This trip report covers four flights: Ryanair from Stansted to Berlin SXF
, Air Events' Syrianair 727 charter flight around Berlin, Lufthansa's Ju52 from SXF
to Templehof, and finally easyJet from SXF
back to London Luton.
1. Ryanair 737-800 / London Stansted to Berlin Schonefeld
Having been to see Avril Lavigne at Hammersmith Apollo on Saturday night with some friends from work, I cannot claim that I was particularly well rested when my alarm went off at 4.15am on the Sunday morning, less than four hours after my ringing head hitting the pillow (Avril rocked!). Taxi got me to STN
about 6, easy vibes. There were two desks open for the Berlin flight, and it took me about 10 minutes to reach the top of the queue. Even though it was only 6.15am on a Sunday morning, I was surprised to learn from my boarding card that 78 people had beaten me to it - boy, some people don't mess around.
Aircraft was the typical 737-800; I looked in vain for any -200s in the line up but every Ryanair tail had the post-200 fillet on the leading edge. The cabin interior was OK
, but Ryanair's whole corporate image is rubbish, the livery is unattractive but accepted wisdom states that the interior colours are based on the livery, whatever the airline, and so Ryanair's planes have this garish blue and yellow shit on the inside, and an odd yellow tint to the overhead locker doors which made me feel queasy, cos for most of the flight I assumed it was actually a reflection off something out of my line of sight, and whatever this thing was, it's natural properties were enough to create a reflection on a dull surface. I flew on one of their old -200s a few years ago which had adverts for insurance and cosmetic surgery on the overhead lockers, which I really liked, especially if it made my flight a quid cheaper. What happened to the 'subway carriage in the sky' then? I'm surprised they didn't go with it, cos Team O'Leary will do anything to make a quid - the seats don't recline and don't have seatback pockets - the safety instructions are laminated there instead. The seats are upholstered in leather which is nice, although undoubtedly chosen for their long-lasting properties rather than passenger comfort.
Nice cruise, always love crossing the coast of England then a couple of minutes later you're crossing the coast of France or Holland. Always interesting to be reminded how close it is (the record flight time from Heathrow to Schipol, on a scheduled BEA Trident in the 70s, is 27 minutes). The combination of the strobing effect on the overlockers and only getting four hours sleep overwhelmed the three (tiny) Pepsis I bought off the cart and I dropped off for half an hour, woke up on the descent, remembering the scenary from previous trips to SXF
. I always try to work out what used to be in the East and get thrown by the fact that there's loads of lakes and rivers with pleasure boats moored outside nice houses and it looks like a mini paradise near SXF
- so was that how it was before 89? Or is the SXF
approach over mostly ex-West Berlin? Actually I can't tell whether I'm in W or E when I'm on the ground either, come to think of it. Really like Germany, stuff works and you can smoke almost anywhere.
After my (Aussie) passport was given an incredible thorugh workover by the immigration officer (waving tiny torches and infrared gadgets at it) and eventually stamped, I went straight upstairs to the Syrianair check in. Sebastian of Air Events, who I have the vaguest memory of bumping into on the Iranair SP
charter last year (I had been, let's be honest, drunk) guessed who I was and we said hi to each other. I went through security and hung around, looked at an El Al 767 waiting for pushback with it's two armed guards standing around yawning. The one closest to where I was standing definitely seemed hungover, rubbing his face, yawning, a few little staggers. I started to imagine this guy accidentally letting loose with a few stray rounds by accident and left the window, the scene wasn't that hot anyway, the plane was all buttoned up but just sitting there.
2. Syrianair 727-200 Berlin Schonefeld "Rundflug" with flybys at Templehof and Tegel
The Syrianair flight now had a gate and the articulated bus took us 30 at a time across the tarmac to the 727-200, which was in the old Syrianair livery. Dozens of passengers were standing around the plane in a surprisingly wide area taking pictures and smiling at this old bird. While I was standing near the tail taking photos of the engines, a Liberator bomber roared past taking off and immediately rolled into a steep climbing turn, then doubled back for a low, wing-waggling pass. Today was, of course, Flughafen Day at Schonefeld and there was a mini-airshow in progress, a static LH
737-300 and Germania F100, various amusements and stuff at the far side of the field. The Liberator looked and sounded gorgeous as it performed it's display.
