How I ended up in The's a long way from Canada

Real Estate Agent with HK Lane Real Estate

continued from Monday...

I proved to myself that if you put your mind to it, you can do just about anything.  After a long day of banging on doors, I learned a bit of German...I experienced a lot of "Nein(s)".  There wasn't much I was qualified for without speaking the language.  At day's end, I went into "Karstadt", the largest department store in the downtown area.  At personel, they said if I can't speak German, there wasn't anything available.  Dejected, I started to walk away when the secretary asked me if I could wash dishes.  "Are you kidding?", I said.  "I'm the Beethoven of dishwashing."

I had to fill out a form with my address and said that I had my things at the train station but would check into a youth hostel that night.  I was informed that youth hostels would be closed beginning the first week of October.  It was October 4th.  The secretary told me to gather my things from the train station and be back at her office by 5 PM.  She would have her sister, who worked for the Bank of New York, meet me and take me home with her.  I wondered if she might want to ask her sister first, but it didn't seem to be an issue.

I did go home with Helga, who's mother was recuperating in the hospital from an operation of some kind and therefore was the reason that there was room to accommodate me until I got on my feet.  She was so gracious and generous but I didn't want to impose of her too long.  Two days later, I moved into a convent on Schmilinsky Strasse.  It looked like the set of "The Sound of Music"--not the beautiful mountain part but the sterile, convent part devoid of color or anything superfluous, for tht matter.  Black habits were everywhere. 

I found this convent, courtesy of Leigh Cornish and Wendy Knox, two Canadian girls I met at my new dishwashing job opportunity.  They were in the same boat as I and we quickly became fast friends.  We worked side by side, but being the "newbie", I got initiated into the floor washing (whenever a kid in the restaurant was unable to keep his sauerkraut down).  In addition to stacking the dishwasher and drying the cuttlery, I also got to peel onions.  It didn't seem horrible because I didn't have to chop them but when you peel hundreds of them, your hands develop little onionskin cuts not to mention that you reek of onions for days...and days.

Leigh, Wendy and I worked hard by day and played hard by night.  We went to The Reeperbahn, Hamburg's famous district of St. Pauli where the nightlife never ends.  We danced and listened to Beatles songs and wished they were still highlighting at The Star Club.  We never met any significant others but we enjoyed the attention that we got from our Bohemian admirers.  It is hard for me to fathom that once I was able to dance continuously for eight hours and do hard labor the following day without breaking the cycle.  Oh, to have that kind of stamina today.  If ever we bumped into the nuns when we were sneaking back in, we simply said that we went to early if we were fooling anyone.  I'm still going to confession for those white lies.

I don't remember who had the brainstorm or when we all agreed that we wanted to go to East GermanyBerlin was way south and would cost us a train trip to get there and we were sure that all we would see is a facade and a planned tour.  Besides, we didn't have the extra money.  It wouldn't be the REAL East Germany, anyway. 

We decided that on October 31, Halloween night, when the moon was full, we would get a ride to Travemunde slightly north of Hamburg and Lubeck on the Baltic Sea and begin our adventure from there.  In 1968, the only building I can recall in Travemunde was a casino which was where the East German Wall began on the shores of the beach.  Now, the plan was, to walk along the beach until we were far enough away from civilization and climb over the wall, find a farmhouse where we could spend the night, slip into the town unnoticed, mingle with the locals (by now we were somewhat familiar with "kitchen" German and when we had seen the REAL East Germany, we would simply go back the way we came.  We were avid fans of "The Great Escape".  Did I mention that we were young, naive and stupid?  No?   What about that all three of us are lucky to be able to tell this story today?  Or, the fact that we didn't spend the rest of our lives in a Gulag somewhere in Siberia is for no other reason than BECAUSE we were young, naive and stupid.  I have no doubt that our captors believed this to be true.

The Wall is comprised of three sections.  The first part of the "fence" is a flush diamond shaped metal that stands about seven feet or so topped with a foot of barbed wire which fans outward making it nearly impossible to we dug under the first part and shimmied through to the center.  The center had three coils of rolled barbed wire which, if no one is following you and you are not in a hurry, can be navigated quite easily.  The third part is the same as the first but from the inside, the barbed wire fanned away from us.  We couldn't dig under because it was solid concrete so we had no choice but to climb over the top and jump.  Halloween had never been quite so exciting as this one was going to be...

to be continued...

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Comments (4)

Claude Cross
Homes By Cross, Inc. - Charlotte, NC
Charlotte NC Homes For Sale

Facinating and vivid descriptions of the past. Very interested in the future post. Follows like a tv show with "scenes from the next week" Perhaps you should write a book. Cheers!

Oct 15, 2009 09:56 AM
Connie Kashkawol
HK Lane Real Estate - Palm Desert, CA

Thanks, Claude.   Blogs are so much easier since it is merely a stream of consciousness.  I have lots of stories but not the kind of talent it takes to actually write a book.  Ghost writer, perhaps?

Thanks, again, for indulging me and taking the time to read my fun stories.




Oct 15, 2009 01:37 PM
Gary Coles (International Referrals)
Venture Realty International - Las Vegas, NV
Latin America Real Estate

Connie,  I am loving the continuing saga of your travels.  I was in Europe in 1970-71.  The US Army sent me to Berlin and I stayed after I got out and traveled around Europe and North Africa.  I had my share of adventures so it is fun to see your perspective.  I can hardly wait to hear more about the wall -- the East Germans held me at gunpoint at Checkpoint Charlie -- maybe I'll have to post about it.  Thanks so much for sharing your adventures.

Oct 15, 2009 03:56 PM
Connie Kashkawol
HK Lane Real Estate - Palm Desert, CA

Hi Gary,

It was certainly an interesting time to be in Europe.  My adventures then had such a big hand in creating the person I am today--although, I confess, I think a bit longer before I leap which would have been completely foreign to me back then.  Ah, yes... No Man's Land.  I had a very fun experience there--the machine guns, mines and Kalishnikovs were introduced well beforeCheckpoint Charlie. 

I'll try to get  the next installment out within the next day or two.

Thanks for indulging me and taking the time to read my blog.

All best,


Oct 15, 2009 04:55 PM