Blogging from Berlin…

I spent only one entire day in Berlin, but it was enough for me to say that this is one fantastic city and I need to come back for a much longer trip someday.

To recap a little, I arrived here yesterday afternoon, a little after 4PM and checked in at the Circus Hotel, that my friend Marc had recommended from a previous stay. I booked a bed in the hostel this time instead of a private room. At 19 euros a night, it was a pretty good deal. They put me in room 410 and I got a bed in the lower bunk by the window. My room has a fantastic view! There is something to be said for this high rise living after all… At first sight, this neighborhood reminded me an awful lot of Portland with the little cafes fringing both sides of the street and the trams going across it.


I intended to get something to eat and then go stomp around in the city, but things didn’t quite go as I had planned. I had underestimated how tired I was from the day before. I had ridden about 250km, practically all on the autobahn. Speaking of the autobahn, most motorcyclists would say that this is the worst, most soul-crushing riding you can do, but to tell the truth I was relieved to be on it and just making good speed. The past few days in the Czech Republic had been good riding, but slow going and I constantly had to have my wits about me. Out on the freeway, I could finally turn my brain off and just ride, and it was delightful to be reaching my destinations at pretty much the pace at which I expected.

The only exciting thing that happened on the freeway was getting pulled over by a cop. I was passed him and then he passed me and he turned on a sign that flashed and said “Bitte” and “Folgen” alternatively. I had no idea what it meant, but my superior deductive skills reasoned that whatever it meant, I was probably meant to follow him and stop when he stopped, which I did. We pulled over at the next exit at a gas station. He was pretty nice and informed me that my light was off. I groaned when I realized that the lowbeam bulb was not working. Thankfully I had brought a spare from Seattle. I told him that I was riding to Berlin and I would replace it there, and he said okay, although he didn’t think it was safe. I was planning to ride in daylight hours only anyway, so I’m not too concerned about the safety aspect. Riding with the high beam on is *not* looked upon kindly here, like in the US where motorcyclists are advised to leave their highbeams on at all times to make themselves more visible.

I was going to fix the light in Berlin, but when I looked at the service manual, I realized that replacing the bulb wasn’t a simple matter of pulling the headlamp off and swapping bulbs. It meant taking off the rails of the storage area, the side panels, the instrument panel, the headlamp housing, and *then* getting to the bulb. I was *not* crazy on doing that on a sidewalk in Berlin with a maybe-incomplete toolkit. Meh… I called BMW in Hamburg and gave them the spiel – international traveller passing throug the city – can you please squeeze me in? They asked me to come by the shop tomorrow when I got into the city.

(I made a pleasant stop at Dresden on the way, which is a pretty little city. I ate lunch at a really cool place where I ate liver and mashed potatoes. Mmm…)

As I neared Berlin, my GPS promptly turned itself off (ARRRRRGHHHH… die!die!kill!kill!). I turned it back on and luckily it stayed on and I got to my destinaton. No idea why it decided to do that, of course.

Switching back to Berlin, I ate a very early dinner at Fabisch, the circus Hotel’s restaurant, which served organic food. I got some schnitzel with a green salad and gherkin. It was pretty tasty for a deep fried piece of meat. I went back to my dorm to rest for a bit, and ended up spending the rest of the evening in bed, reading and then falling asleep on my book. Time was a-wasting and Berlin was a-waiting, but did my body care? Noooooo…..

I woke up bright and early the next morning, got a chocolate croissant and capucchino at a bakery across the street and walked south towards Potsdam Platz. I saw the remnants of the Berlin Wall and remembered when I read about the fall of the Wall many many years ago when I was a little girl, and not quite understanding what was going on. Little did I know then that I would be so close to the real thing when I grew up…

I saw some more tourist sites before I realized that I’d had enough and retreated into the Dali museum. It turned out to have only some lithographs of his, not the famous paintings, which was a bit of a bummer.

Next up I walked to Alexander Platz and got myself a SIM card for Germany. Then I wasted 6 euros on getting a day ticket for the subway and used it only once to get back to the hotel. I had intended to head out again to a couple of museums, but I ended up just lounging around and reading (damn those addictive Sookie Stackhouse books!).

If I had to tell the truth, Berlin is so huge and there is so much I want to see here that it would be impossible to see it all in one day. Rather than run myself ragged trying to catch everything, I just saw what I most wanted to see and allowed myself to rest up for the rest. For once I remembered that I am after all on vacation.

