Habitasse © Curabitur felis erat. Mauris di Serif. Vestibulum | Sed vulputate
with John Boyle
The better choice
Prior to my retirement from employment with the Metropolitan Police civil staff I took, at my own expense, a Tour Management course with Worldwide Travel Training of Peterborough. I am a registered guide with Global Guides.
In the twelve years prior to retirement I visited Berlin up to six times per year. During this time I researched and eventually published my own combined history and guide to Berlin. I have, since that time, revised the text and hope to re-publish during the next twelve months.
While in Berlin I have devised my own walking tours and accompanied visitors from abroad. These tours are bespoke according to the interests of the visitor.
Why did I choose to retire to Berlin ? Because it is absolutely fascinating!
I was born in London but was brought up in South West England. After leaving school in Exeter I entered the Royal Navy. My first ship was H.M.N.Z.S. Taranaki a New Zealand frigate. Subsequently I served on H. M. Ships Hermes, Dartington, Adamant , Kent , Bossington, Juno, Manxman, and Zulu. My last position was NATO Naval Tape Relay Supervisor, Maritime Headquarters, R.A.F. Petreavie. Quite a mouthful. On completion of my engagement, after 12 years, I left the navy. By this time I was married and it seemed that I never saw my wife. I took a job as stockroom Manager for Littlewoods in Stockton on Tees . I then, with two others sailed a 28' trimaran to South Africa . The intention was to sail the Clipper ship route to New Zealand but unfortunately the owner gave up the project in Cape Town . There I worked as a Third Mate on coasters and the Cape Town University research ship Thomas B. Davey. I returned to the U. K. immediately prior to my wife's death. I then took a course in computer operating at Sunderland Polytechnic thereafter working for various firms on Boroughs mainframe computers. In 1982 I joined the civil staff of the Metropolitan Police and remained with them for 24 years.
On my 60 th birthday I moved from London to Berlin .
So what do I find so fascinating about Berlin? A simple question but the answer isn't. One day I was in the Arsenal in Vienna. On the walls were huge paintings depicting the Thirty Years War. I thought to myself "we were in that but I know nothing about it". I resolved to find out more. During the 1960's at the height of the cold war there were films such as Funeral in Berlin, The Quiller Memorandum The Ipcress File, Billion Dollar Brain, The spy who came in from the cold. Since then there have been films such as Cabaret, and The Bourne Supremacy. There were the novels of authors like Len Deighton with his Bernard Sampson trilogies (I feel a particular affiliation with Bernard Sampson when he un expectantly turns up in Berlin and makes his way to his old digs and landlady - she has kept everything just the same - I can easily imagine it) and John Le Carre (The Secret Pilgrim, Smiley's' People, The Honourable Schoolboy, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) , The list goes on, and what's more that's before you ever set foot in the place. Of course this was all fiction. The reality affected my childhood and adolescence and then my Royal Navy service. I was still a baby when the Airlift took place. I remember Coronation Year very well. The coronation of course, the conquest of Everest by Hillary and Tensing and the death of Stalin. As a young child I used to think that starlings came from Russia .
I joined the navy at just before the Bay of Pigs debacle (1961). That same year the U.S. stationed nuclear tipped Thor missiles in the UK and on the night of 12 th /13 th August the barbed wire that would very soon become the Berlin wall was strung into place. The following year brought the Cuban Missile crisis and in 1964 the North Vietnamese attacked the U.S. Navy in the Gulf of Tonkin precipitating the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. By this time ANZUS had been signed. As the U.S. had been attacked Australia and New Zealand were obliged to join in. As I served in the Communications branch I was very well aware of what was happening around the world – we nearly went to a Third World War on several occasions – and in the centre of it all was BERLIN .
Much later on my first trip to Berlin I stayed in the Mark Hotel in Meinekestraße near the Ku'damm. What do I find in the basement of this hotel? Why a nuclear bunker of course! The east and west were so different then. The west was full of shops and bright lights just as you would expect anywhere. Have you ever seen an exhibition centre like the ICC? The east was dark and forbidding. The infrastructure was falling apart and there were hardly any shops. The Sbahn was ancient and decrepit. The historic centre was blasted from WWII and much of the damage can still be seen today. You only have to catch the Sbahn between Friedrichstraße and Hackescher Markt to witness the damage caused by the fighting during the siege in 1945 – just look at the Pergamon Museum! Back then if you went into a small cafe the staff would think you were a spectator not a customer. Since then much has been done to repair that damage and Museum Island is going through a transformation. East German eyesores have been torn down and the historic centre is going through a metamorphosis. New Embassies have been built on the sites of those destroyed, the new I. M. Pei building is the extension the German History Museum and across the road the Bertelsmann group have opened their new Berlin headquarter. From the front it looks exactly the same (or will do when it weathers a bit) as the Komandantura that previously stood there. Then you must go around the back - is it really possible to combine the old and new in such a way? Berlin used to be called the "Venice of the North" because it had more bridges then Venice. I've not sat down to count them but when have you seen a structure like the Oberbaum Bridge? Where ever you go in Berlin you find gaps in the cityscape as a result of the bombing but they are slowly being filled in. Whenever you turn a corner you find a new surprise. Whenever I enter a courtyard for the first time I hold my breadth – what will I find here? A cinema, motorcycle workshop, corporate offices for an international conglomerate, a physiotherapist's practice, a design studio?
What about the lives of the 3.4 million people who live here? Over the last twenty years much treasure has been spent in bring the former east up to the standards of the former west. Once per month on average a UXB is found. Not so long ago a live hand grenade was found on a building site. It actually dated from the First World War. Berliners lives will stand scrutiny with any in the world although much remains to be done and the city will not be cleared of bankruptcy for at least a generation. Why not include in your Itinerary the Deutsche Opera or a concert by the Berlin Philharmonic?
Berlin is absolutely fascinating!