Berlin diary introduction

Ian kept a diary throughout the filming trip to Berlin. This was scribbled in his little leather bound notebook on planes, buses, S and U Bahns and whenever he got the chance.

The diary proved to be an enjoyable read for Ian when he returned home. It is also a record, though not always accurate, of the ups and downs of the trip. These seemed as good reasons as any to make the diary available to the My DDR T-Shirt fanatics out there. You know who you are (Mrs. Wynn).

Hawkinsian historians pointed out that the diary happens to be Ian’s biggest written project since his aborted Creative Writing MA. On hearing this news, Ian wanted to quash any rumours that this constitutes a return to the medium and issued the following statement:

“Look, the diary is essentially the hurried scribblings of a busy person with other things on his mind – it’s not a comeback.”

NB. Text on the diary pages may contain misspellings, tybos and dead bad grammaticals.

Berlin diary entry 1

Thursday 19th May 2005 – Mid Air

Well, it’s 5.20pm (Berlin time). I’ve just put my watch forward. For the next six days I have a series of interviews lined up. The resulting video footage will hopefully be the raw material for ‘My DDR T-Shirt’.

I’m currently sitting in a window seat aboard an Easyjet Airbus to Schoenefeld Airport. Phil Wynn is sat next to me – listening to his Walkman and reading his book.

It’s a pity, but we both seem to be worn out. From my point of view, I’m really feeling the fatigue from a busy time at work. Added to this is the anticipation and planning for this trip that has taken place over the last few weeks.

Now that I’m on the plane, the prospect of what’s in store over the next week is really quite exciting. I just hope that the fatigue monster doesn’t make us lazy.

On the whole, under the circumstances, I feel at this point that I have done as much as I could to make sure the trip runs smoothly. I suppose there is always more you can do, but there you go.

The project starts as soon as we arrive at Scheonefeld. We have to get the train to central Berlin and I want to get some shots on the way.

It is always easier to not bother with the filming. It is always a drag to get the camera out, clip on the mic – and worst of all, actually talk on camera. But that is what we are here to do. We’re just going to have to keep some focus.

To quote Michael Dean’s $30 Film School, one of the golden rules of filming is to ‘Get the Shot’. Sounds simple, but it really isn’t.

As soon as we arrive in Berlin – or Kreuzberg, more specifically – I have to phone Henning Krull. He is a friend of a friend who has agreed to put us up for the whole trip. It’s amazing to think that he is willing to welcome two strangers into his home for 6 days.

One of the most amazing aspects of my preparation has been the generosity of the people I have contacted in Berlin. People have been incredibly helpful.

The most remarkable contact has been Sven Kubala. Without Sven, the list of interviews wouldn’t be so good. But more than this, his positivity and support has been fantastic.

He’s a gift from the god of amateur filmmaking. We’ll meet him face to face tomorrow afternoon/evening and I’m going to buy some drinks and something to eat. An inadequate thank you really, but the best I can do.

I must be feeling tired because I’m finding it surprisingly easy to waffle. I’m going to sign off now and attempt to sleep.

Berlin diary entry 2

Friday 20th May 2005 – Kreuzberg

It’s about 9.10am and I’ve not long since woken up. We arrived here in central Berlin/Kreuzberg without any problems at about 8.30pm last night.

The arrangement was to arrive at Gorlitzer Bahnhof and give Henning a call. He told me that he lived right opposite the bahnhof. For the 2-3 minutes it took for him to arrive we looked around Kreuzberg and wondered what he would look like. The craziest man in the world? The scariest man in the world? Suddenly there was someone standing in front of me who had to be Henning. He stood there with a big grin, to all appearances – the friendliest man in the world.

We went up to his apartment and dumped the bags. From Henning’s lounge window, there’s a terrific view of Kreuzberg. It’s a really bustling and vibrant immigrant community.

We went straight out for something to eat. Henning recommended a Vietnamese stall on the street corner. I bought Henning some food and promised to buy his beer for the evening. As soon as the food was ready we stood at the tables and troughed. It was perfect – cheap, filling and absolutely delicious.

After that we went to a bar. Four dunkel hefes later and we’d talked at length about all kinds of nonsense. It was good to get to know Henning and relax.

Back at the apartment, the day really started to catch up on me. Henning offered something to smoke and some red wine – I went for water. I think the fatigue generated some waffle (from my point of view, at least) but then Phil took a turn for the worst and that was really the end of the night.

