A Bargain Break in Berlin then to Dresden and Leipzig. Even Colditz! An escorted coach tour with my old friend, Diana, and a company we knew well. It seemed like a good idea at the time. What could possibly go wrong?
We opt to share a room (twin beds, of course) but there is a minor downside. She snores. A gentle, melodic sort of sigh but nevertheless disturbing. Remember to pack the earplugs. We arrived on a beautiful spring morning. The coach took us around the usual city centre tourist areas. The breathtaking and sobering holocaust memorial with it’s stark, stone oblong blocks reminded us of all who perished under that evil regime.
People were gazing, standing, sitting and, inevitably, taking selfies, of this monumental installation. Suddenly, I was swept back to my first few months as a young military wife. It was 1961/2. Yes, that long ago. Politically a terrifying but, for me, a wonderful, life changing time. A man went into space, the Berlin Wall had appeared almost overnight and the Cuban Crisis sent shockwaves round the world. My fiancé was serving with the British Army in Germany there was a wedding to plan. A bottom drawer (how quaint) to fill. I dreaded listening to the news or reading a paper. No mobile or social media to update me. Would our happiness be in jeopardy?
Fast forward fifty plus years, 2 sons and 7 grandchildren later (and long divorced) I’m back re-living those mixed memories. There is something about this country, this city which I find very familiar and oddly comforting. Nostalgia can play tricks. The autobahns, architecture, the language, the shops, street signs, the sounds and smells are still deeply ingrained in my subconscious. The optimism and exhilaration when the wall came tumbling down now long gone. The sadness still haunts.
Back to reality with a jolt as we were delivered to our modern, grey, unremarkable high rise hotel. In reception my problems, as always, begin. My room is on the 2nd floor. There are no stairs and I do not do lifts. I suffer from claustrophobia which, according to my mother, was brought on by eye watering difficulties producing my second son….
After explaining my situation in limited German to the bewildered, receptionist I was given a key to an outer emergency staircase? What is claustrophobia in German? We went to unpack and arranged to meet up in the bar later. I easily found my way up the concrete fire escape stairs, then down an endless, anonymous corridor to our room.
Freshened up and ready for a meal I left the room, after Diana, and found the emergency exit stairway. The fire door slammed heavily behind me and, to my horror, I suddenly realised that this was another stairway. I was LOCKED in an adjacent building. The key did not work. Heart pounding. Panic rising. Disorientated, I ran up and down flights of stairs then lost my bearings. Each floor had an office but it was early evening and nobody around. I screamed and banged on doors. Luckily, I had my mobile phone but the signal was spasmodic. I phoned Diana. She was confused and couldn’t understand where I was, why I was locked in. Not much help! In desperation, I sent a text to my son in UK. He rang the hotel but they were perplexed by my predicament. 30 mins had passed. By now, thoroughly exhausted and frightened I sat on some steps with tears rolling down my face. Convinced I would be spending the night locked in an office block. Somehow I made an extra effort to find a way out. I ran down another flight of steps and, by some miracle, I found myself near a ground floor exit to be met by a very surprised caretaker holding a bunch of keys. Presumably he had been called to find this mad English woman…Hallelujah! Freedom. I was rescued. I thanked him in very rusty German. By now ashen faced and shaking, the relief of the cooling night air swept over me. I was in an inner courtyard next door to my hotel. In the bar, my friend Diana and other guests were blissfully unaware of my ordeal. They looked slightly puzzled by my agitated state. Too traumatised to explain in detail I was offered a much needed, large glass of wine. Danke ! Still can’t go in a lift…so travel plans can be limited.