Stories of this Canadian girl's adventures exploring Europe...join me!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

mickey and minnie and the east

I have a loud boss. Let’s call him Mickey. And Mickey has a loud family. There are 9 siblings in all, who, along with their numerous, small, yappy dogs, create loud, albeit friendly, mayhem whenever and wherever two or more are gathered.

Mickey talks a lot…in harried, spontaneous fashion…going off on every conceivable tangent, but again, always happy and friendly; stopping to talk and tell stories to anyone he meets.

Mickey’s lebensgefährten (a great German word for life-partner, much better than ‘girlfriend’ or ‘boyfriend’ if you’re over, say, 19), let’s call her Minnie (because it fits better than I could ever hope for), had a baby girl four months ago, who her step-brother has named ‘wurst’ (sausage).

Last week, I went with Mickey and his small dog, Emil, on a northern Germany tour to personally deliver wine to over 40 of his customers. It was a loud, but happy day. I learned a lot about wine, and about the towns and people who we visited.

We started off at 5 am, heading north on the autobahn, in a wine bus filled to the brim with boxes of weiss and grau burgunder, riesling, dornfelder, CAbernet-meRLot (which Mickey has named ‘Carl’ in honour of his newest nephew), and sekt, of course. We headed as far east as Magdebourg and as far north as Braunschweig, through towns with names like, Wolfbüttel, Gunsleben, Schöppenstedt and Hornburg.

But, the most outstanding part of the day for me, was definitely crossing the former East German border. At this particular border crossing, almost everything from 20 years ago was still intact, except for the actual machine guns and soldiers. The gun towers were still there. The high, spiral, barb-wired fences, which used to hold machine guns set to automatically fire when motion detectors were set off, were still there. The panzer brechers (tank breakers) were still there.

I stood there. And I could not believe that just 20 years ago I would have been shot for doing just that. Standing THERE. Mickey spent hours telling me stories about young Russian soldiers being fed and clothed by East Germans, the very same people they were supposed to shoot upon sight if they were seen trying to escape; or how the Russians ordered all hog barns near the border to be dug down a few extra metres so that in the event of an uprising of East Germans trying to escape, soldiers could be hidden there to surprise and kill them; or about Gorbatchev’s leadership and how his decision to stand firm with the West led to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Nearby, at a roadside cherry stand, Mickey loudly and jovially bantered with the bored, East German guy who was manning it. Mickey loaded up on cherries and apples to bring home to Minnie, wanting to pump a bit of money into this fella’s pockets. And, for the same reason, we stopped at a very, lonely-looking bakery and bought some heidesand cookies (an East German specialty) for Minnie and great guy (though his didn’t survive the 4 hour trip home). After 30 years of a wall, 20 years has not been enough time to erase the impact of it. There are signs of restoration and rejuvenation…all good things…next to signs of shambles and shame.

It is completely incredible how quickly the world (or the places in it) can change, either for the bad or for the good. And, often it comes down to one person.
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