Germany and the Berlin marathon – Sept 2009

Late last month Elle and I took advantage of my parents coming to Dubai and jetted off to Germany for a long weekend on our own. Despite appearences, it wasn’t just for a dirty weekend, there was actually some purpose to the trip. I’ve set a goal to complete the “Big 5” marathons of the world, and decided that Berlin would be a good place to start.

The trip started off on a sour note, when we got bumped from our scheduled flight due to the extremely busy Eid long weekend rus of passengers.  For the uninitiated (like we were), the break of Ramadan means public holidays so a lot of people make the most of it and travel.

We managed to get on a flight later in the day, but had to change our plans as we missed our connecting flight from Munich to Berlin. We ended up arriving in Munich at around 9:00pm and then had to find a hotel for the night. We got completely confused by the train ticketing machine completely in German, so we decided our best bet would be to get a taxi to Munich to find a hotel. we probably should have done more research, as we discovered once we were in the taxi and on the road, that Munich city is actually quite a distance from the aiport and hotels are scattered all over the place.

The taxi driver tried to discourage us from trying the nearby hotels saying they would be fully booked due to the Oktoberfest.  His suggestion was that he drive us 55 Euros away, and then take us back to the airport in the morning – after another 55 Euros later.  But we insisted he stop at the Sheraton so I could see if they had room.  The lady at reception looked at me strangely and said, of course we have vacancies.

Something else surprised me at reception.  In Dubai pornography – anything close to it – is strictly illegal so you just don’t see it at all.  However, when I was standing at the hotel’s front desk, staring right at me was the cover model for Playboy completely topless!  I don’t think I’ve been overly interested in such images since I was 17, but having this strange sight was extremely distracting.  Quite a Europe welcome.  A similar thing greeted us in the rooms, where the TV had 1 movie channel and 4 adult channels.

The next morning we caught a flight to Berlin and managed to hit some random buttons on the ticket machine which spat out a ticket enabling us to catch a bus into the city. After asking a friendly policeman for directions, we eventually located our hotel.  We stayed in the Mercure de Charite.  With the terrible currency conversion between the UAE Dirham and the Euro it was disappointing to find that Charite didn’t mean we were staying in a shelter for the poor and destitute.  Actually we found the hotel through the marathon’s web site according to the distance to the start line – which was just perfect.

I had a few worries going into the marathon.  Most of my training has been through the summer period with frequent and mandatory water stops, so I wasn’t sure I had done sufficient distance training.  My concerns became reality at around the 25km mark when my legs started cramping terribly.  I was on track for a reasonable time until this point.  But with all the stops I saw all my goal times pass me by.  In the end I realised 4hrs was at risk so I really had to knuckle down.  Towards the end I felt terrible agony.  Everything was telling me to stop, except for the million+ spectators. In short it was an amazing experience.

Folllowing the race I was hobbling quite a bit.  I met up with Elle on the steps of the Reichstag where I had to sit for some time.   The Corona helped a little.  The walk from the finish line back to the hotel probably took 10 times longer than it did that morning. I slept extremely well that night.

We missed a day in  Berlin before the race due to the missed flight, so we decided to change our plans a little and try to see a few of the sights the next day then hit Munich and the Oktoberfest later in the day and night.  We did the Reichstag Dome tour, a look around Brandenburg.  Then we left the big smoke for the largest palace in Berlin at Charlottenburg. The whole area was beautiful, and something definitely worth seeing.

We caught the underground back to the airport and made our way to Munich.  By this stage we were seasoned veterans at buying tickets in Germany, but we didn’t need to.  A very friendly German guy gave us a tip that the tickets were priced so they were cheaper as a group of 3 or more – which he had the ticket for already. We got out of it for free, although we gave him 10 Euros anyway.  He was a lovely guy and kept us entertained the whole way.  We knew we were onto a good thing when he mentioned he works at the airport in IT and “it’s shit”.

Unfortunately my limping got worse, so we found our hotel and crashed.  Any thoughts of hitting Oktoberfest that evening were dashed by the allure of a nice warm bath.

We had plenty of time at the airport so I trialled all the local beers on display to try and compensate for missing Oktoberfest the night before.

The w’end flew by, and we arrived safe and sound in Dubai late on Tuesday night.