6.15a.m. Kensal Green station. Then, Euston, St Pancras, Brussels; then the ICE through Belgium and the Ardennes to Cologne; too long in the melting heat around the Dom waiting for our connection, then Bielefeld, Hanover; then hammering down across the German plains at 150mph, spilling out into the quiet of Friedrichshain from Ostbahnhof at 8.30p.m.
30 minutes later and I have left Gunter Grass and Stefan Zweig in a bag in my hotel room; I am sitting in front of a half litre of Erdinger Hefeweizen in the Hirsch (Berlin’s “Moon Under the Water”) and flicking through a copy of Kicker. Over my head’s a poster for F.C. Union. Ossi clubs may be suffering, but I get the impression that Union are working hard to be a proper local team. More on them here, at the excellent arbeits-soccer.com.
(Plenty of “we’re really hard” type Union fan videos out there on the web, but come on: their crowds rival Rochdale’s).
In the centre of town, every bar screen has Jurgen Klinsmann’s face on it, and him proclaiming (I think) that Bayern Munich is one of the very top clubs in the world – this is followed by debate as to whether they can hang on to Podolski in face of competition from the mighty Cologne. I have five nights in Berlin. I spend three of them in the Hirsch, under my Union poster.