Tomorrow I wake up early and ride up north to Hamburg, where I meet Alex, a fellow couchsurfer.

A curious thing happened on the way to Berlin…

I got an early start in Prague. I think I must have been out of the city around 8AM. I was going to ride to Prague Castle and take a picture of the bike in front of it, but the GPS directions got muddled and confusing, so I decided to just get the heck out of town and head towards Berlin.

As I got out of town, I realized that I had made a big mistake with not checking the weather forecast. I had mostly had hot sunny weather so far, so even though it had rained in Prague the previous day, I had assumed the good weather would continue. Wrong.

About 10 km out of the city, it started pouring down buckets. I stopped at a gas station, fueled up, put my liners into my jacket and overpants, put the storm covers on the side bags and started out. 10 km later I realized that this wasn’t going to cut it, so I stopped at another gas station, parked the bike under a bit of shelter and went inside. They had a couple of tables and chairs, so I resigned myself to taking my gear off, getting a cappuccino from a vending machine and reading my Sookie Stackhouse book.

In another time, I would have been beyond pissed off at the weather and chomping at the bit to get to my destination, but maybe I’m just older and wiser now. There was no point fighting the weather. I’d have kept going if I had to go about 20-30 miles to a safe place, but there was no way I would ride through 250 km of this weather. These things always blow themselves out, and it made sense to just wait it out. I sat there for about an hour and the rain did abate, at which point I reluctantly placed the book aside, geared up again and got back out.

This time I made it another 20 km before the rain came back with a vengeance. The wind was blowing full blast now, it was getting cold, there was standing water on the highway and water was seeping into my boots (I guess they’re not that waterproof anymore). I was completely out of my comfort zone. So I – you guessed it – stopped at the next gas station to wait it out once more. This time I was not so lucky with a comfortable table and chairs. I was wet and miserable and must have looked quite a sight to the woman at the gas station. I called Skjalm and asked him to look up the weather patterns for me (I so hate not having a phone with a data plan to look up radar maps on the road!), He confirmed that I was in the eye of the most awful weather and it wasn’t going to stop all day. The weather for the next day looked better. There was nothing to it but to wait until it calmed down a little bit and ride to the closest town Louny about 10km away to look for a place to stay.

I bought a sandwich and some chocolate and ate it while watching the storm blow outside. An adventure is never fun while you’re in the middle of it – I reminded myself. I wasn’t looking forward to stopping at a no-name town at one of the pensions my GPS listed and explaining to non-English speaking folks that I was looking for a place to spend the night.

I had sunk to the floor by now, reading my book and eating, when the gas station owner very kindly brought me a chair to sit on, bless her!

About an hour of this passed when I heard the rumble of an engine outside and a saw another motorcyclist stop. He was waterproofed from head to boots (his boots had waterproof covers!) and he seemed quite oblivious to the godawful weather. He walked inside, exchanged a few words with another patron, bought something and left.

I hesitated a bit, then ran outside after him and asked him – rather stupidly – whether he spoke English. I had to say something and that was the first thing that came to my mind. “A little”, he said. Of course! That’s what they all said. It usually meant, “No, but feel free to make funny sounds at me and I’ll see if I can decipher any of it.”
For some reason, my English goes bad when I’m speaking with someone who doesn’t speak it, so I continued with more idiotic talk in the nature of – “Bad rain! For how long?”

*shrug* *smile* “Don’t know!”

“Going to Berlin. Cannot make it.”

More smiles. “No!”

Feeling a little hopeless, I thanked him and turned to go when he indicated a sticker on his bike that said “Zerotin”.

“Biker party. Only 5 minutes away.”

“What?” I blinked stupidly as rain poured into my eyes.

“Biker party. Lots of bikes. Camping.” He smiled some more.

“Camping?” I repeated, a little slow on the uptake. The wind was howling, the flag on the flagpost outside the gas station fluttering wildly, my hair getting rapidly soaked as I contemplated the thought of setting up camp in the rain. Also, the thought that five minutes away, in what I thought was the middle of nowhere, there were other motorcyclists and what he called a party.

He made a sign with his hands to indicate a house and for emphasis repeated hopefully, “Small house. Camp?”

“I know what camping means.” I said hastily, “But camp in this weather?”

He smiled some more, “Yes.”

“How many other bikers?”

He thought a little and said “One thousand.”