It seems cruel now but there was something extremely comical about Phil’s rapid demise, deathly white face and contrite demeanour. I got a terrible fit of the giggles and passed it onto Henning. Phil sat at the end of the sofa bed with a glass of water and a banana looking like he’d just been to hell and back.

Berlin diary entry 3

Saturday 21st May 2005 – Kreuzberg

Yesterday was a great day. For the first day of the schedule it felt like a re-sounding success. But what made the day rewarding was that it was such a success – even though it didn’t go exactly to plan.

At 11am we were due to meet Steffen Leide at the old Department for State Security building – also known as the Stasi Museum.

Due drinks the previous night, we weren’t the sharpest film crew in the world. We were slow to get ready, slow to pack and we didn’t leave ourselves enough time. Then we jumped on the right S-Bahn, but in the wrong direction. It took me all the way to Friedrichstrasse before I realised.

We arrived at the Stasi Museum twenty five minutes late. As part of my preparation for this trip I tried to learn some German. It has been quite something. I learned maybe 0.001% of the language (if that) and it has proved invaluable.

I was able to explain to the Stasi Museum receptionist that I had a meeting arranged with Steffen. A few minutes later, someone came to tell us that Steffen was in the middle of a tour and asked us to come back in an hour. It was perfect. We were late, hassled and ill prepared. Phil was feeling unwell/hungover and I was reprimanding myself for losing my focus on the very first morning.

Being late meant that we had no time for any pre-interview pieces to camera, no time for any set up shots. Waiting another hour for Steffen was a big reprieve.

After a while outside, we went to the café on the second floor and waited for Steffen. The place was amazing. It was the old staff room for the Stasi’s top brass and the 60s/70s Soviet style interior was completely untouched. There was a feeling about the place – a sense of the clandestine nature of the Stasi activity that went on in there. We walked through a meeting room that felt, as soon as you walked in, that decisions had been made in there that affected people’s lives – who to watch, who to arrest, who to lock up and who to let out.

Steffen appeared at about 1pm. He looked like he needed a break. As soon as he sat down, his pouch of rolling tobacco came out, he got a drink and we started to chat. It was instantly clear that he was a good person to talk to.

His English was excellent and his knowledge of the subject (of the Stasi but also of the whole DDR political system) was superb.

Steffen asked me a few questions about the film I was trying to make – then we went into an office for the interview.

One of the reasons I was so irritated about being ill-prepared earlier in the day was because I didn’t know whether the project had any credibility outside my head. On the way to the Stasi museum, I found myself wondering, ‘what am I on about?’ and ‘who cares about My DDR T-Shirt?’ I know the subject of east and west is fascinating to loads of people, but what was the point of the T-Shirt thing? I wondered whether I’d got all these people involved in some kind of folly.

Instead of being laughed out of the place, the interview with Steffen was excellent. It lasted about 1hr 40 mins and we covered just about everything. It was a great confidence booster. The research I had done proved valid and useful and that I could ask informed questions. It helped to an enormous extent that Steffen was so efficient as an interviewee, and the interview is great, but it was the kind of success I needed and put me back on track.

After the interview, Steffen gave us a brief guided tour and after about 4 hours in the building we left, our tails in the air.

The next arrangement was to meet Sven Kubala in Wilmersdorf. I tried his number on my mobile – ‘Call Failed’. I tried another number but again ‘Call Failed.’ This was worrying. I had used my mobile the day before to call Henning and it worked fine. So I tried to call Henning as a test – ‘Call Failed.’ Okay, so no big deal. We just need a call box. We quickly found one. I tried to call but couldn’t get through. I couldn’t read the instructions on the display and it was giving me options of various number prefixes I knew nothing about.

No matter what, whenever I tried Sven’s number it didn’t work. Maybe I need more credit? I got a phone card but it still didn’t work. The only explanation was that I had somehow copied his number incorrectly.

After all the help he’d given me, it was horrible to think that the arrangement to meet might fail. Plus, I knew that he was at home waiting for my call. The only other option was to send him an email. It wasn’t ideal as there was no guarantee that he would get the message but we were running out of options.

Using the directions learnt in the ‘Rechts oder Links?’ chapter of my German language book (learned a couple of weeks earlier), I was able to pop into a shop and ask for the nearest internet café – and perhaps more importantly, understand the reply.

