Wacken 2019: Hamburg and home

So, it was time to bid farewell to Wacken / Heide and start the journey home. I’d built in a day in Hamburg as it’s another city I’d not visited before.

The traffic was “fun” as Mark drove us from my hostel to the city centre. The additional traffic due to everyone leaving Wacken is well handled, but things do happen… like a vehicle fire on one of the main routes out of the festival! For those on public transport, they increase the capacity of the trains and put on extra services.

It took us a little over ninety minutes to get to Hamburg, Mark dropping me at the main train station where I found a left luggage locker to store my suitcase for €4. Cheap enough. The next thing I noticed was that Germany is a little like the UK around twenty years ago… in two ways. One: smoking still seems that bit more acceptable and far too many people still do it (including one heavily pregnant woman I spotted, for f_ck’s sake). Two: lots of stuff is closed on a Sunday.

While the train station was busy, the city streets around it were not. Most of the restaurants and cafés were open, but not a single shop. Talking of food, Germans certainly seem to like theirs judging by the sheer number and variety of outlets you find at their train stations! Not content with an overpriced bakery and a coffee shop like we usually get, I’d estimate that Hamburg HBF played host to at least forty fooderies as well as a couple of other outlets.

Well, I was here to see a bit of Hamburg so I did. I aimed myself at the watery area to the south and just… wandered. The first thing I found was the town hall, which currently has an exhibition detailing the lives and thoughts of a handful of transgender people. All in German (though there are QR codes linking to English language websites for us foreigners) it was a simple yet heartwarming place to spend a little while. It’s also a staggering building.

Lunch was needed, so I found a nice spot and took a pitstop to try and eat some of the food I had left from the festival. I perched on some steps by the Binnenalster, the south of which was playing host to a lot of stalls as part of the local Pride celebrations. A cool breeze, lovely view and people running around in rainbow flags made for a very pleasant way to pass some time.

Afterwards, By luck I came across Google’s German offices and grabbed a quick selfie there. Sadly, it was closed to I didn’t get to see what wonderful décor they had inside (not that I would have been able to get in anyway).

I spotted a few towers as I walked, so geared my ambling towards them. One, the magnificent Lookout Tower (part of the St Nikolai memorial), looks like one of the oldest in the city. I didn’t go up the lift inside, but the tower is a staggering piece of architecture. It’s the highest church tower in the city (fifth highest in the world) and if it was designed to be imposing then it works.

The church acted as a reference point for allied bombers during the war and was itself hit in 1943. It now serves as a memorial to the tens of thousands killed by the bombing raids. There are a lot of building works going on nearby, so I hope it doesn’t get obscured.

Next up was St Katharine’s which chimed the hour as I walked past, reaching the port area which is hugely impressive. More impressive are the potential water levels which can break the (very high) banks of the waterways during the flood season!

There is a lot in this area, the south bank, including the Hamburg Dungeon, Maritime Museum, Mechanical Museum and the Miniatur Wunderland… which I’d forgotten was in Hamburg until after I’d arrived. You need to book in advance for this. While you can walk up, the waiting time to get in (as they have to limit the numbers inside at any one time) can extend into several hours – three by the time I walked in. If I’d realised beforehand, I would have booked my ticket weeks ago. Next time, definitely!

By now I was actually starting the flag. The last few days have really been catching up, so I decided to head to the airport. Thankfully, Hamburg makes this very easy. Hop on an S1 train from platform 3 at the main strain station, makes sure you get on one of the first three carriages, and you’re there in 25 minutes. All for the tiny price of €3.30.

I’d already checked in, so I’m now sat at the McDs in the check-in lounge (there isn’t one after security) using one of their plug sockets to charge my phone. I should probably buy something but I’m not hungry!

My flight’s delayed by 30 minutes, so not due to take off until 22:15 local time. I should land in Edinburgh around 23:05, and with luck will be on a Megabus to Glasgow before midnight. An hour to get there and then a ninety minute walk home.

My own bed! For three nights. Then off to Bloodstock…

And an update…

I was walking to my gate after finding about the only not-stupidly-overpriced item in the Duty Free for my son when I saw a familiar t-shirt. Was that Joe and the band he manages, who have just played Wacken and who would possibly be heading home… which happens to be Glasgow? A quick facebook message confirmed it was and I spent the rest of the evening in the company of Saor. A lovely bunch of hard-working musicians, who cruelly (!) “forced” me to drink Jagermeister.

The company was welcome because our flight was further delayed (of course it was), and we also had some fun as the staff at the airport, specifically a couple of Emirates reps, had no idea what gate our flight would be at. Lesson learned: believe the police and the boards, ignore Emirates staff as they’re bloody clueless.

Back in Blighty, Joe offered me a lift back to Glasgow as they had a spare seat in their van. Better than hanging around for an hour and booking a last-minute Megabus! I gratefully accepted, and was dropped off pretty much where I’d have arrived anyway, only a fair bit earlier. The walk home was a little over an hour, but it pretty much killed my suitcase as the dodgy wheel, knackered in my initial train-chasing sprint 10 days earlier, seized so I ended up partially dragging my bag home rather than just rolling it. As a result, said wheel is now half a wheel having been scraped away across three miles of paving slabs. RIP cheap suitcase.

