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  • Ashleigh Ogilvie-Lee

Blog 5 - "Ich bin ein Berliner" means "I am a donut."

Jamie's friend Leo has arrived at my hotel. Leo lives in Melbourne but is presently living in Kassel, Germany with his German girlfriend who is serious and doesn’t do any form of social media. She is like the Germans I have seen who extraordinarily prefer living their own life; drinking beer, eating strudel and processed meats, smoking, talking, playing cards with their grandchildren on tables full of flowers; to watching other people live their lives on social media.

Leo has booked and paid to stay at my hotel but wants to get out of his booking and stay with a friend. He says his chances are slight as Germans do not go along with people changing their minds. There is no negotiation about things. For example, the other day, I was buying a very dry-looking salad at a café and I asked politely if there is any salad dressing. "Nein. You want it or not?" Stare.

We sit in the nice foyer, and Jamie arrives, and we have a beer, as you do in Germany at any hour of the day or night; when getting in and out of taxis, sitting at swimming pools, walking in parks, or with apple strudel at 9 am on a Sunday morning. Leo says he has been reading my blogs, and Jamie says it is petulant and childish that I have a photo of my family with a big cross though my ex-husband. Leo, of course, agrees with Jamie, and they sort of gang up on me in a friendly way, and Leo says his mother has quite got over her marriage break up and now lives happily in the countryside with her chickens. They shake their heads in sad disbelief that I haven’t managed to move on. I tell them to watch The Railway Man with Colin Firth and see how long he harboured a grudge against his Japanese torturer.

We sit waiting for the hotel manager to talk to Leo about his booking, and Leo says if they don’t refund him, he will write scathing reviews about the hotel, which I think is a bit churlish. I like my hotel and feel quite protective of it as they upgraded me to a bigger room when I said the air conditioner wasn’t working, which I suspect it actually was. Jamie’s girlfriend Sammie arrives, and it is just lovely all sitting together in Berlin. We are like exotic birds, which of course we are, as we have flown far from our nesting grounds.

A couple of hours later, the hotel manager arrives, and he and Leo have a very brief conversation where the manager says, of course, you can’t have a refund. Do you want the room or not? Jamie goes back to practice water polo, and Leo and Sammie and I go for a walk in one of the hundreds of beautiful parks in Berlin where spring is literally bursting forth after having been frozen in minus 20 degrees for the long winter months. Leo says when the ground first thaws, millions of little earthworms are washed onto the pavements. I ask him if people go and put them safely back in the earth as I have always done and wrote a little poem about this hobby once.

Saving worms

I have saved 1000 lives

By lifting from the floods

Little worms that floated up

But cannot live above

And did you know without these worms

The earth would surely die

They toil and toss for all their lives

Never asking why

Leo says the Germans do not save worms from drowning, and he looks at me in a peculiar way.

As we stroll happily in the park, we are assaulted by birds singing sweetly in German. I understand now why there are no birds on the streets; they prefer the sweet purity of the parks. But not the monstrous raucous crows as big as tar barrels that prefer to strut their stuff on the city streets like feathered

guardians of pavements ,rubbish bins and all other impervious


The park we walk in is also a cemetery, and every little grave is a masterpiece where little statues, fountains, living flowers, and soft toys are arranged with such thought that they give pleasure to everyone strolling through the park. The love that goes into these graves sort of spills out into the air, and life and death are one, and the birds sing for "ubi aves ibi angeli" (where there are birds, there are angels). Leo says he likes this about the Germans - that even after you're dead, they look after you, so in this way, the dead keep living. There is graffiti everywhere, and some of it is very childish, and Sammie says she could do it. Leo says Berlin has the best graffiti culture in the world, and I shouldn't be too critical of bad graffiti, as all artists have to start somewhere, but he doesn't think they should start on graveyard walls. He says his favorite graffiti artist is called Creature. Leo has been Jamie's friend for many years, but I have never really known him, and I am pleased to be tossed up with him in a foreign place where the shackles of our own country are thrown to the wind, and we can dance freely together.

A tall man in a tartan suit strolls by and does a sort of fisted salute at us and says his name is Rhineheart, and a dog barks at us from behind a gated garden. This overgrown soft wonderland is a communal garden that is used by the people in the apartment block who sit dotted under the trees in rickety old iron chairs, with grass and wildflowers scratching their knees while they read and talk, shut their eyes in the sun and try to stop their dogs barking. The owner of the dog tries to quieten him down, and I say it's ok, I love dogs, but the owner says it's very bad training, and he doesn't seem to give a jot about my loving dogs. Leo says that the Germans wrote the first book on dog training, and perhaps he should read it.

