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Going Through Checkpoint Charlie Where East Meets West (Berlin)

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[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 and Dine on The Orient Express With Alison Alexandra

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A few days ago, Alison Alexandra unceremoniously ended my chapter. I had planned another week of work to arrive at the ending. She did away with my ending, put in her own, and ignored the intricate back story I had planned.

So, I sat myself down and wondered what would happen in its place. It turns out Alison Alexandra wants to take a vacation, and the one place where she might just get away from herself (as she seems to desire) is the . She previously had a few pages (literally writing-years ago) on the train.

Sounded good enough for me.

A half hour later, the Face Book page for the Venice-Simplon-Orient-Express popped up in my feed.

Full steam ahead, think I.

The following is a portion of Alison Alexandra’s previous trip on the Venice-Simplon-Orient-Express.

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In the reflection in the glass of her for-the-time-being-stateroom window, Alison Alexandra notices the glances from people on the platform watching her peering, and she doesn’t want to give them any ideas of turning into spies themselves so she stops and turns from the train and continues to walk its length to the engine. Of course, she is looking for spies herself, as befits the aura of the Venice-Simplon-Orient-Express. Spies and temptresses and writers and countesses and moustached gentlemen of natty appearance with zee little grey cells working overtime. And criminals and murderers and explorers and adventurers and (no doubt) adulterers and placid businessmen with fettered imaginations and the old wealth and the nouveau rich and folk on the run from the past and folk hoping to run to the past and not once in her complete walk to the engine did she once stop for all those posing to take a Selfie with the Orient Express in the background because – really – if you can’t remember it with your own memory then what’s the point?

She looks up at the engine and realizes that it has never belched billowing smoke and that it never will and she has been prepared for this disappointment – but still. It is a pleasant fantasy as is the whole trip as is the Venice-Simplon-Orient-Express itself since the *real* train stopped years ago and even then there had been so many variations with so many destinations that someone could have taken several “Orient Express” trips and travelled on several different routes. In fact, two of the most famous books set on the Orient Express”, Christie’s Murder On The Orient Express and Greene’s Stamboul Train, are set on two different trains, neither of them the “Orient Express”. So Alison Alexandra is not really miffed there is no smoke-belching engine with escaping steam. She can make her own fantasy as others have done before her.

She returns along the platform, rubbing her fingers across the side of the blue-and-gold Waggons-Lits Sleeping Cars. She has kept out of the way of the ceremonial line-ups of the train staff greeting passengers. Enough attention has been paid. She again peers into her compartment window of the S-Series sleeper – slightly smaller and slightly less ornate – more suitable for a sole traveller who plans no assignations. The train is five minutes away from leaving. Alison Alexandra will indeed change for her evening meal. Not all her interests in the fashion of her youth have dissipated. And- after all –she is on the Venice-Simplon-Orient-Express. She is not present only for the transportation.

Alison Alexandra wants to blend in and not be either a fashion statement nor a fashion disaster. Black is always the new black, so she enters her Waggon-Lit, enters her compartment, opens a travel case much older than she, and slips into spiffy clothing and accessories that would have allowed her to slip into any of the fantasies of the fantastic Venice-Simplon-Orient-Express with nary a comment of discord but with a nod of appreciation.

In the Etoile du Nord dining car, she has the desire to sit with three other people instead of one. She has made her request known, and will be hailed by a seated trio. She hopes for the best but her anticipation is tinged with a trace of concern. She does not want to be bored, nor does she want to spend the meal warding off unwanted attention. She felt it futile to make such stipulations up front. Sometimes you have to go with the flow.

“Hello.” A face turns up to her. “Are you Missy Alison?”

“Alison Alexandra.”

“I told you so.” Another head turns in her direction. “Your black attire will slide right well into a trio of  three widows.”

“Now, Blanche.” The third voice speaks without raising her head. “We’re sisters first, and widows second.”

“Which one of our husbands would have gone on this trip?”

“True.”

“So that’s why we’re here.”

“Is that why you’re here, Alison Alexandra?” The sister who has yet to look at her now does. “Death allowing you to escape into life?”

“No widow me.” Alison Alexandra looks at each face in turn. “Nor wife neither.”

“Do you still want to sit?”

“Oh, yes.” Alison Alexandra pulls out the final chair. “And as I am the only one in black, might I suppose your widowhoods are not recent.”

Gap Year Sets You Loose Upon The World

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I was pleased as punch when I realised the other day that I had taken a Gap Year many years ago. And I was surprised to find that ‘Gap Year’ is a term which started in the 1960s. I rather thought it was from Academia in England from centuries ago.

