I have always cherished visiting people in hospital
HERMSDORF lies in the north west of Berlin, five kilometres from the former border between East and West Germany.
I'm working as a chaplain in a hospital which was formerly run by Dominican Sisters, who founded the hospital over 100 years ago. These days it is run by Caritas, which is a Catholic organisation, that manages hospitals, kindergartens, development agencies and other charitable works.
It took longer to get from the airport in Schonefeld, in the south east of the city, to here than it did to fly from Dublin to Berlin. The city railway, the S-Bahn, is getting a serious make-over, so many lines are closed, especially at night.
Anyone who takes the 747 bus to Dublin airport and sits on the upper deck will notice a number of older rail coaches lying dormant on Irish Rail property on the north side of the Liffey. They are destined for the scrap yard. Already Irish Rail has disembowelled a number of this fleet. The company decided to scrap them rather than rebuild them.
The S-Bahn needs new rolling stock. But because of money shortage in Berlin, the rail company decided, instead of buying new rolling stock, they would recycle carriages built in the 1970s. Maybe Irish Rail knows a lot more about trains and carriages than German Rail, or maybe Ireland has loads more money than the Germans?
Before you begin to get carried away with things German. The new airport in Berlin-Brandenburg lies closed and empty. It was to have opened some years back but because of all sorts of difficulties, inefficiencies and blunders, Berlin is still without its badly needed new airport.
The major airlines fly into Tegel, which is bursting at the seams and the low cost carriers, including Aer Lingus and Ryanair use Schonefeld, which was the showcase airport of the former German Democratic Republic (East Germany). It was then and is now a bit of a dump, though it does have a rail link to the city.
Visiting people in hospital is an aspect of priesthood that I have cherished over the years. I hope I can say that I try to make it my business to call on people if I know they are in hospital. But I have never worked full-time as a hospital chaplain. And here I am doing just that in the German capital. It's not easy to find yourself landed in a job like this, I am doing supply work for the Dominican, who normally does the job.
My Protestant colleague is a young gentle vibrant married woman with three children and these first days I would have been completely lost without her guidance and help. Though she headed off with her family on holiday on Monday. There is also an elderly Dominican Sister here, who visits the sick. She worked as a nurse in the hospital for 40 years so she is well known and appreciated by the staff. I have been flabbergasted with the kindness with which I have been greeted by both patients and staff.
Berlin never was nor is it today a 'Catholic' city and yet when I call to patients, tell them who I am they are only too delighted to chat with me. It really is the experience of a lifetime simply to listen to the stories of people.
To stand at the end of a bed and hear an 80-year old woman recall how she was force marched from East Prussia towards the west at the end of World War II is extraordinary. Another reason to say yes, yes and yes again to the European Union.