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We were to drive to Poland from Berlin. In September and October 2014 were in Berlin to meet and spend some time with my new grandson, Leander. But because we were concerned that we might be a burden to entertain for a whole month-and-a-half, what with the demands of a five month old baby and so on, we had pre-planned a number of side-trips. The last of these was to Poland.
To pick up the car that I had booked months before, we caught the U-Bahn from Magdalenenstraße, close to Emily's home in Lichtenberg, to Alexanderplatz. Quick - about 15 minutes - and easy.
Or so we thought, but where was that car rental place? I'd seen the depot when roaming about here on a previous occasion and knew it was here somewhere, otherwise we might have been discouraged trying to find it again. I asked in several shops and half dozen shop assistants had no idea. We asked both in English - pointless - and poor German: Wo ist der Auto rental?
What the hell do they call it? It would have been a good idea to have looked up 'Mietwagenverleih' before asking but then I probably would have messed up the pronunciation: Meat-vargen-ferlige? My German class had only reached Lekton 2 before we left home. But why would I need it? On earlier trips to Germany in the 70's everyone in the cities knew English, and indeed native Germans still do, but now, and particularly in Berlin, a lot of people who work in shops and in casual jobs are immigrants who have learnt only German.
We had previously found a similar communications problem asking likely informants which bus to get to go to the Reichstag. After asking half a dozen people in shops, one girl overheard us fruitlessly asking another in a travel agency 'Oh - das Reichstag!' she interjected and told us where to go.
On the bus I resorted to asking for the Brandenburg Gate stop. No problems with that! The driver would tell us when. After all, that's where all the stupid tourists want to go.
Reichstag - Bundestag; Brandenburg Gate
Inside the Dome
Actually Bundestag is the more common name these days. Reichstag the building; Bundestag the Parliament. One would think das Reichstag is so important in the City's, and indeed the County's, recent history that everyone would know of it but a lot of people have never heard of it. Wendy and I were both sure we were pronouncing it exactly the same way as the girl in the Travel Agency but perhaps not.
Pronouncing things in German even for other Germans from another part of the country is like asking for a tomato on a sandwich in New York or aluminium in an American hardware - the shop assistants genuinely have no idea what you are talking about, until you pronounce it the American way.
It was Oktoberfest in Alexanderplatz. It was a bit fairgroundish (that's a new English word) although you could get a wurst on a brotchen and a bier or cider and listen to some Ump-pa.
On another day in town Wendy derided this little fair and wanted to know if there was a larger Oktoberfest celebration, more in keeping with her conception of the event, a couple of hundred hectares perhaps, somewhere else in Berlin. She went to the tourist information place who directed us to the Hauptbahnhof (Central Station). We wandered around there looking for Bierkellers and listening for tell-tale Ump-pa in vain, until we twigged - they had been directing us to Munich!
So there we were, with our smaller bags, searching the interstices of Oktoberfest infested Alexanderplatz for Das Auto-rental. Half an hour later we eventually found the car rental place only to be told that I had mistakenly booked it for the previous day. Our car was gone. We would need to upgrade to a more expensive car.
As it turned out this nicer car was actually what we needed for this long trip.
We'd also hired a Garman GPS navigator, so we punched in the address of our hotel in Kraków and set off immediately for Poland. 'At the next intersection, in 50 metres, turn right', it confidently told us.
Unbeknown to us at the time the navigator had been set to avoid tolls so we ended up entering Poland on a road that made some fire-trails look like highways. It was heavily used by trucks and the surface, the moment we crossed into Poland, became a linked series of potholes. I joked that it was a ploy to discourage the Germans from invading yet again. We didn't realise at the time that there is a perfectly good autobahn that might have shaved several hours off our journey. This goat track is used by numerous trucks because it avoids the tolls. Thanks navigator - you saved us $20 or so.
They'd told us the car didn't have in-vehicle navigation. But playing with the consol screen to get some music we discovered that our upgraded vehicle did indeed have a GPS navigator built in. All we had to do was set the computer language to English. So now we had two. This came in handy later-on when the car told us we had just 2000 km to go to get to our next destination. The portable was fired-up and revealed that we were already more than 50 Km off track. The car was trying to go to some previous destination in Germany. So all was for the best in the best of all possible worlds.
Anyway, back to our entry to Poland.
After about an hour of bone jarring, shaking and bouncing we needed to eat, ablute and recover. A roadside service station eatery and money exchange place appeared in the wilderness and we drove in, not expecting anything good. But we were in for a surprise: the toilets were spotless and homely with fresh flowers; the food was delicious and amazingly inexpensive; and the exchange rate was equal to the best we got for the whole trip. Here we were introduced to the Polish love of elaborate mesh curtains, nick-knacks and Pope John Paul II. Themes that would follow us for the remainder of our visit.
Pleasantly fed and watered we were suddenly liking Poland.
Driving by the back-roads does have an advantage, you get to see the countryside close-up and in this case how flat and fertile that part of the world is.
Farms are not huge yet the older farmhouses often are - big two storey affairs built in brick, presumably supported by a few tens of acres of what must be very productive fields. The reason that this country has been so fought over.
There are lots of wind turbines but many are small and quick rotating, less than a megawatt. They must contribute little to the Grid and be quite uneconomic.
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