While walking there I remembered that I had the numbers for both of the contacts Sven had put me in touch with. I can call them and ask for the correct number, I thought. I tried Erika, answer machine. I got through to Ursula and tried to stretch my German a little too far. I think she understood what I wanted. She understood who I was, she went to look for Sven’s number but I couldn’t understand what she came back to the phone and told me. It wasn’t a number anyway. Eventually we confirmed our meeting at 3.30pm on Monday and hung up.

So, back to the email idea. We found the internet café and booked one of the PCs. It was a bit of a shady looking place. It didn’t help the slight feeling of trepidation to see that our PC had a hijacker virus. The title bar read, Microshit Internet Explorer.

The internet connection was rubbish and it took ages to sign into an email account. After a few failed attempts, I eventually sent a message. There was nothing more we could do but make our way to Wilmersdorf and hope Sven checked his emails.

We jumped on an S-Bahn, slumped down in our seats and travelled through Berlin. As the stops went by I began to feel like the bahnhof names were a little too unfamiliar. As the train waited at one of the stations, I got up and glanced at the network map. I wasn’t able to find where we were. I had to suppress that little feeling of panic and looked elsewhere in the city. I suddenly found it. Yet again we’d jumped on the right line but in the wrong direction. We were heading south west instead of south east.

“Phil, c’mon!”

As soon as I said it, the doors started to bleep their ‘doors closing’ signal. We grabbed the bags, used our shoulders to hold the doors open and scrambled onto the platform. Admittedly, we probably looked pretty stupid. I would gauge our loss of cool as more or less complete.

A change of platform and we were back on the right track, literally. Twenty minutes later we were outside Heidelberger Platz bahnhof asking for directions. Before long we were ordering some drinks at Strassenbahn Kneipe – the agreed meeting point with Sven – our fingers crossed that Sven got the message.

Twenty minutes later a smiling man approached.

“Sven?”

“Ian!”

“Oh, wow! You got the message!”

Berlin diary entry 4

Sunday 22nd May 2005 – S-Bahn

It was a strange day yesterday. We allowed ourselves a late start. We had originally scheduled an English speaking guided tour of the Stasi museum to compliment Steffen Leide’s interview. But with the tour he gave us the day before (after the interview) we had scope to use the morning to catch up on some sleep. It was also good to take some time and a chance for think about the previous day.

I realised that we had got a great interview but had forgotten most of the cutaway principles we had discussed and agreed. It is so hard to remember everything, but if I’m not careful, I will leave Berlin with good interviews but none of the fabric needed to stitch a film together.

Eventually, we got going and ready for the second day of filming. By the end of the previous day the bags were beginning to weigh heavily on our shoulders. This time we lightened the load and dumped all unnecessary weight. It looked like a lovely day too.

We agreed to make an extra effort with cutaways, set-ups and incidental stuff. Next thing was to get to Schillingstrasse to meet John Tarver. Phil did a great job in suggesting some shots. It was really encouraging. We decided he should carry the camcorder on his shoulder so that he was always ready to shoot. This also seemed to work well.

Emerging from the U-Bahn station on Karl Marx Allee was terrific. A bright sun was in the sky, Café Moskau on one side and Kino International on the other. We walked down Schillingstrasse past all the platenbau. We found block no. XX. I looked on the board of bells and buzzers and a found the misspelt ‘Traver’ at no. XXXX. I rang the buzzer and after a moment or two, a distinctly English voice replied, “Hello, that must be Ian!”

Rather than let us in, he offered to come down so that we could go for a quick drink. He immediately cut an odd figure, or maybe it was the surroundings? He came across as a typically eccentric English Gent – all slightly incongruous considering we were a stone’s throw from Karl Marx Allee.

Right across the street, there was an Iraqi owned fast food shack/bar with some tables outside. It seemed like another little oddity. The owner Tariq served up the goods while the local middle-aged drinkers stood outside – eyes slightly bloodshot.

They all seemed to know John Tarver, or Johnny as he asked us to call him.

“Heeeey, Johnny!” they said, as they shook his hand and nodded to Phil and me.

We sat inside, I bought some beers and we sat and talked about the Labour movement in the UK. Things were really looking up. He was certainly a character and I was eager to talk on camera. He knew his stuff and was potentially a great source of material.

