Tag Archives: WW2

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.

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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.

Scheiße
Scheiße

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?

Me: NEIN.

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

ME: NEIN!

***

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.

 

 

 

BerLinda has arrived!

I decided to take the bus from Riga to Berlin for two reasons – 1) it was only €50, and 2) I could take more stuff that way. (It’s by the by that I can’t actually move my suitcase by myself.) As it left at 6pm, and arrived at 1pm the next day, the theory was that I’d watch trees for a while, sleep through the night and wake up just in time for lunch in Berlin.

The bus was really comfy and roomy, and I lucked out with two seats to myself for the whole trip. However, I still couldn’t really sleep, and instead watched the faulty entertainment system as it flashed the Ecolines logo at me in various trippy ways for 20 hours. And if anyone ever doubted how big Poland is, I suggest driving across it. Latvia went by in the blink of an eye, we zipped through Lithuania, then Poland hit. And more Poland, and even more Poland. In fact, around 45 minutes outside Berlin, I think we were still in bloody Poland.

Trippy
Trippy

I rolled into Berlin, bleary-eyed and smelling of bus, and hopped into a taxi. The driver turned out to be THE chattiest man on the planet, and I got a full history of Berlin, his family, and anything else he could think of. It was great, and I sort of wanted to make him my new best friend – this would become a running theme with pleasant waitresses, smiling passers-by and friendly shop assistants. I guess four years in Latvia have taken their toll.

Once checked into my room for the night, the rest of the day passed in a blur of:

This
This,
This
This,

(As it was only €1.70 and the bar woman was a really nice mammy-type, I stayed for three.)

And this.
And this.

I woke up feeling full of the joys and set off in search of food, smiling at babies and old people, and doing the odd Fred Astaire jump-click of my heels as I went. What Riga lacks in kebab shops, Berlin more than makes up for, but I wanted somewhere a bit more relaxing so I kept going until I came to a nice little Italian place. I sat, munching away, reading my book and supping on very nice Chardonnay. Just as I was finishing up, a man came over and started chatting to me. (Don’t ya just love Germans?)

It turned out he’s the owner of Berliner Unterwelten, and the leading expert on all things World War 2 in Berlin, has published what sounded like a lot of books on the topic, and been a consultant on a couple of movies. So when he said. “Do you want to go on a tour of a WW2 bunker?”, Good Linda was like “Seriously? What would Mammy O’Grady say to you taking off underground with a total stranger?” Real Linda said, “That sounds cool!” And off we went.

Through a secret door in what looks like an ordinary u-bahn station, we descended into the bunker, which was absolutely vast and went four floors down. I just got a whistle-stop tour, but it was fascinating and I’ll probably do the ‘real’ tour at some point.

My new best friend Dietmar: Do you want to go to a bar that’s got 700 different types of whiskey?

Good Linda: You need to go home. You have to move in the morning. 

Real Linda: 700? We’d better get started right away! 

We made our way to the Offside Bar, which did indeed live up to its reputation.

The ceiling of the ladies
The ceiling of the ladies

We ordered a couple of glasses of wine, and tasted the ‘Whiskey of the Month’ – twice, just to be sure. We chatted away about anything and everything, the lovely bar staff joining in from time to time. When DiDi (as the Yanks call him) suggested heading back to his for a nightcap, Good Linda didn’t get a look in. And so we finished off my first night in Berlin doing shots of vodka in his kitchen. (I don’t think this is standard practice for either German or Irish people, but he’d been married to a Russian and I’d been married to Latvia, so we did ourselves proud.)

This morning, I woke up 5 minutes after check-out time, whirled around my room throwing stuff into my suitcase and managed to make it to reception only around 25 minutes after check-out time. Nobody seemed to notice so I ditched my suitcase and went for breakfast.

Just what the doctor ordered
Just what the doctor ordered

Afterwards, instead of calling me a taxi, the manager offered to drive me to my new apartment himself (for €5). Admiring his industry, we set off. I thought that I had rented a room in an apartment for the next two weeks. As it turns out, I have the entire apartment to myself – and it is huge!

My new bedroom (temporarily anyway)
My new bedroom (temporarily anyway)

The owner popped in this evening. It seems there is a right way and a wrong way to hang dish towels. Germans are funny…

And finally, you know you’re in Germany when you see:

Snigger.
Snigger.