This past week, when I wanted to blog, I tried to think of topics to talk about, but drew a blank. . . Until I read Purplume’s blog ( www.jbvadeboncoeur.info ) about her travels in Japan. One of her informative, but whimsical blogs, was about Japan’s innovative toilet paper holders. You wouldn’t think that there would be such a cultural gap in bathroom fixtures . . . but there is.
I was reminded of my trip to Germany with my mother in 1990. What does that have to do with Japanese toilet paper holders? You wouldn’t ask that if you’d seen the East German toilet paper. With a texture like large-grain sandpaper, one only needed 2 square inches to do the job. . . and another 2 square inches to staunch the bleeding. One would even be able to refinish furniture with a mere handful of “tissue”. But to get back to our trip . . .
My mother was born and raised in what became West Berlin. West Berlin was the chunk of city that was not part of the Communist Eastern Zone, but still completely surrounded by it on all sides. At this time, the Berlin Wall had been down for only 5 months. To get to West Berlin, one had to travel past Communist soldiers brandishing machine guns. Not good. My mom likes to taunt the face of danger. Well . . . to be candid, she likes to moon it . . . It is a wonder that we lived long enough to make it back home.
Unfortunately, I have the same genetics. However, I am more fatalistic than my mom, which gives me a modicum of sense. I had no doubt that if I angered a gun-toting East German, I would get shot dead on their first aim. Mom just assumed she could outrun the bullets . . . or perhaps just block them with her purse. As a result, we were like Laurel and Hardy every time we ventured into the East Zone on our 24 hour visas.
Our ‘dance with danger’ started with the plane trip over. At the best of times, I hate flying. Well, to be more accurate, it’s the thought of crashing that I hate.
The flight over the Atlantic was smooth, however, since the plane was as large as a mini-mall. Mom and I sat somewhere in the last section – by the tail -which, incidentally, is the first part of the plane to get ripped off in a crash.
We landed in Frankfurt the next morning and switched planes for the shuttle flight into Berlin. That is when I met German culture head-on for the first time. (This was also the first time I was nearly strip searched in a cubicle. Frankfurt was in the Eastern Zone and the security personnel tended to panic when the metal detector beeped . . . even if it beeped because of one’s jean zipper. )
To illustrate my first taste of the cultural gap – German flight attendants differ hugely from their American counterparts. American flight attendants are pretty and they smile. German flight attendants look like angry Russian weight lifters, chosen for their brute strength. Everything was done with the iron hand of efficiency. I had no doubt that if the plane did, indeed, crash, these Brunhilda-like women would emerge from the wreckage unscathed, every braid in place, and carry the injured that they hadn’t already eaten to safety . . . cursing them roundly all the way.
The German-trained pilot of our shuttle plane was no different. He didn’t rise above the strong head-wind. He steered straight into it in battle. We rose and dipped like we were in a storm tossed dinghy. At no time was the plane seat touching my backside. The only thing that kept me off of the plane’s ceiling was my seat belt. Then, just as I thought the plane couldn’t drop me any lower, it hit a sudden, violent updraft and smacked me back up into the stratosphere.
When we landed, I was kissing the tarmac, and Mom’s high blood pressure was off the charts. We grabbed our luggage and a taxi, and rode to Uschi’s house where my mother promptly collapsed into a healing nap.
Uschi, my mother’s cousin, was housing us for the three weeks we were going to be in Berlin.
So, until my next blog, where I will talk about how far one can push the East German authorities without getting shot . . .