This park is a little treasure trove of loveliness in magical ways, and I think to myself, "what a beautiful world." There are beehives where Reinheart goes to sit among the bees and tells us that many of his beloved bees died during the winter from a parasite. Germans love insects and build them little insect sanctuaries with all sorts of shapes of wood and holes for them to play in. Sammie and I get stung by stinging nettles around our ankles, but Leo says that the nettles are very good for us and that some people whip themselves on the back with them. There really is no end to Leo's nonsense, but then again, he is a Taurean. He tells Sammie and me that he went ferreting the other day in Kassel with his girlfriend's grandfather, who is a famous ferreter. They put the ferret down a rabbit hole, and the ferret chases all the rabbits up. Then the grandfather throws a net over the hole just as the rabbits poke their little furry bunny ears up and cuts their throats.

On the ground, very plump, large, glossy pigeons strut about importantly, as if they know they are German. We leave the park to walk momentarily along streets where most of the buildings are six stories high, which Sammie says is the most sustainable height for buildings as it maximizes natural light, and the height doesn't intimidate old ladies, small children, dogs, or trees. We climb some steps and are back in yet another park, but this is a sporty park. There is such jolliness and camaraderie here, where the harsh winters have provided the people with a launching pad to spring into the warm arms of Spring. There are people playing vigorous table tennis, and children kicking balls on miniature soccer fields and basketball courts. Babies lie in prams sleeping or crying, children scare their mothers to death in dangerous playgrounds, teenagers smoke weed, adults drink beer, and old couples hold hands.

Playgrounds come out of the earth in wood and rope and grass, and they are enticingly dangerous-looking, not like at home where health and safety ensures our no-risk obsession means no fun either. Leo says, "what is the point in living if you've never lived at all?

Leo says "Ich bin ein Berliner" means "I am a donut." Bells toll in absolutely no regular time, and kids ride on backs and fronts of bikes without helmets, and there are very few obese people. Leo says this is because they walk and bike everywhere, as they've been around for thousands of years, so why rush?

We go to watch Jamie play Khuzestan, and it is a very proud moment to see him standing there in a black tracksuit with his right hand to his heart representing NZ. He gets the first goal for his team, and it is very moving to hear Jamie Ogilvie Lee over the loudspeaker with a German trill... like birdsong to a mother's ears.

At the end of the game, we have to check out with our tickets, and the man at the door says to us, "of course, you have to check out. This is Germany. What do you think it is, Zimbabwe?"

After the game, Sammy and Leo and I pass the Jewish memorial where a whole lot of grey rectangles shaped like coffins dot a big square, and Leo says this is the most photographed place for Instagrammers in Berlin. I think the grey painted concrete is ugly, and when I see all these memorials to the Jewish people who lost their lives, I can't help but spare a thought for the Palestinian people and wonder where their memorials are. Sammie and I go on to the Brandenburg Gate as she hasn't seen it, and I want to hang out there and see the buskers, but there aren't any. There are just confused serious old tourists reading guide books, and young ones taking selfies with Frederick the Great's horses snorting in derision behind them. I show Sammie the underground empty shelves which symbolize the 20,000 burnt books. It's quite clever, and it is about the only thing I remember from Raymond's tour. Leo leaves us to go to bed. We are just two small dots surrounded by brutal, beautiful architecture where no doubt kings with all the money in the world competed to have the most glorious cities, which like all things truly beautiful, are even more beautiful with age, like my mum.

We go and sit in a little café where pretty bouquets of huge, colorful tulips plucked from kerbside gardens sit on each table, and two nice men give up a table with umbrellas for us so we don't get sunburnt. They, of course, won't as they have European skin which the sun has kissed in gratitude at not being banished by SPF 50. We have the compulsory asparagus soup and rice balls and look over a little park where primary school children are on a trip. They climb statues, and teachers look on indulgently, and an old couple walk by immaculately dressed, and he has a walker, and she is holding his hand as it rests on the walker. A young man dozes on a chair beside a statue of some legs and shoes with no top. For this moment, I don't want to be anywhere in the whole world but here with Sammie and the bright flowers and the delighted and delightful children and the great horses and the blue sky and the silly statue.

