10th November 2014
Is it really 25 years since the Berlin Wall came down? That really is a scary statistic! It only feels like yesterday. You see that is one world event that I remember very well, because I was there! Not literally there, as in Berlin, trying to breach the wall to reach the Brandenburg Gate, you understand. But in Germany, watching the events unfold on German TV. I was living in Minden at the time.
I fell in love with Germany when I visited as part of the school German exchange programme. Being brought up in the UK, my school ran a French and German programme on alternate years and I managed to wangle a trip to both France and Germany out of my parents. I got to France independently, and whilst I was in a beautiful part of France overlooking the Alps, in a fabulous apartement with views to die for of Mont Blanc. I didn’t hit it off with the girl I stayed with. It was a different story with my German penpal: Katja and I got on like a house on fire and I loved the time I spent with her and her family. So much so, that we’re still in touch today.
But annnnnnnyway, back to Berlin and my I was almost there story.So, I was on a sandwich year in Germany as part of my degree. I’d wanted to go au pairing for a year, but my mother forbade it. I was always a bit of a day-dreamer, so I think she was worried that I’d forget to come home and get on with my life. So instead, I hatched a plan to take a course that involved a year out. And it turned out to be one of the best decisions I made. Being a student in Germany was a ball.
The first half of the year was studying at a Fachhochschule. There I was, finally living in Germany on my student grant. Not much studying went on, but I could draw you a very detailed map of the location of the pubs in the Altstadt! I learned to like beer to eke out my grant, as a glass of wine in the pub cost as much as a whole bottle from Aldi.
I did visit Berlin during that year, whilst the wall was still standing. The winds of change were blowing throughout that year, and Berlin had the most amazing vibe. I travelled on a train headed to Poland as it’s final destination, some old, decrepit east European train that smelt funny. Being a poor student I only had one coat, a warm winter coat, but it was an exceptionally warm summer. So, when I got off in a bundle of nerves and excitement at my station, I left it in the rack about my seat. Off went my coat to the terminus. Ah well, I thought, it will keep some poor Pole warm this winter and promptly forgot about it. Until I got a letter from an amorous Pole. He told me he was 40, living at home with his parents, but he was on the waiting list for a place of his own. He was also on the waiting list for a car. He’d found my British student ID card (which to me meant little more than a missed discount at the video store near my college, but to an East European at that time represented potential imprisonment for walking around with your identification documents). Communication was difficult. He knew no English or German, but a little French, and I knew no Polish and my French is crap. But he wanted to meet. In Paris. To return my coat and my ID card. I scented a proposal and a ticket to the West! I never saw my coat again. And I couldn’t be arsed with a new ID card, either, as the video store was pretty crummy anyway.
So, that’s my Berlin story. What were you doing when the wall came down?