Friday, August 13
John: Now, safely back at my hotel, I can recap today's excursion into East Berlin. I think the hangover from last night relaxed me a little for the hairy crossing through customs. The German guards weren't the friendliest people. No smiles, that's for sure. It started with a one hour wait on line at Checkpoint Charlie.
There were mostly tourists on line. Pretty jolly line-waiters. A guy online behind me called out, "Anybody know how many 'D-Marks' it is to get into this place?" How can you say something like that when you're almost always surrounded by people who don't speak English. An obviously obnoxious guy, he latched onto me since he was by himself also. His name was Glenn Jones. He was wearing a Harley-Davidson tee shirt, boots and faded jeans and has been traveling for five months. Scraggly long hair, sort of a scruffy beard. He was from New Jersey via Detroit. I tried to keep quiet and to myself, you know, ignoring him. I put on my sunglasses to trying to distance myself. But he started jabbering about his travels and was making a pest of himself. A loud obnoxious pest. I wanted to stay away from him because I knew I didn't want to be in East Berlin with him. He's not a real presentable type of guy to be with in East Germany.
The line moved forward. To get in to East Berlin, first, you stop at this glass window and get your Visa for five "D-marks". Then they buzz you through an electronic door. Some English black guys were in front of me scrounging around to get change. It seemed to me that everyone had the five Marks in exact change. I looked in my pocket and I only had two 10 Mark bills. The customs guard was not a happy person. I presented him with my passport. He looked at the photo and studied my face. He said, "Your glasses", in broken English, I couldn't understand him. Then he yelled, "Your glasses! Take them off!" I immediately grabbed the sunglasses and yanked them off. No more jokes from anyone on line behind me anymore. He seemed satisfied with my face then said, "five Marks". I only had the 10 bill, so I had to give him the whole 10 Marks. I handed him the bill just as the phone rang. He put it aside, didn't give me any change and buzzed me through. I wanted my change but moved on, assuming that you needed the exact amount.
Now, in the next room, you fill out a form asking how much money you are bringing into East Germany. I was kind of shaky from my encounter. Then, the same guard came out from his little glass booth and approached me and just stood there and said, "Five Marks!" "I gave you ten Marks in there." He really couldn't speak English and said again, "Five Marks!" " Don't you remember I gave you ten Marks just now in there?! Again he shouts "Five Marks". So, now I wasn't even in West Berlin anymore, over one border, so I couldn't even leave, so I took out my only other ten Mark bill. He took it and left. But this time he brought me five Marks change. So, for a five Mark Visa, it cost me fifteen Marks. He must have thought I didn't pay because he was distracted by the phone call.
In the next room, they stamp something then change your money. Then you have to declare what you were going to leave in East Berlin. Then they gave you a little packet of 25 East German Marks in a little plastic bag. Then you're in.
All this time Glenn was one step behind me. I tried to pick up the pace so I could just disappear into the Communist land without him. But he ran after me. "Mind if I tag along?" Me, so damn polite... I just sort of mumbled it was okay. So, there we were, Glenn and I, in East Berlin.
The scenery was instantly dismal, gray and barren. People who lived there seemed to only be whispering to each other. Nobody was smiling. It was extremely weird, especially after the "Five Mark" incident. And Glenn... he talks real loud. It's like... in this place, you've got to be careful. There are police everywhere, I guess they're military, not police. And they're mean looking. Meanwhile, Glenn was obnoxiously making fun of the people all the time. He was making faces at the military guys. I was extremely uncomfortable.
Walking around town, he says "You got to take the old S-Bahn train out to the suburbs and see what life around this town is really like". Attempting to rid myself of him, "Well, you know, that's true. According to the map, on the next corner is a S-Bahn stop but I'm going this way". He wouldn't take the hint and stuck with me.
East Berlin was filled with big open areas that people have to walk through for miles and miles. Big buildings and they're all brown or gray. You can see marks on the walls of the buildings from the bombs. There were pictures of Brezhnev on buildings, they had pictures of Khrushchev up too. A large statue of Lenin was in one plaza (right).
We walked about four miles and went in to a supermarket to look around. I went to one side of the store and Glenn went to the other. There were old dated cans with labels turning brown from age. I couldn't get far enough away from him. Then I saw him with a shopping cart. I said, "Why do you have a cart, you're not going to buy anything." Get this... he said, "Well, this guy...", a little short guy with glasses was glaring at us, "That dude there, he pulled out a card, then he took me over and made me push this cart." You were required to have a cart, according to Glenn. I don't comprehend the logic. The guy kept following us around the store until we left. We didn't know what was going on. And no people speak English there.
The 25 Marks you had to change turns out to be a lot of money in East Berlin. Unfortunately, there's no place to spend it. There are hardly any stores or restaurants. The department store was more like a flea market, little shops, nothing of value. I needed a pair of socks and was going to buy a pair but there wasn't anything worth buying.
We ate at the only restaurant available. Which unfortunately was very classy. Folded napkins on the tables, wine glasses, subdued lighting and waiters in tuxedos. But, the prices were so cheap. We were really grubby looking, but all the other people... I guess the East Berlin residents or maybe they were tourists from other Communist countries who came to vacation in East Berlin. I don't know. There's no place to go though... barren, desolate, depressing.
Those people eating in the restaurants were out for a big night on the town spending their life savings and there we were, dressed like slobs. It was embarrassing. At least I was ordering in German, but Glenn ordered in English, and quite loudly. The people next to us were having caviar at dinner. They were West Germans. At dinner I had goulash and a couple of colas.
East German money is only good in East Germany and can't be exchanged back. We had to vacate the country by midnight, so we wanted to spend all of our money. At dinner though, "we" accidentally over-ordered. I checked my money and found enough money to order dessert. Then Glenn decided he wanted one too. After ordering, and rechecking the cash flow, we discovered Glenn didn't have enough money left, because Glenn is an asshole.
After realizing the mistake we had to flag down the waiter. Glenn was closest so I kept feeding what I thought were the German words so he could get the waiter's attention. "Herr Ober, auch ein dessert". Of course the waiter didn't understand what the hell he was saying. And he was practically screaming it. Everyone in the restaurant turned around and looked at him in his Harley shirt. Finally, we cancelled the dessert and slid out of the restaurant and then the country.