We begin our epic journey as we mean to go on: in a darkened alleyway, slammed up against the glass of a gloomily deserted cafe, being assiduously groped by several representatives of the local police force. The reason for our sudden incarceration in this godforsaken corner of the Holy Roman Empire is not clear, and – despite several stammered protestations as to my British nationality – no explanation seems to be forthcoming. Josh and his friend Mortiz, both being German natives, have the distinct advantage of being able to understand the chief police officer’s barked orders to us. I, in the meantime, basking in blissful ignorance of this most soft and loving of languages, am left trying to decipher our fate from the twisted expression on our captor’s face. He may have been reciting Disney quotations for all I know, but from the sounds of the words coming out of his mouth, a night in some hitherto anonymous Stasi torturing-chamber awaits us. After an overly-optimistic attempt at escape on my part ends in predictable humiliation, Moritz grudgingly hands over a pile of weed from his pocket to our uniformed friends. With smiles on our faces, a song in our hearts and a 24hr banning order from the local area in our pockets, we are sent on our merry way.
Mitte, Thursday 4am
My first real flirtation with the Berlin transport system ends acrimoniously. Night-buses in London are glorious affairs, crammed to the rafters with the dregs of society puking and shagging and shouting all over each other at the back, all riding for free because the terrified driver dare not step out of the safety of his glass capsule and challenge the outdated-travelcard wielding hordes. Moreover the night-bus connoisseur, once aboard the vehicle, is assured of a refreshingly swift journey home, as a minimum speed of 60mph is assiduously observed by the aforementioned terrified driver, desperate to get home as quickly as possible. Sadly, early morning travel in Germany is of an altogether different hue. Immaculate double-deckers glide seamlessly across autobahns, radiating order and cleanliness; unshakeably methodical metro trains criss-cross the city powered by little more than their own sense of insufferable rectitude. We board a bus home; with empty streets around us, by any normal measure of common sense it should take us no more than twenty minutes to complete the journey. But this is a land where common sense has become bastardised by rule-making. And the rules in this case state that, as the bus timetable stipulates a daytime journey on this bus should normally take an hour (due to the traffic), a journey at night must do exactly the same, even though the roads are now devoid of traffic. Accordingly we crawl our way from bus stop to bus stop, slavishly waiting for several minutes at each, staring groggily at the completely deserted vista around us, at the mercy of a driver intent on making his own personal contribution to the regulated discipline of the Fourth Reich. It makes one long for the N73 from Tottenham Court Road.
Kreuzberg, Friday, 1am
With twenty minutes to spare before the dreaded night-bus returns to ruin my mood for the second consecutive night, we retire to the reassuring climes of a nearby bar. It is not our wisest decision. Although the vast numbers of vampire and ghoul-like plastic sculptures littering the doorway should have set alarm-bells ringing, the first real harbinger of the terrors to come is the lifesize painting hanging on the far wall of the establishment, which features what appears to be some sort of troll, giving a blow-job to what appears to be some sort of motorcycle-riding lizard. Mildly concerned, we retreat with our beers to the safety of the pool room, to pass our time in wholesome fun. It quickly emerges, however, that for the punters of this particular watering-hole, the dusty pool table is not the key attraction of the pool room. That honour belongs to the benches around us, which are at present occupied by two hideous-looking leather-clad individuals having sex. Upon our entrance, the pair considerately remove themselves to the toilets and resume normal service in there. Our game of pool is played with haste.
Police brutality, excruciatingly painstaking efficiency, Goth-fuelled orgies. It’s everything I expected and feared. Bring on the next stop.