We were herded up and went aboard. First of all, I must say, despite the mechanical condition being, undoubtedly, excellent, the interior was really knackered. Even though the 727-200 never got the original "penthouse" interior of the original 707s and 727-100s, this bird felt old and pretty beaten up and the seats in business class (199 Euros by the way) were almost certainly what the aircraft came out of the factory with in the 70s. I was really surprised, both liking it (cos it felt like a real vintage experience) and not liking it (felt sorry for Syrianair still having such a beat-up plane in it's fleet, and lacking the corporate style to know what to do to bring the interior up to date, like, say, a VS
I don't know how many crew were on board, but I think it was a pretty big number. I would say four cabin crew, quite a few blokes in various degrees of uniform (at least four), and a few guys in plainclothes who weren't along for the ride because of a deep-seated love of Seattle's finest - although these security guys seemed pretty chilled out and pleasant. Because of a delay, the cabin crew served a meal while we were still parked on the stand (in biz class it was a roll with, cheese, beef and chicken slices poked into different gaps in the bread, and a gorgeous Lebanese style baclava of almost immeasurable sweetness and stickiness). The cabin crew also gave out big Syrianair carrier bags, each one full of goodies, such as a Syrianair laptop bag, three bamboo calanders, timetables etc. I added to the swag a fork off the meal tray and a glass which came into my possession during a drink service and wasn't going to be surrendered without a fight.
After the delay, we started up and taxiied out past the spectators and general merriment of Flughafen Day (which should be a worldwide event I think), crossed the first runway and turned onto the far, parallel runway. A De Havilland Dove rolled past on the closer-in runway and gracefully rose into the air and out of sight. We waited for a suitable interval for them to fly clear, then the engines, barely noticeable way at the back, rose up to takeoff power and we were rolling. Nice and smooth acceleration, rotate, then a very powerful steep climb. We climbed to 5,000 feet and levelled off, flying in calm air in and out of cloud over the outlying towns and industrial areas of Berlin. The seatbelt light went out and within seconds a queue formed through Business class for a look in the cockpit (which had been a highlight of the Iranair SP
flight last year).The door opened and I presume the pilots saw a dozen strange blokes peering in at them with crazed looks on their faces. The flightdeck door closed again - visits only after landing please. Probably a wise move, especially as we were already beginning our descent towards Templehof, the famous airport of the Berlin Airlift, and in the new century, the world's most stylish innercity airport. We got lower and lower, skimming over the roofs of the highrise apartment buildings that surround Templehof, then full power was selected and with a huge burst of acceleration we climbed steeply away as the beginning of the runway slipped briefly into view.
After another short cruise back at 5,000 feet - this time with the seatbelt sign staying on - Sebastian of Air Events announced that "our ambitious pilot" had managed to secure a flyby at Tegel as well. Two
flybys and a laptop bag? Coooool. Power came off and back down we went through the scattered cloud. A similar experience of getting down close the ground with flaps and gear out, followed by the engines winding up to full power, a rush of acceleration then up into a steep climb, although this time I didn't see any sign that we'd crossed over an airport. On the opposite side of the cabin people were looking out and pointing during the approach so I presume that may have been a view of Tegel. Anyway all great fun.
After a final cruise back across the outskirts of Berlin, we started our descent back into Schonefeld, the gear and flaps extending for a third and final time. The long runways, built for Interflug and Cubana Il62s to launch from, allowed a long and gentle flare and the touchdown was as soft as a pillow, accompanied by a big round of applause. Sebastian did a farewell speech and mentioned a "world famous record producer" was onboard with a free CD
for everyone. Although I didn't see anyone matching such a description, most people (the crew most enthusiastically) duly helped themselves to a CD
by a singer called Rob Reynolds from the forward galley on the way out.
I was the last off, and since there had been a mention of post-landing cockpit visits, I went in and found the front office completely empty. I spent a few minutes in there taking pictures before being ushered out by a smiling Syrianair security guy. When I got down the stairs to the tarmac, I saw the last passenger bus driving away, so I stood around while the crew posed for photos. There seemed to be about 20 of them, but I think it was actually two crews passing each other, one coming off duty and another coming on.
So that was the Syrianair 727 sightseeing flight. It didn't have the same buzz as the Iranair SP
last year, which - possibly cos there was a bar right next to it's gate - was a pretty mad party with a passenger list that featured 36 nationalities, many of them a.netters. The SP
flew a simple roundtrip up to 26,000 feet in a gentle arc with the seatbelt signs off the whole time and every single passenger on their feet (except the guy who had a heart attack - see, it was a mad one). This time we didn't have the airborne party and remained in our seats the whole time, but the two low passes and really amazing flying in general (I have always wanted to fly along for a sustained cruise at low altitude in a jet) more than made up for it, and of course the thrill of flying a 727 one last time. Thank you Syrianair and thank you Sebastian.
3. Lufthansa Ju52 / Berlin Schonefeld to Berlin Templehof
Because a bus had to come back to get me from the seven-two, I thought the whole group would have dispersed, but Sebastian and his pal were waiting for me, and said they were going on a Junkers Ju52 at 5pm. I was thinking that if there wasn't an a.net drinkathon happening, I'd change my very late (10pm) easyJet flight home to a 4pm, cos I wanted to head back to London before public transport shut down to get an early night. But...a Junkers Ju52? For a mere E60? OK
OK, I'm not that tired and those RB
727 vibes were keeping me going. Sebastian and his mate were going to drive over to Templehof then get a train back to Schonefeld in time for the Ju52. Although tempted to spend the afternoon in the Flughafen Day area and look at the static display, Sebastian seemed like an interesting chap and a drive across town could be cool. We parked in a sidestreet next to Templhof and got a train back to Schonefeld to check in for the Ju52.
