An Open Letter To Berlin

Dear Berlin,

I wish I could say it was lovely seeing you on my last visit, but sadly not – and therein lies the reason for this letter.

We’ve had a mostly cordial relationship these last 5 years that I’ve visited you – you never visit me – but that’s a different story.  My past visits have been mostly enjoyable probably because I met and hung out with friends – somewhat cocooned from the wider Berlin experience.

Berlin, this last visit opened my eyes to aspects of your personality that I was blind to before and I must confess has left me feeling jaded and disappointed.

Your coldness to strangers – even friendly ones.

I know that for a while you have been suffering with Big City syndrome – having 4 million people bump through you trying to make sense of life can’t be easy and that might account for some of the general apathy with which people treat people they don’t know. I saw this with your cousin, London , too. The friendliest Berliners it turned out were the Turkish taxi drivers and the Slovakian hotel receptionist – and they were hard work!

Nowhere is your trademark unfriendliness more visible than at your Tegel airport. Though I cannot entirely blame you for this – pretty much everywhere in the western world is struggling with customer service – it’s almost like the wealthier we become the less we feel we need to treat others with respect and  conviviality.

The terrible service at the very points where they should be fantastic is disappointing, for example with the disgruntled airport information person where I was directed because the dull, uninspired, ‘could-not-give-a-flying-fuck’ agent at the Lufthansa desk would not check the gate for her own employer’s flight!

Now you know me – I don’t judge and hardly ever on looks – but your airport sucks. While the rest of the world recognises that a classy city has a travel hub that is enjoyable to go through, you seem determined to keep yours grungy and postwar minimalist. That look might work for some, but it doesn’t for me. I suspect your unhappy airport people might be happier with a nicer , better designed airport building to work in. Just think about, that’s all I’m asking.

Smoking in bars? What gives!?

From London to Lisbon, Dublin to Donegal – the rest of your buddies stopped this disgusting habit years ago. Imagine my surprise when I walked into a cocktail bar to be welcomed by the overpowering stink of burning tobacco. My first reaction was ‘oh these Berliners are rather retro – they even have tobacco scented bars to recreate the old days’.

But no, it’s not retro, it rotten. I gave up smelling like an ashtray over ten years ago and I’m not thrilled to be grabbed back into it without my consent. I’m not ranting about people and their smoking habits – if someone chooses to redecorate their insides with carbonic brown with hints of floral pink – go for it. But we had a deal that you would cut that shit out – I think – and I find you not abiding by that to be in really poor taste.

Now, I’m told this is a special Berlin exception – that makes it all the more galling. It’s like having a pass from the head teacher to be a prick, a license to be obnoxious. Be exceptional in your welcome, even in your cuisine. Protect your weird beers with copyright but please consider falling in line with the rest of the Union on this.

I really was tempted to send you my dry cleaning bill for 1 pair of jeans, a scarf , my shirt and my jacket. Lucky for you I’m bald or I would also bill you for getting the stench of smoke out of my hair. But I’m British and we don’t do that – instead we write strongly worded letters.

Bars that only take cash?

One last thing – and this is not entirely on you though you might think it oddly quaint and traditional. Imagine you took some friends out to a big city and bought several rounds of drinks. When the bill came, you reached for your credit card, only to be told that it was cash only. Now this exact situation happened to me and it wasn’t at all enjoyable and I daresay your bars take a particular delight in delivering said notice. To the tourist – especially the well travelled business types – it feels like a juvenile stunt, a final blow against the capitalist machine – which incidentally you are in the centre of, at least in Europe.  All I can say to that is ‘Grow the fuck up’.

It also feels like an extension of your coldness to strangers. Your locals might know this policy, but we hapless tourists don’t and like any inside joke shared in public – it’s not really that funny.

If you insist on having a cash only bar, you might want to also institute a “free drinks if you don’t carry cash” policy.

Come to think of it, you know what is even quainter, cuter and far more traditional that having a cash only bar – people being friendly and helpful and welcoming.
Try that out sometime.

