We were up at 7am so we could take advantage of breakfast before heading to the train station – we knew we had just about enough for taxi fare to the station, so not enough to get snacks prior to boarding! We asked the hotel to call us a taxi, and it was a nice enough car and a young guy dressed in a shirt and tie – but nowhere on the car did it say anything resembling the word “taxi.” He had a placard near his gearshift that said the name of our hotel, so perhaps he was the driver for the hotel guests? Who knows. We got to the train station about 35 minutes before our train was supposed to leave, and the board showing what track each train is on is only updated about 20 minutes before the train is to leave, so we stood around – along with everyone else – staring at the board expectantly. After paying the “taxi” we had exactly 100Kč left to our names… And Chris bought the International Herald Tribune, costing precisely that. What a way to end the stay. (At first I was a little disappointed to not have any Czech money left over at all to give to the kids, since the Czech Republic will be changing to the Euro in the coming years – and then as we were packing to come home from Berlin Chris found a few coins in his pocket, so they’ll get a nice keepsake after all.)
Our reservations were in a compartment again. We were supposed to arrive at Berlin’s Ostbahnhof station around 2:15, but we had a longer than expected stop in Dresden (I think) and then – somewhere in the middle of a bunch of fields and nowhere near a train station – we were lurching to a very sudden stop. We all had to brace ourselves to not fall out of our seats, and looked around at each other when the train finally stopped. I wondered if perhaps we’d hit a cow crossing the tracks… Shortly after the train stopped, we saw two young men running along the corridor outside the compartments, and then train officials walking back and forth through the whole length of the train. At one point, one of them opened our door and reached up to check the emergency stop. From this, we assume someone pulled the emergency stop cord – whether it was the two kids running through the train or not, we don’t know – but eventually we got moving again, after at least a half-hour.
When we finally reached Berlin, we got a taxi to the hotel, which took forever in the traffic. It was only a bit after 3pm, so it didn’t seem like it should be rush-hour per se, but Chris said that not only does everything shut down on Sundays but things also shut down early on Fridays. So, rush hour it was. We got to the hotel and checked in around 4pm, and were starving – we’d had nothing since breakfast in Prague. We threw our bags in the room, grabbed our jackets (it was raining) and marched over to the KaDeWe store a few blocks away.
Chris had tried to explain KaDeWe to me before my arrival – six floors of shopping, including a gourmet grocery store and the coolest “food court” you’ve ever seen on the 6th floor. It really is something to see, but didn’t turn out to be the fun shopping experience I’d hoped. The food floor is great – the things on offer are from all over, and really interesting. KaDeWe is its own brand – there’s KaDeWe Prosecco, KaDeWe beer, KaDeWe everything. There are different sections for different kinds of food, all laid out beautifully. In each section there’s a corresponding “restaurant” of sorts, with counters set up for people to order and eat right there – and they’re serving food out of the same cases from which you can purchase food to bring home and prepare (and if that’s not good advertising, I dunno what is). So, yes – the food floor is truly interesting and fun. The rest of it, however, is too far beyond my budget to be of any long-term interest. We looked, but only looked.
Back at the hotel, we got a chance to really check out our room – they’d not only set us up with an unbeatable room rate, they’d put us on the top floor in one of the “Executive Suites” which are sometimes converted into conference rooms. It had a big balcony stretching the length of the building (and therefore into other people’s room spaces), a big bathroom and a sitting area, and Chris’ hotel friends had left a welcome-back gift for us of a fruit and cookie plate. Very nice touch.
The balcony and view from our hotel room.
We had a message from Chris’ hotel friends when we returned from our meal, and arranged to meet them in the hotel bar in the lobby for drinks. We met Lena, Silke and Torsten and ended up sitting and talking with them for three hours! Silke and Torsten had to leave after about an hour to meet with some clients who had just arrived, but Lena and Chris and I just talked forever. Lena’s very fluent and comfortable in English, and it was great to talk with her about life in Germany (she grew up in the East – I think the Wall came down when she was 11 or so), German politics (with the elections coming up, it was all over the news), travel (she’s traveled quite a bit, though not to the U.S.) and her diving hobby (she works as an instructor in the Maldives, and has been diving and instructing for many years). Eventually, even Lena had to go back to work, so we made plans to go with her and her boyfriend to the Oktoberfest celebration in her neighborhood in a Berlin suburb the following night.
It was by this point after 9pm, so we went back to our room and called my aunt's friend, who was at a wedding that night but would be free over the weekend. Since we knew that the shopping would all be closed on Sunday and we’d already be out on Saturday night with Lena, we arranged to be in touch with him on Sunday to get together. It was a relatively early night for us, and if I’d known it would be the last one of the trip, I probably would have savored it more.