I’m having the first sign of a cold in the head, and maybe a twinge of homesickness for my own bed, a cup of Irish tea, a hard copy of the Irish Times and a day when I don’t speak German all day.  The weather has turned autumnal, and even though tomorrow looks as if it will be sunny, it’s time to dig out the scarf.  This is when the second thoughts surface; was it such a great idea to come to a city that was under snow until the end of April last year? Pessimists tell you that there was no municipal plan to deal with snow, so getting around was difficult.  But I’ve lived in the Black Forest for a couple of winters, so I know the score. Actually, they actually had more guaranteed snow there – you could time your watch by it.  It fell on the 12th December and melted on St. Patricks Day, and in between those dates, the women stayed at home and crocheted (or some variation of that) and the men went to the bar and drank.  Of course, that was nearly 40 years ago, deep in the country and in the more conservative south anyhow.  I think Berlin will have a great deal more to offer this winter.

I probably caught a cold in class from others who are sneezing and coughing.  It’s considered terribly rude to cough on the bus or train; I got daggers looks just clearing my throat, and a fellow student from Brazil said he was sniffing on the bus yesterday and an older matron came over with a handkerchief and told him to blow his nose, it wasn’t permitted to sniff in public.  I understand now that Berliners may be laid-back or ultra-cool or unfriendly or smart-alecky, but they have a foundation of decent German manners underpinning everything.  Even officials who are being gruff with you will always say please and thank-you.  There’s an overriding feeling of respect, for people, for things, for places. Coming back from Schlachtensee on the S-bahn at the weekend, I realised the seat-covers opposite me had been carefully darned by a sewing machine (I know this myself, as I used to take in mending of sheets and pillowcases from the Towers Hotel in Glenbeigh in the nineteen-seventies).  I didn’t think anybody darned/repaired anything these days, but some official endorsed the darning of the train seat covers, so that they would last longer.  There’s lots of interesting graffiti everywhere you look in the open, but very little vandalism – it’s all about commentary rather than raw aggression.  The trains themselves are constantly on the go, but are clean.  Their design is straight out of the nineteen-fifties, boxy, unfashionable, painted fire-engine red and mustard yellow, but it works very well.  Because they’re squared at the top, they feel roomier.  Their design is completely utilitarian, everything works because 3 million people use it every day, and will complain loudly if they are peeved. What astounded me was that people are allowed to bring their bicycles on both U and S bahn, even during rush hour.  Try that on the DART and you’d be lynched. But the reason for that is, of course, that there are bahn’s every 3 minutes, and it’s a huge cityspace with very little population as yet.  It feels as if the city planned the transport every step of the way after the Wall came down, to maximise efficiency.  There are not only U-bahns and S-bahns (under and over ground), but trams, buses and regular trains too, all running on time.  Apparently the city has no money, and that’s visible in the lack of development of new housing or shopping centres, but there are always new tracks being laid, new lines being developed, old lines being upgraded.  There’s the feeling that Berlin is somehow girding its loins for huge future development, and you’d hope that the fantastic feeling of creativity doesn’t evaporate as the Fat Cats move in.

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