We were walked out to the beautiful old silver bird with the three props and distinctive corrugated surface. The interior was actually quite modern and I realised the extent to which LH
had gone to restore the plane (modern seats, PA system, overhead racks etc). Even more excellent were the safety cards, which are done just like any other current Lufthansa plane, with the exit routes and complete LH
corporate style (which, ironically, is the same basic colours as Ryanair - blue and yellow - but understated and stylish). There were two copies in the seat pocket ahead of me, whether by accident or cos LH
knew how desirable such gems are to certain people and one would inevitably be lifted most days. I don't know which it was but what I do know is that there was only one safety card left in the seatback when I got off. They've made it feel like it's part of the current fleet (the crane logo, yet to be invented when the Ju52 really was the mainstay of the fleet, is on the tail, for instance) which is really cool - all that was missing was a Star Alliance logo somewhere.
The crew consisted of five retired Lufthansa captains - captain, first officer, flight engineer and two "cabin crew", one who sat next to me for takeoff and landing in the last row by the exit. Despite all being in their late 60s or 70s, they were as jolly as puppies, singing and cracking jokes (in German, which I couldn't understand), and shouting "HA HA
!" at random intervals over the PA during the commentary. It was pretty funny, especially considering each of them would have had tens of thousands of hours starting with Boeing 707s and 720s as young men in the 50s and 60s and ending as senior captains on the 747-400. Unquestionably this was the most experienced crew I've ever flown with, indeed, in commercial aviation arguably the most experienced to be assembled on a regular basis - how many flights do United, BA
, JAL operate using five
senior [ex] captains onboard?
We rumbled down the runway, the tail lifted and then we levitated off the tarmac and settled into a gradual climb into the afternoon sunlight. One of the jolly skygods came through handing out Lufthansa JU52 lapel pins (free) and selling postcards (E2.50). I only had a E20 note and he did a routine about Aussies waving their cash around (how did he know I was an Oz?) and someone getting eaten by a shark at Bondi. All five of them were all having a great time, and to give you a better mental image, all looked like Paul Newman.
We bobbed along, yawing gently from side to side, the engines sounding beautiful. Sebastian, a few rows ahead, didn't stop smiling the whole way, whereas I was solemn and open-mouthed at the beauty of the machine. We did a tight circle around the TV
tower that used to be in East Berlin (and again, all around it was canals and lovely old buildings and wondered what it had been like under the commies), a circuit of Templehof (my third time that day, including driving over with Sebastian and the Syrianair low pass) and landed smoothly.
We taxiied over to the terminal and parked under the gigantic covered apron and got out. I took a load of pictures of the plane from different angles, in what must surely be the spiritual home of the Ju52 - Berlin Templehof. It must be said that the scale of the terminal matched the engineering ambition of the lovely plane and maybe my shot at getting something uploaded into the a.net photo library has arrived.
I was very sad to leave Sebastian and his friend after a spectacular day of flying and conversation. They drove off to Cologne and I wearily headed back to Schonefeld for my flight home, still quite a few hours away. I fell asleep on the train but woke up about 30 seconds before I arrived at Schonefeld station, which was rather lucky.
4. easyJet 737-700 / Berlin Schonefeld to London Stansted
I got my boarding pass (no 28 this time, just scraping into the first batch) from a machine and headed upstairs to wait for departure, via Cindy's diner, where I had two burgers and a few cokes. The hour or two passed and we boarded via airstairs. I sat near the back, and was soon surrounded by a dozen English football fans with shaved heads, bellies, earrings, shorts, shouting out to each other. Oh ker-RAP. Actually once everyone was seated they were quiet and cool which was a huge result, cos by now (10pm) I was seriously losing the plot.
The windows were dripping with condensation between the outside glass and inside perspex so there was nothing to see outside. No problem though, for this was my third take off from Schonefeld that day. We rotated and climbed to 39,000 feet, flew smoothly through the black sky for an hour and a half, and descended into Luton, where we arrived with an almighty bang. I willed the flight attendent to use my favourite phrase after a heavy landing, "Ladies and gentlemen, it will not have escaped your attention that we have arrived at ..." but easyJet, while providing very cheap and reliable air travel all over the continent, are not blessed with especially witty or imaginative crew and the PA annoucement as we rolled up the terminal was the standard script.
So that was my day in Berlin. Thank you to Sebastian of Air Events, the good people of Syrianair, Lufthansa, easyJet and Ryanair. Thanks to you for reading this far down. See you all on Air Events' July 9 spectacular (booking now at http://www.airevents.de),
starring an Iranair 747-100 and another big party in the sky over Cologne.
fly Saha Air 707s daily from Tehran's downtown Mehrabad to Mashhad, Kish Island and Ahwaz