Coffee in Berlin at the Cambridge Film Festival

I’ve just seen ‘Oh boy’, apparently originally called ‘Coffee in Berlin’. Of the films I’ve seen so far at the 2014 Festival, I have enjoyed this the most. Both director and lead actor are new arrivals. Visually the film’s grainy black and white reminded me of Wings of Desire (of course). There are some beautiful moments of absurd comedy and, for the most part, a lightness of touch. It soon emerges that everyone the protagonist Niko comes across is in a mess of some kind, some realising it and some not. His non-committal stance turns out to be the most prized attribute of the film. There is a scene near the end of the film where Niko walks in to a late night bar and encounters an old man with an Ancient Mariner feel, compelled to tell his painful and poetic story. Its a strong part of the film but, for me it never quite became the key to the film in the way that I was expecting it might and when, later that night the man dies in hospital, I felt a touch of a rather unnecessary and perhaps sentimental narrative. There’s little about either the film or the director on IMDB but I have found this summary and not much else save that it won awards when shown at the German Film Academy Awards.

Thursday 14th August

Today was successful. Breakfast was a rather pretentious version of hotel breakfasts, personal service offering guests a platter of meat or cheeses and everything is presented in highly designed glass bowls, with a fake candle light and pissing boy statue. But I was so hot, it must be the male menopause. I had the feeling that the hotel ‘team’ were a little suspicious of me on arrival, dripping wet and not one of the well dressed elderly people that seemed to make up all the other guests. In fact last night on my return from parking the bike, they had put up a hotel full notice, maybe because they definitely didn’t want another one of me turning up. So I made a point of behaving in the most gracious way I could to show them I wasn’t a wet criminal biker. On reflection I should have done the opposite. In the night I have just remembered I was awoken as was half the street by the sound of what I think was an extremely drunk elderly man shouting unintelligible noises down on the street, echoing off the tall buildings. He seemed far gone. Nearly all his utterances had one syllable while only a few had two. It had only very little resemblance to human speech. Eventually someone that I couldn’t see came and took him in to a van and drove him off. This seemed to take them an hour and in the meantime it had started pouring with rain and I remember not for the first time loving being in a soft bed in a building rather than lying on the ground with a thin piece of nylon between me and total exposure to the elements. At no point did I hear him communicating in other than this simple fashion.

I ought to say that there is a better account of this trip, along with more photographs at

I managed to clutch slip my way out of the car park and pack up efficiently and be on the road shortly after nine. I had debated whether to gear up for wet weather and decided not to, the right decision as the sun was even shining as I headed north towards Bitburg, where the beer comes from. I relaxed once I was riding as I usually do and asked myself what all the fuss was about. After an hour I stopped and it started to rain though not heavily. A little later I stopped somewhere just off the motorway to Antwerp for petrol and had a tasty salad roll made by the hand of a heavily tattooed young woman who spoke English. I had no idea what language would be spoken in this corner of Belgium with its French road signs. I bought two packs of Camel for 5€ each and the yellow variety you can’t seem to get in the UK so all in all a successful stop. But as I went to stash my fags on the bike the heavens opened along with thunder and under the grateful shelter of the forecourt I struggled into my wet weather thing and had to get half out of it again twice, once because I had left the keys in a pocket that was inaccessible and then again to fish out the GPS in another pocket. I watched it pour for about half an hour and with slightly clearing skies I set off for the remaining 120 miles. There is so much traffic and much of it big trucks around the city ring roads, first Antwerp then Rotterdam. It needs real concentration to ride and after not too long the rain gratefully stopped and things got warm again, up to 22 degrees and wrapped up in my many layers I began to get incredibly uncomfortable with nowhere to stop until about ten miles out of HvH. Road works just outside Hoek van Holland completely defeated my GPS which even took us along a bicycle path for a mile or so. I tried to pretend to everyone that Bertha was a little moped which seem to be allowed to use those cycle paths.
Trier to HvH at EveryTrail

There is always a huge sense of relief and achievement of one kind arriving at a ferry port, so now I am sitting in the huge always empty Stenna terminal building. As ever I am looking forward to a shower on the boat and some cooked food with a glass of wine.

Although I find bikers in groups a bit of a turn off, individual people on bikes are usually interesting to talk to. For instance in the queue for the ferry I chatted to a German guy on his way to Swansea (I did warn him not to have high expectations) for a Suzuki Katana meeting (it’s a 1980s bike I think). He said he lived in the Ruhr and had worked down a coal mine for ten years before the mine had closed. Did the mines run out of coal I asked, no he said the health and safety requirements have priced European coal out of the market. The barges of coal I saw going down the Rhein were imported from China, he told me where the life of coal miners is cheap.

