20 January 2006
berlin from below

It was 1991 and I was living in Germany as an au pair. A very good friend was living a few towns over, where he'd worked as a cook for about a year. We'd both wanted to visit Berlin for a long time, but couldn't find anyone else willing to make the 400 kilometer journey and share expenses. So we saved up, took time off from our jobs, and went to Berlin for Easter. It was one of my first vacations as an adult, and it certainly set the stage for strange future vacations!

I'll spare you the horrors of trying to navigate the German autobahn (which had no speed limits at that time) in an antique car that could barely manage 100 km/hour. Phew. Lots of Mercedes blaring their horns....

Eventually we arrived. I have no idea how my friend Andy chose our lodgings, but it was cheap and there were no bugs (which is more than I can say of my experiences in Paris!). It was the strangest place I'd ever seen. I was still pretty new to Europe, and this was my first pension (a place where breakfast is included with your stay). It was also my first exprerience with the shared-bathroom concept which is very common over here. Our room, for better or worse, was next to the toilet. The advantage was, I would not get lost trying to find it - the hallways were unbelievably long and convoluted and there seemed to be only one 25 watt bulb per floor. It was a little like being in a funhouse at an amusement park, with the ancient floor heaving and buckling, and inadequate lighting to be sure of your footing. The disadvantage to being next to the toilet is the traffic to & from it all night long, and the rattling, thundering pipes from the antiquated plumbing. I'm a light sleeper and eventually I just had to get up and look outside the room to see what on earth all the thumping and bumping was. You cannot begin to imagine my amazement at finding the twisty, bumpy, dim-lit hall outside my room seemingly filled with midgets. It was surreal. My German was terrible, and I'm not even sure that's what they were speaking - there was a certain amount of polite gesturing and mumbled explanations that no one understood before I could duck back into my room. In the morning, I pestered Andy, whose German was better than mine, to ask what was with all the midgets in the night. I think he suspected me of trying to pull a joke on him, but the person on breakfast duty said they were a troupe of performers and were only there for the night. We ate our European breakfast (boiled eggs, bread, cheese and jam) and set off to see Berlin.

With a few notable exceptions, none of you know me from my salad days. I never really qualified as a hippie, but I was certainly on the outer edges. We explored Berlin in ways no tour book would advise - it was great fun and a wonderful adventure. Luckily, young people with good intentions seem to have a host of guardian angels watching over them, so no harm came to us. We saw the Wall, and I've included a picture here I took of the rubble from taking the Wall down that hadn't yet been hauled away. We saw East Berlin, which was truly like stepping into a time machine and going back to the 1940's. We watched rabbits run through vacant lots and listened to people drumming on the street, drank Turkish coffee to keep warm and fill our bellies, and took trams (that looked like they were borrowed from a museum) all over the city. All too soon, the long weekend was over and it was time for our 6 or 7 hour drive back.

I am not a city person, but the experience made such a deep impression on me that I often considered moving to Berlin in the years after that trip.
posted by mainely stitching at 3:54 PM ¤ Permalink ¤ |


  • At Friday, 20 January, 2006, Blogger Von

    Oh, Barbara, what a great story!! Seeing a hall full of midgets in the middle of the night, I'm sure you were questioning whatever it was you ate/drank at dinner, lol!!
    My DH took his 70 and 80 yo grandmothers through Europe in '78 taking trains and staying in pensions for three weeks. It's one of his fondest memories :)

  • At Thursday, 26 January, 2006, Blogger AnneS

    What a wonderful story of your trip to Berlin - your writing always makes fascinating reading :) I think we all have tales that we don't tell our mothers until 'after you get home' or they'd have turned grey with worry LOL.