18 May 2008

Berlin

It wasn't a very auspisious start to INTA when I was assailed by a wall of alcohol fumes as I boarded the 0834 from Didcot, to get the Railair link from Reading to Heathrow.  The train was nearly full of Cardiff City fans on their way to the cup final - where their team was beaten by Portsmouth.
 
At Reading it was hard to attract the attention of the ticket-seller in the Railair Lounge, but eventually I did and he relieved me of £14 for a 40-minute bus journey.  The driver spoke such heavily-accented English that, when he asked me which terminal I was going to in order to place my luggage in the correct slot I thought he was asking whether I was staying or going, which seemed an odd thing to ask of a passenger who has handed over a suitcase to be carried in the coach.
 
I met up with Neil and Parmjit at Heathrow, bought a Bluetooth keyboard then found that I could not readily use it with my Blackberry so returned it to the shop, bumped into a trade mark attorney friend to whom I gave an invitation to our INTA reception (thus maintaining a tradition of issuing invitations at Heathrow that I started at least a year ago) then had an uneventful flight to Berlin.  After having my passport checked by much the most attractive border policewomen I have ever encountered, I saw Louise and Guy at the baggage reclaim, further evidence that this was unfolding like a typical INTA (though last year I bumped into Guy out running: this year he pleaded that he had too many early morning engagements for that).
 
We took a taxi to our hotel, and then I set off to register at the conference centre - which turned out to be in a fairly grotty part of town, approached through a dingy subway of gigantic proportions which resembled an underground car park but without cars - only a solitary skateboarder.  The U-bahn journey out there failed to meet my expectations, too: although the trains seemed frequent by London Underground standards, they were no cleaner or newer, and there was that constant sense of menace one gets on public transport when confronted with groups of unfamiliar-looking young men - although one who might have passed for a neo-Nazi kindly opened the door for me ...
 
It was after registering that I realised I had fallen into the time difference trap, and was actually an hour later than I thought, so I took a cab from the conference centre to try to get to my first reception as unlate as possible (if you see what I mean).  Unfortunately, this was (a) a piano recital and (b) half-way to Poland, and the taxi driver having quickly learnt that I spoke very little German and didn't know where I was going seemed to take the most cicuitous possible route - although with the benefit of hindsight I think I might have been unfair in this assessment.  I arrived to hear the second half of the recital, in a huge industrial building by the river far beyond where the wall once ran, now an arts centre.  There is a noticeable change in the cityscape as you go east, although development is taking place: vacant spaces, boarded-up buildings, soulless blocks of flats ...  but the west is also pretty soulless, and everywhere there are patches or strips of untended grass (some growing through pavements).  The suburbs we passed through on the way from the airport were leafy, and there were waterways everywhere: perhaps the trip out to Frohnau, which I am just about to undertake (for the 10K race), will prove more attractive.

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