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Wandering the World

Stories and tips from around the world.

Germany Day 2

Marathon Expo and the Wall

I’d had plans for today to see museums, and see the German underground, but after careful consideration I decided it would be best to keep the time on my feet to a minimum. I would collect my race number today, and take some photographs along the way, but for the most part I would be sitting down even though I knew it’d feel like such a waste. It’s a lesson I thought I’d learnt with Chicago and then Amsterdam though - I’d spent far too much time on my feet before the race. In the last couple of days a sore right heel developed, so things were not seeming that different. Sleep had not been forthcoming last night either, but was fully awake after a short run around the River Spree, to see some of the sights before tourists started clogging the streets.

Sunrise over the River Spree

It’d rained overnight, yet the temperature was still pleasant. Market stalls were being set-up near the museums, and I saw other runners about. I smiled, knowing that they too would likely be running a marathon tomorrow. After almost a mile and half I decided that was enough, and returned to the hotel for a shower, and breakfast.

I’d booked breakfast for 08:30 this morning, deciding it’d be a relaxed morning and it was only €9. I made some lunch as well, unsure where I’d be when it was time to eat. Once I was ready I was on my way to the Berlin Marathon Expo to collect my race number. This meant two trains to get to Flughafen Tempelhof.

Tempelhof, named for the former Knights Templar land it stands on, was once the only airport in West Berlin, and a major one for East Germany. The older terminal was constructed in 1927, and greatly expanded upon by the Nazi government in the 1930s. Towards the end of the second world war, the airport was captured by soviet forces, and then after the end of the war it was given to the American occupying force under the Potsdam Agreement that split Berlin into four. In 1948 when the Soviets blocked access to West Berlin by land, it was this airport that the Americans then used to supply food and fuel by aircraft. It was an important part of life continuing in West Berlin, and now it was playing host to the marathon expo as life during the pandemic starts to resemble normality.

The walk from Platz der Luftbrücke isn’t too far, and then once there they make sure you are wearing a mask and will then check your vaccination record, your start card for the race, and then your ID. They then check your start card and ID again at the next tent, and attach a wristband to you that should not be removed until after the race. They then let you inside the defunct airport terminal.

Tempelhof main concourse

The main room is big with a high ceiling, and the organisers were projecting Berlin Marathon logos onto the walls. Upon entering I saw a long queue of people awaiting PCR tests for COVID-19, but I was amongst those allowed to go straight on, out the otherside of the building. The first thing you see there is an old aircraft, and then the curvature of the terminal. It looks unlike any other airport terminal I’ve ever been to. It was also a struggle to keep my glasses clear due to having been in and out of a warm building whilst wearing a mask. It's a small inconvenience for helping to keep people safe though.

The curved terminal building of Tempelhof

The expo was in one of the hangers, with numerous stands, and the number collection being the farthest point away from this so you have to pass all the stalls. So much for resting my legs - I’d not yet sat down since breakfast, and it’d be some time yet before I’d be back at the hotel and able to.

Number collection was then quick and easy, as was collecting the ‘finishers’ tee before I’ve even run the race. It almost feels like bad luck to assume I'll see the finish line. I walked slowly from there, back to the train station, with the next two legs of my morning already planned.

My plans for the rest of the day were simple - pass a few sights on the way back to the hotel with minimal walking. From Platz der Luftbrücke I took the underground to Hallesches Tor, and then on to Schlesisches Tor. When you talk about marathons, you often talk about hitting the ‘wall’ - a term used to describe when you’ve used up your glycogen stores, and have started to feel fatigued and maybe even despair. Berlin is famous for a different wall though, and that was just a short walk away at the East Side Gallery. Last time I was here I’d struggled to find the wall until having spoken to a receptionist, but this time I knew what I was looking for.

I got off the train on the near side of the River Spree so I could look around for more things to photograph along the way. This time I was able to take a photograph of the gothic looking train station as well. The Berlin Wall looked very different to the last time I was there. Previously I’d seen them doing repair work on it, so some was old and crumbling with exposed metal, whilst some was fresh and white. At the time it’d felt wrong, like they were trying to hide their history with a fresh coat of paint, but having seen the finished ‘gallery’ I think maybe what they’ve done is to showcase it anew - bring new life to something that had once been a dividing factor; it could now be something that brings people together. One of the sections I’d watched an artist painting when I was there in 2009 was long since complete, so I could now see the completed piece. Back then, this wasn’t a place I ever imagined I’d be returning to.

Graffiti on the Berlin Wall

When I was finished, I jumped back on the train at Warschauer Straße to get to Friedrichstraße.I’d made a complete mess of this though and got on the wrong S-bahn due to confusing signage with multiple platforms with the same train number listed. At the next station I then got on the correct train going in the opposite direction, and bought a brezel to eat. When I eventually got to Friedrichstraße I decided to do some food shopping to cover the next couple of days. I’d bought juice for a few days of breakfasts, water, some milk for pre-race cereal, and lunch for the next two days for €10.20. I realised this would be a bit heavy to carry around Berlin for the rest of the afternoon, so I took it back to the hotel. It’d rained very recently, but I’d still not seen it do this.

