It was almost nice yesterday, with a little sun which warmed you if you stood in it, and a friend came over babbling about how cool Berlin’s new main train station, the Hauptbahnhof, was and how I should really take a look at it. My position had been that I’d go see it when I had to leave for somewhere from it, but with the weather so nice and nothing to do, really, towards the end of the afternoon, I realized that it wasn’t more than 15 minutes’ walk away, and so I hoofed over there.
So what’s it like? It’s big.
How big is it, Ed?
It’s so big that it’s got a Burger King and a McDonald’s in it, and you know how much those behemoths like being too close to each other.
The other thing is, it’s dark. I don’t really understand this, what with all the glass up top, but the interior of the station is downright gloomy, so that going downstairs to board a north-south train (as opposed to upstairs for the east-west trains) is like descending into a coal-mine. Yeah, there are lights in the ceiling, but they’re more like spots, and don’t really dissipate the darkness all that much.
One good thing: this north-south, east-west nexus. Deutsche Bahn has been crowing that Berlin will be the crossroads of European rail travel, where the Stockholm-to-Rome trains meet the Moscow-to-Paris trains, which is nice, I guess, in its own way, but it really does centralize the process of getting somewhere. Having Intercity access to Leipzig at long last has sliced a half-hour off of the travel time, and I presume other amenities of that sort will follow. The signs, all screens, are easy to read, and you can even find the track you need. This hasn’t been a feature of German train stations in a lot of cases.
But one reason I was there was because of an idiosyncratic law we have here which says that shops in train stations should be open to meet travellers’ needs. This includes grocery stores, and the Hauptbahnhof has a Kaiser’s. (For you American readers, that’s the company which owns A&P). And with a three-day weekend in the offing (yes, it’s Pfingsten again), I just know I’m going to run out of something by Monday. After all, I always do.
For some reason, the Kaiser’s was filled with photographers snapping pix of the groceries. I may even have gotten my photo taken while looking at the pathetic wine selection, but the rest of the store seemed adequate for emergency fillups. It was the rest of the retail space that gave me pause.
Now, a shopping mall in a train station is nothing new here. Leipzig has a three-level one, and it’s populated by the same sort of mall rats you find in America; presumably Leipzig’s teenagers have nowhere else to hang out. The Hauptbahnhof, however, is out in the middle of nowhere, so I wonder if that’ll happen here. A lot of the retail is clothing stores, not the kind of thing I imagine travellers having a whole lot of use for. Crystal jewelry? Got it. A couple of shoe stores? Right here. Women’s clothing in three or four locations. Two newspaper shops, one with a thin selection of international press, both operated by Relay, which I think of as a French company because they’re in all the French railroad stations. Loads and loads of bad food: Pizza Hut, a D