The excitement of the new

The GDR border officials at Warnemünde were not enthusiastic about my plans to travel along the East German coast to the ferry to Sweden at Sassnitz. And I made it worse by ignoring the call to visit the on-board visa office when a transit visa to Rugen might have slipped through as they tackled the flow to Berlin. Realising that I’m in danger of getting a formal record of refusal of entry, I beat a retreat and agree docilely to the administratively convenient solution of returning to the ferry for the “normal passage” to Sweden via Copenhagen.

It then gets hairy. No walk along a lighted bridge to a hole in the wall entrance to the ferry; instead steps down to the open-air forecourt and a vague wave in the direction of the ship. The story of the Italian communist Benito Corghi at the Bavarian-GDR border was fresh in my mind. Returning to his lorry on the western side to collect a forgotten passport, he was shot to death by a border guard. I walk, all alone, very slowly, to the ship, trying to look like a man out for a stroll enjoying the ambience of the border area. My guardian angel is awake; there is no sudden crack and sharp pain but I get to the ferry intact.

It was just as well. I had too little money and the detour was pointless, able to produce only a jumble of odd associations to add to my youthful foreign frenzy travel where beautiful cities became memories of salami sandwiches in motorway service stations.

Decades later, another trip to Rostock or rather Graal Müritz just down the coast where I stayed a week on a study visit. By then my tourist skills had improved along with the slow late maturing of DK.

But my associations were not all good – being taken by car back to the hotel by the local mayor to collect presents, coffee to be distributed to the folk we’d spent the evening playing skittles with. I didn’t begrudge them the coffee but the break in not unpleasant conversation for the act of charity felt shabby and unpleasant.

There was no Warnemünde that trip but now I’m here for a month to escape to a softer, lighter winter. So far better than I dared hope, a spacious and tasteful flat far from the leftover bits and pieces of furniture of my stoic imagination. It’s central too, five minutes from bed to bookshop. And the town is not boarded up and bleak like the winter seaside in dear old Albion but bustling with open restaurants, museums and galleries but no seasonal hordes.

Today, I’ll plan how to get to know the area (2024 is fast approaching so I need to work on my grand plan for next year too). And to think about what I want to get out of this month. Better understanding of spoken German is high on my list. I made a start yesterday grappling with cryptic zappers. The TV eventually came on, grudgingly accepting my refusal to be contented with sport and fashion. But I have no idea what was effective among my increasingly manic button pressing. So for the time being, it´s 24-7 TV time, although thankfully I have mastered the mute button.

I’m close to the centre but also to the “kurpark” which is unexpectedly appropriate. At home, I’ve glided into bad habits with too little exercise and an increasingly disturbed relationship to time. So now I have two months to work on improving my act so I earn a refreshing pat on the head at my heart check-up in February and not a furrowed brow pondering yet another exercise in damage limitation.

It feels good too to be in a spacious dust-free flat with sofa, bath and kitchen table rather than living in a soft existential corner of  a library. I love my hundred shelves of books but there are definitely some arguments in favour of a less eccentric life space.

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