I got back to the flat around 3:15am and to bed around 7:30 after trying to catch up on work, do a laundry, drink tea (which I couldn’t as I had no milk) and generally just faff around like an idiot instead of getting sleep.

Anyway, Bloodstock in 3 days time!

Wacken 2019: Day two in Berlin

A Mexican couple moved into my dorm last night and the hostel hadn’t changed the sheets on the beds of the people who’d moved out. So they gave us free breakfasts to make up – and I didn’t even have a problem with my sheets! Sweet.

Suitably stuffed I decided to just go for a wander and catch a few of the things I didn’t see the day before. First thing, through the Tiergarten towards the Victory Monument. On the way there I had a bit of a surprise. Crawling across the pathway was a huge insect… only on closer inspection it wasn’t an insect at all – it was a flipping crayfish! About 4″ long from head to tail and with a large pair of pincers, it ambled from one patch of trees to another.

I made sure it got across safely and a group on their bikes who stopped assured me that, no, this was definitely not normal for Berlin. We have no idea where it could have come from. Perhaps fallen out of a delivery truck on the nearby main road? Whatever, a very bizarre thing to see on a Tuesday morning!

The Victory Monument was, well, monumental, and I then headed south and east for an hour or so to get to the “alternative” area, Kreuzberg. Apparently this is where all the arty types ended up but, frankly, it just looked a bit run down in places. It was obviously hugely different to the areas around the Hauptbanhof where I was staying. The buildings were covered in graffiti, the shops had extra security and the streets were nowhere near as clean. However, there were many individual and interesting looking cafés and even a Ramones museum.

Crossing the river at the end of this neighbourhood takes you the a large section of the Berlin Wall that’s now being used as an art gallery with long sections covered in unique paintings. There were some really good ones, some weird ones and a couple you may have seen on postcards.

A long walk further up the road and I finally reached the old TV Tower at Alexanderplatz which I’d actually meant to walk to when I arrived. It’s pretty huge, and you can go up for a look around or to eat in the restaurant while ignoring your acrophobia.

I grabbed lunch at the KFC there (it’s a tradition, sue me) and walked back down towards the Reichstag stopping only for a mango ice cream on the way. Somehow I found myself walking past Curry-One where I’d eaten on Sunday night, so the city is definitely starting to come together in my head geography-wise.

Courtesy of a bit of a dodgy tummy, I just picked up a few silly things from the supermarket for dinner (cherries, crisps, raspberry Jaffa Cake knock-offs) and sorted my stuff out so I could leave quickly and quietly in the morning. Alarm set for 6am, next stop Wacken…

Wacken 2019: First day in Berlin

Breakfast at the hostel was €7.50 so I looked elsewhere, eventually settling on a McDs for €3.50. Probably not as good, but as filling as I needed it to be. After that, I headed back to the hostel to queue for the 9:30 walking tour. The only other person waiting was a chap from India, Ankit, so we headed to the start point at the Brandenberg Gate together, in time to join the main group.

It was another scorcher in Berlin today, but our tour guide Max was superb and held our attention throughout the 2 1/2 hours we were out with him. Not a huge amount of ground covered, but a wealth of information about subjects he obviously both knew and cared about. He left us at the end not just knowing more than we did at the start, but wanting to learn even more. Yes, Berlin may well end up on my “I have to come back” list.

Ankit and I decided to keep plodding around and ended up finding a Lidl for lunch. I attempted to eat a sandwich I’d kept from London but, despite being in date, it tasted a little odd. Probably down to the mayo and the fact that it had been in my bag in direct sunlight for two days. Still, the €0.69 beer we bought wasn’t bad at all, and a slightly scruffy gentleman who sat next to us for ages was quite glad to take the empty cans off our hands. Deposit systems are great.

The heavens opened in the early evening and it absolutely hoyed it down as we hit next to one of the government buildings by the river. It did clear the air, to be fair, but I worry that it’s going to warm up and just get more humid again tomorrow.

Dinner was a very tasty €1.99 pizza from the supermarket in the station. And more beer.

Ankit was heading west to catch up with his girlfriend, and then back home to Delhi. We kicked around for a bit and then I saw him onto his train. Safe travels, my friend!

Wacken 2019: To Germany!

While Wacken is off to the west of the country, near Hamburg, I’ve never been to Berlin despite hearing many great things about it. Time to fix that.

I’d checked flights, but worked out that train was about the same price, about the same time, far more comfortable and dropped me off 50m from a hostel. So after waving bye-bye to Joy, I headed to the international terminal at St Pancras and jumped on a Eurostar to Brussels. Then promptly fell asleep. I woke up briefly and the cars we were zooming past were on the wrong side so I assumed we were in France (or the police in Kent were in for a bad day). I nodded off again and my phone told me I was now in Belgium.

After a minor panic getting my 4G to work even though I thought I’d set it all up before leaving, we pulled into Brussels and I located the first of my German trains. A short while later I made a final change onto the one which would take me to Berlin.