One thousand bikers? This wasn’t a party. This sounded like a full fledged rally. Except… camping in this? No way! What I wanted was a warm, dry room and a cozy bed to snuggle in with my book. A safe shelter to wait out the weather before getting on the road the next day. No *way* was I going to follow some strange biker into the middle of nowhere to set up camp and continue to be wet and miserable for the rest of the day if I could help it. No way!

Instead, I found myself saying – “Wait for me! I’ll get my things.” I ran into the gas station (benzina station?), collected my things, pulled on my helmet and soaked gloves and followed him. He double back a little the way I had come, then turned off into a village. All this time, my mind was buzzing and I couldn’t stop giggling. This couldn’t possibly be happening! Here I had resigned myself to an uneventful day waiting out the crap weather and now I was going to be smackdab in the middle of a Czech biker rally.

Before I knew it, we had pulled up outside a makeshift gate complete with a registration booth. My friend – his name was Pyotr and he was Polish – explained to the other bikers who I was. I don’t understand Czech, but I could hear the words “U.S.A”, “American”, “Slovenia” etc. thrown around. They all gathered around me and asked me the same things – “Where are you from?”, “Why are you here?” and finally “Welcome!”. They were all tickled by the idea that here was a biker “all the way from USA!” Pyotr was beaming at them, delighted to be the one who had produced this novelty. They filled me in on what I could expect. Live music, food etc. The entrance was 300 koruna, which I paid up. They said that there were a couple of cottages empty, if I decided I wanted to go that way instead of setting up camp.

Now I had been craving the outdoors and wanting to camp ever since Vienna, but I’m ashamed to say that I completely chickened out here and coughed up 30 euros for a cottage. I was assigned cottage #21 which had four beds and not much else. No water or electricity of anything. Pyotr was camped in the neighboring field with some friends.


While I took off my gear and set out my things, he returned with a couple of beers. What a nice man! I thanked him and we tried to communicate in broken English. I produced my map and filled him in on my journey so far and what lay ahead. He showed me the part of Poland he was from. So on and so forth. He produced a bottle of Bekherovka – Czech vodka from his jacket, and I drank a shot (tasty!), I in turn shared my hip flask of Glemmorangie scotch. (I spent most of this day a little drunk). He told me that he was a train driver (machiniste) back home, and I told him about my day job.


We walked down to the village to the pub and met up with his other Polish friends (Artur, David, Bartolej), all of whom were really amused at my appearance. Bartolej was the only one who spoke good English and he became the unofficial translator. I learned later that between the three of them, they had put away 25 tall beers. They had a lot of questions for me.

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We walked back to the rally after a while. In my five years of riding, I’ve never actually been to a biker rally. Indeed, I’ve avoided them like the plague. So it’s just a little bit amusing that my first rally was in the Middle of Nowhere, Czech Republic.

It was mostly a cruiser crowd, with a few sportbikes and dualsports thrown in. There was merchandise and food booths and beer gardens. People were trudging around ankle deep in mud in full leathers with umbrellas or just getting  soaked in the rain. A heavy metal band was playing. There was something  just a little surreal about hearing popular American heavy metal songs being sung in Czech.

I was having the time of my life.


The one band that was FANTASTIC was a three-woman (girl?) band called Sweetzone who did some unbelievably good covers of Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Nirvana and a bunch of other bands. They did “Run To the Hills”! The guitarist did the Steve Harris machine gun thing! There is nothing more powerful than watching a group of kickass teenage girls… ummmm kicking ass on stage! They looked so very young that I wondered if they were even old enough to drink. It made me feel a little like I do when I watch MotoGP – old and over the hill and wishing I had practiced playing the guitar more when I was younger. :P



There was more music and more drinking the rest of the evening. I finally hit the sack at 10:30 PM. The festivities were far from over, but I was knackered. (Apparently I missed a live on-stage sex show. Hoo boy, we’re really not in Kansas anymore, are we?).


I read a bit, mighty pleased to finally use my Coleman LED lamp, before falling asleep. It was still raining when I went to bed.

The next morning I woke up, filthy and bedraggled, smelling evil. The floor was covered with dried muddy water from my boots. I opened the door of my cottage to take a peek outside and it was bright and sunny. A few bikers were staggering across the field, beers in hand, at 8AM. I packed up my few belongings and got the hell out of there. On to Berlin now, for real!

Still, it had been quite an adventure.