Eventually, we made our way up to his apartment on the 14th floor. The apartment was tiny, maybe 20×10 feet for the whole thing – front to back. As I expected, it was full of books, but I didn’t expect the bizarre paraphernalia. Crucifixes, seemingly random photos cut out of magazines and blu-tacked about the place, a photo of the Beatles on the bathroom wall and an H&M bikini poster on the inside of the bathroom door.

The interview went well but he was, in some ways, hard to talk to. He was a friendly and open man, but I struggled slightly. He had been a communist party activist in the UK before moving to the DDR in the seventies. In his time in the DDR, he’d primarily been a university lecturer but also Stasi agent for almost exactly ten years. I wasn’t there to make him accountable for his work for the Stasi, or the work of the Stasi full stop. Even so, I had to ask and wanted to know what his thoughts were. However, I want the film to be a series of personal accounts and recollections, i.e. without judgment. Even so, I’m not sure how well I balanced some of these intentions.

After about an hour and a half he happily posed for some photos and offered to introduce us to his ex-wife. Both Phil and I got the impression that she was only round the corner but it took us about half an hour to get there (not including the stop for a quick beer in another dodgy looking bar just opposite the Chinese embassy. We finally arrived at the right apartment block (after Johnny pointed out the Croatian embassy and a seedy looking strip joint en route) and were greeted by his ex-wife, her current boyfriend, her mother and a plate of Russian food.

At the time of the collapse of the DDR, Johnny’s ex-wife was a loyal citizen studying Marxism and Leninism. She was preparing for a life in East German academia but quickly discovered that there was no place for her in a reunified German university. Since the early nineties she had put her considerable language skills to use as a community/social worker offering advice to various immigrant communities.

We attempted an interview with her but there were so many interruptions and disturbances I don’t think we got anything usable. Most of our time there was spent wondering what we’d let ourselves in for. It may sound unkind given their hospitality but it was a relief when we eventually got away.

We then went for a stroll to compose ourselves and re-gather our purpose. Strictly speaking, we’d spent too much time on just one interview. I was essentially happy with it but it was a big chunk of the day with just one interview to show for it.

We went for a drink near Wollendorf Platz bahnhof. It was easily recognisable as a gay area. We stopped at a bar, did some cutaways, a few bits to camera and set off back to Kreuzberg.

We grabbed something at the Vietnamese shack, did some bits to camera and phoned Stefan Eix. Phil suggested a set up of the phone call on camera. He had a pretend call in mind followed by a piece to camera to explain the plans for the following day. Between us we made a terrible hash of these scenes. On the bright side, we did manage to get some of the funniest out-takes of the trip so far.

We then went back to Henning’s. He was in a great mood. We showed him our out-takes and drank some red wine. At about 1am we called it a day and went to bed. Knackered.

The day had been testing and tiring. I felt like we’d been blown off course slightly. The project was still shipshape and watertight, but I wanted to make sure that Sunday would be a chance to make up for lost time.

I couldn’t put my finger on what Stefan Eix could add to the repertoire of interviews. But from the moment I’d spoken to him on Skype, I set aside some time to see him. He was the first Berliner I’d spoken to about the whole project and he was so supportive and encouraging. We ended up talking until about 1am. I felt sure he would add a great ingredient to the mix. Things had been getting quite specifically political and that wasn’t what I wanted or originally planned. I hope my confidence in Stefan will be justified. As time progresses I’m becoming a little more anxious about whether I’m getting what I need to make an end result.

We’ll have to wait and see but essentially I’m making things up as I go along. It isn’t very professional but it’s all valid stuff. One of the points of the project is for me to travel along the filmmaking learning curve. However, the main thing was to make something worth all this effort. Something I can actually show as an end product.

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.

Berlin diary entry 6

Tuesday 24th May 2005 – Not sure where

Monday was great day. Henning had agreed to come with us to translate. It added a pleasant new ingredient to the mix – the first ever Hawkinsian three-man crew!

We had to travel to Rudow. This was at the end of one of the U Bahn lines. It made such a difference that Henning could lead the way through the bahnhofs. We were getting good with Berlin’s public transport network, but we weren’t familiar with the stations and platforms etc. For example, it is one thing to know that you must change at Alexanderplatz. It is another to be able to move from one platform to another without looking for maps. Henning was able cut down the travel time by a good 15-20 minutes.

We were off to meet Erika Kammer. She was a Berliner who moved from east to west before the Wall was built. The arrangement was to meet her at a bus stop. We had been given instructions and directions but essentially it was go to a particular bus stop and look out for a woman with a dog. It sounded like the most likely of all the arrangements to fail. Off the U-bahn, we jumped on the bus and travelled slowly through the pleasant suburb. We got off at the stop and there stood a woman with a dog, Erika and Nettie.