Inside the Berliner Dom

View from the Berliner Dom

I ate lunch there, relaxed for a while, and then headed out to the Berliner Dom where I’d got a tour booked for 14:00. On my way out I had to pick-up a new keycard as I realised whilst the cleaner had been in the room she'd taken my key with her by mistake! Getting to the Berliner Dom was a much shorter walk than Google Maps suggested as I can see the dome from the hotel front. Fortunately, despite the timed ticket, I could go in early and look around. This didn’t take very long at all, so I quickly moved on to climbing the 270 stops up to the panoramic view from the dome. This may not be as high up as the Fernsehturm, but it’s considerably cheaper at only €8, and gives a different view of the area.

Neuche Wache

Once I’d done there, it exited through the cafe, which was tempting to stop for tea and apfelstrudel, but I continued on.The sun was shining on Lustgarten so people were sitting on the grass, and enjoying the autumn sun. I continued on along Unter den Linden, passing Neuche Wache, until I reached the sight I’d see again tomorrow: the Brandenburg Gate. It was fenced off though as the inline skating would soon be starting - a race before the race.

Brandenburg Gate

I made my way past the crowds carefully, keeping as much distance as I could. This path loops around to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe which is another place I’d seen previously. I then returned to Unter den Linden, and walked until I reached an open air concert outside Bebelplatz. I sat for quite a while after reminding myself to drink more fluids. I hadn’t been sitting long when some kiwis sat next to me and started talking to me as well. Someone they knew was in one of the bands playing in this concert.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

When they moved on to talking to someone else, I finished my walk back to the hotel. There I relaxed, and discovered that instead of being towards the back of the first wave as I’d expected based on my predicted finish time, they’d put me in the very last block of the very last wave. I realised this meant I’d have nobody of my own pace to run with, and would likely take a few miles to get up to speed. The race would not be going to plan.

Originally my evening meal would have been the pasta party, but rather than have all of the fully vaccinated, tested, or recovered runners eat in the same place, they cancelled this in favour of them going to restaurants around the city where there could be those that don’t meet that criteria. So, I’d pre-booked a table at Aposto, an Italian restaurant over the road from the hotel. This seemed the easiest thing to do.

Spaghetti Bolognese

I crossed the road to it 15 minutes early and they were fine seating me early. In fact, they served me so quickly that I finished my meal 20 minutes after I’d arrived, and had paid just 5 minutes after that. I felt stuffed though - it was a big meal, which I guess was needed. So, I decided to wander around Hackescher Markt, and bought a Berliner stuffed with jam, and topped with icing. That’d be something to eat with a cup of tea back in the hotel after relaxing.

Well, that was the plan. I noticed how close the Fernsehturm was, so I wandered over to Alexanderplatz and took a few photographs. When I got back to the hotel a couple of people had messaged to suggest I could get my starting block fixed at the Expo. I thought it’d closed at 18:00 so made no attempt to get there, but then saw it closed in 45 minutes. I started to put my shoes back on, as I checked the train times. They’d get me in with about 15 minutes to spare if I caught the train that was leaving now. I still needed to get to the train station though.

I got so far through the hotel, and ran back to my room to get my passport, just in case I needed proof of ID once again. This time I made it all the way to the train station, switched to the U6 at Friedrichstraße as I’d done this morning, timing it within 2 minutes of its arrival. It was looking promising. If I walked quickly from Platz der Luftbrücke, I could make it.

I got to Tempelhof Flughafen, I waved my blue wristband and they let me straight in, and then the next checkpoint did the same. I was in! I’d only got ten minutes now until they were closing. I picked up the pace across the concourse and out the back, and across the tarmac to the hangers. I passed both halls as the stalls were packing up, it felt like a reminder of the days I used to help my Dad at Memorabilia shows.

I got to the desk at 18:55, just in time. Once I explained that I thought I was in the wrong block, he asked for proof. Proof. Now that was a challenge. Since arriving in Germany I’d not had data roaming working - O2 were looking into that for me. There was no Wi-Fi here either.

“Anything will do, Strava, Garmin…,” he trailed off as he started to talk to one of the other volunteers about something else.

*Garmin! *That was it - hopefully I’d have my 2018 or at least my 2019 marathon still stored on my watch. I went to ‘Records’ and there was my 3:12 marathon from 2018. I showed him the record, and he was fine with that, checked the table in front of him, and placed a sticker saying ‘D’ over the ‘H’. I was back in wave 1. My original plans could go ahead, at least my post-race ones anyway. I wasn’t sure now how tired my legs would be, but I was so pleased that the chance was there once more.

Sculpture outside Flughafen Tempelhof

I walked back to the train station slowly, no longer needing to rush. Eventually I was back at the hotel a little after 19:30. For the next hour I concentrated on getting ready for tomorrow, but planning as much as possible so I could move as little as possible. I wanted my legs to rest as much as they could by the morning, perhaps they’d stop throbbing by then. In the end, I decided on an early night.

Running: 1.4 miles, Walking: 12 miles, Train: 19.81 miles

Tags: berlin germany travel trips

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