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Going Through Checkpoint Charlie Where East Meets West (Berlin)

berlin_-_checkpoint_charlie_1963

[Checkpoint Charlie]

30 May

I first visited Europe years before the Euro was the accepted coin of the realm. In fact, there were many coins of many realms, and all that money caused a fuss.

I kept a daily diary of this trip, and plan to make it a part of any memoirs I might write. So I’ve hauled it out and will make some blogs from it. But they will be greatly abridged.

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30 May

Around ten o’clock I set out for Checkpoint Charlie. I say that I set out for Checkpoint Charlie, but i would be less than truthful if I stated I got there easily. In fact, I threw my destiny into the hands of Fate to get there at all. For the first time I did what I understand is a favourite pass time of tourists, I executed a complete circle and returned to the Hostel. At least I wasn’t lost.

I set out again, knowing I was to go past a particular building, and also go through a large field. Surprisingly enough,  after a ten minute walk, I unexpectedly came to Checkpoint Charlie. And there were the people from the group I was travelling with, who shuffled me into their midst and thus near the front of the line.

Going past the British soldiers was a matter of seconds. You gave your name and the time you expected to return and that was it. Then told you were not allowed to take any photos, you headed to the East German barrier. Here they took your passport; you filled in forms; you had to exchange some of your money for East German money (which you had to spend in the East); got little slips of paper stuck into your passport; walked to a further barrier where you again showed your passport, and then the next thing you were doing was walking in East Berlin.

We had been told to walk along the street until we came to Unter den Linden and then stay on it. We could go down side street, but always return to Unter den Linden. And that is what we did – more or less.

What I had expected of East Berlin was a dark, grey, dirty city, with haggard, suspicious-looking people in 1950’s clothing slinking along the streets with large bundles in their hands. I actually saw little difference in the people, or the place, than what I had seen in West Berlin.

Yes, it was more run-down looking, and there were more ruined buildings, and even buildings that were war-scarred, but it was clean and neat, and the people were like anyone else, though there were far fewer on the streets.

[More to come another day]

 

 

 

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At Work And Play In Europe Long Before The Euo

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I first visited Europe years before the Euro was the accepted coin of the realm. In fact, there were many coins of many realms, and all that money caused a fuss. This was partially rectified by using Traveller’s cheques. And though Traveller’s cheques are still available, their use is not recommended, as so many places won’t even take them.

I kept a daily diary of this trip, and plan to make it a part of any memoirs I might write. So I’ve hauled it out and will make some blogs from it. But they will be greatly abridged

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May 28

Berlin, a city (to say the least) that I had heard about, once upon a time. It’s most noteworthy fame, in my opinion, the capital of Hitler’s Germany. And the present, the only city cut in twain by a wall – that infamous wall which causes so much consternation. And I was landing there – and walking into history.

We eventually arrived at the Youth Hostel, or Red Cross building, or whatever it really was. It was a cold, grey, imposing stone structure that reminded me of a second-rate castle somewhere in the Alps. It was plain and simple, there was never any hot water. I was very tired and dead feeling, so I grabbed a bottom bunk and rested/slept for a few hours. I eventually roused myself and went to take a shower. I do not know how the Germans managed to do it (they manage to do many things), but they were able, by some device, to get their water straight from the head ponds of Siberia.

I went out for a walk after my shower, not so much to sight see as to thaw. I didn’t go very far, just looked in some store windows, and went down to the end of the road, a short distance really, for it ended quite quickly with an old, decrepit-looking wall. I thought to myself, that if this were all the East Germans had to get over, there wouldn’t be much trouble to do it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Travel But No Sex On The Night Train Of Years Ago

women-in-pullman-section-berths-january-1930-hulton-archive-getty-images_600px

The night train goes between Halifax and Montreal, and Montreal and Halifax. You can’t get there from here in daylight . . . by train. The train chug chug chugs out of Halifax early afternoon, and out of Montreal early evening. The two pass somewhere in Quebec. Arrival in Montreal is early morning (breakfast time) and early evening (supper time).

Although I’ve had some association with trains for decades (the father of a next-door childhood friend was even the conductor on a train) I came to my pleasure and interest in trains from my first trip to Europe. Both in Great Britain, and the continent, I had great pleasure on the trains (much due to the scenery I had never seen). It was really after that first trip that I travelled with any seriousness by train in Canada. And, as I said, any travel from east to west must include the night train to Montreal.

I have been blessed in that I have never had to ‘sit up’ on this trip (though, these days, even that is not too bad). I’ve had berths (upper and lower) and compartments (these days – again – even with their own shower). And I love the dome cars, sitting there for hours even after dark. It is a grand sensation travelling though the darkened forests with often no more than moon light and stars. And the red and green signal lights of the track itself.

