#EUsupergirl’s European Tour Part 2 – Berlin

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After an early night in Strasbourg, I was up fresh and ready to make the long train journey to Berlin (which actually retraced my tracks through Frankfurt) for the Schwarzkopf Foundation’s annual summer “Hoffest” celebrations. Ever impressed by the standards of the Franco/German trains it was ever a pleasant journey. I even manage to commandeer an entire compartment to myself for about an hour, which allowed me to take my guitar out and softly practice my pro European songs to myself whilst watching the German landscape roll past the window. (One problem with constantly travelling around from gig to gig is that I rarely get chance to actually practice and make sure the performances are up to standard, which can rather a frustrating at times.) Unfortunately this idyllic, musical revere was curtailed by the arrival of two, adorably cheeky German kids and there care worn mother. I put my guitar away rather than subject them to my political serenades, and watched with great nostalgia as they sat scribbling on their colouring books with pencil crayons. After a while, of course, like all good kids they grew bored and began squabbling with each other. The little girl, who I guessed was the slightly older of the two, had the upper hand in their disputes. I couldn’t understand a word of what they were saying, but the chubby young lad in his baseball cap, became increasing red in the face whilst his sister, who had a cute fringe running down to her glasses, tittered smuggly. After about an hour they started doing – what I surmised to be – the classic “Are we THERE yet?!?!” badgering of their poor mother, who was doing her best to make them behave. Just before we parted company, they took turns on toilet trips, and whilst the mother and brother were absent from the compartment, the little girl braved herself to speak to me. Unfortunately I have no idea what she said, so I just smiled politely and told her, “I am English”. It’s at times like these I really wish they had offered more language lessons at my secondary school and college, because I would really have liked to have known what she said!

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I was slightly confused departing the train, which I hadn’t realised was running late, as it stopped at multiple stations in Berlin and I was slightly panicked that I had missed my stop. A german man who had joined my compartment after the departure of the mother and her two tiresome offspring, assured me in broken English that we hadn’t arrived at the main station yet. Which reassured me, until he started demanding to know where I was staying and the address of my hotel. “Why?” I asked him cautiously. He replied “For you, to help you find it.” He may genuinely have been trying to be helpful, but i’ve had enough encounters with creepy blokes on my travels to know not to tempt fate or disclose information unnecessarily. I made up a white lie about meeting friends at the station and getting a taxi with them and scarpered from the compartment as fast as I could. When the train finally arrived (German trains running late?!) I was seriously impressed by the sheer size of the Berlin Main station, with all its escalators and platforms on many levels – some seriously impressive engineering and architecture.

 

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A Lovely EU Glam Gift from Louise

Myself and the previous winners of the “Young European of the Year” award, were booked into a hotel near Alexander Platz and the famous TV tower. The others were out enjoying an evening at the Opera with some of the Schwarzkopf staff. I had arrived too late after the journey from Strasbourg, but was perfectly content to enjoy the peace and quiet of the cool room after the previous week’s excitement, and I took the opportunity to repaint my nails with the blue and gold sparkly paint which Louise had very kindly given me from her vast collection (thank you Louise!). As A.C.Grayling himself pointed out, #EUsupergirl’s attention to detail in her outfits is of very significant importance! The following day I was up early to attend the full day of meetings at the Schwarzkopf Foundation headquarters… Except not early enough, as it turned out when I realised that I had forgotten to re-do the blue dye in my hair, as I had planned to the night before. Using semi permanent dye means that after a week or so the vibrant blue fades to a disappointing pale turquoise, and seeing as I had made the effort to buy a little travel pot (under 100ml) and bring the dye with me on the flights and trains, all the way from London, I might as well use it and hope that the others would excuse my tardiness. Thankfully, they did, Vincent affirming that it was important for my “big performance” at the Hoffest party that evening. After all, #Eusupergirl wouldn’t seem quite so super – or quite so EU – with pale turquoise hair! (I’m sure A.C.Grayling would have approved of my decision)!

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The agenda for the meeting was for the “Young Europeans of the Year” to determine the nominees for the Schwarzkopf “Europe Award”, which would then be put to a public vote (for those aged 35 and under) to decide the final winner. We proved to be a very productive team and quickly came out with a strong and balanced (1 woman, 1 man and 1 Organisation) shortlist of 3 nominees; Roberto Saviano and Laura and the New Europeans, which we felt represented a range of key issues affecting different areas across the Europe. This initiative is a great way to promote the great work of those fighting for a stronger, unified Europe but also to engage the youth and open a discussion about why it is so important for us to protect our rights and the values upon which the EU was founded.

