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Published: September 13th 2009
O2 World, Berlin is closed; the gig finished last night, and the arena is now empty. Ordinarily we would truck onwards but, with two travel days to reach Hamburg, a mere 300km away, it made sense to stay the night. (We live in the trucks if you haven't already guessed. It is a little like camping). Light snow conditions this morning makes visiting the portable toilet in our allotted parking area both unpleasant and unsuccessful.
Now, if one has passed through Checkpoint Charlie on foot and by bicycle, what's left? Yes, Namibian and I take eighteen-wheelers through this former border, the most well-known crossing between East and West. It was indeed "the geographical focal point of the Cold War”. Engines grunting, it looks like we got ourselves a convoy, as the Americans might say. Well, you only live once. However, I don't suppose there is a limit to the number of the times you could be arrested within that lifetime.
We needn't have fretted, though. The real checkpoint was demolished in 1990. Now, one lonely man stands in military uniform here, with a bucket but no authority, charging one euro for photographs. We trundle through
Loading up at the O2, Berlin
the American Sector, enveloping him in a cloud of diesel exhaust. 'I've been through five red lights coming out of Berlin,' squawks Namibian over my cheap Tesco radio. When he says red, he means amber of course - red would be illegal.
There are pros and cons to pootling round Europe by road, one of the biggest nuisances being the financial outlay to use toilets - usually half a euro. We don't go in for that sort of human rights abuse in the UK; instead, the trucker there is charged an exorbitant rate just to park. But, for that one-off payment, toilets can be used ad infinitum, and showers too.
While Gary (the chap who reacted unfavourably to ingesting “Spunk” liquorice in the last blog) is still in the fore of our minds, I shall mention an anecdote from the last time we came up this Hamburg road together. On a Simply Red tour, he walked straight past a German toilet attendant, jerked his thumb in my direction, and said: 'my mate will pay for my poo.' Charming, I know. That was a full fifty cents, a sum that he still owes me come to think of it.
It's actually produced in Denmark, not Germany
Today, the fee to toilet at our chosen Rasthof (service station) is only thirty cents - comparatively cheap.
Fortunately, within five minutes of parking at Hamburg's Color Line Arena, next to a mammoth factory and with a stunning view of the motorway to Kiel, Namibian and I are whisked away. Our pal, a monitor engineer named Herr Golchert, lives in a village nearby. Five hours in a Greek restaurant with Peri (the owner) ensues. It's one of those drawn out affairs where adults order brandy. Peri says little, and I ask if he can keep up with us gassing away in English. 'Yes, ok, ' he says. 'I'm not boring.' I shouldn't laugh; my attempts at foreign languages have been nothing short of embarrassing.
Admittedly, my argument that computers won't catch on is falling down, but I'm not ready to throw in the towel just yet. Today is spent cursing a laptop for recognising video but not audio. I give up in the end, deciding I will ask a nerd for a solution. Instead, it is nice to tease six (huge) mainecoon cats in the living room.
Herr Golchert - or “Frankie” to me
Tourists looked bewildered..
- speaks excellent English, coming out with unexpected pearls such as: 'don't slurp your tea, Barnaby.' Remembering previous vehement complaints from Englishmen, he suggests I make my own tea - Ceylon Black. Frank supervises what he calls "cooking the water". On my last visit to this sleepy village of Sulfeld, I'd mentioned that partially boiled water, with a teabag almost as an afterthought, is the chief obstruction to brewing a reasonable cup of tea in continental Europe. But it cannot be the water. I know this because it's been proven time and time again - I can make a perfectly acceptable cup of tea in my lorry, no matter where it is parked in the world yet, here in Germany, Frank flounders. Furthermore, one could almost say that, from leaving the UK port of Dover to arriving in the Himalayas, the beverage should be avoided altogether! Frank makes splendid coffee, though.
Namibian sneers at the whole enterprise. Like his nose for direction, he has no appetite for tea. He drinks coffee by day - and by the gallon - but in the evenings he enjoys the occasional snootful of spirit, disapproving of soft drinks unless driving is imminent. This
is a valid argument, possibly, but his next admission smacks of ill-sense. He says he would buy a new, shiny truck if he won the National Lottery because he loves 'that feel of the steering wheel in my hands." Worrying, I know. I've already told him he doesn't deserve to win it with talk like that. Surely, as a male, the “lotto” should be invested in a yacht complete with bikini-clad floosies? Then, by all means squander the rest. It's somewhat academic, though, seeing as we can't buy a ticket until reaching UK shores in April..
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