Berlin, March 2012

As a Leeds United fan based on the south coast, it can be both time-consuming and costly to actually get to home games. I always forget just how far it is and once you factor in hotels and fuel, as well as the time off work, it’s comparable to a weekend city break.

Generally, there’s four people that I travel up to Yorkshire with: one in Southampton, another in Chichester, one in Salisbury and another slightly further afield in Chippenham. Oh, and there’s another who’s occasionally in Woking but mostly in York. As you can imagine, it’s like a military operation assembling the bodies for transport and the synchronising of the watches alone can take several days …

One weekend, Salisbury, Woking and I decided to visit Chippenham to savour the delights of the town known only to me for it’s (in)famous nightclub, Golddiggers. Anyone who lived in the south of England during the 80s and 90s who was of a drinking persuasion knew about the club, such was its reputation. I think the main reason for its success was geographical more than anything: it was a natural place to stop between the bright lights of London and the west country and also conveniently placed for anyone coming down from either the North or the Midlands. A quick list of acts that played here includes The Smiths, The Stranglers, Madness, Showaddywaddy, Elvis Costello, Slade, The Prodigy, Hot Chocolate and Iron Maiden (though not on the same night, sadly).

So the place had a lot to live up to … which it failed to do in quite spectacular fashion. Three pubs were visited and only one was a partial success and that was more down to the quality of the home-made pork pies than anything else. But a successful night was still enjoyed by the four of us for on that very night an idea was hatched, a plan was devised, and a scheme was born that was so simple, so clever and so effective that we couldn’t decide if it was just the beer talking or we really had come up with a good one …

The next morning, we decided it was superb: rather than spend all that time, money and hassle going up to Leeds to watch a predictably disappointing football match, we’d go abroad and do it instead. Having been to several matches overseas, I was very keen to expand my soccer-based orienteering horizons. We discussed destinations: France (too easy), Belgium (too boring), Holland (too predictable), Spain (ditto), Portugal (possibly) … before finally settling on Germany as the perfect choice. We all loved sausages and were interested in the war to varying degrees, plus for Salisbury the thought of a strapping Teutonic Valkyrie in a traditional laced-up basque bringing him his own personal pitcher of pilsner was just too tempting to ignore. We ummed and ahhed about which city to visit and again several were considered: Hamburg, Munich, Frankfurt, Dusseldorf … actually, we didn’t. There was only one place we all wanted to go so it was Destination: Berlin.

For me, the Bohemian nature of the capital was intriguing: as a huge David Bowie fan I wanted to see where he’d holed himself up for all those years. I was also interested in the history of the place, with the Wall, the East and West sides, the communist state, Hitler’s bunker and the 1936 Olympics all coming to mind … I also wanted to try out my schoolboy German. I got a “B” in my O-level but had never used it in anger … or indeed, in friendship.

Berlin: hier kommen wir ! 

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