I’m on a very quick and short visit to Leipzig to help granddaughter celebrate her ‘going to school’ party on Saturday . Grandparents, great-grandparents, uncles, aunts and best friend all have been invited to a little garden party in her honour. How lovely to be six years old and have it all ahead of you. I could not miss this once in a lifetime (for her) celebration of course and so tried to find the quickest and least cumbersome connection between Norfolk and Leipzig.
Not easy nowadays: whereas until not so long ago you could still hop on a Ryanair flight from Stansted (round the corner from where I live) to Leipzig and then an airport bus into Leipzig town centre I discovered that those flights have all been cancelled (oil prices gone up, economic downturn, malaise in other words).
An Easyjet flight from Luton to Berlin Schoenefeldappeared the nearest I could get either side. Nevertheless, it means that you travel for almost a full day in order to get to what is ultimately only a flight of just under an hour and a half’s distance: adding to this there’s the two-hour drive to Luton, then parking off site and an airport bus followed by a long and slow queue to drop of your luggage, then there’s going through security, hanging about for a good hour waiting for the departure desk announcement, and the sprint from check in over the tarmac to the aeroplane (through miserable rain) – all to get on on board that flight. At the other end, in Berlin, there are similar procedures:l there’s the wait for your suitcase to come off the plane, there is working out how to get a ticket from a machine for the local train to Berlin Hauptbahnhof and once on the train realising you got the wrong ticket but fortunately no-one checked (I dreaded the German cold efficiency telling me off that I should have known and what was I trying to do?!). Once at Berlin Hauptbahnhof you appear to have landed in a multistory shopping centre with ticket machines at various levels and some signs to Reise Centrum, bright and immaculate places where the queues once more lengthen as service desk attendants politely take all the time in the world to deal with each customer in turn.
I got through that too and this time with the right ticket in my bag found my way to the lower ground floor and platform 2 for the ICE to Leipzig. Once on, I realised that German efficiency had again outplayed me: everyone had a seat reservation and it looked as if all places had been booked, leaving only standing place for poor buggers like me and a few other bewildered looking tourists who stood hanging in the immaculate hallways with envious looks on our faces at the comfortable seating arrangements. I persevered and lugged my suitcase through the carriage ways until I saw an empty seat and took it – the man next to me kindly mumbled something about someone else having sat there but he had got up again and disappeared.
E-reader kept me company on all this journeying and I have almost finished A Thousand Splendid Suns, not a small feat as it is well over 300 pages. One thing though which is a bit of a puzzle to me: you are not allowed to use your e-reader on take-off and landing as it is an electronic device considered in the same way detrimental to communications as a telephone or laptop. I have never understood why that is so – presumably something to do with the Kindle 3G or wireless devices? But then, mine is only a non-3G, non-wireless, reading thing – so why cannot I carry on reading on take-off or landing?