I’m going deeper Underground

Ever since I became friends with Dietmar, he’s been keen on the idea of me working for his Association, Berliner Unterwelten (Berlin Underworlds). There was just one small problem: the working language of the Association is German and being able to say my name and order white or red wine didn’t quite qualify as “working German”.

Fast forward a year or so and DD and I were conducting most of our conversations in German rather than English. I’m not sure which of us was more surprised, but the upshot was that DD declared me ready to start. Gulp.


However, DD declaring it and it actually happening were two very different things. Obviously I had to go through the same process as every other new employee and, this being Germany, it’s a looooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooong process.

Meetings were had, documents were exchanged. Words like “Sozialversicherungsbeiträge”, “Vereinsbarungbestandteile” and “Lohnsteuerbescheinigung” were tossed around. I nodded sagely (and Googled wildly when I got home). After a few short months, I was ready to begin training.


For anyone who doesn’t know about Berliner Unterwelten, they offer a series of tours exploring Berlin’s underground architecture, including air raid shelters, caverns, disused railway tunnels and other places the public normally has no access to. I would begin my training on “Tour 1 – Dark Worlds”, which takes visitors through a maze of a WW2 bunker at Gesundbrunnen Station.

Every tour has a guide and an assistant and I would be starting as an assistant. Basically, the assistant is responsible for getting everyone in and out, making sure there are no tour pile-ups in the bunker, keeping people together and making sure nobody is doomed to wander the labyrinth forever, enforcing bunker rules, and responding quickly if there is some sort of emergency.

In order to be able to do this, I had to do three tour “walk-throughs” with various trainers, a technical and a bureaucratic training session, and a final test. In German.

Trainer: How do you think you did? 

Me: I think I was awesome.

Anyway, I passed.

Time to celebrate!
Time to celebrate!

Yesterday was my first day. I quickly realised that my Underworld small talk could use a little polishing.

Me: Do you want to be a “Führer” some day?

Assistant: We prefer to use the word “Guide”. For obvious reasons. 

Me: Right you are. 

My first group was a German one. I opened the door successfully (yay me) and counted people in as I checked their tickets. While everyone was busy listening to the guide, one woman came over and sat on the steps. Uh oh.

We moved on to the second room. She immediately came over and sat on the steps in there, too.

Woman: Can you please let me out? I don’t feel well…

I’ve been on countless Unterwelten tours and not one person has ever had to leave. Just my luck.

Thankfully, we weren’t far from the front door so I led her out and asked her if she was OK. She responded by vomiting all over the ground. I took that as a “NEIN”.

It did not smell of roses
It did not smell of roses

Despite being trained in getting people out as quickly as possible in situations just like this, I realised that I had no idea what to do with them once they actually were out. My bedside German (or English, for that matter) is pretty much non-existent so I made a few sympathetic noises and handed her a plastic bag, just in case there was a round two. I told her there was a restaurant nearby and she could go there and clean herself up a bit. She asked me to get her friend.

So, on my very first tour, I had to interrupt the guide, speak loud German in front of a roomful of Germans and escort the friend out of the bunker as well. Baptism of fire. And puke.

I called the office to tell them what had happened and they suggested I dilute the vomit by pouring some water on it. I did and improvised by placing a couple of tissues over it, too. It looked ten times worse but there wasn’t much else I could do. I went back in, did the rest of the tour and everyone emerged alive at the end of it. In short, a roaring success.

The two tours I’ve done since were, mercifully, less eventful.

Guide: It is forbidden to take photos anywhere in the bunker.

Japanese tourist 1: Can I take a photo?


Japanese tourist 2, 3, 4, 5…: Can I take a photo of this?



Guide: Please do not touch the paint in the next room. It’s a special type of fluorescent paint and mildly toxic. 

Spanish tourist: Can I touch the paint?

Me: (Why on earth would you want to touch toxic paint??) No, lo siento. 

Anyway, I live to assist another day. I’m not sure I’ll ever rock the “safety orange” vest I have to wear, but they’re not paying me to be a bunker fashionista. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to spray some more perfume up my nose.




65 thoughts on “I’m going deeper Underground”

  1. Sounds like an average day as a parent – plenty of puke and being asked endless stupid questions (although, to be fair, I don’t normally have to speak German or wear a hi-vis jacket so you win on that score…)

    Liked by 1 person

        1. The (sad) usual story of people being all gung-ho about it until they realise that it is actually hard work. I got pissed off hassling people.I will probably resurrect it myself at some point. Just need to figure some stuff out 😉

          Liked by 1 person

      1. This Diminutiv sounds nice. Maybe too nice?!
        “Fräulein Führerin” gives you the authority to discipline the crowd!
        P.S.: Maybe you should dye your hair blonde … 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Congrats on your German language job! It took me 15 years to achieve the equivalent in your home country!
    And I’ll see you at the Unterwelten in August. Staying with a friend who lives just around the corner from it, and I have been meaning to go on a tour for ages.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ooh, how exciting! Be sure and let me know when you’re thinking of doing it! We can go for a drink afterwards – not before, in case you puke 😉


  3. Yikes! Very cool Linda – that you have a regular German job. Aren’t you afraid of being an immigrant stealing locals’ jobs? Ha! Gotta love the reflective vests – I used to have to wear one at work. I think they look sexy on women.

    Japanese taking pictures – OMG, they do that everywhere in the world. I had a driver who delivered to a retail store that was old and difficult. It was in a 100 year old building in downtown Ottawa and the truck had to be parked on the sidewalk and unload one skid at a time with a tailgate and then hand-bomb each case onto a conveyor to the second floor. Get another skid and continue. He came to me one day and said he was having nightmares about the delivery. Apparently the city had dug a giant hole in the sidewalk where he unloaded and he was afraid of falling into the hole with a skid. He said he woke up in the middle of the night after a nightmare where he fell in the hole with a skid of product and when he came to the hole was ringed with Japanese tourists all with cameras and all taking hundreds of pictures of him laying at the bottom of the hole. Bwahaha!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ha ha! Poor guy! Funniest thing is, he’s not that far from the truth 😉 I was in a car accident in NZ. The car went off the road, plunged around 100 feet and flipped over. I crawled out into the snow to find a coachload of Japanese tourists up on the road snapping away 😉 Gave them a wave and made sure everyone else was OK haha! And trust me, I look anything but sexy in this vest – it’s also around 10 sizes too big for me 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh, lucky you to get a puker on your first official tour 😦 Hey, it can only get better, yes? And by the way, I think you should write for the New York Times, seriously: http://nyti.ms/27gt3C8
    An Irish perspective on living in a German city published in an American newspaper: Perfecto!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ha, I don’t think I could compete with that guy! Loved that piece! Made me feel even prouder to be living here 🙂
      And yes, one puker down, hopefully no more to follow haha!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ah, don’t think about competing. That issue of the paper had a number of short essays by writers living in other countries. He just happened to have the longest one (although, yes, it was quite good). I just always think of you when I read essays by ex-pats living elsewhere 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Ha, yeah, my uncle wanted me to write a comparison between living in LV and Germany for an English magazine… like there could ever be a comparison haha! I wouldn’t know where to begin! It is a nice idea, I just don’t think I fit in with the ‘tone’ of any of these publications!

          Liked by 2 people

    1. Ha, no, it’s actually good fun! The puking is a rarity – at least from what I’ve seen! And I love the association and what they do so it’s great to be involved. Just hope I don’t get too many more pukers 😉

      Liked by 1 person

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