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Day 2: From Brest (Belarus) to Brehna (Germany), 971 Kms.
“…We could stop for lunch in Berlin and maybe dinner and sleep in München…” (yes, sure…)
Ah, the border… we were so happy planning our second day: Berlin. A fascinating city. “If we wake up early, we can do a good drive and have lunch in Berlin”, we said. “I know of a great market there, we will enjoy a lovely Asian lunch”, my wife said. Yes, Berlin was the jewel of our second day and we planned to arrive there by noon and enjoy a nice lunch and some nice walking. But the border was waiting for us…
Some 200 meters before the border we filled the car with petrol and then moved to the border. We must remind that, leaving Belarus and entering Poland means also we are entering the European Union too. So queues are quite long and they carry out a lot of checks: open every car trunk, check all passports, etc. As good bureaucrats, they love to fill in lots of documents and papers. Then, they will stamp everything, twice at least, and make a photocopy of every second document. They even keep an old procedure from the Soviet times, a document they give you at the first checkpoint, including all relevant information: car, plate number, number of passengers, etc that you need to drop at the second checkpoint and they would check again nothing has changed (nor anyone is missing). You feel kind of a small Bond escaping from KGB.
In fact, I was not escaping from KGB but I think it could have ever been easier or, at least, faster than leaving the Belarus border. Delivering our passports to the officers, at the first checkpoint, we were “informed”, to our surprise, that I did not have a Belarus visa in my passport and, for that reason, I was not able to leave the country. Honestly, I thought I did not need one since, on arrival to Russia, they fill and give you an inmigration card valid at both Russia and Belarus. This card is to be handed over to the inmigration officers in Russia or Belarus as I did.
These guys were quite young, I was repeting again and again that I was not aware of any visa to leave the country and other drivers were getting impatient so the officers made a professional and wise decision: they told me to go through, even without the visa. So far, a bit more than hour hour to cross the first checkpoint. I was thinking already about pushing fast our Golf to be on time for our desired lunch in Berlin.
We moved then to the second checkpoint. We were asked to enter in a group with another twenty cars. We stopped just before the barrier and I remember I even made a joke about it, being happy to be on pole position…
A very nice and friendly female officer was collecting all passports from cars and then, disappeared for about an hour. Then, she came back. She was handing back all passports and, finally, she came to me, she asked me to stop aside the car and go with her.
Without showing off any emotion on her face, she told me again I had no visa so she could not allow me to leave their country. She informed she would have to report this to some Captain on Duty and he would instate what to do with me. She also told me to be ready to pay a ticket. A big one, she said.
Some minutes later she came back. She said captain was busy and we had to wait for him. More than two hours and still at the border.
Finally the Captain came to us. In Russian, he started to say I was a very irresponsible person, that I had violated the laws of his country, made me feel like a criminal and, finally, told me that I would get a big ticket and, because of my terrible criminal act, he would be busy for more than one hour, arranging lots of papers and reporting me.
The first officer, the lady, she said to be ready for a big ticket. This Captain also focused on a big ticket. But, what was a big ticket, after all? I heard something about 600€ from him, which I was not ready to pay and got me furious. Then, this lady came to tell me that, “maybe” it could be some 200 or 300€ but not sure about it.
We almosdid not care anymore about our plans for Berlin. I just wanted to cross the damned border and enter Poland. I was tired from all this delay but, especially, because I was sure they just wanted some money under the table to let me go. But I was not going to give them anything, not the amount they were saying, anyway.
To my surprise, Captain Belarus came back to us (nearly two hours later) with lots and lots of papers. He decided to let me go but, to get his permission, I was asked to signed all these papers. Therein I admited that I entered Belarus without a visa, that I wanted to leave the country in such condition, and that he had informed me about my responsabiliy. I signed also some document, ensuring I did not comit any crime while in the country. Believe me, a beautiful curry was waiting for us in Berlin, I would ever admit I killed Kennedy to keep moving to Germany!.
And finally, a ticket to be paid. I almost had a heart attack when I saw we should pay a 300.000 rubles ticket. Then, I realized we were still in Belarus and that 300.000 rubles is around €20. Yes, we spent five hours and a half to end up paying a ticket of €20. Everything was official: we paid with credit card in a bank little office placed inside the border building.
He told me once more how irresponsible I was and give us back my passport with a departing visa on it. We were free to leave.
After five and a half hours to leave Belarus and five minutes to enter Poland, we were ready to fly on the Polski highways. We had about 700 kms to drive before entering Germany. Of course, no lunch in Berlin but we then decided to get there for dinner.
Another inconvenience: we found out that, from Terespol (Polish side of the border) to Warshaw, there was no highway at all. Only a one-lane road, full of trucks and other cars so, after one hour driving we decided to stop, enjoy the local gastronomy and have some rest before heading back to Warshaw.
Three hours later, we entered and crossed Warshaw. The road to get there was not good. We were a bit tired and those local delicatessen called “Big Mac” and “Nuggets” were quite heavy in our stomach. But finally we were entering the highway. Around 350 kms to enter Germany.
Highway was good and not expensive (compared to some other European standards), we could drive fast again and we did only stop before entering Germany, at one of the last gas stations to fill the tank, as petrol is still cheaper in Poland. A nice coffee also helped out to continue our drive.
If you love driving (as I do), Germany is the place to be. Not only there is no speed limit in most of the highways, they are also (normally) on a very good condition and they are free. Yes, free! I cannot imagine a better country in the world for driving and for driving fast.
In less than one hour we arrived to Berlin. Thanks, again, to our navigator, we entered quickly to Kreuzberg. My wife came here sometimes because of her work and she wanted to show me the area. I was not in Berlin for some years. We parked in Bergmannstrasse, very close to Marheinekeplatz and enjoyed a beautiful dinner in a Vitenamese restaurant called Huong Que. Maybe the best duck with curry I ever had. After a nice and refreshing walk in the area, we were back on the road.
We decided to drive for another 100 or 150 kms, just to get off Berlin and move south, heading to München. After one hour and a half, aproximately, we stopped at a gas station and asked the lady at the counter about some recommendations for a hotel. She proposed to take the next exit, at Brehna, so we did.
Brehna turned out to be a very small place, even a village but with two large hotels, serving drivers and travellers. We stayed in one of them, the Hotel Bavaria. One of those highway hotels with no personality but comfortable enough to have a good sleep and some laughs remembering our episode leaving Belarus.
Remember, you do need a visa to Belarus.