A second conversation was briefer, with a Polish guy riding a Buel. He told me he had got up at midnight that day to ride 1500 kilometres to catch the ferry and then from Harwich he was riding over to Holyhead to catch the boat to Ireland where he was living. He said he had to stop for petrol every 100 miles. Weren’t you tempted just to fly, I asked. No, he replied, I have been preparing for this journey for three years and always something has got in the way until now.

My journey today was 246 miles in 3 hours 42 minutes.

I slept well on the boat with no sensation at all that we were at sea or moving. Perhaps towards 4am I did feel some juddering and wondered if we were changing direction mid North Sea but in fact when I got up ( we ere awoken at 5.30) I could see we had already docked. Some ferries you spend contemplative time on deck watching the ship leave or arrive, but the timing of this one means you can be asleep the whole time the ship is at sea and never see it moving.
Harwich to Home at EveryTrail

Reflections: the new tent was a mixed blessing. It was great to have the room to bring everything inside without having to crouch around it and a few times I did stand up in it, but I never contemplated bringing Bertha inside it. At one site I would have had to drive her up a flight of stairs. The tent also has doors everywhere which helps privacy. It did not take much longer to put up than my other smaller tent. On the negative side, it is big and heavy. It needs an extra bag on the bike, so any slow speed manoeuvres are extra tricky. Park on a slight slope and it’s sometimes really hard to haul the bike upright. And most of the time I seemed to carry it around completely wet which must’ve add to its weight. So all in all I am not sure it was such a clever buy. But I have had enough of sleeping under canvass for a while. At it’s very best, you camp in a beautiful site, with lots of space around your tent, with warm sunny weather with few people using the facilities and with a sense of camaraderie with other travellers in tents. You cook food that you’ve bought locally in the outside air with suitable wine (chilled if you are lucky) and life doesn’t get much better. My trip to Spain last year scored pretty well in that regard. But it’s the lack of privacy that gets me down at its worst and throw in some iffy weather then it can rapidly turn into a bit of a nightmare and the bubble bursts. The two stays I had in hotels on this trip I really appreciated the privacy and the comfort. So I am not sure what next. I think I need to move on from this model.

Wednesday 13th August

Phew what a 24 hours. The theme which sounds like a judgement from the I-Ching, is: after much anxiety one can fall on one’s feet. I must say the torrential rain forecast yesterday evening sent me into a tizzy but it made me prepare for the day and I think it was worth it (preparing, not the tizzy which is entirely unproductive). I got up early. It had been raining in the night and the tent was wet but it wasn’t raining when I packed up. It feels like it weighs a ton when it’s wet but I had a cuppa and some chocolate cake and was ready to roll out just after 9am, with my waterproofs at hand and liberal anti fog applied to everything required to see where I am going. I made good progress north via Freiburg and it wasn’t till after ugly Strasbourg that it started to rain and after filling with petrol a yoghurt and couple of croissants from Carrefore at a service station settled my stomach. Under some cover I pulled on the huge overall. Traffic was fairly light apart from in Strasbourg with only some trucks spraying huge amounts of water and caravans for me to overtake. The rain got worse after Saarbruken which is when I realised my boots were getting full of water.
Todtnau to Trier at EveryTrail

When I finally peeled my gloves off I could see that the dye had turned my hands blue. I thought it was from cold at first. I finally got to Trier thanks to the GPS and pulled up completely dripping outside last weeks hotel only to be told they were fully booked but they remembered me. He recommended me the Hotel Astoria just around the corner thank goodness and they had a double room (the manageress has just come in to my room to confiscate the extra bedding strangely, perhaps they are worried that I might try to smuggle an extra guest in, strange though as I’ve paid for a double room – the information clearly forbids guests to take visitors into their rooms). This place is strange. It has an English Victorian name but downstairs is definately an Indian style but the wallpaper in the room is rather twee floral print.

Bertha is parked in one of those underground car parks with a steep slope out and an exit card reader requiring dexterity to get out in the morning with a heavy bike. Nice news I was able to change my ferry crossing to tomorrow night so don’t have to linger somewhere I don’t want to be in the rain. It’s a bit of a treck up to Hook of Holland from here, over 250 miles but I have all day to do it and hopefully while the forecast still shows rain, it’s not as heavy as today. Once I arrived safely in bricks and mortar and under a roof here, the rain got even worse. The other nice touch was the greeting that for my €79 I get a drink on the house, it could be a beer a Fanta or a glass of champaign. Dear reader, which do you think I chose, and subsequently sipped with complimentary nuts on the sofa with Indian design cushions feeling very pleased indeed not to be camping? They have a rather natty cocktail bar here.