I got talking to a nice German lady (who’s near-opening shot was “What on earth is that Boris Johnson doing?”) for most of the trip, and she helped me decipher the conductor’s instructions that we change carriage as, due to an electrical fault, the aircon was borked. Sadly this meant being moved to first class.

We pulled into Berlin Hauptbahnhopf a shade over 7 minutes late which isn’t bad for an interrupted journey (they had to make an unscheduled stop to get everyone to move carriage) and my hostel was ridiculously easy to find. I’m currently ensconced in the Meininger by the train station and it’s pretty much like a budget hotel only with two bunks in each dorm room.

Berlin is like the UK a while ago – it’s hit and miss if people will take card payments and everywhere closes around 9-10pm, but after some hiking I managed to find a place called Curry-One which sold me a “Berlin Menu”: currywurst, chips, mayo, ketchup and beer for €6.50. Very nice it was, too!

Job done, back to the hostel and asleep on top of the covers in the top bunk as it was so bloody warm!


That’s how the German train system runs. Actually, it’s how most continental train services run, unlike the disorganised overpriced garbage with out-of-date rolling stock we’re stuck with in the UK.

I booked my ticket the day before I travelled online through www.bahn.de. Simple to use, in English and German and providing timetables, crossovers onto buses, and so on. The prices offered generally come in two flavours: very early bookers (I’ve never been able to get one of these) and usual price. On some trains there’s a first class option as well. The thing is, the regular price is always available even if you book thirty minutes before travelling.

None of this “£20 two weeks before and £120 on the day” nonsense as we have in the UK. Experience tells me this results in a carriage full of reserved seats with three people occupying any of them when the train pulls out of London. Offices just pre-book all the cheap seats in case any of their staff need them. It’s cheaper than booking when they’re required.

So armed with all my details and a credit card, I forked out €32.90 for a 3-train/1-bus 3 1/2 hour journey from Bielefeld to Weeze Airport, the budget version of Dusseldorf. Compared to an early-booking UK train, this is marginally expensive but what you have to take into account is the reliability and swiftness of the journey. The only issue I had was that the ticket must be printed out, but as long as you’re prepared for this it’s fine. The printout even includes your detailed schedule right down to the platform numbers you arrive at and depart from.

Can you imagine booking three trains over a three-hour journey with as little as ten minutes to connect at each station in the UK? You’d be lucky to get from the first to the second without missing one. Here, no problem. The busier routes are serviced by double-decker carriages so there’s more chance of a seat, and they’re clean, tidy and much quieter than almost any train I’ve been on back home.

As you approach each station a tannoy announcement and an LED screen tells you where you’re about to arrive. No more leaning against the glass trying to read the platform sign that’s 20m away and at a slight angle.

The bus I caught from Melanie’s was dot on time. It dropped me in town exactly as scheduled so I had a chance to get lunch before I reached the station. The first train was bang on time and I settled down with Nelson De Mille’s Cathedral to read. Around 90 minutes later I hopped off to make my first connection. Referring to my printout meant I didn’t have to search departure boards for the platform number, just walking around. There I got chatting to an English squaddie off to visit some friends. He’s been stationed in Germany for quite some time and is thinking of settling in the south once he leaves the army. Good luck to him.

Of course, the train was on time though a little crowded. Twenty minutes later I arrived at stop two, changed to the (on-time) third train and shortly after hopped off at Weeze station. A 100m walk got me to the airport shuttle – price included in my ticket – and exactly as scheduled on the piece of paper I had in my hand, arrived at the airport.

Good grief.

We’ve had private and public rail services. We’ve had bidding wars. We’ve fined companies for being crap and thrown money at repairs and upgrades. Yet all we have to do is look a few hundred miles away and virtually every country in Europe puts us to shame. Even the Romanian trains were more reliable than ours, including the so-called “Gypsy” service.

Anyway, I’m safely ensconced at Weeze Airport awaiting my flight to London. I’m about to spend virtually every cent I have on a sausage roll and an orange juice so that I don’t have to withdraw any more cash. As far as dinky airports go, it’s nice enough. Plain, but shiny and clean. Nothing to do, no free wi-fi (not a surprise), and one overpriced bar/cafe but I’m only here for an hour before my flight is called.

Three hours from now I’ll be cursing the immigration staff at Stansted again…


I wasn’t. Breezed through due to the flight landing early so we didn’t clash with the larger flight that followed on behind us. Even the luggage dropped off the carousel in record time. I got to the bus stop for my easybus half an hour early and was allowed onto the bus before the one I had booked. Nobody checked my ticket (bah – £7.50 wasted) and the driver shot down the M11 and through London like a bat out of Hell.

The ninety minute scheduled journey took a shade over an hour and I tumbled onto first the Victoria and then the Northern Line down to Liam’s place in darkest Croydon. I was met by my host at the Underground station and we headed for the most important building in the area – Liam’s local real ale pub. We sank a couple of pints and a devoured two bags of salt and vinegar crisps. The things you miss when you’re away from home.

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