Berlin, I’d be lying if I said my affection for you hasn’t been severely dented by this experience – even more so when I think of all the other places I could be spending my time. Now you have your ways and I respect that. But this experience comes at a time when I am re-evaluating my relationships. Which means that I now think that Krakow, Dublin, Barcelona and most of your other cousins are all lots more fun, definitely friendlier and with a lot less of your point-making. So from now on, I think I’ll  spend more time with them than with you.

What is left of my declining affection prompts me to write this, so please accept it in the spirit it was intended.

your rapidly receding friend,

ps. Don’t even get me started on the weird profiling that Air Berlin does with my bookings that means half of my flights involve my ticket being suspended and I have to go to their ticketing desk to be routinely treated like a criminal. My relationship with them is also ending – so no biggie.

#MikesLongWalk: An update and my first training walk

The Latest News

It seems like ages since I committed to walking the Camino and raising money for ME/CFS activism and awareness. Quite a lot has happened over the last month. Here’s the latest news:

We’ve raised £2,128.66 out of the £3000 target and I’ve confirmed 2 sets of friends joining Maya and I on bits of the walk and I’m gradually acquiring my gear.
The route is pretty much all finalised – I’ll publish it on my next post (early next week hopefully) – I’m just finalising the camping locations at each of the stops and Albergue options for my companions who aren’t able to tent it.

I’ve bought my backpack which is a Forclaz 40 Air from Decathlon , holds up to 40 litres of my stuff. My target weight for gear is about 8kg and at the first trial this all fits in rather nicely.

Just this week I completed my first training walk – had to happen sooner or later – here are the details and pics.

My First Training Walk

With just 7 weeks to go until my Camino starts, I need to get some consistent training walks in. I’m targeting about 24km per day during the Camino and my training walks need to be at least that distance – fully loaded with the expected back pack weight, the right shoes and generally the kind of clothes I’ll be wearing. The aim, of course, is to test everything – the kit, the dog and ME!

My first training walk was from Nigüelas and across the mountain and down to Lanjarón, mostly along the GR7 route.

face on with line

My companions on this walk were Mark and Giles, Mark’s dog – Luna and my trusty mutt – Maya.

We had a pretty dreary start to the walk – the almost consistent sunshine and blue sky typical of Southern Spain decided to take the morning off but thankfully the rain held off for the entirety of our walk.

From Nigüelas, we took a shortcut to meet the GR7 – cutting out Acequias – and continued upwards until we reached 1260m above sea level and then pretty much stayed on this for 10KM after which we began our descent to Lanjaron. I don’t much mind the climbing, the 5km descent on mostly concrete road was a killer on the knees.

Needless to say, the landscape – inspite of the weather – was stunning and being out on the open road with the promise of beer at the end – well, what’s not to love.

Training is supposed to teach you something and it did – here is what I learnt:

  • I need layers – when the cold wind blew, my single fleece was just about enough but not cosy. We like cosy.
  • My running shoes might do for the walk  – they are really light but around the 12km they got a little rubby. I’ll know for sure after the second training walk.
  • I need to add Compeed blister plasters to my gear list!
  • As much as I love my trusty walking stick, I will probably be better off with walking poles and the one that my mate Mark recommends are the Leki poles – they are super light and strong.
  • I could have walked an additional 7 – 10km on the flat – which is great news from my first training walk!
  • My pack weight was 8kg and I could probably manage and extra 2 – but 8kg probably will do – especially given I need to factor in food rations for Maya.

Enjoy pics of the training walk and look out for the horrible processional caterpillers!

What Next

I’ll be purchasing my tent – I’ve got my hopes pinned on getting a Tarptent Double Moment – it is a seriously lightweight and well reviewed/recommended setup by people who know tents!

And getting the rest of my gear together – especially a sleeping bag!

More training walks and multi-day ones too. The next one is pencilled in for early April – 24km one day, a camp out and 24km the next – that should sort the men from the mice!

Please help

I’ve written about why I’m doing this walk – to help raise awareness and funding to cure ME/CFS.

Donate and share this post – ask your friends and family to do the same. Also really really important is that you find out more about ME/CFS – the more people ask and discover, the less isolated the sufferers feel and the more we can hold our governments accountable for funding research and effective treatments for this.

Thank you for helping fix this.