On my last blog I promised to write about our trip to the opera.
Berlin’s Opera House was in the East Zone, so when the Wall went down, opera-starved people rushed to the Opera House to reserve their seats for the next performance. This is an understatement. By March of the following Spring, every seat for every opera was reserved . . . every opera for the next five years. Except for 12 seats in the nosebleed section for one night’s performance of Wagner.
If anyone has been to one of Wagner’s operas, they will know that Wagner is sung in German, is usually 5 hours long, and involves huge contrivances that drop down from the ceiling, monstrous women in blonde braids, and high notes that make your teeth ring like tuning forks. Unable to resist such an experience, we bought two tickets, waited for performance night, and dressed up when the time came.
But to get to the Opera House, we had to take a couple of buses to the train, then the train into the East Zone where we were to get our passports stamped before taking a taxi to our final destination. We began our trek by starting out late. Starting out late was not good. This is another understatement.
By the time we arrived in the East, I was sweaty from running in wool and high heels, and Mom was starting to show a little white around her eyes like a spooked horse.
To get into East Berlin from West Berlin, one had to stop at a certain train station and file into a tiled room with 10 doors. Each door led to a tiny cubicle containing another door out of the train station onto East soil, a computer, an East German official sitting in the dark, and bulletproof glass with just enough of a slit to slide one’s passport through. Of those 10 doors, 9 were reserved for Germans and 1 – the last one on the far side of the room – was reserved for everyone else.
I was the only non-German there, so it should have been easy for me to get through since there was absolutely no line at that door. In theory, maybe, but in reality it was nearly impossible. The first 9 doors were covered in a massive clot of tightly packed Germans. They took it as a personal insult that we wanted to get to the other side. So they body blocked us like linebackers and cursed.
I slipped around as many angry Germans as I could, blazing a trail, then heard a sudden commotion behind me. I turned in time to see an elderly woman the size of a pygmy grab Mom by the shoulders and sling her backwards. Mom was not pleased. One shove led to another, and by the time I worked my way back to Mom, I had just enough time to lunge and yank her out of the way of the woman’s flying fist.
Now, starting a riot at an East German passport counter is probably the fastest way to end up working in a Siberian camp. At any second I expected to be wrestled to the ground by East German soldiers and have them shove the muzzles of their machine guns in the nearest orifice.
There was a flurry of movement. Mom and I froze. Five burly soldiers converged. . . and wrestled down a teenage girl right next to us that happened to take a short cut to one of the doors, going under one of the ‘cattle fences’ instead of around it. They hadn’t even seen us. They were so focused on that hapless girl. They picked her up bodily and whisked her into an unmarked room, slamming the metal door behind them. Taking advantage of our narrow escape, we darted into our cubicle and produced our passports before any other angry Germans could annihilate us.
Now I was REALLY sweaty.
Darting outside, we tried to snag East Berlin’s only taxi (I exaggerate a little – East Berlin had 7 taxis), and failed. So we started walking. . . and walking. . . and walking. . . We eventually made it to the Opera House . . .
By then, we were puffing, sweating, desperate for a bathroom, and had bits of dead leaves hung in our hair. We arrived sometime in the middle of the first act. We were escorted to our seats by a white gloved attendant, sat through the next 30 minutes, then – not being allowed in the East Zone after midnight – crept down the stairs, left the Opera House, and departed for home.
In my next blog, I will tell you about Berlin’s grocery stores and bathrooms.
Until then, I will leave you with a few pictures . . .
Until next time . . .