Berlin diary entry 5

Monday 23rd May 2005 – U-Bahn

Yesterday went pretty well. We travelled down to Nikolasee to meet Stefan Eix. We were late but we got there okay.

Stefan came to the door with his hand outstretched. He went to Phil first saying, “Ian!”

“No, I’m Phil.”

We went upstairs to the apartment. It was a big contrast to some of the platenbau we saw the day before. It was light, modern and seemed very European to me. Having said that, Stefan’s wife is Australian – the apartment may be typically Australian looking but who can say?

We set up on his veranda and he made some herbal tea. Within a few minutes we were rolling and Stefan was coming up with the goods. The area was particularly leafy and healthy looking. Throughout the interview the sound of tennis balls being knocked across clay courts was just low enough not to intrude on the audio. We did have some problems though. The sound of birds on a nice summer day is usually pleasant but one particular sparrow managed to cause havoc. He sat on the gutter above Stefan and sang his heart out. If I’d had a catapult, or even mobile rocket launcher, I would have considered using it. The damn thing just wouldn’t shut up.

Eventually, problems with light and sound moved us to a nearby lake called Schlachtensee. Again, it was the picture of healthy living with joggers and young couples pushing prams.

We continued the interview and again, Stefan came up with the goods. He was amazingly open, honest, intelligent and well, I would say enlightened. We had a fascinating discussion – much more of a chat than an interview. His answers were both thoughtful and thought provoking.

We didn’t have much in store for the afternoon. There was the option of a further meeting with Sven but as time and shooting were of the essence we decided to go to Prenzlaurberg to attempt some cutaways and voxpops.

By this time I had virtually run out of cash and needed a cash machine. We had to walk a long way before we found one Berlin doesn’t seem to have embraced cash point culture as comprehensively as most English towns and cities. Unlike England, cash machines (or Geldautomats) are few and far between. For example, when I asked Henning if there was a cash machine near his apartment, he said, “Yes. You can take my bike.”

Needless to say, I didn’t take the bike.

Prenzlaurberg was a great place to be. It was leafy, bohemian, lively and diverse. We eventually found a cash machine and popped into an internet café to check emails. There was good news from Sven – the interview with Peter Weger was just a phone call away.

The Peter Weger interview was the most exciting prospects of the whole trip. It was also the only interview I hadn’t been able to confirm before we left England.

Peter Weger was arrested and imprisoned by the Stasi for trying to smuggle his East German girlfriend into the west. Despite attempts by Sven and me over the last few weeks, we hadn’t been able to confirm the interview. As it turned out, Peter had been on holiday and simply hadn’t picked up his emails. While we were in Berlin, Peter had contacted Sven to agree to the interview. All I had to do was make the call.

We left the internet café and tried our first set of voxpops in a nice little park. Voxpops are a real pain to do. You have to approach some people who are minding their own business and ask them to speak on camera. I know that if a couple of fellas came up to me with a camcorder I would decline.

After a couple of failed attempts, we found someone who agreed to take part, and then another, and another. I was pleased with the responses so we called it a day and made our way to the nearest bahnhof. En route we found a great little bar. It was set up on what looked like a disused corner of the street. There was a kind of gypsy caravan as the bar and a few benches, tables and parasols set out on the grass.

It was such a lovely day, we decided to stop for a quick beer. We only had one before we decided to try some more voxpops. Again we struggled until we found someone to agree. The interview lasted a couple of minutes but when we switched off the camera, the fella asked what the project was about. This simple question led to a 45-60 minute discussion about British and German politics.

Feeling the effects of our extensive wandering, we decided that we’d done enough for the day. We hadn’t eaten very much so we were both eager to buy our now traditional plateful from the Vietnamese shack. To out horror it was closed!! Confused and bewildered, we looked to Henning for reassurance.

He suggested pizza instead.

The length of the days had really started to get to me. The feeling of absolute fatigue dominated the evenings now. Slumped on the chair, nicely fed, a little something to smoke and sipping on a bottle of Berliner Kindl – or even better, an Erdinger Dunkel Hefes.

It would’ve been an early night for me if I’d been in a hotel, As it was, Henning was such a good laugh we rarely got to sleep before 12.30am. We were sleeping in his lounge after all, what could we do? Ask him to leave?

Thinking about it, I’m glad we’ve been having late nights – I can always catch up on sleep later.