Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006

National Unity, Pyjamas and Berlin


Today is Germany’s day of national unity – the day when East and West Germany became one. In this house it is also known as the day Mummy Stays In Her Pyjamas All Day If She So Chooses. And she does choose. (By gumminy, she does.) Having just visited Germany’s monument to national unity – the wondrous Berlin – I should probably talk about my trip last week. I’ve been a bit slow about writing about it, because I’m still holding it close to my heart. I’m not sure if I want to let the secrets out or not.

So when two youngish mothers of a total of seven children hit the techno capital of the world, do they go clubbing? Do they stay out all night, drinking ridiculous cocktails and chatting up younger men? Do they totter about in high heels, whooping and kicking over dustbins?



We didn’t.*

What they do is that they carefully and responsibly See Everything. They start by seeing the Berlin State Ballet perform Alice’s Wonderland. With the artful use of matchsticks, they manage to stay awake (having just arrived in Berlin after a six-hour drive from Frankfurt) to appreciate the exquisite choreography, staging and dancing. They leave, stunned by all this superlativeness and by the enthusiastic ovation that Berliners like to give their very own ballet, and eat fresh tomato soup at an outdoor restaurant in the Gendarmenmarkt for their supper, accompanied – for one, at least – by Germanically generous glasses of white wine.

Then they leap out of bed, refreshed, drive enthusiastically to Potsdam, and park at the Schloss San Souci (which their guidebook says is the number one sight in Berlin). They repair immediately to a restaurant and partake of one of those large and languid Sunday brunches which is the number one activity in Berlin. They watch the autumn leaves fall. Then they walk around the Schlosspark, enjoying the sunshine and taking photographs, followed by an impromptu skating session in a pair of enormous pantoffel inside the Schloss itself (they avoid the tour, preferring the whistlestop self-guided version in which you can skate really fast on the polished marble and wood floors).

Would we allow our children to do this?

Hell no!

It’s far too much fun.

Then they whizz back to Berlin Mitte for a show at the Friedrichstadtpalast. Slightly disturbed by the amount of pensioners in the audience and the young man next to them with his trousers up under his armpits, who hums loudly throughout the show, they enjoy a spectacle of dance and acrobatics. There are some scary bits – all of the singing

Ho hum. Could you get on with it please?

and a truly terrifying slippery wet suspended fishbowl affair high up above where two fish

Can we call them dancers?

people try alternatively to drown each other or throw each other out of the fishbowl to plunge down down for many metres in a horrible rictus of what the director must have imagined to be erotic but which was really just a live horror show. They watch this through their fingers, sigh with relief when it is over and stop for grilled tuna on the way home at The Hotel That Has The Worst Service In The World But Which Is On The River Spree, So Must Be Good. They have an early night, tucked up by – oh – 9pm in comfy beds with books.

This big sleep is important because Monday is a big day. Monday is the Day of the Bike Tour of Berlin. One of them is an experienced cyclist, having done four-day mountain bike tours, who likes to spend her spare time careering down mountainsides at high speed. The other is not. She can count the amount of times she has ridden her bike as an adult on her fingers.

That’s not a lot, folks.

The bike tour is fabulous. They see everything. They have their photo taken at (what remains of) the Berlin Wall. They see Checkpoint Charlie, the Reichstag, the parking lot under which Hitler’s bunker may or may not be, the Tiergarten, all the government buildings on the river, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, the Brandenburger Tor. They also enjoy an exciting cycle in the bus lane of Berlin and a very rewarding visit to a Biergarten for a late lunch and a large beer. Their tour guide, Ingo, is beyond cute and both cyclists, experienced and not, keep snuggled up close to him in the pelaton, kicking aside any stray New Yorkers or Oregonians who to try to muscle in.

After being returned to the Fat Tire Bike Tour offices at Alexanderplatz

If you go to Berlin, this is the best way to see the city.

It was fabulous.

And the guides are hot fit.

Whatever. You know what I mean.

they consider rest. After six hours of cycling round the city, would two mothers of a combination of seven children head back to their chic Berlin Mitte apartment for a small nap before finding a bijou restaurant for a relaxed dinner?



It becomes essential to go to the Haekesche Hoefe for some late-afternoon shopping in the beautiful Art Deco courtyards. Some coffee and cake become of the essence. Some more walking. It becomes night. Still the shops are open. They are shopped. It is dark, and the intrepid mothers decide it’s nonsense to go home when they can go and stand in a queue at the Reichstag for an hour, allow German security officials to accuse them of carrying a sparkly fairy ornament in one of their shopping bags

It was true.

We couldn’t deny it.

and then go up many many storeys in a lift to admire the view from the top of the building. However, they discover too late that they both have late-onset vertigo and an identical urge to crawl the walkway that hugs the glass dome, so they jog down very very fast back to terra firma.

Tuesday is designated shopping day. They head for the Kaufhaus des Westerns (KaDeWe), the Harrods of Berlin, and walk around in a daze for a few hours, testing the loos and fingering very expensive articles of clothing. Then they begin to stroll up the Kurfurstendamm, Berlin’s famous shopping street, but quickly become exhausted by all the

a. shops

b. tourists

c. beggars

so are forced to repair to a lovely little sidestreet where an Italian restaurant offers to feed them delicious pasta (salmon and pine-nut with a lobster sauce, and rocket and feta) and shelter them from the rain that has so irritatingly decided to pour down. They then retrieve the car from the Hotel That Serves the Worst Tea in the World

A huge, hairy testicle of a tea bag that has clearly been used umpty times before.

to do some driving around the city Because That is Fun. First driving stop is Schloss Charlottenburg. Next driving stop is the chic apartment in Berlin Mitte because they are tired and needing to nap. Later, after the nap

It was good.

