Wednesday, November 11, 2009

a day late and a mark short

All the talk about the Berlin Wall has me treading down memory lane, only it isn't well paved anymore!  I've contacted some of the friends who I travelled with, and hopefully this story is somewhat correct.

I spent my junior year of college in Luxembourg.  We had lots of opportunity to travel independently with friends as well as with class field trips.  My experience with Berlin was in 1988 after a field trip from Luxembourg to Vienna. A group of six of us decided to continue on to see a whiplash tour of some of the eastern bloc countries.  In Budapest we went to a bathhouse that had separate sections for women and men.  In Prague, as naive college kids, we exchanged money on the black market and bought crystal - some in our group left clothes behind so they could fit the crystal in their bags! Then we went to Krakow, Poland and had a seven course meal for about $5 dollars.  Still feeling like we were All Powerful Americans, we crammed into a hotel room for two.  The office staff had seen but ignored that we were six when we paid for the room, but now in the wee hours of the morning, they tried to kick us out.  The police were called.  Somehow, with bits of English, French and German we were able to work it out and, barricading the door, we attempted some sleep.  The next morning we took a sobering day trip from Krakow to Auschwitz.  Then we hopped on an overnight train to Berlin.

We woke to a stopped train and disembarked along with a group of Canadian students.  It took a few minutes of coming to before we realized where we were.  When you start from Krakow, you don't end in West Berlin. You end in East Berlin. With no documents and no money and no permission to be there.

It had been dreary and rainy for most of our trip, and we'd been arguing more and more as the week had continued.  The stress from the hotel event hadn't helped.  The day in the East was awful.  We'd jumped a metro entrance (couldn't pay) to sneak into West Berlin so we could officially enter East Berlin with money and permission.  (Naive college kids, remember?)  We did the tourist things we felt obligated to do and took the requisite photos.  I bought a book about American propaganda. We had trouble finding things to buy to use up our money. We spent less than a day in East Berlin.

When we returned to spend time in the West, suddenly the sky was full of sun and neon signs which flashed bright colors at us.  Our moods changed too and we realized how the atmosphere had caused so much infighting and all the bad moods of the past week.  In my photo album/scrapbook, I refer to the trip as the "Trip to Hell".

I remember this old feeling of doom and gloom when I think of East Berlin.  I have looked at lots of the photos that have been published this week and feel optimistic for our world.  I still have this photo of the Berlin wall, enlarged to poster size and framed, hanging on the wall in my den.


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