I was correct to associate Gap Year with travel to new places, or a time to do good deeds. But also – happily – it was also a year between high school and university for students to take a turn in the real world through gainful employment.

The latter was me – admittedly edged forward by the fact that my Algebra marks were deplorable. I got an almost immediate job as an Apprentice Plate Maker in a printing shop. I doubt such a job exists anymore.

My job was two-fold. I placed negatives of photos and text on a metal plate, that had a mixture of chemicals hardened to its surface. Then I placed the metal plate, with negatives, in front of two burning pieces of a substance I no longer remember. They looked like two large and thick pencils. I believe an electrical current set the pencils alight, and the resulting, concentrated fire, burned all the chemical surface off the metal plate, except for the part covered by the negatives. The end result was a metal plate with nothing but the required image upon it.

The metal plate was then coated in ink, which only adhered to the raised image. The image was then transferred to paper and cardboard, making logos (we did many spice labels) plus photos and text. There would be a separate metal plate created for each different colour.

Thus went my Gap Year, which lasted fourteen months. No travels of the world, and no altruistic attempts to make the world a better place.

But I did help sell spice.

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You’re In The Army Now

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Bus rides do give one time to observe people – particularly a bus trip longer than one might want to take.

So, I had time on my hands to observe the fellow across the aisle. I’ll take a guess at early thirties, well-dressed, though well-dressed for travel on a bus. He had a fashionable pea coat, tailored jeans, and rugged dressy boots or dressy rugged boots. He was of slender but muscular build, with short hair and a chiseled face.  The man exuded military.

He had a neatly appointed carry bag for his food stuffs. It seemed each compartment had its own designation. There was one for sandwiches, one for granola bars, one for fruit. There was even a compartment for a slender, space age-looking thermos. I am not certain what it might have held.

When he used his iPhone, though I was too far away to actually read anything, I noted  the cycle of images he went through.  There was a deep red shield with a crest and wings; a large silver image of vertical slashing lightning bolts; and a photo of an almost-smiling attractive brunette. Whatever messages he sent seemed to consist of only a couple of lines of text, all done with his thumb.

About half way through the trip he took a book from another case. It was large enough to read the title across the aisle. It was “Merry Hell: The Story of the 25th Battalion (Nova Scotia Regiment), Canadian Expeditionary Force, 1914-1919” .

No, I wasn’t able to read all that from across the aisle, but a book search of key words led me to it a few minutes ago. And a fitting tale, think I, for a military chap.

When the bus reached its destination, he kindly indicated that I could precede him to disembark. For which I thanked him. And, as I waited to get my luggage, I saw him embraced – fulsomely – by the attractive brunette on his iPhone. A smiling brunette. An embrace he, as-fulsomely, returned.

 

 

Why There Are Many Reasons To Give Thanks For My Life

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Buddy and I are waiting for a bus. Hours ahead await us on the trip, though we go to different destinations. I guess proximity is the reason he starts to talk to me, there being nobody else close.

This conversation is edited, though mostly for continuity.

Buddy : Gotta great day.
Me: Yes. (and it is – the weather is some grand)
Buddy: I’ve come half way across Canada, and still have to take the boat to Newfoundland. (this means another 8 hours on the bus for him, and 9 hours on the ferry)
Me: Hope you can sleep on the boat.
Buddy: And then another twelve hours hitching across the province.
Me: You sure have me beat. (I have 7 hours ahead of me, half by train)
Buddy: I don’t know what will happen. My friend says the church will help people.
Me: You’re not going home?
Buddy; Nope – all dead.
Me: That’s tough.
Buddy: That’s my Mom there. (he points to one of his bags) Got her ashes to bury.
Me: You have a sad time.
Buddy: Found her at the end of the driveway.
Me: What?
Buddy: In the urn. My girlfriend threw all my stuff out. That’s where it rolled.
Me: All your things?
Buddy: I had to store my stuff. Just money left for the bus and the ferry.
Me: I gotta say that sounds cold.
Buddy: She’s keeping my last disability cheque.
Me: What?
Buddy $1,700. Says I owe her.
Me: Do you?
Buddy: I guess. Anyway, there’s no going back there.
Me: That’s what it sounds like.

(At this point the bus driver arrives, asking what luggage is to go under the bus)

Buddy: Not that one. (he points to the one with the ashes) That comes with me.

 

DE

TRAVEL The Ocean: Atlantic Container Line’s North Atlantic Cargo-Passenger Service Opens This Week Between Hamburg, Antwerp and Liverpool and Halifax, New York and Baltimore With Return To Liverpool — The Cruise People Ltd

This is how i would like to cross the ocean.