Erika was a kind and polite woman. To say she was meeting three strangers, she never seemed wary of us – quite the opposite. When we arrived at her house she began to pull away the tarpaulin from something on her driveway. She revealed a customised Trabant. It had been cut out to be a convertible, sprayed gold and powered by three pushbikes bolted on to the rear of the car. This bizarre customisation had been done for a festival parade. The engine had been removed and the whole thing given a party-style makeover.

After a few photographs, she first took us for a stroll (or Spaziergang) around this community of ‘temporary’ houses to where the Wall once stood. The Death Strip (or Todesstreifen) was now a construction site. A new autobahn was being built with lorries coming and going, the drone of heavy plant machinery and enormous piles of sand and gravel.

Erika told us that a stretch of the Wall still stood and asked if we would like to see it. Of course, we went along. As we walked through copses and bits of woodland, Erika told us how the area came to be. At the end of WW2, Berlin had been more or less razed to the ground by Allied bombing. Eventually, as re-construction began, they cleared rubble and broken masonry to three or four sites on the outskirts of the city.

These sites are now overgrown man made hills. As soon as Erika told us this, these unassuming features took on completely new meaning. All of a sudden, random pieces of brick, stone and rubbish (and without wanting to be dramatic) became the rubble of Nazi Germany. We were surrounded by archaeological evidence of the war – we were walking all over it.

After about 15-20 minutes or so, Erika stopped and pointed to a pile of concrete slabs, “Hier ist Der Mauer.” These dumped panels were what remained of the western side of the Wall. She then pointed out that another wall some metres away.

The Berlin Wall was actually two walls. Unless the Wall ran alongside the Spree, or another exception, the border was actually a strip of land – a margin. Not quite a no-mans-land because, unlike the wall currently being built to separate Israel and Palestine, the Berlin Wall was always built within DDR territory.

Going east to west, there was wall number one – as far as I can gather, this was not quite as formidable as the wall facing the west. After this was the Death Strip, with constant patrols, guard dogs, watch towers and bright spotlights. Then there was the second wall, the biggest and most familiar to most of us.

So there we were, on the death strip. Now filled with long grass, scrub and young trees. It was hard to imagine the activity, the seriousness and the intimidation that used to characterise where we stood. We filmed, photographed and chatted for a while before setting off back.

We took our shoes off at her door and walked through to the lounge. Due to very dim light we decided to shoot the interview on the patio.

It has to be pointed out what a great job Henning did with translation. His friendliness helped put everyone at ease. During the interview itself, his diligence, accuracy and the respect he gave to what we were trying to do were fantastic. I don’t think anybody could’ve done a better job – paid or otherwise.

At the end of the interview we packed up, had another slice of Erika’s homemade cake and left – Erika waving us off.

It was now time to make our way to Alexanderplatz for the next interview. We were due at 3.30pm at the PDS headquarters in Karl Liebknecht Haus to meet Ursula. The PDS is a socialist party in Germany and the descendant of the old SED. We’d been told that Ursula was a staunch socialist who was pro DDR.

We were a little late when we eventually found the place, but thankfully not too late. We didn’t have endless amounts of time because Ursula was due to attend a PDS rally/demonstration. I don’t know how true it is, but I’d been told that these regular Monday night demonstrations had roots that went back all the way to the last weeks and months of the DDR.

Before we could start the interview, Ursula wanted to ask some questions about the project and me. She seemed guarded and defensive – but I wasn’t sure why. I can fully understand that someone would want to ask questions and find out what they were agreeing to but I don’t know why the atmosphere was so…well…tense.

There was a lot of background noise throughout the interview. We were in the main office/library of the PDS. Again Henning did a great job but even so the interview was kind of awkward. As I write, I wonder whether Ursula was just uncomfortable being on camera, but at the time, it definitely felt like there was something more to it than that.

At the end of the interview I realised that a person had been sitting listening at a nearby table. She seemed very keen to talk to us and waved a book at me, recommending it as a fascinating and important read. It looked like a serious political text but unfortunately it was in German. I thanked her, apologised and told her I couldn’t speak German.

As we walked to the demonstration, I tried to talk to Ursula. I hoped that my broken German and her broken English might have been enough. Without Henning, it was more or less useless. It was a pity because she seemed to relax with me for the first time.

