Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Day 76: The Underground Tour

Today I'm not walking home after walking with Chris to work. I'm headed back to the Berliner Unterwelten (Berlin Underworlds) to buy tickets for today's M Tour. There are four underground tours, Tour 1, Tour 2, Tour 3, and The M tour. We found out later that the M represents the word "Mauer" which means "wall". And this tour is all about the escape attempts, failures, and successes under the Berlin Wall.

So, I walk. I could take a tram, except for two problems. One, a direct route doesn't exist, and due to the construction, by the time I take a route that works, I might as well just walk there. Two, and more importantly, I do not have my Bahn ticket with me. I forgot this fact at one point and thought, maybe I'll take a train home, after I buy the tickets... but then remembered I didn't bring my ticket. I'm stuck walking all the way. Guess I'm getting my steps in today!

But, kismet never fails to surprise me. As I'm walking across town, I happen to walk by a second hand store! Yay! I have tried searching for used clothing, but haven't found anything. I don't know the words in German to search, but now I've found it by accident. I walk in, taking a chance, to look for a costume solution for Venice. I find a costume rack, find a red dress that might work (but looks like it could be a little itchy) and a red shirt to go underneath (so it won't be itchy) and get out of the store for less than €10. Perfect! I'm feeling pretty good about myself, right about now.

No problem on the tickets. Not sold out at 10:30am (they start selling at 10am), phew. Now to walk home and "start" my day.

By the time I'm home, it's practically lunch time. I cook meatballs and noodles. I get to use the quiche dish I bought (to cook the meatballs) for the first time. I'm pretty happy about this. Since I bought it to make a quiche, but then never did make one.. it was a sad, but really nice, dish that was just sitting there. Side note: We purchased a lot of little items for the apartment (including hangars, desk fans, measuring cups, extra bowls, glass water-bottles, a bathroom rug, a desk, two chairs, etc.) that we're going to be leaving behind. Chris asked if we could leave behind all these items in the apartment and in return, the landlord would not require us to settle up our bill (our last payment was about €80 short due to conversion rates) or to pay the standard cleaning fee (about €200). So, that's a win-win!

Anyway, I cook the meatballs and the noodles. The packaging on the noodles (Asian dried "lo mein" style noodles) instruct me to "add some broth" and fry for 3-5 minutes. What is "some"? I added over two cups of water and more soy sauce... AND I had to cook them for almost 30 minutes. Maybe you need to have a wok to get them right. Lunch was a little late.

Not much time for anything else.

The kids stuck with their decision to not accompany us on the M Tour. I gave the kids €15 and a house key. I told them a few stores they could venture to, in order to buy a snack or two, while they were alone. And then I left to meet Chris at the Bahn.

The tour we are scheduled to take is the only M Tour in English (once a day), which I find out is great, because 90% of this tour is lecture-informational style. I'm instantly glad the kids didn't come, I think they'd be bored most of the time. And, I'm glad it's in English because I can understand all the history and facts our guide is giving us.

The beginning of Tour M.

Our guide. A Dutchman who MUST be an actor. He is fantastic in his delivery of history and facts. He has a knack for storytelling with a sense of humour. "Do you want to dig a tunnel here? Forget about it. There's too much water." "They needed to have 30 people on a team to dig this tunnel. Forget about it. It's going to be betrayed by one." He apologised up front for his English and his accent, but he spoke a mile a minute in a non-native language. I'm impressed.

Interestingly, a lot of the items on the tour are from private collections, thus we are not allowed to take photos in most of the areas. But, there were two places we could snap photos. The first is when we were exploring the second of three underground-escape methods. Here's a quick explanation of the three methods:

1) Existing subway tunnels. This method was quickly shut down, within months of the Wall. Train tunnels were walled up and tracks were taken away (so no hijacking a train into the West). The few railways that remained open would go from West to West, crossing a part of the East in the middle. The trains would not stop at the, now, "ghost" stations in the East. The guards on duty began with three. If one went to the bathroom, and one fell asleep, the third one would often jump into a tunnel and run for it. So, more guards on duty and a "mattress" of nails implemented so that one could no longer get into the tunnel.