So now everything is spread out drying including my map of Germany and my boots perched on the just working radiator, also I’ve been trying to dry out my gloves with the hair dryer. I can hear people scurrying about down on the street in the rain under umbrellas. I just realised how tired I am.

After supper of the breakfast I bought this morning and a nap on the lovely bed, I can see some blue sky outside. It’s half past eight. Time for a quick walk to clear my rather thumping head.

Tuesday 12th August

From the campsite bar. Today I rode the few miles up to Todnauburg, the strangely names mountain of death. Once there I used my cunning GPS to guide my walk to Heidegger’s hut or as close as you can get to it. He certainly had a beautiful view. There is no signpost to the hut so you’d need to know in advance where it waS though there is a large signpost about him and his attachment to the area with some photos of him looking rather creepy in his rural costume and funny hat. After that I took the lovely twisty road up to Freiburg about 18 miles away.
Ride to Todtnau and Freiburg at EveryTrail

Motoring and cities never works that well for me but I found somewhere to park and got a coffee and croissant though I didn’t see that much of the town apart from riding through it and platform 8 of the Hauptbahnhof. Back here in the cooling sun with a beer, I worked out a likely campsite to head for tomorrow only about 150 miles north and slightly west from here. So all was looking good but a chance glance at my weather app showed downpours for nearly all of tomorrow starting around ten or eleven. My spirits are rather dampened by this news so maybe I will make a hotel my lodging tomorrow night. I don’t know how accurate these weather maps are but it looks like if I can get a good start and make good progress going north I could keep ahead of the worst of it. So it’s good to be forewarned about that. But as the Dutch campsite owner has just said to me, riding a motorbike in rain is shit. As equipped as ever I have my vaguely waterproof overall and, more important, some anti fog liquid for my specs. I remember driving all day in Scotland in heavy rain with one of my lenses misted up so riding with my head at 45 degrees for about five hours. Usually my trips end up feeling like they are twenty four hours too long.

Monday 11th August

It’s 9.30 am and everything is packed and I’m just waiting for the tent to dry out in the morning sun before heading down south, first to the Touratech shop nearby and then to find the campsite near Heidegger’s hut. Two nights there then I return.

Here I am. Today’s ride was easy. Not so many miles and nearly all on beautiful roads. First stop was the Touratech shop and HQ in the town beginning with N… Niederreschacht. No that’s not right. What can I say. The place had some presence. It had its owns cafe full of Touratech staff having lunch. What’s a hobby for me is the daily grind for them. I could run my fingers over all their lovely aluminium panniers. Interestingly, after a morning with the occasional embarrassing moment of poor control at slow speed I spent some time looking at their BMW 650gs loaded with their kit. It’s about half the bulk of Bertha and looks highly manageable. Even the F800 seems long and high in comparison. Hmm.
Then it was over some high hills and down and up again, through Todnau up to this high campsite where the wind blows occasional strong gusts but I feel really sorted. I have a nice spot with a high view and no one near me, the guy who runs the site is nice and gave me a discount if I didn’t want the freebies of free local buts travel which avoids him paying tax on me. Once I had unloaded Bertha of her bulky luggage I rode down to the nearest supermarket down some exciting hairpins and lovely roads and picked up all the fresh food I had been missing for the last few days including local white wine which will be an interesting experience and some beers, all of which is sitting in one of my metal panniers with a big bag of ice keeping it all cool. Added to that I managed to find a cash machine (after three times trying to get cash out of a night deposit box when I finally looked up to see the proper machine). Todnau is the perfect sized town for trips like this. You can park easily and in one place and get all you need. It is beautiful up here. The sun is shining and the sky is blue and of course the air is so fresh. We are 3400 feet up. No wonder the wind is chilly. Tomorrow I will ride over the Todnauburg – it’s not really walkable – and strike out for Heidegger’s hut. I will take the GPS but still I’m not completely confident I will find it.

Miles 113 average 34.4 mph Max sped 71.4 mph, moving time 3 hrs 17 minutes

It’s a quarter to eight in the evening and it’s twelve degrees. This is one of those camping moments. The recipe is just right well almost, nothing is ever fully satisfying of course. Cooking (inside this huge tent for the first time) fresh produce with chilled local white wine and even some crisps, with a view of the hills of pine trees and sky with whisks of white cloud, my position here is private which is rare when camping (in the previous site, I took down my tent right under the noses of a couple having breakfast this morning barely 4 feet away) and as people staying here walk by on the road just below me I begin to realise this is far from those sites populated by retired Dutch people who seem to come on holidays to watch TV in their caravans in rows of similar white boxes. These holidays are funny! I discover it every year, there are sublime moments but you have to really earn it and work through so much dissatisfaction and anxiety to reach them. Brrr it is getting cold as I thought it would.