Berlin and Home


Thursday, 16th June 1988

Now we switched to the East Berlin S-Bahn system to go a few stations west to Friedrichstrasse. This was the last station in East Berlin and we had to change S-Bahn trains there. It was much like changing between two transit lines in any major city except there was an immigration and customs post slap bang in the middle of it. In the end it wasn’t much of a hassle, but in all the excitement we forgot to change money into D-Marks.

We found the West Berlin S-Bahn train waiting on an almost adjacent platform to where the East Berlin one had been, but the two trains were separated by an impenetrable fence. Physically we were still in the east but we were now in a part of the station that was totally impossible for regular East Berliners to access.

We had no ticket and no money to buy one. There had been no ticket barrier but we knew we would be fined if we were caught. The train set off westwards, we passed over the wall and we were finally in West Berlin.


Now I was on familiar territory. I had visited West Berlin four years earlier and I knew the main centre was at Zoogarten. We alighted there and looked for a place to change money. We looked in vain. We eventually gave up and started to search for a room for the night instead. We approached a hotel agency just outside the station and the lady there immediately found us a double room in a hotel about a mile down the Kurfurstendamm. When I explained our monetary problems, she refused dollars but waived the 3DM finding fee.  I returned the next day to pay.


Unable to pay a bus fare, we set off walking down the Ku’damm.   It was less than two weeks since we had left Hong Kong but, after experiencing first China and then the USSR, we were amazed at the sight that West Berlin now presented to us.

There was the busy traffic on the streets,  the outside tables of all the cafes were full and there were well-dressed people everywhere. It felt really very affluent.  We saw advertisements again for the first time in two weeks too. The lights of the various Coca Cola, Mercedes Benz, and Lufthansa signs all added colour and brightened up the whole place.   To be fair, there was a fair bit of graffiti too.

We presented ourselves at Central Guest House. It was a typical old Berlin house and we were given a beautiful double room on the second floor.

We went straight back out to the Ku’damn and, checking first that we could pay with a credit card, had a wonderful steak meal and plenty of Pilsner too.



Friday, 17th June 1988

After a lovely German buffet breakfast I ran out to a bank, changed money and got a bus back to the hotel. We paid our bill and left. We walked out past the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, the Zoo and into the Tiergarten. We walked all the way up to the Wall next to the Reichstag and peered just behind the wall at the Brandenburg gate.


We walked south alongside the wall until we reached Checkpoint Charlie. We visited the museum and looked at all the displays of the various successful attempts that East Berliners had made escaping from their part of the city.


We then went through Checkpoint Charlie itself and back into East Berlin. We had a short wait at immigration but it was easy enough. We queued again for Ostmarks. We knew we would not be able to change any of the Ostmarks back to D-Marks when we came back, so we changed a minimal amount.



Compared with West Berlin, East Berlin was barren and cold. There was hardly any traffic on the streets and it reminded us a little of Moscow.

We walked up the Unter Den Linden and onto Museum Island. We had a beer there and then walked into Alexanderplatz.  We decided that East Berlin just had an evacuated look to it.


We got the S-Bahn back to Freidrichstrasse and then wandered back down towards Checkpoint Charlie.


After a bit of searching we found a place to eat, the Sofia Restaurant, just on the eastern side of the Checkpoint. We had a very nice beef brisket served by a friendly waiter who seemed pleased to have us as his only customers. We drank extra beer to try to spend the Ostmarks and retained all the bills to show the exit control (they never asked).


We then made our way to the checkpoint.  There we witnessed a young couple embracing in a final goodbye before the girl followed us through the checkpoint and the boy remained in the east. That brought it home to us how much a personal as well as a political barrier the Berlin Wall really was.

Back in the west we caught a U-bahn train to the Zoo and found a pavement cafe outside the station to wait at. We sampled a Berliner Weiss beer presented in the traditional manner with the green (or red) syrup placed on the top. We got talking to a German couple at the next table and only at the last minute realised that it was almost time for our train.

At Zoo station we boarded the 23:00 direct train for Ostend. The trip was to take another 12 hours but I not bothered to reserve a sleeper. I thought we would be fine for the last night just sitting in a regular day compartment. The train was quite full of British football fans returning after a match but thankfully there were none in our carriage.



Saturday, 19th June 1988

We passed from West Berlin through the East German transit corridor and then back into West Germany.

I slept on and off throughout the night. I was woken occasionally by the noise of passing trains coming through the window. An Irishman, also sitting in the compartment, had insisted that it remain open.

As dawn broke we passed through Dortmund.

Dusseldorf followed, then Cologne and finally the border town of Aachen. I got off at Aachen and bought ham rolls and coffee for breakfast from a kiosk on the platform.

We continued on into Belgium passing Brussels and Bruges. The countryside looked green and pleasant and it felt nice to be back on territory I knew well.

We made it to Ostend on time and caught the Jetfoil connection over the channel to Dover.

After British Immigration, we caught a train into London Victoria, a tube across to Euston and finally the familiar train up to Blackpool.

I had been away for two years and it felt very strange to find my parents waiting to meet me off the Euston train in exactly the same way they had waited to meet me many times before.

Our train journey was now at an end.

I had also circumnavigated the world.


My Diary also ends here.

I spent a week in St Anne’s with Aiko before we headed down to London together. She stayed in London as planned and I flew immediately back to Tokyo on KLM via Amsterdam and Anchorage.

I returned to Tokyo and settled in to what would become almost another 6 years residency there.  Aiko enrolled in an English school and also began teaching Japanese.

We met up again at Christmas in 1988 when I returned to the UK for a 2 week break, but we broke up before I returned to Japan after New Year.

1988 – Japan – “Keihin Tohoku Line”