The Escape of the Polish Public Transportation Controller

My crimes of smuggling illegal books, other written material, and East German Marks into the German Democratic Republic (GDR, aka East Germany), purchased with West German Marks (DM) in the west, still haunt me. Not that I regret doing what I did, but in certain situations I acutely feel the fear I felt as a young person. Also probably what haunts me is all the travel as a young person alone, being stopped and searched multiple times, once being put in a room in East Berlin with my friends and made to wait and sweat, and in general, traveling in the east when there were so many police with machine gun type weapons and so many rules to follow.

So, even though I am now fifty and many of those experiences were all between twenty and thirty or more years ago, today I overreact to certain situations that involve security, police, or other forms of authority. Here is a recent story of such an over-reaction in Krakow, Poland.

My legs still feel like rubber as I begin to record this. Luckily I could understand some Polish because of my knowledge of Russian, and luckily Cora sat halfway back in the street car as I went forward to get tickets from the machine. While trying to do so, I dropped the coins in my hand. I had checked earlier to make sure I had enough (2.80 zloty per person), but trying to get my reading glasses off my shirt, they tangled with the sunglasses also hanging there and dropped coins. I thought I picked them all up. I bought one ticket and then proceeded to try to buy the next but realized I was 10 groszy short.

As an aside so that one knows I am an honest adult, I had always bought tickets and never rode “black” (Schwarz fahren it is called in German), and that morning in Krakow, I had also rightfully purchased two tickets for us to ride the street car to Oscar Schindler’s museum.

Since the machine didn’t accept bills, I didn’t know what to do except to go back to Cora and sit down. I guess we could have gotten out, since we had twenty minutes before the first ticket expired, and I could have gotten more change.

Or I could have gotten off the train temporarily and tried to talk to the driver in English. This actually didn’t even occur to me though, although I do not know why. But you cannot speak with the driver while in the car, since he is in a separate area from the passenger area.

So I sat down, briefly told Cora the problem and nervously started counting the stations as the street car made its way toward the center. For some reason, though I was hoping it was my trauma from years back (of which I will write about in more detail soon), I had a strong feeling that Murphy’s Law will prove right – and the one time I am riding illegally (having only one full ticket for me and my daughter), I would get caught.

Sure enough, I suddenly heard something on the speaker about “Billet Kontrolni.” Since it was in Polish, those were really the only words I remember understanding, and shortly thereafter I saw a balding young man with a round face and dark brown eyes, dressed in a white dress shirt, moving his way amongst a crowd of young kids who had jumped on the streetcar after we had. They were surrounding the pay station where I had tried to buy both tickets.

It felt like the train was moving very slowly on purpose, so that the ticket controller would have enough time to make it through the train. I really imagined that was the plan for the city or state, so that no one could escape. I actually caught his eye once, and I immediately looked away, the contact not having been any kind of comfort. Of course, I felt I looked even guiltier because I had looked away.

I immediately dug out the one ticket, asked Cora for her ticket from the morning (on some hope we could show that we had paid for the morning ride) and also my money that was just 10 groszy less than what was needed for the ticket all to show that we had paid four hours earlier for the ride to the museum, that I had one ticket for us, and that I had honestly attempted to purchase another ticket but because the (stupid) machine didn’t accept bills, I wasn’t sure what to do. In my mind I was ready to explain how tired my daughter was, how her back hurt, etc. and play the mother role as to why we had continued on the streetcar despite only having one ticket.

As all this was going through my mind, I noticed that a man kitty corner from us on the train had immediately stood up and was heading to the door next to where we were sitting. I caught his eye, but his face revealed nothing. I believed he was also riding without a ticket. I hoped we were nearing a station and with that thought in mind, I ordered Cora to get up, and we stood by the door.

It still felt as though the car were moving too slowly, and I impatiently waited to see if a stop was coming. I did not turn around to see where the controller man in the white shirt was. I wanted to run off the car. Finally, finally, we stopped and suppressing the desire to shove the man in front of me out of our way, we innocently stepped out, my pounding heart hidden.

I didn’t have any idea what the fine would have been had the controller not believed my story and taken my 2.70 zloty, but I just didn’t want to deal with it. We ended up getting out of the train just on the other side of the main square, so it was a nice walk through the square again (such a lively place!) back home to our hotel on the other side.

Almost ready to post this story, I read online various posts about how harsh and bullish the Polish public transportation controllers are, about a woman and child crying, about one family who was forced to pay 240 zloty on the spot. Since they did not have it, the controller, joined by another one, took their ID and escorted them to a cash machine. They were told they would be arrested if they weren’t able to produce the cash. It is uncertain whether the controller really would arrest a foreigner, but this man had also made a mistake by purchasing the tickets, but not stamping them (they need to be stamped to be valid).

With the adrenaline already rushing through my body and my fear and panic grossly exaggerated, that would have been hard to endure – and yet, I know I would have, though since my bank card only worked in one of five cash machines we found near the Krakow main square, it might have been very trying…

And as I end this post, it also occurs to me that although so many other situations have occurred similar to this one where the fear and anxiety I felt because of security or other authority figures (for example, going through airport security, getting caught recording a concert back in the day when they still tried to control that), it might not be the trauma from the past that spurred my body into panic mode. Perhaps it was a sixth sense I have which rightfully informed me of the upcoming great harrassment and trauma that we would experience if I did not get Cora and I off the bus as soon as I could. Who knows!

