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  • Ashleigh Ogilvie-Lee

Blog 4 - My nightmare in Berlin!

Updated: May 11, 2023

I cannot operate the coffee machine in my new room. Many capsules have disappeared down the chute. I will wait until 6 o'clock to ring reception. When I call reception, I say, 'I can't operate my coffee machine.' The multinational on the other end replies, 'But it is impossibly easy.' 'Not for me,' I say. I am about to tell her that I suffer from neoteny, which is the preserving of juvenile characteristics in adults, but she has hung up. I wait until 7 and go down to a breakfast room where giant people, like huge forest trees, congregate to eat hard eggs, yellow cold peppers, hard meatballs, small sausages, and spicy carrots mixed with cheese and apricots. Most of these giants are impeccably dressed with not a spot of ketchup on them and glossy, manicured hair, straight backs, and shoes polished like church candlesticks. There are others, though, huddling shyly like small shrubs, who are dirty and disheveled in that Berlin arty way, and they wear T-shirts saying 'I don't do drugs'. I am off to do a bike tour of Berlin for three and a half hours. I arrive early and cross the road to a café and sit outside with Oleke/Olei. He holds up his cup and says 'Tasse' with a capital. 'So all nouns start with a capital,' I say. 'You are correct, lady from the other side of the globe. I am 63. I've had a good life,' he tells me without any prompts. 'I've been to Asia and Africa. I don't like Russia but would like to go to Siberia and see the deepest lake in the whole world; Lake Baikal. But first, Putin must die. I like that you write with a pen. I like the Bonobos in the Congo as they solve problems through sex, and I became a woman in 1991, which solved my problems. They took the inside of my penis out and turned the skin inwards inside me to make me a vagina. I wanted to be a girl as my father always had dirt under his fingernails, and my mother worked on a typewriter, so her fingernails were clean. So at the age of 30, I decided to become a woman. It's been a hard and stony road, but now I am satisfied with who I am; a mixture of both sexes. I am reluctant to leave my new friend, but it is time to go bike riding, so we clasp hands, and I cross the three sets of traffic lights that span these huge roads, wondering idly if the Reichstag will be as interesting as the life of Oleke/Olei. I am the only one in my bicycle group to begin with as I was the spare in the last group, so they offloaded me even though I had registered an hour earlier than the others. I am trying not to let petty injustices raise my blood pressure. All sorts of people from all sorts of countries drift to join tour guide Raymond and me. Raymond is thin and American and has such an inconsequential air about him that I don't even think to take his photo. He is wearing a vis vest and holding another in his hand. He selects some random Danish girl and asks her if she would mind riding at the back of the group to make sure we are all keeping together. I am hurt but not surprised he didn't choose me as his sheepdog, but I never get chosen for responsible jobs. Helmets are not compulsory, but I wear one as I seem to remember my insurance policy saying no bike riding. We set off to the Jewish quarter and look at a wall with bullet holes still in it. They have been left purposely, of course, lest we forget. God help us that the Germans have an indelible stain on their copybook. Outside the building, there are four little bronze squares with the names of the people who lived there and who died in the camps. These little plaques are going into pavements all over Germany as some sort of installation artwork. I can't quite understand Raymond as he talks like Jodie Foster, with the words coming from a place too far down his throat, so by the time they come out, they've sort of been strangled. We go past impossibly splendid ornate buildings that make our Auckland museum look like the stables. The streets are so wide that beautiful bronze statues stand majestically, saluting the glory of God in lanes all to themselves. Parks, which are often cemeteries too, run along the edges of the splendid roads as nature turns to spring almost overnight and frames the impossibly beautiful scene. We go to the Brandenburg Gate, which Raymond says was put up so that people had to pay taxes to go in and out. He says only royalty could go in the center arch, but that doesn't apply now as the old king, Kaiser Wilhelm II, was banished to Holland after losing World War I, so he could never go through the middle arch again. The Quadriga on top of the Brandenburg Gate is truly beautiful, so beautiful that Napoleon stole it in 1806 when he rode in triumph into Berlin under these gates. We go to the Reichstag and Checkpoint Charlie again. I then rush back to my hotel to see Jamie for the first time as he has a few stolen hours from the rigors of being an international athlete, which seems much more arduous and less lucrative than being a pop star. I hug him and hold him and bury my face in his dear familiarity. He has been training at Dusseldorf but has now come to Berlin for the games that start in two days. We eat a German sausage (currywurst) and then go to sleep for two hours as he has training, and I have a very sore bottom from jolting on ancient cobblestone roads with my derriere like a pillowcase without a pillow these days. I sleep soundly, blissfully unaware of the ordeal that is lurking ahead. Jamie leaves, and I have a shower and get dressed in a skirt and nice silk blouse, which has worked well in the past, to go and have dinner with Maliah and Peter from the plane, Maliah's sister Norah who lives in Berlin, and her boyfriend Rupert from NZ. I pick up the only bottle of champagne, which is suspiciously only 6E at the funny store near my hotel, and take a taxi to go to dinner at my new friends' place deep in West Berlin. The taxi driver has beautiful piano music playing, but we don't say a word as I presume he doesn't speak English. He drops me at the end of a street, gesturing that he can't go down it because it is closed. I pay him with cash from my bum bag, trying to get him to indicate more clearly which fork in the street I should take. I am not focused on the task of our transaction. I see there are lots of shops around, so I decide to try and find a better bottle of champagne. I find a shop, buy a nice bottle of champagne, and pay the nice man. Now, I have two bottles of champagne in a brown paper bag. I leave the store and start walking down the street and into the closed-off road. I go to check the address on my phone, and my phone is not in my bum bag. My phone, my guide to survival in the modern world with my credit cards attached, is not in my bum bag.

