The Big Walk

One of my logistic problems in “A Gordian Web” was to get the heroes out of the center of Berlin as the Russian armies closed in for the kill. My chosen solution was to utilize the tunnels of the U-Bahn, the most extensive underground system in Germany. The system emulated London and Paris but did not open until 1902. During the writing, I had to find a route that would allow the Special Forces to literally ‘go underground’ to re-emerge behind the rear lines of the invaders. On my recent visit, I retraced their journey on the AI line and hoped their choices proved out.

From the Brandenburg Gate, I walked for almost half an hour to Potsdamer Platz, a main U-Bahn hub, to scour the map to find the AI. My walk emphasized the colossal scale of Berlin and, knowing the distance I had covered in thirty minutes, figured it would take another three hours to get to my first marker, the Zoologischer Garten Station. Therefore, I decided to take a train there, walk around for a few minutes and then pretend I arrived by ambulance, as in the book, and continue by U-Bahn to the Olympic Stadium.

“A Gordian Web” credits Jebensstrasse, the street adjacent to the station as being crowded with prostitutes and in 1945 it was; today it is just another spotless Berlin street populated by many, many bicycles. The trains arrive every 8 minutes so I am soon on my way. I had panicked on my journey from Potsdamer Platz as most of that journey was above ground. This would cause the certain rewrite of at least a chapter but on leaving the Zoologischer Garten Station I was gratified when the train burrowed down to give my story cover. The intermediate stations are all where they needed to be and the train did not re-emerge into daylight until I predicted – just before stopping at the Olympia-Stadion (Ost.)

After a short walk up a wooded path leading from the station, I entered a large plaza. On this day, novice motorcyclists were receiving instruction, then I looked to my right and there it was, the site of the 1936 Olympics.

Neo-classical carved stone architecture, it feels shorter than I expected, but you enter at an intermediate level and look down in awe from 75,000 seats. Below is the pristine soccer field where Hertha BSC play their regular games and the Bundesliga hold their annual Cup Final. The field is ringed by a blue running track and all the accoutrement necessary for track and field events.

I am fascinated and spend perhaps four hours walking around. Germany was awarded the 1912 Olympics and built an appropriate stadium in this location but the event was cancelled due to the First World War. When awarded the 1936 Olympics, Hitler built the stadium I walked around using the same architect. Note to self, if Germany is awarded a third Olympics, consider this trend – just saying.

I am now a fearless ‘master of the U-Bahn’ so take a train from Olympia-Stadion back to Frederickstrasse, buy a Cuban cigar in Galleries LaFayette and walk to explore Kreuzberg, an enclave to the east where I have been told, boutique stores and bistros abound. But I begin to take notice of an increasing trend towards swarthy men and the familiar smell of Turkish coffee and after a short time, this Irish lad is feeling more than a little exposed.

A medium-size crowd is demonstrating loudly, albeit peacefully against something, I could not understand what. It seemed prudent to jump back onto the U-Bahn and return to the Galleries LaFayette to plan dinner.

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