So …

… nappy.

they walk around aimlessly, finally landing at the sushi bar under the Sony Centre on Potsdamer Platz for a €12 plate of sushi that they can’t finish it is so huge and delicious beers. They walk home, veering briefly into a lamp-post restaurant to acquire ice-creams.

Next day is Dresden day. This is very exciting because it means Driving Again. It is also very sad because it means Farewell to Berlin. However, they are grown women


and manage to leave Berlin without a tear. Dresden is very beautiful. It is filled with buildings. It also has a river. Most importantly, it has a fabulously luxurious HOTEL where they check in, spend the afternoon sleeping, reading, bathing, lounging around in bathrobes, preening, toenail-clipping, dressing, going to the restaurant, enjoying fine dining and excellent wines and going to sleep again. The next morning they glance once more at the beautiful buildings of Dresden

They are so beautiful.

Aren’t they just?

and drive up the river, passing all the glamorous Communist villas where happy Communists once came to play landlords, to Schloss Pelnitz for a little stomp around the beautiful gardens, sadly muddying the boots that had been polished overnight by the little HOTEL elves. They shop idly for the last perfect present for lucky husbands and children and mothers, and then depart from formerly East Germany back to the West, which, strangely, looks very much like the East except that it has more hills.

It rained.

And the journey took eight hours.

But it was worth it.

* Any irritating tics and verbal asides that may appear in this post are attributable to the fact that I am reading Darkmans by Nicola Barker at the moment.

I am.

And it’s catching.

Really, really catching.

So, I’m sorry. But I can’t help it.

Author: charlotteotter

Novelist, feminist, crime writer

15 thoughts on “National Unity, Pyjamas and Berlin

  1. I love this post Charlotte! What a wonderful time you had, with the “fit” cycling guides and the enormous glasses of wine. My favorite part was all the sleeping and napping in comfortable hotel beds. (I’m a mom with simple yet seeminglly unattainable desires.) Though I could have done without the image of a teabag that resembles a hairy testicle.


    I could have.</i<

  2. I want to travel with you, Charlotte! That sounds lovely (and a bit exhausting).

  3. What a great travelogue. I’ve been thinking about Berlin all day because I want to go back again, so it’s good to see someone else’s perspective on the place.
    Shame about the vertigo in the Reichstag cupola, it really is something up there. I’m glad you had a good time anyway, and I’m not at ALL jealous of you spending all that time in Berlin (grrrrrr). 🙂

  4. Oh that’s just the most perfect description of a visit to Berlin! I loved the hotels, the many meals, the shopping, and the driving. It’s also good to know that the hills in the west and the hills in the east are not that much different. xo

  5. Woah — what a trip! And what an account of your trip! Sounds great. And perhaps I’ll try that novel …

  6. Sounds wonderful and exhausting so I am glad there was plenty of luxurious sleep included. Your description of shopping sounds exactly how I remember ‘shopping ‘ in Harrods and Harvey Nicks, except even the loos in Harrods were extortionately expensive.

  7. Oh you lucky, lucky thing! I am so envious….

  8. Hi Charlotte, enjoy your pyjama day! What a fun time in Berlin. Thanks for ‘taking’ us there. It sounded a lot like my last trip to Sydney with girlfriends. You have started me reminiscing…

  9. After so many things done (and seen) in Berlin, one day in pyjamas seems barely enough! A trip to Berlin must be planned for Mr and Mrs Smithereens at the nearest opportunity…

  10. Henitserk, I wish you a week away on comfy beds. It was heaven.

    YogaMum, apparently I am a bit of a hardcore tourist. It’s something I didn’t really know about myself. Also, I apparently only stop talking when sleeping or while eating an ice-cream, so you would have to have stamina.

    Trousers, I am ridiculously addicted to Berlin. I just think it’s fabulous. Next time I might try the cupola in the day-time – perhaps it’s better that way.

    Thanks, BL. It was loads of fun.

    Dorothy, beware of Darkmans. It might affect your writing style.

    Kit, I had to go in to KaDeWe, but I probably wouldn’t go in again. I lost too many hours just looking.

    Gill, welcome! Thanks for stopping by. It was a lovely break.

    Bindi, it’s just essential isn’t it to have some girl time? We got to be completely selfish for six whole days.

    Smithereens, when you do go, please let me know. I have some good travel tips, especially for accommodation – I discovered a great site where you can rent apartments really reasonably for short-term stays. It was brilliant.

  11. It sounds wonderful! I’m so glad you had that time. And while I don’t know Nicola Barker’s work, I enjoyed the ticks.

  12. aaah, charlotte! i’m still rolling around laughing about the “huge, hairy testicle of a tea bag that has clearly been used umpty times before.”
    no, really, it sounds like a beautiful, if exhausting week. travelling with you must be fun.

  13. Thanks, Courtney, it was very special.

    Bine, happy to oblige. The teabag was gross, but just a very small blip during a very good week.

  14. I so need to visit Berlin again. The new City Hall on the Thames is ok but it isn’t the Reichstag. Great post!

  15. You are having so much more fun than I am – preparing for a garage sale tomorrow… I haven’t been to Berlin for 15 years… fabulous city. Dresden was a blast just after the fall of the wall – no where to stay and nothing to buy… but so exciting. A fab weekend… glad I got to come along for the ride.

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