Topographie des Terrors, Shame on You!

To raise awareness of sexual violence

It is 2017 and Germany still has not owned up to its widespread sexual violence during World War II, committed by German soldiers, members of both the Wehrmacht and the SS. The myth that it was only the Soviet soldiers in Berlin who committed mass rape continues in so many people’s thinking.

I was apprehensive after I read the sentence about how Red Army soldiers harrassed German women in Berlin as they entered Berlin. Since we entered the open air museum at the place where the war ended, I could only suspect that they wouldn’t mention that German soldiers had also committed massive sexual crimes during the war.

Also, because we began reading at the end of the exhibition, it made sense the Red Army rapes would be mentioned first, but I had little hope mention of the vast German system of sexual slavery and their many rapes of Jews, Slavs, and others during the war would be mentioned.

And sure enough, unless I missed it, I did not see any mention of German sexual crimes during the war. As usual, only the crimes of the Slavs were mentioned, furthering the stereotype that for some reason the Slavic men are more beastly than the Germans.

Of course, it mentioned the other crimes, but not sexual crimes. If the authors thought to mention sexual crimes of one army, then the crimes of the other should also be mentioned.

The evidence is out there, even from before my dissertation in 2004 which clearly documents widespread rape and system sexual slavery committed and established by the German Wehrmacht and SS, and since after my dissertation it has been even further documented.

Come on, Germany! Own up to your sexual crimes as well and stop pretending only the Soviet Army committed these on the eastern front.

Please, if I am wrong and missed something and the historians and those responsible for the text of this exhibition did include something of the sexual crimes the Germans committed, let me know. We were unable to spend as much time as I would have liked at this outdoor museum, so it is possible I missed something. I actually hope that I have.

I do commend Berlin for having the open air museums it does have, so at least many of the stories and photographs are available to the general public, especially to students and young persons who do not always have the financial means to enter the more expensive museums housed inside buildings.

Single Lane Cornish Hedgerow Streets

Driving in the UK is actually not as scary as I had imagined. By the third day, I skillfully and cheerfully manipulated the single-lane hedgerow streets, that really should be called paths. As my daughter said, these are as wide as the bike paths we use in Minnesota.

But everyone was friendly and smiling, and we never had any incident. I knew when to break and wait, and also took charge when it seemed it was I who needed to go first. After the pass, there was always this friendly wave from driver to driver.

Still, the second  day driving from Port Isaac to Padstow where we were staying, we had lost track of the handwritten map our hostess had written for us, so we temporarily were relying on Google offline maps. Of course, Google wanted us to get to Padstow as fast as we could, which would be driving these single car-width hedgerow streets. My daughter instructed me to turn left, and at first it seemed to be a fairly wide lane, in English terms. But having driven fifty yards or more the road turned and we saw it was tall hedges on either side and only room for one car.

I panicked. The adrenaline soared through my body, and I said, “I cannot do this.” A car appeared heading toward us. It was a Beamer. I veered to the left as far as possile, and sure enough, the lady was waving and smiling, and she made it past us without incident. I couldn’t believe it – there was no room!

I immediately started backing up. We reached the turn, which wasn’t far and I backed around the turn. I noticed a wider part of this street and thought I could turn around there.

As soon as I started turning a car appeared. Cora yelled out, and although I also panicked for a second, I figured they would just have to wait, which they did. I cheerfully waved them on and turned onto the main road.

We found the little handwritten map under my bum and made it home without having to drive these hedge streets until the next day when I felt ready.

After driving these, I felt like the other streets were wide highways.

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FB Post About My First Driving Experience in the UK

“Now I have tomorrow behind me,” I said, extremely exhausted after our harrowing eight-hour trip (supposed to be 5-1/4) from London. We drove in an hour long traffic jam, through roundabouts (only maybe three times slamming on the breaks because they came up so suddenly (and thereby sending everything in the car to the floor)), over curbs (once definitely causing damage to the underside of the “carriage”), with no money, dehydrated and starving (ok I am exaggerating), only one time completely panicking as I screamed an untruth, “I am on the wrong side of the road!!!!” and luckily able to immediately pull into a “petrol” station, saving us from the peril we never were in. Through all of this I always stayed positive so as to not stress out my young daughter who was calmly and continuously selecting music from her playlist for us to listen (kidding also, because Cora definitely picked up on the fact that I couldn’t not keep the car in the middle of the road and always wanted to drive on the side – why is that?).

Getting to London with my Daughter

Having left the bakery, we walked the block and a half to the U Bahn station. I wasn’t thinking it through and so automatically headed us down the stairs to the U Bahn station we mostly had been using while living on Mueggelstrasse, only to remember that the S Bahn didn’t go there, so we had to go up the stairs again. Already my muscles were excited from the exercise of rapidly walking and then lifting the suitcases up the stairs.