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We also had a nice lunch in the sunshine at a restaurant that seemed to have some kind of Salsa dance class going on inside. I took the opportunity to roll out the #BollockstoBrexit stickers and got everyone to sticker up their phones. There was a brief interlude between the meetings and the Hoffest celebrations in the evening, so after I had done a sound check with the technicians, I decided to go for a wander around Berlin and attempt to find a present to post to #EUsuperDad to placate him for missing Father’s Day (the following day, Sunday 17th June, when I would be travelling back from Berlin to London). I had already made/ordered/bought all his presents before I set out on 6th June, however, I would’t actually get around to giving them to him for another 2 weeks! I eventually located a very thin box of chocolates, which looked highly postable which said “Merci!” on the packaging. Wrong language, I know, but neither of us speak any German at all, and I had just come fromStrasbourg anyway, so I figured it made little odds and he’s still appreciate the gift. Upon returning to the Schwarzkopf Foundation headquarters I discovered the cobbled courtyard, slowly beginning to fill with jubilant revellers. It was fantastic to see so many young people, coming together with their more formerly attired elders, in this proud celebration of our European identities. It’s this welcoming and inclusive spirit, like being part of a big European family, that makes me truly pity the Brexiters and the Eurosceptics who deny themselves this sense of belonging to such a positive progressive community.

The party itself was amazing. The entrance to the courtyard was lined with a blue carpet, adorned with gold stars, EU flags hung from every window and bunting with the national flags strung from the roof tiles. There were multiple bars serving beer (of course!), a BBQ and kiosks with falafel and crepes – pretty much everything you could have wanted at a party. And BOY do they know how to party in Berlin! The evening started more sedately with speeches, the announcement of my award and my performance – my “We Are Europe” song was particularly popular – we even had a discussion about whether I could perform it for Germany in the Eurovision Song Contest (we concluded this would only be possible if I married a German!). Then the DJ took over and the real partying began, and i’m not a seasoned clubber, but I must admit there was some pretty good dance moves being thrown, so much so that I didn’t want to leave despite the early start in the morning. I made sure I stickers up as many Germans as possible with the “Bollocks to Brexit” stickers and attempted to drink a pint of beer (I managed 2 sips before I gave up) before I bid my farewells and headed back to the hotel determined to make the train in the morning.

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Despite drinking considerably more Jeigermeister than was advisable (when you can’t stomach the taste of beer, Jeigermeister is a near second), I managed to get up at 7am and got to the station in plenty of time to catch the train. I even had enough time to hunt out a decent sized coffee (the first time in 8 days travelling Europe I located a caffeinated beverage bigger than a thimbleful) and the cup was aptly labelled “Einstein”. I was also thrilled in passing, to discover a plaque informing me that the highly impressive station had received EU funding. So I departed Berlin feeling rather chuffed with myself, despite being slightly hungover, and ever more determined to continue my relentless #EUsupergirl campaign.

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Unfortunately the 10 hour train journey home did not run as smoothly as my travel to Berlin. The usually reliable Deutsche Bahn trains failed me, when I changed, the second train was cancelled. I was instructed to hop on another train and then catch the replacement coach to Brussels. I immediately telephoned my lifeline, the invaluable Charlie, to find out whether I could still feasibly make my Eurostar connection back to London. His analysis concluded: possibly. If everything ran smoothly and there was no traffic I would skip the anticipated wait around Gare du Midi, and just make my Eurostar just in time. “If everything ran smoothly”. Of course, it being the adventures of #EUsupergirl… everything didn’t run smoothly. The coach hitting traffic coming into Brussels spent half an hour almost stationary, and after checking google maps, I despaired in the knowledge that I could probably still make my train if I took public transport across Brussels. Eventually, after making precisely zero progress and wasting more precious time, the bus driver seemed to give up on delivering his passengers to our destination and he dumped us on a street corner about 10 minutes from Paris Gare du Nord. I legged it to the platform, to discover the next train to Gare du Midi would arrive 15 mins before my Eurostar was dues to depart. Contemplating giving up this mad dash across the capital of Belgium and going for a coffee somewhere, I phoned Charlie again, who seemed determined that I could still make my train “if the Eurostar staff get you through security quickly”. I resolved to try, because #Eusupergirl is no quitter. And thanks to the Eurostar staff , who literally are Eurostars and the almost entire absence of any queue, I sped through security and made the train back to London with minutes to spare.

 

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Finally back in London, I checked into my favourite St.Pancras hotel “The European Hotel” (preference literally being due to the name and value prices), and spent half an hour scribbling a makeshift Father’s Day card ready to post in the morning along with his chocolates wrapped up in a German flag*, before going to bed, content but utterly exhausted.

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*My Dad upon receiving the parcel informed me that he had put the German flag in his bedroom window to piss off the England fans in the pub opposite our house!

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