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Mark Espiner.
© Thilo Rückeis

Espiner's Berlin: Folksongs in Public Transport

Strange English in the S-Bahn, dangerous icicles, Baghdad-style fireworks: Mark Espiner finds a lot to complain about and becomes a bit more Berlinerish.

So here we are in 2011. And for my second “Silvester” it was the same procedure as last year. The freezing wind. The snow. The Baghdad-style fireworks. The late spreading of ineffective grit. No one clearing the pavements. I could go on. Despite all that, it’s great to feel a little more familiarity with the city. And with those complaints maybe I’m becoming a bit more Berlinerish.

Before I complain about anything else I have to thank you for your fabulous emails enlightening me about those wonderful public transport travel tunes. One of you was convinced that they were Wagner or some version of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos. Wrong. Because they are, naturally, good old German folk tunes as Peter D and jan.dark informed me. But listen to these versions of the songs Jetzt Kommen Die Lustigen Tage and Wer Recht In Freuden Wandern Will and tell me you’re not just a little disturbed like I was.

Tom’s email said that the Czech republic uses Smetana’s folksong-inspired Ma Vlast as its travel announcement fanfare. I found this video on YouTube that proves he’s right (it’s 16 seconds in). And Frieder sent me an email to say that I should travel to Poland - although I wasn’t sure if that was to hear other great fanfares or simply to get rid of me.

In the light of all that, I’m going to suggest to Britain’s various rail services that to keep up with the European neighbours they should play Rule Britannia before arrival in any London station. Although now that Deutsche Bahn owns some of the trains, the London buses and that the Queen is part-German, I’ll probably just hear this.

It seems I was bit premature with my enthusiasm for Berlin public transport. First, I noticed on a tram this ungrammatical English announcement. I appreciate that it’s in English, but it sounds really wrong. (It should be “This train terminates here”). Then, only a few days later, the S Bahn went all wobbly and unpredictable. And when I went to get the U8 at 1am one evening there were none. I had to walk from Wedding to Mitte through the snow. It was actually quite pleasurable. Berlin looked beautiful in its white blanket - just look at the Rathaus.

Pushing a pram through the stuff wasn’t quite so romantic. I was forced into taking my daughter to kindergarten on a sledge. She quickly learned the perfect posture for snow travel Berlin style. And someone somewhere - I hope it wasn’t the kindergarten - has taught her to say “arschkalt” which she said the whole way. Arschexpensive, Arschcool arschrich, you have to admit it’s an arschunusual way of emphasising something.

The snow does bring out a little creativity and community spirit, though. In the UK the crime rate went down as criminals helped old ladies with their shopping. Here in Berlin my stepdaughter wrote this snow message in the garden of our block. And only a few days later got this response. Snow graffiti bringing the community together.

But then came the ice.

I had already clocked the danger of being stabbed by falling icicles. I crossed the road when I saw these ones in Prenzlauer Berg. But nothing could prepare me for the much greater danger of the ice on the ground - what I now know is called “Blitzeis”.

A few days before the UK became all hysterical about German eggs, the BBC reported ice had put Berlin in a state of emergency. There were apparently over 170 incidents before lunchtime on the blitzeis day.

I can believe it. Within just half an hour of the rain falling and immediately freezing on the pavement, I saw three people fall over. An old lady was skating all over the place. A young girl reached out for support from her boyfriend, knocked him off balance and sent him spinning spectacularly to the ground. And I’m not too proud to say that I fell over too and it was arschpainful.

Oh well, I suppose it was a guter rutsch.

By the time you read this it might all have melted - although that’s probably a bit optimistic. To keep you warm through it all, here’s a quick coffee update to add to my other recommendations. You can get a fine flat white in this new place in Mitte called The Barn, and it also offers Single Origin Coffees and the latest ways of processing them in a non-espresso way. It’s an outlet for London’s Square Mile Coffee, which I can patriotically say is superb. A happy caffeinated 2011 to you all.

Next week I’m exploring Neukoln, any tips on its more unusual places - or if you fancy meeting for a coffee - let me know...

You can email Mark on mark@espiner.com or follow him on Twitter @deutschmarkuk.

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