Over the next few months I will be walking around the outskirts of Berlin, starting each walk where I finished the last, until I complete a loop of the edge of the city. These walks will be written up for a new book project, and here on Under a Grey Sky I will publish some postcards from along the way…
I spent the night in a retail park by the motorway, sleeping in a budget hotel beyond the edge of the city in a room that reminded me, more than anything, of the inner cabin of a Baltic ferry, complete with factory-formed, hose-down plastic bathroom (with no toilet seat). At 5.30am the hotel was alive with travellers, pulling themselves bleary-eyed from their wall-fixed beds to catch the early Ryanair or Easyjet flight to somewhere else. Altogether, I didn’t sleep well. And now I am facing down a barbed wire fence and I cannot work out where to go.
My aim, my plan – which involved that overnight stay in a retail park by the motorway – is to explore the surroundings of the new Berlin-Brandenburg airport. I want to see if this mythical structure actually exists. If there is any chance that one day those early-risers in my hotel will get the chance to pass through its terminal halls. But I can’t get close. A bike path, tarmac and with neat granite waymarker stones laid by the local council, promises me a route via the new airport to the old at Schönefeld, but at some point it runs out. I am left on a narrowing patch of wasteland, between the motorway and the barbed wire fence of the airport. It is foggy. Can I see the terminal buildings in the distance? I don’t think so.
The paved bike path has become a dirt track and now even that has petered out. A police van makes a slow pass on the service road, turns, and then comes by again. I try to look like a lost edgeland explorer rather than someone with more nefarious intentions. It must work, as they don’t stop. But the message is clear: here, but no further. I start to retrace my steps. I am going to have to take the long way round.