Mechanics and Metal bars – A week in Berlin

Day two of the trip saw us start as we mean to go on; hungover and late. Our travel companion had found a friend that was also heading to Berlin so we spent the morning playing bike tetris; trying to find space for our luggage and their backpacks while still leaving both back seats free and trying to keep the weight roughly balanced. On one of my trips back to the kitchen to grab the last of our bags I happened to glance at the clock. Shit! I’d obviously forgotten to change the time on my phone when we changed time zones, so we’d been woken up an hour late. It wouldn’t have been much of a problem, but Maria had an appointment with a bank in Germany, and they closed at four.  Time to get a move on.

We wobbled off, both adjusting to the extra weight and crossing our fingers on behalf of our subframe bolts and soon we were barrelling along the highway. Silvia was a good pillion, if a bit fidgety, and Michael stayed stock-still after numerous warnings from Maria that she’d dropped every pillion she’d had so far, and at ten to four we screeched into the bank’s car park.

While Maria ran in to make her appointment I gave a cursory glance over the bikes, and noticed that one of my forks was leaking oil. Probably needs a new seal; I guess I’ll have a look when we stop for the night.

The banking done, we dropped the guys off at a petrol station so they could hitch-hike the rest of the way east to Berlin, and we headed north to Rhade to spend the night with Maria’s godmother. Their big old farmhouse was warm, the big old dog was friendly and we got a great dinner and bottomless glasses of beer and whiskey. I don’t know any German, and Gabi doesn’t speak much English, but she has an infectious laugh and was a really great host. The next morning after breakfast and pictures, we told the sat nav to stay off the motorways, and turned east towards Berlin.

We were back on smaller roads, and the change of pace meant I could start looking around again. This part of Germany was where Maria grew up, and you could see it.The colour of the bricks and tiles on the houses, the landscape and the flora, all formed the backround for so many of her stories, and I was sure she was having a hell of a nostalgia trip behind me. It was well after dark when we pulled up at her dad’s place, unloaded everything, explained again why we were travelling with a wooden smiley face and collapsed in front of a bottle of wine from the panniers and cheese pizzas from the fridge. Anything else could wait till morning.

The next day I was up at eight and ringing BMW dealerships to see about getting my fork seals replaced. Where better than Berlin, right? The problem was that we had arrived right at the start of riding season, when the weather is just starting to pick up. It’s fairly common in Germany to pay a garage to store your bike over the winter and in Spring you get it back checked over, shiny and ready to go. So as it happens every garage in the city was busy getting bikes out of storage, and no one was willing to even look at mine until the end of March. Eventually we convinced a place to squeeze us in for the hour it would take to replace a couple of fork seals, and rushed over to west Berlin before they could change their minds. The mechanic gave a quick glance at the bike and, even without knowing any German I was able to translate his reply to mean “Yup, your forks are fucked”. After a lot of persuading, they agreed to replace the seals and the rusty forks for me, at a cost of 650euro!! Being German, they absolutely refuse to use any aftermarket parts, so everything had to be ordered directly from BMW. I tried to explain that the rest of the bike was made of shopping baskets and zip ties, but no dice. Fine then, back home to get very drunk, forget about our bank balance and wait for the parts to arrive.

We spent the weekend finishing paperwork left over from London, doing the tourist thing around Berlin,


and drinking whiskey and tequila laced with tabasco in Paul’s Metal Eck; an Iron Maiden themed bar in a cool part of the city.


Monday morning we were up at six and racing back across Berlin to drop the bikes off at the garage. The mechanic and the parts were both there so we left the bikes and wandered off to find a cafe for some breakfast. By early afternoon the work was done and we headed back in to pick them up. The mechanic said he’d stuggled to get a lot of the bolts out (preaching to the choir, mate), and that in general the bikes were in pretty shoddy shape. Yeah, well these bikes aren’t dropped off for storage every winter. Despite the massive price tag, it was pretty obvious that they hadn’t charged us as much for labour as they should have, knowing that we had a long way to travel on a tight budget, so we were genuinely pretty chuffed with them, and they sent us on our way with warm wishes.

An older guy from the local old peoples home watched us set off, mesmerised by Maria – a woman – riding her own bike. He seemed a little loony at first but turned out to be an amazing guy. He’d designed hydro-electric power stations for Siemens in his time and so had travelled the world. He spoke pretty good english and had some advice or a story to tell for each country we listed as one we were going to visit! And when he became a pensioner, he took his wife around the world, as he’d promised. Amongst other things, they took a ship from Hamburg to New York, only to fly back by Concorde!

The next morning we allowed ourselves the luxury of a sleep in, since our next stop was only a couple of hundred miles south in Jena, where a friend of Maria’s was living. After a week of staying in the same place it felt good to be packing up and getting back in the saddle.

A few hours south of Berlin the buildings gave way to farmland

and we got our first taste of some twisty roads, so I had a big grin on my face when we pulled up outside Ilka’s apartment building. We unloaded, stashed the panniers in various nooks around the flat, and parked the bikes in a hidden spot on a river bank. Then a dinner of wine, pasta and mushroom sauce made by Ilka, mystery portuguese fish we found in a tin in the panniers, and various bits of chocolate we’d collected on our way south. A walk was in order to help digestion so we headed out for a tour of the city and a beer. Jena’s a really cool student town with quirky bars – we ended up drinking in a pub that was also an indie cinema – and a generally good vibe. Shame we had to press on, I could have easily spent a few days there.

Ilka's favourite house in Jena

Ilka’s favourite house in Jena

One response to “Mechanics and Metal bars – A week in Berlin

  1. Pingback: Frantic Trip Prep | followingtarmac·

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