Thursday, May 17, 2007

What is remembered: the walkman incident

When I was nineteen, I left Finland to go work in backpacker hostels in Athens.

The Iron Curtain divided Europe into distinct halves. The Berlin Wall was firmly up, and its crumbling demise two and a half years later was unthinkable.

I had bought myself the cheapest ticket - boat and train via The East Block. East Berlin was vast and freaky. Nobody wanted to talk to me in English, and my faltering German didn't entice a friendly response either. I know now why this was - being seen talking to a foreigner was not going to go down well with the Stasi.

Onboard the train from East Berlin to Hungary, my seat was in a compartment with a group of five or six East German students, about my age. One of the guys was chatty, the rest of them ignored me. His English was good, and he apologised for his friends - they don't like speaking English, he said. We talked about various things, this and that. He admired the Sony Walkman - second-hand, less than prime condition - someone had given me to entertain myself with during my four days' travel. I have one, he said, but I don't have it with me now. My girlfriend and I (she never looked at me once) saved for a year and a half for it. We are now saving to get one for her, he told me.

It took me about ten seconds to make the decision. Why don't you have mine, I said. No way, he said, I couldn't possibly. Yes way, I replied, or something very close to it. I got this one from a friend, and honestly, I can get another one if I really want one. I don't really care for them very much anyway. Please, I want you to have it. (Alright, he was quite nice-looking, but the real reason was I couldn't bear the difference between us, the saving for eighteen months for something I had been casually given by a random someone.)

He was over the moon. His girlfriend muttered a thank you without looking at me. He wanted to give me something in return, and searched through his stuff, mortified that he didn't really have anything to give. In the end he found a metal bottle-opener, with a naked boy รก la Mannikin Piss on the handle. He was apologetic at the smallness of his gift. I kept it for years, decades, although it was hopeless for opening bottles - maybe it worked better on East European bottles, who knows. I know it turned up when I last packed up and left everything. I seriously hope I didn't ditch it, and that it is still somewhere amongst my packed-up junk.


nmj said...

Honey, that is the loveliest story, even though his girlfriend hated you. You have really cheered me up, I just watched a v depressing documentary about women in Afghanistan, and I needed to read something like this...btw I get bored with my iPod too, I saw you wrote that elsewhere. x

Anna MR said...

Hei hun, Mr Z commented on the iPod thing and that jogged this memory out of the murky depths.

I can't remember if we introduced ourselves - we must have, at least first names - but I just can't remember what his name was. Regardless of that, I love it that somewhere, maybe in Germany, maybe elsewhere, there should be this dude who shares with me the other side of this memory.


bindi said...

Hi AnnaMR, great story! I too thought that the Berlin wall was there to stay forever.

Anna MR said...

Bindi, it is the weirdest how the world has changed during our lifetime, isn't kids grow up in an entirely different Europe.

Reading the Signs said...

Lovely story ms mr - wonder if you have read or heard of a book called The Gift by Lewis Hyde. In some cultures a possession loses its value and substance unless it is passed on - and a gift exchange is a kind of dialogue. I hope you still have the bottle opener.

Anna MR said...

Ms Signsy Kolmio, I like it that you cared for my little anecdote. I am actually quite pleased with the kind heart I had at nineteen (but don't tell anyone, it would sound dangerously like blowing one's own trumpet). I don't know of the book you mention, but as it comes recommended by you, I shall keep my eyes peeled for it.