The Cruise People Ltd is pleased to announce the opening this week of a new cargo-passenger service between Europe and North America with five new ACL vessels called the G4’s. Delivered over the past two years to Grimaldi Lines subsidiary ACL, these ships now offer a weekly year-round fixed day of the week passenger service […]

via Atlantic Container Line’s North Atlantic Cargo-Passenger Service Opens This Week Between Hamburg, Antwerp and Liverpool and Halifax, New York and Baltimore With Return To Liverpool — The Cruise People Ltd

100 Years Ago: Kafka On The Move from “Kafka In The Castle”

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[The Swiss Girl]

12 September 1917

Max came to the station with me this morning, which was kind of him.

He was not in as good spirits as was I, for he does not have the joy of escaping Prague to assuage our parting.

I obviously did not help matters when I pointed to the two men carrying my things, and said that they could be carrying my coffin.

He did not even attempt a forced smile.

Or force an attempted smile.

My possessions were bundled into the baggage car, and I was prepared to be folded away there too.

But they allowed me a compartment, and as we parted, I shook the empty hand of Max.

 

13 September 1917

This might even be the type of place for the Swiss girl. Unfettered – perhaps singing.

I’ve had the strongest desire to be with her this morning.

Maybe I had a dream.

The strongest desire to contact her – regardless of what we promised.

But – after all these years – I probably could not find her, even if I tried.

And I have no idea who I might find if I succeeded. Not the girl of memories.

And who, anyway, would she find?

What look would cross her face and still her song?

Because – I have become me.

DE

Jesus And Naked Women On The Bus

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~~ Bernardino LuiniNursing Madonna

Sometimes, when you read a novel, you come across a described incident you know just has to be true, because even the most inventive author could not make it up.

I will now describe an encounter I had on a five hour bus trip one weekend. It was a fairly full bus. I assumed my tenure of being able to sit by myself would not last the whole time.

In this I proved correct.

At a ten minutes stop, which allowed me to get off and stretch my legs, I returned to find a fellow in the seat beside me.

Early twenties, a tall, thin, white male with a head of blond dreadlocks. He was also dressed totally in white, and expressed surprise my seat was taken (though I had left my knapsack upon it).

Three minutes after the bus leaves, even before we are out of town and on the highway, he asks:

Are you a Christian?”

This – generally – is not a positive ice-breaker.

I replied ‘more-or-less’, which set him aback.

Asking me what I meant, I said that many people classing themselves as Christians do not follow the teachings of Christ as I understand them, so one man’s Christian can be another man’s Antichrist.

He – surprisingly – agreed.

I confess to being monosyllabic in my responses to his religious-oriented questions, which he spread out over the next hour. He might have had an evangelical intent, but he was not insistent. He did, during his disjointed discourse, relate that he was an ‘art student’. He had some of his drawings in his backpack – might I want to see them?

I demurred.

He expressed no displeasure.

He did ask some other routine questions among his religious comments.

Finding I was a writer he (of course) relayed a dream which would “…make a great story or book.” He planned to write it some day.

He asked after my books. I expected some unwanted enthusiasm when I mentioned The Elephant Talks To God. However, after ascertaining they were ‘short stories’ and that the title was ‘To God’ and not ‘With God’ (which I now ponder might have been a more accurate title) he did not pursue the point, other than to find out if he could purchase the book.

I assured him that he could, over the internet and on Kindle. He did not know what Kindle was.

While sitting beside me he had discussions (I interpreted) with God of his own. He did engage in heated (though muted) conversations with no one visibly present. Indeed, upon occasion, he seemed surprised at some of the comments he ‘heard’.

It was in the midst of this type of behaviour, and related to nothing I said, that he turned to me to relate this brief tale. A tale no author can make up.

He described how once he was staying with his girlfriend in Montreal. An apartment he bet he could still find if given the time.

One afternoon, God instructed him to draw a picture of Christ upon a wall. The only pigment he had was his girlfriend’s nail polish. And, upon the wall (guided, you must accept, by God’s hand) he drew The Christ with the head of Alvin-the-Chipmunk. And wearing an Alvin-the-Chipmunk red tunic, which was often (he said) the colour of the clothes that medieval painters gave Christ.

About ten minutes before we came into the stop where we would part company, he started to engage two ladies across the aisle in conversation.

He used much the same patter (though no Christian talk) that he had used with me. It turned out they were interested in seeing his drawings. He began to unroll a tight wad of papers (about the length of a roll of paper towels), ready to reach them across the aisle.

I glanced.

They were of nude women.

Not poorly done, neither.

DE

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