Since there were no signs, we followed the crowd, hoping and assuming it was for the S Bahn station. Our pace had already quickened. I asked a lady halfway up the hill to be sure we were following the right crowd.

Arriving at the S Bahn station, I only knew that we needed train number 9. That one had just left and a new one did not light up on the sign that showed the next two arriving trains. I looked for a time table, but of course there wasn’t one anywhere to be found, at least for the S9.

Looking at the map, I realized we could take another train and then change, but it wasn’t yet entirely clear to me. One lady told us as a train was leaving that we should have taken that one. Very typical for a German, she repeated that fact three times during our conversation. I finally said, “well, we can’t do anything about that now.” She then confirmed that I should get on either such and such or such and such number of a train.

I looked at my watch and thought we should be okay still, but really I wasn’t entirely sure. We got on the next train and immediately I asked another woman to directions for the next train. Of course, I could see on the map, but the Berlin U/S Bahn map is so complicated I wanted to be sure. We would transfer in Adlens-something so the S46.

We had two small roll suitcases and a super heavy backpack that I could already feel in my shoulders. We were also carrying our coffees, a fruit cup we had purchased last night, two sandwiches, a sweet baked good, and who knows what else.

We got out of the first train and I quickly realized the next train would come on the same track, so we sat and waited up to two minutes before the next train came. That ride was maybe ten or fifteen minutes long. When we got out, the walkway was completely packed with people, which made me worry because of the crowds and because our flight was in just over an hour.

As we walked this wide corridor I saw signs for Terminals A, B, C and D, but I had no idea which one we needed. I stopped, checked my ticket and couldn’t see it stated. We just kept walking/running, and finally, as we came out of the corridor, I saw a sign and quickly checked and saw which terminal we needed. Of course it was D, the one that was the furthest away. Still almost running, we headed toward D. I was waffling between feeling like we would make it and also just hoping that we would. The flight was so cheap, so that wouldn’t have been the loss – but trying to find a new one, messing up our plans, having to either sleep again somewhere in Berlin or somewhere new in London – I didn’t want to even go there in my mind.

When we got to the first door of D I quickly looked around and found the Easyjet counter we needed but in front of it was one of those zig zag lines that crossed back and forth at least ten times. The crowd was huge. We got in line right away, but my heart sank. I didn’t see how we could get out.

I went to the bathroom where there also was a line, so I came back out, too nervous to stay in a small, smelly room with a line. I asked an EasyJet employee what he thought we should do. He said to just get back in line, that we would make it. The long line was moving fast, but since it was now less than an hour before takeoff and we also needed to get through security, part of me was still worried. Another part of me thought they would have to take care of us since they want their passengers on their flights.

Sure enough, suddenly the large man I had asked ten to fifteen minutes prior suddenly yelled out “London Luton? London Luton? Here number 28 and 29,” and he started opening up the gates to let us out of the long line. I told Cora, “go, go.” So we got into the next line and waited there. Finally having checked our bag, we got into the next long line for security. That was stressful trying to unpack things and Cora also temporarily panicking that we left her bathroom bag in the hotel, not realizing it was in the suitcase we had just checked, but we got through.

Then again I checked what gate number since it wasn’t on my phone, and we walked/ran to the bathroom and then the gate. We finally made it, only to stand and wait fifteen minutes to board. They checked the second wheelie bag for free because the flight was so crowded. That was fine with me. I just grabbed my book and papers out of it.

Waiting to board I just kept breathing. It had been a stressful morning. I keep my mood up, but the stress was still there. I didn’t feel like missing our flight, paying much more for another one, even maybe then having to drive in the dark to arrive in Padstow or to have to stay overnight in London because it was too late. I sat in the plane, and my body felt shaky from the early-morning exercise we had, walking up and down stairs, lifting the suitcases and carrying the heavy backpack. For an international two and a half week trip, we are packed very lightly, but still…and then I got to drive in the UK on the left side of the road for the first time.

Out with the old-fashioned, patriarchal Mrs. title!

I recently made it onto a BBC News page because I submitted comments after reading an article about the woman who coined the term Ms. They edited my comments and included my picture along with comments and photos of a few other women. What fun! It is an important issue, and young women should not voluntarily and knowingly be using the term Mrs. any longer. That is only continuing the linguistic prison we find ourselves in much of the time. Language does matter.

I commented, “Thank you for the article.

This issue is one of my pet peeves and has been for decades. I have had several men tell me I am “too sensitive” and am “expecting too much of others” because of my opinions on these words and titles.

I only ever use Ms. and have used it since I was my early twenties. I am now fifty. I find it insulting that I would be considered a possession of my husband while he is an individual, being a Mr.

I have been frustrated in Europe where Ms. isn’t used so much, so, for example, in Germany, I am Mrs. Gertjejanssen or even Dr. Mrs. Gertjejanssen. “Frau” gets translated as Mrs. instead of Ms. Also, when purchasing an airline ticket there is no Ms. choice on some European airlines.

I am also disappointed in how many young American women use the possessive Mrs. Perhaps they don’t understand the meaning behind it and use it because it is traditional, and they view Ms. as too feminist instead of as an equivalent to Mr.

Thank you again for the article.

Wendy”