. The original could be seen two hangars over.

A gaggle of figure builders were also present, happily painting away.

However, after a while the hangar felt quite chilly in the still early morning, and while Ulf exercised his German with the exhibitors, Honeybuns and I struck out to see what we could find. Now was when I realised the camera battery was running flat, so I had to switch to using my mobile. The picture quality dropped, but it managed some 200+ pictures before its battery went empty the next day. (Later on, more experienced hands have recommended carrying multiple batteries and changing as needed. Seems there’s going to be a lot of follow-up purchases to this camera…)

Airfields are big and there were lots of hangars located along the perimeter. Walking around a copse of trees we came upon a pair of hangars and started investigating the one furthest away. Боже мой! It was full of…stuff. A staff-looking person was sitting outside having a smoko, I looked at him and he nodded imperceptibly, apparently it was OK to go in. This was apparently the museum storage hangar, we found shelf upon shelf of rocket launchers, jet engines, stacks of rusty bombs (disarmed, we hoped), landing gear legs, a balloon gondola, and … cash registers, shop scales, tabulating machines, cutlery, and other non-aviatic items. At one end was a basically complete Heinkel He 111 in the company of other bits and pieces of aircraft in bad shape.

I think this probably is a Siebel Si 204 fuselage. The one at Arlanda is not in quite as bad shape, but it’s just a question of time.

It looks like a Bf 109 wing, but missing a bit at the root.

I think this is a Goblin, but I have no idea why it’s radioactive.

Presumably even the air force needs to sew things every now and then.

The next hangar was much more orderly, a very fresh and clean exhibition of the West German air force within NATO. Side rooms exhibited the different generations of fighter aircraft and the training courses German pilots had been to in the US and the UK.

As we returned we suddenly found ourselves in the middle of a bicycle race circling around the airport. With time we realised that today was also Tag der Reservisten, with lots of other activities apart from model exhibitions. We walked along long lines of Soviet-manufactured aircraft, most of East German provenance. Many were in rather sad shape as a consequence of being stored outdoors.

It took me a while before I realised what I was looking at: A HFB-320. Cool!

We continued with museum exhibits. Yet another hangar with aircraft. This was probably the original start of the museum, not quite as carefully laid out as the NATO hall, but interesting stuff nonetheless. We meditated a bit on how few German aircraft from the world wars remain in Germany itself, what was not destroyed having been shipped away by the Allies to their museums.

Eventually we decided we needed food. There were food tents aplenty, but to the dismay of the vegetarians they served wurst, wurst, wurst, wurst, and steak. And beer. I got me a steak and a Fanta, Honeybuns choked on a glass of Sekt. Eventually Ulf and she found some strawberry cake to fill their stomachs with.

The control tower building had a chronological display of the development of German air power from the beginning of the 20th Century onwards, the postwar period being indicated with a blue and red stripe on the floor separating West from East, with corresponding exhibits facing each other. The story of how two opposing air forces were merged into one must be a truly fascinating one.

Finally we were satisfied with museum watching and even skipped the exhibition on RAF Station Gatow and walked off to find a bus stop. We suspected that the travel directions we got at the Hauptbahnhof probably were not the most efficient ones and indeed we were recommended to take the bus to Spandau and the S-bahn from there into the city centre. The S-bahn was a strange experience—it would go a couple of stops, then stop to drop off all passengers and return, while a new train would turn up from ahead and take us a couple of more stops. I’m sure there is a reason for the ratchet drive.

After a detour to the hotel we went in search of Alexanderplatz. Well, it’s not much of a search—the Fernsehturm is easily visible everywhere since Berlin is very flat. („Es gibt keine Birge in Berlin“, Ulf proclaimed.) There may be some connection to the weird pipes that rise above many street corners. On a previous visit it was explained to me that they were there to pump away ground water that otherwise would waterlog the city. There are also major plot holes, given over to grass and weeds. I couldn’t tell if they were remnants of the war, of the Berlin wall, or just areas for redevelopment that had stalled. Honeybuns directed us to Bio Company, where we marvelled at an entire shop full of ecologically grown food and picked up some nice items. Then dinner at Thai inside—though we ate outside in the still warm evening air. Then the few steps to Alexanderplatz, where we browsed the sale at a bookstore. The waiting time to get up into the Fernsehturm was however prohibitive and we simply walked back to our hotel through a now dark Berlin, where brightly lit ships glid on the Spree.

The next morning Honeybuns and I got up early, bought breakfast at the Hauptbahnhof and boarded the train to Hamburg, leaving Ulf to his studies. Berlin to Hamburg is just a two-hour journey by day—night trains being a completely different story. The plan in Hamburg was to visit Miniatur Wunderland. I had tried to purchase advance tickets on their website, but for some reason failed, so we’d have to buy them on site. As we got to the ticket counter we found that the first available times for entry were several hours later and I realised the reason I hadn’t been able to buy online tickets was that they’d been sold out for weeks… Anyway, we weren’t going to let go now that we’d travelled all the way to Hamburg (well, actually we had to go that way anyway on the way home, which was what gave rise to the idea of a visit in the first place) so we bought tickets and then went out into the Speicherstadt to see what to spend our time on. Crossing a bridge we ran into Cap’n Jack Tar, who was selling tickets for boat tours of the harbour. Well, why not? We bought two tickets and looked around in the Binnenhafen while waiting for the boat to leave. Eventually the boat filled up with tourists and a colleague of the ticket-seller turned up to actually steer the boat. He cast off and started talking on the PA and didn’t even stop to draw a breath until we returned an hour later. He had a very distinct way of phrasing, which caused frequent smiles for the listeners. In general everything we passed was „größter in der Welt“ and/or „wunderschööön“. The Speicherstadt used to be the Docklands of Hamburg, but now the tall houses seem to be turned over to oriental carpet sellers (I dare not imagine the amount of carpets they can hold) and trendy marketing companies. Some of them had indeed been turned into blocks of flats, which must be very interesting places. But soon we steered out of the canals and into the harbour, where we passed next to huge container ships. At one point we went through a lock, but we never passed one on the way back, so I’m still not sure what the deal was there.

„Die wunderschöne Speicherstaaaadt!“

In the middle of the harbour is a golden calf on a pylon. I have no explanation.

M/S Lorraine. When she is fully loaded the red area is submerged.
Blohm & Voss are still in business, I didn’t know.

As we arrived back in the Binnenhafen, we jogged off to Miniatur Wunderland and got in. Jehosaphat, but it was crowded! Honeybuns mostly just saw the backs of people, but managed to peek between enough people that she had some idea of the glory of the place.

Archaeology in the North Sea.

The new “Switzerland” segment requiring two floors.

A Swiss station from above.

The new airport segment.

We decided to spend at least a week in Germany next time. Then we rushed back to the station and boarded the train to Copenhagen. We had a perfectly nice dinner on the Puttgarden-Rødby ferry. At København H we had to rush a bit back and forth while they kept changing the track of the Malmö train, but did get there. Finally we could board our sleeper train in Malmö, a proper sleeper compartment this time, a three-berth one, as is the SJ tradition, but I had booked the entire compartment for ourselves. By now we were completely knackered and slept all through Sweden and woke up as we rolled in to Stockholm at 06:04. We eschewed the shower on the train, instead making use of the one in Honeybuns’ nearby office, from which I continued straight on to my own, for a change being the first one in.


Martin said...

Another fine travelogue! I'm as always impressed with Ms. Buns who is not only willing to travel far by train, but also to visit air museums etc. that may not be top-priority attractions for her.

kai said...

Indeed. Have I mentioned how much I love her?