Life

Nuala McCann: I'm all set for a return to Berlin but what will she be like now?

The Tetley teabags are already in the case and the small green zipped First Aid bag is primed and ready. The EHIC cards are in date and the insurance is sorted... Now, anyone for a Valium?

The Reichstag and River Spree in Berlin

A SHORT trip to Berlin is in the offing. And I'm the travel committee round these parts. I start planning well in advance.

Seems I'm the kinda gal who knows what she's wearing to her own funeral.

“I'll organise,” I say brightly, like I always do.

“Not too much,” say the others, each raising an alarmed right eyebrow just like Paxman when somebody says something stupid in University Challenge or like Patrick Moore when he has just spotted something incredible in the night sky.

(I just don't get astronomy).

It's touching, the traits like the eyebrow thing that are handed down from father to son. Our boy has nothing of me and everything of his father. And In their humble opinion, when it comes to planning, I may never have put the bop in the “bop shoo bop shoo bop” but I sure know how to toe kick the “a” into anal.

Already I am having sleepless nights about how to get from the airport to the apartment – beware ruthless taxi drivers and long-underground passageways frequented only by dogs and prostitutes.

As for the apartment, I have queried location, searched for suitable eateries close by and checked the availability of a good supermarket.

The Tetley teabags are already in the case and the small green zipped First Aid bag is primed and ready. The EHIC cards are in date and the insurance is sorted... Now, anyone for a Valium?

I never used to be like this.

Already I have booked us a trip to the Reichstag – just for the view – as well as a day's history tour of the city on bicycles with a scheduled stop at Hitler's bunker which is now under a lot of concrete, much in the manner of Richard III and the Leicester car park.

Then I am swiftly moving on to a visit to an old Stasi prison.

“Sounds like great fun that,” sighs our fella, shivering, like he's just heard the deep hollow clang of a jail door. “Maybe hold off a little on the history, Ma.”

It is a sad fact that since the arrival of Google and Tripadvisor, I don't do spontaneity.

But I have done Berlin. I have done it twice.

The first time was so spontaneous that we laughed at danger and chose to sleep out in the park backing on to the zoological gardens. That was right beside the railway station which was the backdrop for a famous film about drugs – Christiane F.

It wasn't that we hadn't the money – we were a group of Irish students fresh from the vibrator belt at the gherkin pickling factory of Hamburg. Our pockets were full and we hummed of vinegar. The German wasps stayed well clear.

But we were young and we wanted to see the wall and taste a little danger. So after a night in a sleeping bag in the park, we woke to the howls of elephants and hyenas – the bloody zoo – and headed east.

It was a long hot day unter den Linden. I remember the cute little dinky cars, the high rise buildings and the East German money that jingled madly in our pockets. We had to exchange a certain amount and we had to spend it all as it was no use back in the west.

The journey was like stepping from a glorious technicolour world into a monochrome one where time seemed to have stood still.

It was sweltering heat and we queued for ice cream. But ditch the choice, there was little variety to be had. It was vanilla, my lad, and be glad you got some.

So we spent the money in our pockets on large bottles of apple schnapps and weaved our way slowly down Unter den Linden at the witching hour where the guards rolled their eyes at our drunken state and sent us back to our sleeping bags in the zoo park in the west.

I returned as a journalist shortly after the wall came down and had the good sense to sleep in a more upmarket place in the west of the city.

The division between easties and westies was still evident but everywhere construction was under way as rampant commercialism and big shops stepped over the old boundaries and took up residence in east Berlin.

The east of the city was still hippy alternative, arty and moody. In an old pocket somewhere I have a sliver of the wall, a keepsake, a talisman.

I fell in love with the city back then – what will she be like now?

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