Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Crumbiest Month

Just a couple of random things for those who aren't at the Berlinale...

***

A friend who works with a company here in Berlin that produces trade magazines, several of them for the food industry, was over the other day. "That bread you get in the bakeries here," he was saying, "you know they don't bake that on the premises, right?" Well, that hardly takes a genius; most bakeries don't have the room to mix, form, proof, and bake bread. No, of course it's brought in from somewhere else in what readers of a certain age might recognize as Brown N Serve condition and finished in the tiny ovens in the bakery. "Yeah, right," he contined, "but here's the really weird part. Do you know where that bread starts out?" In some factory somewhere, I suppose. "You're right -- but the factory is in China. They fly the bread in, frozen, and it gets distributed to an intermediate point, and then it gets thawed and delivered to the bakeries."

I'm not passing this along as gospel, although I suspect it might be true for some of the chains. I've often known I was approaching Berlin on the train, for instance, because of a huge Thobens Bakeries facility just outside of Potsdam, but I don't know what they actually do there. Anyone else have info on this? It'd help explain why the bread here is so bad -- the independent bakery in Berlin is virtually extinct -- but it would also open up a new market for German bakers: it would be just as easy to re-heat this stuff in ovens in America or Japan as it is to do it here. And you could market it as "authentic German bread."

***

Speaking of magazines, a friend passed this article along. Ho-hum, another magazine startup. But...Vanity Fair isn't just any magazine. It's hard to say if the Spiegel article is tongue-in-cheek -- although, like the country it's published in, it's not known for a sense of humor -- but there are some rather astounding things in it. Like this quote: "And rumors abound that Gruner + Jahr is already working on a magazine in case Vanity Fair is successful. The working title sounds like something Poschardt would come up with: Neues Deutschland or New Germany." Ummm, I know Germans are expert at forgetting their history, but did no one notice that this was the name of the house organ of the East German government? I mean, I can go to the DDR Museum and buy a replica copy of the first issue for €1.50.

Not to mention the folly of doing this as a weekly, doing it as a weekly with a tiny staff, and running a picture of Till Schweiger with a goat on the cover of the first issue. Till Schweiger with his shirt off, sure, but...a goat??

Read it and weep.

***

Which is pretty much what I did this afternoon while trying to figure out if I have enough in the bank for a round-trip train ticket to Paris. I probably do, but when you go to the Deutsche Bahn travel information page and try to book the ticket, you're met with a link that says "Unknown Tariff Abroad." Click it, and you get this message:

"For the most important foreign cities (e.g. Vienna, Amsterdam, Zurich) fares are available.

"For your requested connection fares are unfortunately not available."

So Deutsche Bahn is still fighting the Franco-Prussian War and we, the customers, get the benefit.

17 comments:

Olivier said...

It works from www.voyages-sncf.com but you won't like the price...

Anonymous said...

A bit downmarket for you no doubt:

http://www.mitfahrgelegenheit.de/

Also, German-language only.

Ed Ward said...

I can't get the SNCF website to work, either; they seem to think I want to leave Berlin late at night and sleep on the train. I'll just schlep down to Hauptbahnhof and see what I can get. (What price did you get, anyway? This is for a month hence.)

And anon, it's not a question of "downmarket," but of convenience; the train almost always gets me where I want to go when I want to get there, and quickly. Plus, of course, the idea of driving for hours and hours with some total stranger has never appealed to me.

Olivier said...

SNCF: EUR 350. You can also fly AirBerlin for EUR 304 or EasyJet for about EUR 110, in both cases on March 12/13. If you don't mind the striptease at the airport (I do!), for such a long trip, flying makes more sense anyway.

daggi said...

Or go to the station (ideally Bahnhof Zoo's foreign travel counter, the place is empty these days) and ask? Or visit www.kopfbahnhof.info; or go and visit. On the Yorckstra├če.

daggi said...

I actually really do recommend Kopfbahnhof; last time I wanted to go to London at short notice, and by train or train/ferry, we spent ages finding the cheapest price. This involved printing out loads of tickets/reserving seats (that being the only way to find out the actual price-hence the error messages on the DB website, as the prices aren't entirely set by DB themselves, but by the SNCF, Eurostar, etc. as well), and then seeing which ones were best, and then them cancelling the rest. It also involved the total fare being cut by around 70% by trying fares with a BahnCard 25 (with RailPlus foreign discount) as well. 70% discount including the cost of a year's BahnCard, incidentally. As the DB don't pay their travel agents anything for selling tickets anymore, there's a service charge of (literally) a few Euro - but I saved lots compared to what the Deutsche Bahn would have wanted off me, or if I'd booked myself via various websites.

