Berlin diary entry 7

Wed 25th May 2005 – Not sure where

Yesterday was the last full day of filming. We had managed to get through to Peter Weger on Sunday night and arranged to meet at the World Clock in Alexanderplatz.

At about 8.45am we left Henning’s apartment, walked down the stairs, crossed the road, climbed a few steps towards the U-Bahn platform only to see that the shutters were down – a sign said “Warn Streik.”

We were kind of stuck. We decided to go back to the apartment to call Peter from Henning’s landline. Before we’d had chance to make the call, I got ‘missed call’ text message on mobile. A second later, Henning’s landline rang, it was Peter.

“I have a problem. I’m at the airport but there are no trains, tubes or buses.”

“I know, “ I said, “we’ve just found out.”

We agreed to meet at 11 instead of 10. I woke Henning and asked him how long it would take to walk to Alexanderplatz. He’d never heard of a transport strike before but he estimated it would take an hour on foot and gave us some directions.

About 45 minutes later we arrived in Alexanderplatz. It was another beautiful day in Berlin. We had an hour or so to kill and decided to do some cutaways. We also had a go at some voxpops. It wasn’t easy. Many people didn’t have time, couldn’t speak English or simply didn’t want to be interviewed.

At 11am we stood at the World Clock, looking for someone we didn’t know how to look for. At about 11.05, someone approached.

“Alex?”

“Well, Ian but guten morgen.”

“I’m Peter Weger.”

We found a café directly underneath the TV Tower. Once we’d ordered some coffee and set up the equipment, all I needed to say was, “Can you tell me your name and a little bit about yourself,” and off he went.

His first answer told almost the complete story of how he was arrested and imprisoned in the DDR for trying to smuggle his East German girlfriend to the West.

By far it was the most dramatic interview yet. He told the story almost without emotion and in doing so, increased the dramatic impact. He said that amongst other sporting hobbies he was into martial arts. His Samurai name was ‘The Unmovable mind.’ It sounds a little over-dramatic as I write this but sitting there with him, listening to his story, it all made sense.

It wasn’t the longest interview I’d done but after about 50 minutes or so, I felt I’d asked all I could. Then we shook hands, I paid the bill and Peter left. Once he’d gone there was something kind of unreal about the meeting. He’d flown in from Bonn for it, we met, we talked and he left us with a dramatic and personal account of imprisonment in the DDR. There was almost a brief encounter feeling about it.

We’d learned that the strike was over before we met Peter. We had come to rely on Berlin’s public transport. It was a huge relief that we were mobile again, especially as this was our last full day in Berlin. But even so the hour delay in meeting Peter had pushed us off schedule and put us under pressure to get to the next interview in time. We had to get to the Checkpoint Charlie Museum by 1pm to meet Alexandra Hildebrandt.

We got there a little late and told a person at the front desk that we had a meeting. She made a call and asked us to come back in half and hour. We used the time filming cutaways and a piece to camera. The place was heaving with tourists.

When we returned to the museum, we waited for a few minutes longer until Alexandra appeared.

“What can I do for you?” she said, leading us into the museum and stopping at a quiet spot by a window.

She didn’t have much time for an interview but was happy to answer a few questions. She was Ukrainian and had a very strong accent. Still, she gave a very powerful interview. There was something about the limited nature of her English (meant with the utmost respect) that added power to her choice of simple words. In fact, she gave some of the most powerful answers of the whole trip. Despite being initially reluctant to spare too much time, she seemed to relax and even enjoy talking to us.

At the end, I asked for a couple of pictures and she duly obliged. It was tricky to take good ones under the circumstances. The museum was busy, the light was poor and I wasn’t able to take the most complimentary snaps.

We could’ve taken advantage of the fact that they’d let us into the museum without paying. We could of hung around and even tried talking to some of the members of public in the museum. Instead, a strange feeling came over me and I really wanted to get outside. We strode past all these exhibits and storyboards that would normally fascinate me and within a few minutes, we were outside in the sun.

I realised properly that that was the last of the organised interviews. It was quite a sense of relief and achievement to think that every arrangement had worked. Mixed with that was sadness that the trip was drawing to a close and a sense of real fatigue. I’ve always found interviewing to be very tiring. It requires such concentration. We’d trekked miles around Berlin but travelled even further in terms of what we had learned. Looking back on the schedule, now that it was complete, felt very strange. It was like the whole thing had been booked and organised by someone else and I was almost a passenger.

We went and found some food and just sat there on a wall chatting about how well it had all worked out. After an hour or so we walked over to Unter den Linden for cutaways and voxpops. When we got near the university it struck me that the chances of finding English-speaking Germans had greatly increased.

We hung around for a while and got about 4/5 voxpops. Then we travelled to Hackerscher Markt for some cutaways and a shop I’d visited on my last trip to Berlin. I bought a present for Becky, Phil bought something for Dee and then we walked round to Alexanderplatz – filming just about anything we could think of for cutaways.

First thing we checked when we arrived back in Kreuzberg was whether the shack was open. Unlike the night before, the lights were on – “It’s open!”

I’d been looking forward to my plateful of Asian food for most of the afternoon. It was such a great thing to look forward to and it couldn’t be closed three nights in a row, surely.

I’ve been on some trips where the problem of where to eat would raise all kinds of problems – usually financial. I remember being in Paris one year. We were on a shoestring and had to traipse around the Left Bank for cheap food. We were looking for lower prices than we’d ever expect to pay in the UK, but a holiday budget is a holiday budget – no matter how unrealistic.

The Vietnamese shack solved all these problems. It was good food, filling, cheap and, despite the lights being on, (oh, bollocks!) it was closed again. The owner was taking some time to repaint the shack. I watched him paint roller over the graffiti and wondered how long it would stay plain white.

We lugged up to the fourth floor and let ourselves into Henning’s apartment. The stairs up to the fourth floor were always deceptive. I thought I’d get used to them but never did. The first two flights were fine, the third felt like you’d climbed enough to be home, and then the fourth began to hurt. After a day walking around loaded up with stuff, the stairs were always tough.

Henning was already in and asked us about the day. First, we told him about the shack being closed – it seemed like the most important news.

“I have never known him to be closed,” he said.

The closed shack and the transport strike, all on the same day, felt a bit unlucky.

After half an hour or so Henning offered to go back downstairs to check on the shack. A couple of minutes later he returned with bad news but 3 cold Berliner Kindls and his usual grin.

The end of the days were getting harder and harder. Mid Berliner Kindl, I got up to get something and ached like mad. I got a similar feeling after a full day’s skiing or something similar. I don’t know how many kilometres we’ve covered in Berlin but it has been the most walking and trekking I’ve done in ages.

We decided on pizzas, a couple more Berliner Kindls and a night in. I had wondered about a big blast on the last night but a lack of money and energy were the deciding factors.