Back ‘in the day’ I even almost had a Night train romance.

This was in the upper berths, where nothing more than a curtain flap and a zipper kept the sleepers private. One usually undressed while supine upon the mattress, sloughing off one’s outer clothes.

On one particular journey to Montreal, in the dark of that Quebec landscape, across the narrow aisle, was a beautiful teen-aged gal, not many years younger than myself. And she indicated ‘interest’, with smiles and giggles and some gentle teasing of undress.

However, she travelled with her (I presume) parents, safely ensconced in the lower berths. And Daddy looked as if he:

a) would brook no nonsense

and (more to the point)

b) would cease and desist any interest by me

The sweet lass keep appearing from behind her curtain with smiles and gestures, but finally realized that an athletic leap from my side to hers was neither safe nor wise. We arrived in Montreal as pure as we set out.

*Sigh*

(image)http://www.museumoftheamericanrailroad.org/Portals/0/Gallery/Album/21/Women-in-Pullman-Section-Berths-January-1930-Hulton-Archive-Getty-Images_600px.jpg

Taking A Vacation – But Not So Much

In a discussion about vacations today, I made the comment that I don’t consider I have had a vacation for forty years.  I doubt I was believed and, I’ll accept, it probably isn’t even true. But, when is a writer ever off? Ideas appear at will (not my will) and characters demand that attention must be paid. This can happen any day, and usually every day. This ain’t no complaint, as writer’s block is far worse.

Still, I think I’ll slip some blogs in that I have already done before. There may be no rhyme nor reason for my choices, but, this one came to mind because I think a character somewhat like The Gypsy Lady might have just appeared in my current manuscript. A totally different story and situation, but …

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gypsyviolin-graphicsfairy11

08 June 1917

A Gypsy confronted me today, and I was in the mood for a bit of sport. Her age was difficult to tell – certainly a decade older than me. In her swirl of shawls and dangling jewellery, heavy make-up on her face, she could almost have been in disguise. She peered at me with an intense sigh, attempting – I am sure – to penetrate my own disguise.

“You are a Jew,” she said.

“And you a Gypsy,” I replied.

She seemed pleased with my response, for her professional smile became real.

“You state the obvious,” she said. “As becomes a Doktor of Laws,”

I replied. “But to your eyes, do you not state the obvious?”

“Are you going to banter with a poor old Gypsy woman, instead of barter? That would make you suspiciously like one of us.” She said this with a growl in her throat.

“The Gypsy and the Jew,” I said, feeling the challenge which I so miss. “Perhaps an opera – but I think it’s been done to death.”

“They will try to do us all unto death,” she said harshly, and turned away.

I had the fear she was going to leave me without another word, but what she did was to spit fulsomely onto the street.

“They can’t kill us all,” I said, but I knew she heard the doubt in my voice.

She slowly faced me again.

“So. Even a Doktor of Laws can have hope. That is refreshing – but foolish.” She took my hand and felt my palm roughly with her thumb, although all the while her eyes never left my face. “You are going to travel.”

“Travel is a vague word. One can go on many types of voyage.”

“And reach many destinations,” she added, still holding my hand. “If you take away my vagueness, you take away my trade.”

“Then let me pay you for your services right now.”

This transaction would make her loose my hand, which is what I wanted most of all. She had frightened me, for her eyes and face were full of truth. I know the truth. I know it when it presents itself, stark and unobscured. I search out truth endlessly, yet still can flee at its approach. As in her eyes. But she gripped me more fiercely, and pulled my hand up.

“The coin, Herr Doktor.” Her voice was now soft. “The coin can wait.”

She at last lowered her eyes and looked closely at my palm. She rubbed the lines and whorls of my skin. She touched her finger to her lips, and spread the moisture along my hand.

“Your lifeline, Herr Doktor,” she took a quick look in my eyes, “of Laws. You deceive with the youth upon your face. Is that not so?”

“If your eyes stop at the mask, then no, the years have not etched themselves deeply.”

“Not on your face, Herr Doktor of Laws.” Her grip was intense. “But on your palm…” She hissed. “You will soon embark upon that final voyage.”

She released my hand, rubbed her fingers across her sleeve.

“But you will not go in haste. There will be many stops along the way.”

Suddenly her face was full of the most beautiful smile, and her laughter was genuine.

“I see you do not complain of vagueness now.” She held out her hand. “The coin, Herr Doktor of Laws. This time I have truly earned it.”

I dug deeply into my pocket, and feared that I may have overpaid her. But, perhaps, that is not possible.

DE

(image)thegraphicsfairy.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/GypsyViolin-GraphicsFairy1.jpg

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