Saying that, some discounts are available only online, and if you want to get to Paris, I'd recommend looking at www.thalys.com to see if there's any last minute discounts from Cologne-Paris.

Or book online on 14th February and it's 15 Euro single each way on journeys up to 31 March, and combine this with a cheapish DB ticket to Cologne (currently a 29 Euro single each way is possible, for journeys up to the end of February). The cheapest fare would be then 88 Euro return Berlin-Paris. Whether a booking for that price is actually available is another matter, mind you...

Hmm. Perhaps I should go to Paris for a few days...

daggi said...

I am commenting too much here, but re. the bread. A book's about to come out 'exposing the food industry' etc. and it claims most bread is prepared/made in Morocco, Russia etc. and flown in every day. Therefore China's possible too, I suppose.

Ed Ward said...

Daggi, no such thing as too much commenting if it's intelligent. I reserve the right to make the unintelligent comments here, and anyway, it's moderated.

Plus, if the fares are even twice as much as you've speculated there, I'll drag myself to the Hauptbahnhof tomorrow and buy, buy, buy. This is for travel in March, my annual peregrination to Texas.

As for the bread, this gets more fascinating by the minute. Morocco? Dang...

Steven Augustine said...

From the "New Vanity Fair" article: "...That even though the word for 'man' in German has two N's, Superman should be spelled with only one...."

*Superman?* Uh oh.

Ed Ward said...

Calm down, Steve; I don't think these people are educated enough to be thinking ├╝bermensch. Much more likely DC comics.

daggi said...

I'll drag myself to the Hauptbahnhof tomorrow and buy, buy, buy.

Those offers were online fares only, I'm afraid...

In "dealt-with-by-a-person-ticket-buying" the single to Cologne would be at least 34 Euro, the Cologne-Paris for 15 Euros are definately only online via thalys.com.

I still wouldn't bother trying DB staff, they don't have the training or the incentive to find the cheapest fares. (1st class is often cheaper than 2nd, incidentally, as the 1st class offers rarely sell out, making them cheaper than the 2nd class standard fare...). If it gets complicated, I'm for the Yorckstr. every time - at least I can sit down...

Ed Ward said...

Daggi, you are a saint. I now have an ultra-cheap Thalys ticket sitting on my desk.

I have to go to DB for the remainder, because I just emptied out my US bank account, but you've just saved me a pile.

If you ever make it to a Stammtisch, I'll get you roarding drunk.

daggi said...

Glad to have been of some use.

If you ever make it to a Stammtisch, I'll get you roarding drunk.

I truly intend to make it to one, sometime soon...but the drunkenness is far too easy. Which is a shame. But is cheap for all concerned (unless I happen to be without health insurance and then involuntarily get to know the Bundeswehrkrankenhausnotaufnahme, which is a story I've related online already, I think).

Try the ticket machine first for the ticket to Cologne, it'd be 5 Euros cheaper than if you get it at a counter.

Perhaps I should do that apprenticeship to become an English speaking travel agent in Kreuzberg. No. That'd be very boring and tedious indeed. And annoying. Helping all those people go places while I stay in Berlin. I'd go and cancel the rude customers' tickets after they leave the premises anyway.

Ed Ward said...

Yup, Daggi gets the gold star. 105 Euros round trip Berlin-Cologne, 29.50 each way Cologne-Berlin. The trick is booking on each website separately, taking advantage of the savings. I am now ready to rock.

Bowleserised said...

Daggi, please will you do a comprehensive-ish blog post on this? I want to give up flying to London, and I have lots of friends who want to visit but to avoid flying too.

daggi said...

I've been meaning to for ages, actually, B.. Perhaps I'll get round to it this week.

William Thirteen said...

ed, i had dinner this evening at Toca Rouge on your recommendation. and indeed the meal was excellent. a chinese spinach soup to start followed by grilled catfish over vegetables and rice, very fresh, tasty and satisfying. my only criticism is that the place is a bit brightly lit and loud - not really designed for an intimate conversation (the couple seated at the table next to me were regaling each other with tales showing how utterly fascinating they found themselves). While the presentation of the dishes was a bit precious (I am always suspicious of shaped rice) I will definitely return to sample more of their chefs' tasty delights! thanks for the tip!