After we left Norway, we sailed down the fast roads on the West coast of Sweden uneventfully, staying in a couple of pleasant and quiet coastal spots. We had booked a ferry from Trelleborg to Rostock as this would save us a lot of driving and the cost of the fuel and bridge tolls to Denmark. It was so reasonably priced, that we booked a pet-friendly cabin too. It would be a first for us, but we figured that as it would be a 6 hour crossing, it was worth it. We boarded and were pleasantly surprised to find our private cabin with four berths, all with fresh linen, big soft pillows, and an en-suite bathroom complete with shower and fresh towels. The effect was slightly marred by the obvious presence on the carpet of dog hair and some dog food kibbles from the previous occupants!
Bodger has become very averse to boats, despite being obsessed with water and swimming, no matter what the weather conditions. However as we drove on to the ferry and were indoors when we got out, I was hoping he would not guess the diabolical mode of transport we had duped him onto. But he became very nervous once on board, and so must have sensed something was up. It took a while for him to stop panting. He was not at all happy when I left the cabin briefly to try and retrieve shampoo etc, from the Elf on the car deck, (unsuccessfully as it happens, because the trucks that had loaded after us were so tight in to the wall, I couldn’t get to it). We were glad we had the cabin, as it made it all a lot more quiet, calm and reassuring for him. Plus, we had the added benefit of not having to cope with an overly-aggressive Cavi going beserk at every dog that passed by in the public area.
Midway through the crossing, we thought the dogs might want a loo break and took them on deck, but this turned out to be a very bad idea as Bodger was faced with the wind, sea and spray, and his reaction led Tim to take him straight back inside again. I spotted a sandpit with a small plastic plant in the corner, and when I looked closer – there was obvious evidence that this was the dog ‘exercise area’. Just in case, I lifted Charlie and put him in it, but he just jumped back out immediately. I couldn’t really blame him. I exchanged a wry smile and a shrug with another passenger who witnessed the charade and we were back inside in a flash. They had had their chance now there was nothing more we could do!
The 6 hours went by fast, and on arrival in Rostock we felt fresh as a daisy even at 10pm when we finally disembarked. Although I’m with Bodger in that I’m not a huge fan of boats either, it was a nevertheless a good alternative to a couple of long days of driving. On our Park4night app, we had found a tucked away car park to stay overnight, only 6 minutes drive from the port. It seemed too good to be true but it was perfect – quiet, with a view of the river and set in fields and wood in which to walk the dogs. There were other vans doing the same so we felt less isolated than we would have done otherwise.
Our plan was to drive south through Germany and reach the warmer weather we could see on our forecast apps. At the same time, our leisure battery seemed to be failing. This battery is what powers all the habitation functions like lights, water pump, heating fans etc. We’d check in the mornings often to find it had drained completely. Tim recognised this as a battery swansong, as he suspected it was the original one from when the van was new, 6 years ago.
Luckily we have the vehicle battery to fall back on if necessary, but to recharge the leisure battery means either lots of driving, a lot of sun to power the solar panel or an electric hookup. When it’s not sunny and we don’t want to drive for hours, we would rather not be consigned to expensive campsites with hookups, so with a bit of research and luck, we found a garage in Pritzwalk and the mechanic fitted 2 new leisure batteries there and then. This was the same price including fitting, as what we’d been quoted for the purchase of a single battery at a motorhome garage nearby, so we thought this was a good deal. Since then we’ve not needed electric hookup once, and we’re always at 80-100% full. We could probably last several days without travelling or sun which is a big improvement on the old battery.
We reached the outskirts of Berlin and stayed in an area called Kladow by a lake. It’s near Spandau – of WWII Nazi prison notoriety. Although I’m ashamed to admit I didn’t realise until now that it was the source for the name of the 1980’s pop phenomenon Spandau Ballet !
I had a terrible night’s sleep, as I felt uneasy for some reason, which was unusual for me. Nothing is fail safe, of course, but having grown up and worked in London for most of my life, I like to think I have a good radar for the small cues that indicate a place might not be a good choice for overnighting.
The next morning after an uneventful night, we drove into Berlin, and having had a few tips from a friend on what to do, we headed to Treptower Gardens to give the boys a walk, and hopefully get a river boat city tour.
Both activities were somewhat troubled – the gardens were covered in broken glass from beer bottles. It was everywhere, presumably from revellers at night. We had to walk with our eyes peeled to guide the dogs around it. A cut paw is a very difficult thing to heal, and in the past has meant strict rest for a week or two, which apart from being demoralising in general, seriously curtails everything we do and everywhere we go.
We headed for the soviet memorial to fallen comrades in WWII, and thankfully this gated area was better cared for with no broken glass. It was an imposing, full-blown soviet-era monument and also curious one, given that it was situated in the capital city the Soviet Union had helped liberate from Hitler.
The next thing that morning was a boat trip on the river. It was a glorious sunny, warm day. But once again, we underestimated Bodger’s boat anxiety. As he spotted the gangway and realised we wanted him to walk onto it, he crouched down, front legs splayed, and refused to go further. Tim was grateful for his personal training sessions when he had to bodily lift Bodger up and move him the 4-5 feet onto the boat. Unfortunately his lifting was not over, as the outside deck was up a very steep staircase, and a second lift took place – quite impressive as Bodgie is 32kg! Our poor boy was quivering by this time, despite lots of soothing words, a carefully made space on the deck in front of us and a soft blanket to lie on. We felt terribly guilty, but at the same time this was a one-off opportunity to see an iconic city, and walking that distance was simply not an option due to Bodger’s arthritis. Much of what we want to do while travelling we can’t, because of the boys. But that day we wanted to make the most of it and having had a couple of beers on board, we were quite merry by the time we disembarked.
Berlin is full of life, and I loved seeing the houseboats with kids jumping into the water, the riverside biergartens and all the sights in the city centre.
We tried to find our pre-selected place to park but hadn’t counted on the Berlin marathon that weekend, so various roads were closed. We switched to plan b and after driving around for a bit, we found a really good spot to park next to a church and gardens. As with all mainland European cities we’ve been to so far, parking is free on Sundays so we took advantage of this and were in a prime location close to the city centre, while being on a residential side road.
That evening, we met up with Christiane, an ex-work colleague and her partner Peter. We had a great time and also got some interesting insights on life in Germany. The next morning, we went on a cycle ride, intending to visit the Reichstag.. We didn’t make it because of the marathon route blocking our way, but it was fantastic atmosphere as we watched the runners and the roads were completely traffic free.
We saw Checkpoint Charlie and also stopped by a part of preserved East/West wall. Next to it was a free outdoor exhibition all about how Hitler came to power in 1933. As most literature I’ve read focuses on the Nazi treatment of the Jewish community, I hadn’t quite realised the level of sheer terror tactics he’d used on any and all opponents in Germany. The descriptions of public humiliation and brutality were shocking, often to ordinary people such as the school teachers who refused to force their children to salute Heil Hitler. Humbling stuff. How some of the ruling politicians of the time didn’t realise they were dealing with a tyrannical psychopath is beyond me, but then again Hitler was an arch deceiver.
Our forays into cities are by necessity short and sweet. It was a fun and eye-opening 24 hrs in a vibrant metropolis, and very different to anywhere else in Germany I’d been to so far. That afternoon, we high-tailed it out of the city to the countryside again, heading south to the watery area – UnterSpreewald. This time one thing was for sure, there would be no more boat trips.