Chris is the shadow on the right helping to
replace the manhole cover, as quietly as possible.
2) Sewer tunnels. This method, was also shut down quickly. But before this problem was "fixed", refugee helpers would help open manhole covers to allow refugees to climb in, then replace the manhole cover. All in the dead of night, as quietly as possible. The "gates" that were in the sewers only went to from ceiling to "water" levels, so that "bigger items" could flow through. So refugees had to duck under these gates into the muck to get to the other side. Eventually the gates were extended to the bottom so that no one could pass, however, now "bigger items" couldn't get through and muck would build up on these gates. Trustworthy East German Stasi would be in charge of cleaning up this muck (which gave our guide a chuckle to think about).

3) Hand-dug tunnels. This method, also was shut down somewhat quickly. At least, a lot sooner than I thought. I figured tunnels were always being attempted, but in reality, they were mostly in the first 1-2 years. Then, countermeasures (walls going down into the ground, Stasi collapsing tunnels, an environment of betrayers, etc.) were in place and tunnels were too dangerous to attempt.

The tour was all underground (duh!) So, as our guide was talking, he would periodically raise his voice to be heard over the trains going overhead. The trains felt like they were right there, but we are told that we are at least 10-12 meters underground.

Of course, there are no authentic tunnels available for viewing. But the organisation has recreated two tunnels. The first tunnel was over 100 meters in length (I want to say 125m) but never completed, by a West Berliner man who wanted to help his girlfriend and newborn baby to escape from the East. But, at 125m, the West Berlin polizei knocked on his door and said his tunnel was betrayed, he should stop digging. Side note: The man was able to bring his girlfriend and child over the border through legal means (which translates into time and a LOT of money) later. This man is still alive today. The organisation brought him to see "his" tunnel and he checked it out and gave his stamp of approval, saying, "But did you know we had a phone down there?" So the organisation installed a phone into their recreation!

Recreation of one tunnel (left and middle) and of a second, successful, tunnel (right)

Original plaque martyring Egon Schultz. 
One of the sadder stories we heard was about an escape attempt that was succesfful, albeit with a few casualties. All of the refugees and helpers made it out ok, but an East German soldier was killed. The East reported it as murder by one of the Western refugee helpers (in the beginning, escape attempts were peaceful with only arrests, but as time went on, refugees were fired upon causing them to arm themselves with guns and thus as escalation in violence). The Western refugee battled depression for his whole life with the knowledge of killing the young soldier, Egon Schultz, who was martyred by the Eastern-controlled press. Years later, but after the Western refugee had died, the truth came out that the Westerner only had struck Egon Shultz in the shoulder, and that the critical shots came from "friendly" fire. And thus ended our tour, on somewhat of a sad note. Sounds funny, maybe, as the entire tour was filled with sadness, oppression, and frustration. But this last story felt more personal in the injustice and seemed to embody the entire era of misinformation and treachery.

We're very glad to have been able to do this tour and very glad that the kids chose to skip it.

Time to change modes.

Dinner time! Decision time.

A restaurant Chris and I want to go to, or one that the kids will enjoy... they've been alone all afternoon, perhaps we can allow them to choose. But when we get back to the apartment, they were very successful in their adventure out on their own. They are full of soda, pudding, and candy. In the end, Chris and I decide to go to the restaurant we choose. It's Rôu, the one with the yummiest Pho Curry that's just downstairs. And when the kids are done eating their few appetisers, they head back to the apartment on their own and Chris and I are able to enjoy a quiet (no one else is in the restaurant... weird!) alone. I don't know if the owner recognises us, or if it's because we're the only ones there (again, why?) but he gives us a free dessert. I don't know what it was, but it was yummy. Some sort of rice-tapioca-sweet pudding in a soup of sweet cream. Delicious.

Before bed, Xander tries on his costume to see how it will feel. Looks pretty good, my cute little sushi!

Xander Sushi

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