I run back to the nice man who sold me the champagne and say, 'I have lost my phone. I must have had it as my cards are in it.' 'You paid with cash,' he says, and unbelievably shows me a video of the transaction. There is undeniably me pulling cash from my bum bag. I leave the shop and champagne with my new friend, the shopkeeper, and go down the road to see if I recognise any of the names on the resident boards. Unbelievably, my new friend Maliah, whom I have known for about half an hour, is my only connection to who I am. Nothing. I go back to the shop. I am hysterical, weeping, and ranting, saying my life is over. A nice girl called Gigi, who is drinking beer laced with tequila outside, comes and smiles at me and says she learned English in Liverpool but would rather have gone to America. This distracts me momentarily but doesn't help much. My nice friend, the shopkeeper, rings the centre for taxis and talks in German for about half an hour while serving customers, with me evaluating my bleak options of replacing Visa cards in Berlin at night and getting back to my hotel, which I'm not sure where it is, as I show a picture of the address on my phone to anyone who is engaged in the task of shepherding me around. Finally, my new friend, the shopkeeper, has a Eureka moment. 'You know your number?' he asks. 'Yes, yes, yes,' I say and jump around him. We ring my faithful old number. The taxi driver picks up. I put my new friend, the shopkeeper, on and the taxi driver says he will bring the phone in 30 minutes. I cry with relief and joy. I want to give my new friend, the shopkeeper, 50 euros, but he says he did it for humanity and that I'm very lucky, as most people don't find things, which I'm glad he didn't say at the beginning. I buy my friend Gigi another beer laced with tequila, and I have an ordinary beer sitting in her smoky haze, which is most comforting. We sit celebrating on the street while my new friend, the shopkeeper, looks as pleased as a surgeon who has just performed a successful lifesaving operation, which in a way he has. Gigi says she is an architect and that she has a friend coming, but I never see one. My taxi driver arrives, and I hug him and tell him I knew he was a good man because of the piano music he played, but he doesn't understand. But the goodwill is in the air, and I give him the 40 euros it cost him to drive my phone home. He says, 'Ring friend,' so he must have had a bit of English all along, the old fraudster. He comes back 5 minutes later and says I gave him 45 euros by mistake. I laugh and tell him to keep it, keep it, it's all yours, and I hug him until he manages to escape, and the shopkeeper gazes proudly like Mufasa indulging Simba. My phone rings; it is Maliah. They are in the street scouting for me. They were concerned when I didn't appear after saying I was 5 minutes away. They say they were even more concerned when they rang, and a strange man answered. They take me up 5 flights of an industrial staircase in an industrial building to an apartment that one just has to show off by inviting people home for dinner. There is no TV, only books, as Rupert and Norah only watch the odd thing, I'm sure, on their computers. How cool. I am like an infatuated schoolgirl with a crush on all things German. We drink champagne and Aperol Spritz. My friend Maliah is beautiful and makes me like my thin hair as hers hangs about her like a fine veil shimmering as she dances with the dog and hugs and kisses her little sister Lily.

They refuse to let me help with the dishes, and I leave with Maliah to drop her at her old flat, which is supposedly en route to my hotel. In that weird Uber way, the driver won't take me to my hotel from Maliah's place, so we both get out, and Maliah orders a new Uber. I jump in and wave goodbye as my driver drives me miles to the wrong Leonardo hotel. I sit sadly and dejectedly in the back of the Uber while the driver contacts Maliah, and they harangue each other while the pleasant effects of champagne and Aperol Spritz evaporate rapidly. Then inexplicably, the driver takes off into the night, and sometime later, I am home at the right Leonardo Hotel in Alexanderplatz. I crawl to the hotel bar, creep up in the lift with a glass of red wine and my phone. Just another day in Berlin. To anyone reading my travels in Berlin I thought you might be interested in this. Charley is helping me get these blogs out and he runs my writing though a grammar and spelling check app. Well he got carried away and used some Artificial Intelligence ap and when he sent me my story to check before sending it out the ap had written this last paragraph.........

As the night wears on, I realize that I need to get some rest for the busy day ahead. I head back to my hotel room, feeling content and happy. Despite the challenges of navigating a new city and dealing with a faulty coffee machine, my day in Berlin has been full of interesting experiences and new connections. I drift off to sleep, excited for what tomorrow will bring. It is somewhat reassuring to know that AI cannot write nonsense.....

Enjoy the photos:

I find my phone!

Mufasa aka Baram.

My saviour!

Just a regular guy.

Okeka Okei

Reichstag rebuilt 1994 - 1999

German chic.

My cafe.


Bullet Holes.

Jewish Memorial.

Empty shelves in the ground to commemorate the burning of 20,000 books.

Gigi still waiting for her friend.

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