We could hear some kind of public address system from the other side of Alexanderplatz. An amplified voice boomed across the square but the source wasn’t yet visible from the angle we were approaching. As we got closer I could see two large speakers on a kind of stand. Just underneath a big, bearish man bellowed into a microphone. The speech escalated the longer it went on and the tone of his voice climbed higher and higher. Once finished, and the mic offered to the next speaker, a big smile beamed on his face as the small crowd applauded.

Politicians are not known for their looks. Having said that, western politics is increasingly aware of how it looks. It doesn’t make for great politics, that’s for sure, but I have to describe a little of what the group that congregated at this demo looked like.

They looked like ramshackled bunch. A real shower of misfits cobbled together. I make no comment on them as people or about their political beliefs – but as a demo, it looked like the bottom rung of the ladder.

At one point, the lady who had watched the interview at the nearby table came up to me with a little plastic bag.

“For you,” she said.

I looked inside and saw a brand new copy of the book she had urged me to read earlier. It obviously meant a great deal to her. It was such a touching gesture, but I also knew that even if I started to learn German properly from the minute I return home, it would still take a number of years before I could tackle a heavy political text in German.

We eventually left, waving goodbye to Ursula and the rest of the demonstration. We walked round the corner to the Marx and Engels Forum and on to the Palast der Republik. This building is the former DDR parliament building, now awaiting demolition.

Back in Kreuzberg, we discovered to our horror, yet again, that the Vietnamese shack was closed.

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.

Berlin diary entry 8

Thursday 26th May 2005 – The bus home from work (Manchester)

I’ve just had my first day back at work. It has been a wrench to put the Berlin vehicle back in the garage after it had taken us on such an adventure. Ho hum.

We had just the morning in Berlin to tie up some loose ends. We decided to visit the East Side Gallery for cutaways and incidental stuff. The East Side Gallery is the longest stretch of the Wall still standing. It’s about a kilometre long and has served as a public and free art gallery since reunification. Artists of diverse styles and nationalities were invited to use sections as canvasses.

About half the works are now flaking away but the other half has been recently restored. It’s a grey area (no pun intended) but another problem for the gallery seems to be graffiti. Berlin is covered in graffiti. Complete buildings are covered with the stuff – some on a staggering scale, some at remarkable height. The Berlin Wall was, from photos I have seen, covered in graffiti so it’s hard to criticise the graffiti at the East Side Gallery. I mean the opportunistic tourist kind of stuff – not the artistic graffiti across the rest of Berlin.

I saw ‘Free Scotland’ and ‘Michael Jackson Inocente’ scribbled on there with marker pens. It seemed as naff as the crappy souvenirs at Checkpoint Charlie to me. A free Scotland and the trial of Michael Jackson may be big issues for some but I couldn’t get them to stretch to Cold War proportions.

When we got to the end, we did a final piece to camera and used the last 3 minutes of tape to record walking back along the Wall. I’ve not played it back properly yet but it seemed a good idea for end credits.

Now that I’m back home and back at work, I can’t help but look back longingly over the week. I miss Berlin like mad. Just writing or saying the word ‘Berlin’ feels special.

I haven’t yet played any tapes back because I am almost afraid to do it.I’m worried whether it will look or sound any good. I know we tried our best, and I’m going to have to make the most of it, but the prospect of being disappointed is just too much right now.

My first night back in my own bed was plagued by external disturbances – phone calls, car alarms etc, but some internal ones too. I think I’m adjusting to not being in Berlin, living and breathing this project. My activities there felt real, my activities here feel the opposite.

I also have this nagging feeling that I wasn’t able to realise the film completely. The interviews were great but I don’t think I got enough of the variety needed to make a film watchable. It’s all a learning process, and I’ve learned so much so far, but I feel I may have lacked some vision.

Maybe its too much to go away for six days and expect to get a complete film in the bag? Maybe I put too much emphasis on interviews rather than other stuff? I dunno. Either way, I now have the job of cataloguing the footage and piecing together a narrative. It’s a great project, and I can’t wait to do it but maybe I’ll give myself a bit of time first. A bit of space to gather my thoughts and digest what I have learned.

So that’s about it for this diary. Stage 1, get the project off the ground, arranged and ready to film – done. Stage 2, go to Berlin, conduct the interviews and get the footage – done. Stage 3, make something watchable – to do.