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Day Nine - Berlin and the Pole Dancer

Second day in Berlin

sunny 29 °C
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Day Nine – Berlin and the Pole Dancer

None of the beds I have slept on in Europe have a top sheet. In summer I like to have a sheet over me. I want to cut holes in my eyes and make ghost noises. This is, after all, a ghost story. I awoke in my very comfortable Swinemunder Strasser Airbnb, a bit dusty. The night with Peter was under my wine limit, but I hadn’t factored in the tequila shots with lemon and cinnamon, which I think I will imbibe this way from now on. They were deadly and delicious.

I sit up in bed; the day is bright and busting through a magic window they seem to have everywhere, but I haven’t seen it in Australia. I will try to explain that the same window has two modes. If you turn the handle one way and pull, the window opens from the top, pulls inward, and makes a beautiful gap for air. If you close the window and turn the handle the other way, it works off the vertical hinges, and the whole window opens. It’s a piece of engineering that makes me smile and puzzled and laugh about something my host has said.

The only access to the 4th-floor balcony is via Katharina’s room. With the internal closed-door policy, this access is politely unavailable, though Katharina said she used to jump out the window to access it. When I opened the window, it pulled inward to make the gap at the top. I laughed. It would be impossible to get out of this gap about the width of an arm at best. I tried to picture Katharina squeezing out of it when I discovered its second mode; of course, I understood the access, and it made me belly laugh.

I sit up and bed, and in the middle of my room, there it is—a shiny floor-to-ceiling pole in the middle of my room. I do a double-take to understand why a pole dancer's platform has been established in my room. Did I miss last night’s entertainment, or is the show this morning? My mind is trying not to put Katharina on the pole in her exercise gear. I examine the rod and its outer sheath, a metal tube that free-spins on the bar. It’s very smooth to roll back and forth.

I need a coffee and a cold shower and try to work out what is happening. I make a long black in my Aeropress when Katharina enters the kitchen. She’s been on a run in the gym and is glowing from the experience.
She smiles at me and says, “A big night, Andy?”
I replied, “How –” before she continued,
“I got back in late myself, with a girlfriend. And your door was open. You were lying on the bed.”
Is this the part where she tells me she and a friend put on a private pole-dancing show in my room, and I don’t remember it?
“You were fast asleep –” she said, being polite about my loud snoring. “So we closed your door. We didn’t wake you, did we? We were quite loud.”
I laughed. “No, the wine and tequila worked. I’ll do a better job of closing it next time.”
I look from the kitchen at the shiny elephant in the next room. “Katharina, was that pole in my room when I arrived yesterday and unpacked?”
“Yes,” she smiles, “and you have only just noticed it?”
“I feel kind of stupid if it has always been there.”
“It’s funny because you’re not the first guest to have missed not seeing it. It’s not in the photos advertising the room because I took them by standing on each side of the pole. It used to be my room. I’m not a pole dancer, Andy. I use it for exercise.” She laughs.

I have heard of where your brain can erase objects in a room. It could come in handy if I could master it. I don’t feel inclined to have a go on it. I can barely support my body weight with the legs Mum & Dad gave me, let alone using my spindly arms and being inverted on a pole that spins.
I like Katharina a lot. Her demeanour and the way she conducted our conversations respectfully, and there were no insinuations or innuendos between us. Everything, no matter the subject, was informational and professional. It established a good rapport between us.

I spent the day walking the streets, doing what I do when I travel, and capturing scenes, people, and things that will remind me of this trip for hopefully years to come. I went to Brandenburg gate, and the street that leads to it is wide enough for a military parade. I imagine German soldiers goose-stepping beside me as I count my steps out loud in German. I can hear one of Hitler’s speeches and try to imagine a different time when a nation was caught up in the most evil of propaganda. The surrounding buildings are magnificent. They don’t make buildings like this in Australia or New Zealand; if we do, they are more minor and less grand. I fall into the history and join a long queue to what I think is the Pergamon Museum, which contains stolen Egyptian mummies and artefacts, as the British Museum does.

