Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Copenhagen through my Rearview Tablet

One of the many web sites I visit each morning with my coffee and Ipad is called Cycle Chic. The site originates from Copenhagen and focuses on the city’s rich urban lifestyle and its on-going love affair with the bicycle. The site provides me with a wonderful return to my first home after leaving college.

Another web site is called Monocle. It recently featured a video clip about my fair old habitat being the most livable city in the world. Several more articles on other sites have recognized the enormous strides Copenhagen has taken to make itself more livable and desirable for its inhabitants.

It’s not quite the same place as when I lived there back in the ‘60s. Back then downtown literally closed up at noon on Saturday and morphed into a ghost town until Monday morning. With the exception of Tivoli Garden, there wasn’t much happening in or around the city on the weekends.

 It’s fun to visit those web sites now and see the enormous physical and social changes the city has gone through over the last forty plus years. Yet even back then, despite its sometimes austere Nordic climate, Copenhagen still had a spirit about it and a freedom that appealed to a rambling boy from the Midwest.

I tried to cover some of my experiences living there in one of my first blogs entitled Snow White and the Seven Seekers. Denmark proved to be my first venture outside of the country where I was living on my own and experiencing another way of life. It was eye-opening, exciting, scary and mind-boggling all at the same time. Unfortunately, I did most of it all alone.

I found some refuge in the branch library just down the block from my basement apartment. Their English-language section was limited but did provide me nevertheless with a wealth of books and magazines to read and ponder. If it was in English, I read it. Some a couple of times over.

Maria, my pal at the commercial laundry, provided me with Spanish lessons every day and a ‘heads-up’ when our cranky office manager was prowling the floor.

My friend from Canada, whose name I have long since forgotten, was my one time traveling companion when we took off for a wild West Berlin weekend and ended up in East Berlin by mistake.

Our weekend trip to Germany was supposed to be a simple train ride to the coast, a ferry across the North Sea and our ending up in West Berlin. Somewhere along the tracks, we got sidelined and wound up in East Berlin by mistake. I still have no idea how we ended up in the wrong city.

And we didn’t even know it at first.

The first thing we noticed as we exited the train station was how drab all the buildings looked. Kind of surprising for a city that was supposed to be making great strides in new development after World War Two.

Of course, that didn’t stop me from taking a lot of pictures of the buildings, the people, the wide empty boulevards and even the infamous ‘Berlin Wall.’ Little did I know I was taking them all from the wrong side of the wall.


It wasn’t until my buddy asked someone about a certain address and showed her our map that she announced quite excitedly “Oust….Oust.”
“So what did she say?” I asked with a shrug of my shoulders.
My friend gave me a look of surprise and fear then answered. “I think we’re in East Berlin.” Ever the world traveler, I responded. “Well, that can’t be, we don’t have stamped passports to be
And my friend came back quickly, “Right, genius, and you’ve been taking pictures of army vehicles all morning.”

Perhaps out of pity or not wanting to be associated with two dumb Yanks in the wrong country at the wrong time, this wonderful savior in an old faded woolen coat and scarf actually led us to a train station, got us on the right train and then escorted us to the border crossing. She spoke to the border guard who came checking passports and somehow got us through the barbwire without our getting jailed in the process. I will be forever grateful to that woman and her kindness.

The rest of the weekend in West Berlin included visiting Checkpoint Charlie, a few art museums and a lot of bar-hopping. Americans were still hero’s back then because of the Berlin airlift and the liberation of Berlin at the end of the war. Vietnam didn’t carry the stigma there that it did back in the states.

I’ve talked about visiting those two Danish girls on the west coast of the country in Snow White and the Seven Seekers. In retrospect I wish we had spent more time there. It was one of the first times I got to interact with young folks my own age from another country. They provided me such a wonderful perspective on life and love and living to the fullest. I expect my love of foreign films comes directly from those encounters in my younger years.

Out of that first experience of living in Europe, the person I miss the most is Tina. The others are mostly a soft blur now. They were simply living their lives and just moving along with the ebb and flow of each day. Tina and I were pushing against the current.

I don’t remember a whole lot about Tina’s background. She originally came from Arizona. She was very concerned about her younger sister who still lived at home with their alcoholic mother. Issues abound in that family. There was no father and very little family support. Dysfunctional would be a kind description of her home life.

I think Tina escaped to Europe to get away from her hopeless mother, the drug scene and to find herself. She was a nanny for some wealthy family and lived in a room on the top floor of their flat. There was no phone in the house. If I wanted to see Tina, I would take the bus to her place in a town several miles away. Then if her bedroom light was on, I would pitch small rocks against her window pane and hope she heard the noise. I could only do that if the parents were gone and the kids were asleep.

Tina would let me in and we’d sit in her room for hours. We’d drink wine or beer or both and talk about what we were going to do with the rest of our lives. She was as lonesome and confused as I was. We were two lost souls searching for answers but only coming up with more questions …that couldn’t be answered. Yet even back then we both found great comfort in finding another like-minded person to talk to.

After the first snow fall, I headed for the south of France and Tina left for Istanbul. She and her girlfriend eventually got there after hitch-hiking most of the way. Then things got a little more complicated for her. They spent a month on the roof of the Gulhome Hotel, sleeping in a tent with other world travelers and staying stoned most of the time. It was the height of the drug and hashish scene there.

From there they traveled to Turkey, avoided several groups of white slavers and met up with an Englishman who was preparing to bring a kilo of heroin back to England. They spent a month in some guys home but he fell in love with Tina’s girlfriend and made life difficult for the both of them. After a month of amorous moves on his part, they split in the middle of the night and began hitch-hiking toward Syria. They hooked up with a German guy and two Swiss kids in a VW bus. The group ended up heading toward Pakistan. Then Tina’s girlfriend got pregnant and Tina ended up in Israel with the two Swiss boys. She fell in love with a Jewish boy there, lived with him for the winter and then reluctantly returned to Arizona the next spring.

We exchanged several letters after Tina moved back home. Her mother had become even more abusive and Tina had her committed several times. She tried to steer her younger sister out of the drug scene. She got a good paying job as a topless waitress while still going to school. Her last letter was hopeful. Tina had a year to go until she graduated. She was staying clean. After graduation, she wanted to go to New York and attend film school.

After that last letter, Tina disappeared from my radar screen. By then, I was in a different world
from those late night rendezvous in her room. I was going in one direction, she in another. I’ve often wondered what ever happened to Tina. Hopefully things worked out for the best. Tina deserved a break out of life.
Its funny how much things can change physically but not in one’s mind. Now safely ensconced in Apple Valley or Palm Springs, I get to go back home each morning if only for a few minutes and revisit that city by the sea and my memories there. I get to recall the faces and smiles and fear and excitement I felt wandering those streets and wondering how my life was going to turn out.

Now I know.

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