2012 年 4 月，我在柏林 Checkpoint Charlie 出發，展開 211 日的單車回港之旅。2018 年 4 月，我和 Kim 花了 231 日，蹺過半個地球，到達這個當年的起點。6 年間，柏林變了不少，但這個曾經象徵著通往自由的關口，遊客依舊多，展示板和四周的商店都沒半點改變。
春暖花開，柏林解凍，不變的還有週日 Mauerpark 的熱鬧。大家都帶著燒烤爐及一箱箱啤酒來野餐，又或草坪上一邊享受日光浴一邊閱讀。露天表演場上的公眾卡拉 OK 還未展開，但不泛街頭藝人輪流上台。對於免費表演，觀眾毫不吝嗇掌聲及打賞，以作鼓勵。
跟 Kim 介紹我最懷念的柏林美食，不是鹹豬手或咖哩香腸，而是在 Mehringdamm 站的街頭 Kebap。這間 Mustafa’s Gemuese Kebap，不管何時都有人龍，短則半小時，排一個小時以上亦屬等閒。價錢和份量跟其他 Kebap 無異，分野在於烤肉用燈籠椒及檸檬醃製，加入的蔬菜和香草種類比其他店多，就連 Kim 這過客也食得出味道層次之別。
朋友圈子裡，不少在這幾年間當上父母，經濟平穩增長，人人都願生，到處可見推著嬰兒車的年輕父母。不過 baby boom 令幼兒園供不應求，剛大肚就要為孩子撲一個學席，大家都說荒謬，卻又不敢怠慢去報名。
柏林現時人口近 360 萬，每年增長 5 萬，上升數字還屬健康，但樓價升速更快，以最受藝術家歡迎的 Kreuzberg 區為例，租金比 6 年前升了 3 成。過往大家笑說若住 Ringbahn 外，就不算住在柏林，現在還住 Ringbahn 內的朋友，寥寥可數。不是說過柏林租客可租一世不加租？但業主藉口收回自住，住兩、三個月再加價放租，政策上亦無可奈何。
說好的新機場呢？以為 2012 年開幕，卻因消防問題要重建，通往機場的火車軌一早建好，現在為保軌道不生銹，每天都要開兩班無人列車。據說新機場將在 2020 落成，那時我們一定會坐飛機來，再遊柏林。
While Waiting for a Visa in Berlin／Kimberlogic
There have only been a few countries on our Home2Home journey that made me a little nervous about trying to get a visa. Luckily, all of those countries were actually quite easy and straight forward to obtain the visas either at the embassy or on arrival in the country. The problems with the Russian visa were since it was at the end of our trip I could not apply for the visa at the embassy before leaving Hong Kong because it would expire before I could use it, visa on arrival is not an option in Russia, and finally, Russian and USA relations aren’t the best at the moment.
Before entering Germany, I had emailed many different Russian visa help centers in Berlin to be sure I could apply for the visa when I arrived. The responses I got were mixed. Half of the replies said I could not apply because I was not a German resident and the other half said it would be fine. Without knowing for sure, we couldn’t plan the rest of our trip.
Since I don’t speak Russian or German, I hired the visa help company to handle applying for the Russian visa on my behalf. It was the first time I didn’t handle my own visa. Our first day in Berlin we went straight to the visa help center, filled in all of the forms and surrendered my passport. They told me to come back in one week to collect my passport, hopefully with the visa.
With my passport in the hands of the Russian embassy for a week, I couldn’t board a bus, train or plane, I was trapped in Berlin. So, we made the most of our time by having meals with friends every night, going around the city to see all of the tourist attractions at a very slow rate, and spending other days like a local.
The first few days spent in Berlin, I couldn’t figure out why people like this city so much. I didn’t see or feel anything special. As a tourist, I couldn’t find anything exciting, only the horrible history of the 20th century, which this city has a lot of. I wasn’t having a bad time in Berlin, but I couldn’t imagine coming to this city as a tourist for my one big holiday of the year, it is more like a somber history lesson than a holiday destination.
I believe everyone should learn about the events that took place in Germany in the 20th century, but what I loved about Berlin had nothing to do with that. Berlin is so multicultural, people are friendly, almost everyone speaks English and the people here like to be social. If the sun is out, people will be out and about. You can always find an event happening in Berlin, even if it is just sitting in the park with hundreds of other people.
Eventually I got my passport back with the Russian visa in it. It was a smooth process, even though the research leading up to it was stressful. It was actually a blessing to be stuck in Berlin for so long. If we had just visited for a short amount of time, we would have overloaded every day with sad, horrible history and I never would have experienced the fun side of Berlin. So, if you travel to Berlin for holiday, make sure to space out the historic stuff and balance your days with fun social gatherings as well.