It’s 29 C, and there’s no shade. An Italian guy thinks I’ve jumped the queue, so he shirtfronts me with an attitude that’s hard for me not to laugh at. I realise this will only make his biceps bigger, so I pretend I’m invisible. It’s working as I look over my shoulder as if he’s talking to the person behind me. You, he repeats. I’m in Berlin, and an Italian guy wants to keep order. The heat has got to him. I offer him a smile and a drink of water before his girlfriend advises him; I have always been there like the shiny pole in my room. The front of the queue and shade from the National Art Gallery is another ninety minutes in the sun. I have finished my water and hope someone can work out how I died waiting in line from thirst. A rain shower doesn’t seem to scatter anyone, and the Italians have an umbrella the size of Sicily to gather under.

I enter the Art Gallery and quickly ascertain that I’m not in the Pergamon museum, but rather the exhibition of Succession artists and the National Art Gallery next door. It’s no longer a mistake when I see the first busts on the ground floor. Priceless sculptures adorn this large room, with the climax leading to an angel with giant wings, making me think of the word rapture. The next floors and paintings are time-stopping. Why don’t we see painters like this anymore? I take as many photos as possible, and no one is banning photography here. It’s a moving experience. I want to spend more time, but I have spent over half my day walking and seeing this. I remember I arranged to meet Peter at 18:00 at the place we were drinking. Not for more drinks, but instead, it’s the start of a historical tour that Peter wants to take me on—the view from a Berliner. I wonder how he wobbled home if he can remember our date.

I arrive at Spieches, which cleverly means “Spoke” in German. Not the talk kind, but the bicycle spoke on a wheel. Perhaps it implies a hub of sorts. If I opened a bar anywhere, I would consider this name as I like the double entendre of it. I can’t see Peter anywhere when a man speaks to me from an outside table with a beer. Andy! You remembered! It was Peter without his Fedora. I didn’t recognise his shock of hair, but his accent, smile and eyes flashed back. Let’s catch a tram! The tram ride costs 2 euros and takes us back to where I started my walk 20 minutes earlier. I’m staying right here. I laughed as we got off at the next stop.

When you come to Berlin, one of its attractions is the Berlin Wall. I didn’t book my Airbnb with this location in mind, but here I was, staying 100 metres from it in what was East Berlin. The following two hours were incredible, and Peter’s life, knowledge, and personal experience with the history was better than any paid tour I could have personally arranged. He knew things that would have got you shot back then.
There were a couple of moments I will highlight.
We were standing together, peering through a gap in the cement wall, across the fifty metres of no man’s land between what was two walls, not one. A guard tower was positioned above. I kept my gaze on the space as Peter talked. He had the voice to narrate the moment. “German dogs. Not fed properly. Rabid. Ready to chase and maul anyone who decided to dash across. Rifles and machine guns cover the space. A searchlight brings the day to the night. Your life depends on it, Andy. It would be best if you got to the other side to escape the hell the Russians have brought with them. It made the hair on my arms stand to attention. It was suicide. Climb one wall, run fifty metres, and climb another wall to escape. It’s unbelievable to think some made it. Many didn’t.
We walked as Peter explained his incredible life to me. I wish I had pressed record here. You can’t make this shit up.

We reached a hole in the ground, a platform of laid bricks and foundations. The cellar floor of houses that stood here formed the border. Peter let me work it out. “So you could go through a house and get from the East to the West?”
“Yes,” he smiled at my need to escape here alive. The houses here have many stories, and with the front door being freedom and the backdoor being hell, they were closely guarded from both sides. Money changed hands—sexual favours. People gambled with their lives. Barbed wire was extended to the pitched roofs, in case you thought you could Superman over these two-storeyed houses. People also crossed both ways, so escaping wasn’t always possible. I imagined a film about these houses and the people who lived in them, all shot in the same room, like Hitchcock’s “Rope” or “Twelve Angry Men.” I had more than enough information to write the script.

At the end of the tour, we walked to the “Pratergarden,” which was lifted from those scenes we often see when they showcase German’s love of Bavarian beer halls. This was outside under umbrellas. We shared a few beers and sat in a friendship that had started the night before. I tempt Peter away with a trip to another place, and he smiles. He has travelled, and there’s no place he’d rather be than in Berlin. I’m getting it. We share details, just in case we are both here again, and he thanks me for my company and laughs. I feel like I owe him for the tour, but know he has freely gifted me his knowledge and passion for the place. It all makes sense as I point my phone and select Swinemunder Hausen. The Pig in Mud house. Hahahaha.

End of Day Nine.

Posted by Andy_in_Europe 10:04 Archived in Germany

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