Sammie wants to go in the great cathedral, so we do, and then she wants to climb the 267 steps to the top, which says "warning, very difficult, warning, once you start, there is no way back." We stand at the top and gaze over Berlin, but I've never been a great one for views, but I'm relieved my heart pumped me up all those stairs. "Merci mon coeur, je t'aime."

We pass a rugby team from Holland on our way to nowhere, and they are full of gaiety, and everyone is laughing with them, and they wear great clogs and carry all their food and alcohol in a sort of small carriage that they sit on. We then walk for a while in a friendly protest for the rights of the disabled who are happily being wheeled or wheeling themselves down the wide streets with Frederick's horses cheering them on.

We get in a little cart which is cycled by a man who has been doing it since he was 14. "Which means 12 years," he says. I say, "well, you must know Berlin pretty well," and he snorts under his ponytail. He takes us to the Jewish museum where you have to get a ticket, but it's free. It's a very imposing, scary place, and there is one room all of concrete with a small hole at the top where the light just peeps in, and it is very tall but small and the air is decompressed. I am afraid of getting locked in and go next door to tread on 10,000 masks of human faces made of metal which lie on the floor silently screaming at us as we walk on them. We walk out a bit stunned from this not-to-be-missed ordeal recommended by our NZ friends and eat a spinach pastry and beer to cheer ourselves up. We get in an Uber with our beers and get lost going to Jamie's next water polo game and end up forlornly looking at the wrong Schwimmhalle. We arrive at the game late and flustered and miss the anthem, and Jamie scowls at us from under his cap with plastic ear protectors, but we wave our pois and flags, and Iran, which is a landlocked country, beats us by one goal.

Leo, Sammie, and I have met up with some friends of Jamie's called Luke and Caroline who are traveling around Europe. They are delightful, and she is Indian and lives with her grandmother who lets Luke stay over while her parents won't. We join up for dinner with Grant and Nicky, who have two huge, ginger-haired identical twins in the NZ team. Grant carries pois and NZ flags in his backpack for us to wave and twirl when NZ scores the occasional goal. We all walk for a few miles with cans of prosecco in our hands to a pub where we eat burgers and drink wine. Caroline is very interested that I went into the Peruvian rainforest to take ayahuasca as an alternative to moving to the country and raising chickens when my life came crashing down.

She asks me, "did Ayahuasca work?" and looks at me with that intense gaze common amongst people who study the workings of the mind. I feel as if I'm in the witness box under oath. In answer to her question, I think we are the sum of all our experiences. The experience of Ayahuasca in the Peruvian rainforest, where I had a bad trip dispensed from a dirty coke bottle as I lay on a filthy mattress in a Moloka while shamans breathed tobacco over me and rattled their beads to ward away the evil spirits, cannot be isolated from all other experiences. The shamans did ask me, "do you want us to rattle our beads and incant our magic for your husband to come back or stay away?" and I said, "stay away," so I guess my answer in the witness box would have been... it did work.

We all go home except Leo, who pretends he is going to bed but sneaks out to party the night away.

Enjoy the photos:

My boy representing his country.

Jame and the man, the myth, the legend: Leo.

Shnoo and Shnoo Shnoo.

Garden assortment:

Six story building no higher than the trees.

Leo ready to show the Germans how to do the New Zealand Poi Dance.


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3 comentários

11 de mai. de 2023

Dear Ash I so enjoy your posts - smile as I read and great to see Jamie in NZ strip. Maranui wold be proud - if it still existed! Panpacs perfect training all those years back :) Love to you both. xo


10 de mai. de 2023

I've loved seeing your vision of life in Berlin through your eyes and think of how this wonderful experience is going to help you establish a good foundation for your new experience of France because up until now we have seen everything from the eyes of New Zealand which is so remote in every way from what happens in such older countries as Germany & France with their long histories. Thank you darling for making it all so interesting. The photos are beautiful and Jamie and Sammie will be so pleased to have them in the years to come. Love M.


09 de mai. de 2023

Hi Ashleigh I am enjoying your eventful journey in Berlin, you really get a taste and feel for the city in the wonderful way you describe your adventures! People spotting is the name of the game by the looks of it. Enjoy your next episode in Paris! Cant wait to find out how it goes!

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