Berlin is one of the world's greatest cities, endlessly fascinating and photogenic. It's a major capital in the world of street art, no surprise when the West Berliners had all that bare concrete wall to encourage them. This spontaneous public art form is one of my favourite photographic subjects and it's going to be difficult to avoid being distracted from my real task by examples such as this, near Schlesischestrasse in Kreuzburg.
So I arrived in Berlin central station on Friday in mid-afternoon and was met with warm friendliness by Jörg, the friend of a friend in Brussels, who is putting me up for a couple of days. I then used the rest of the fading daylight to begin the Berlin wall cycle trail, which follows the route of the ex-enclosure around West Berlin very closely. There will be much of interest on the way, of course. Yards from the station is this memorial to the wall's first victim - Günter Litfin, a tailor who was shot by East German border guards as he tried to escape to the west by swimming across a canal, shortly after the first reels of barbed wire had gone up.
I love the idea and practice of train travel but my 5-leg, 23-hr marathon from Trieste to Berlin started to test my faith. First, buying the ticket in Trieste: mentioning that I needed to transport a bike provoked such a bout of teeth-sucking that it was as though I'd said I was taking an elephant along. It was possible to reserve a place for the bike in the overnight train from Milan to Frankfurt if I bought myself a seat, but not if I reserved a couchette (???). Buying the Frankfurt-Berlin portion in Italy meant I paid €25 more than if I'd bought it separately in Germany. The night train was 30 mins late into Frankfurt and this meant I missed my connection, but I got to Berlin earlier because there was a better connection that the Italian computer hadn't revealed. Or, rather, I would have got there earlier if that train hadn't been delayed as well. The conductor said bikes weren't allowed on until I showed an itinerary printout from the travel centre and suddenly she pointed to the end of the train, where there was a dedicated and empty bike carriage (???). On the plus side, the journey gave me my first fleeting visits to Milan, Frankfurt and Leipzig (which has one of the biggest and loveliest stations I've seen). On the way from Frankfurt we passed a ruined castle that I recognised; I realised that we were crossing the old east-west border and going through a village I'd stayed in. It felt like that had been months previously but in fact was only a few weeks. Eventually I ended up with this view of the approach to Berlin, thanks to a transparent German train.