Since early childhood, I had a very positive attitude towards Denmark and its inhabitants. According to a legend that I remembered deeply as a child, it was said that in Denmark you could forget your bag at a bus stop, including your wallet and money, and if you remembered it hours later, you could go back to the bus stop and find the bag there untouched. And Otto’s song “Danes don’t lie” also had its meaning according to my imagination. On the other hand, the much older song “Das Leben meint es gut mit Dänen und mit denen Dänen nahe stehen” (Life is good to Danes and those who are close to Danes) was rather amusing, although here, of all places, one can be a little sloppy in pronunciation and use “Danes” everywhere with an “e” for gag purposes.
I was able to develop further positive associations on my many trips to Denmark. Our dream island in my childhood was called Tunö. My uncle Heinz-Bernd “discovered” it on a sailing trip (without Jörn) in 1966, spent a few days there in the harbour and then warmly recommended it to us. The mail boat transported non-sailors across from Hov. Besides, one could witness the transport of food with the same boat: milk, ymer, butter, also newspapers. That’s why the boat always had to leave at 6 o’clock. Really small, really charming, really romantic.
Farmer Ole Larsen came with the tractor and transported you and your luggage to a wild camping site of your choice, and all that for just a bottle of schnapps! We camped there, often for weeks, right on the beach, of course, the famous stone’s throw away, just behind the dunes that protect us from the wind, although they are rather small on the Baltic Sea.
So Denmark always remained a popular and sought-after destination for me. Despite all my efforts to maintain this, the following story got in the way.
It was late summer 1980 and I had received an invitation to a chess tournament in Copenhagen. However, I had to arrange my own accommodation. Well, a long-time Tunöbek acquaintance with a family who had camped next to us for several years in a row lived in Copenhagen. The contact was never broken off. The Ibsens were willing to put me up with them for the duration of the tournament. I had to ignore their two really pretty daughters – in view of my steady girlfriend – but I was nevertheless in a state of anticipation. In addition, I had 200 DM(plus), which in principle should be enough for a modest chess player for a 10-day stay. The train ticket was also solved and paid for.
My girlfriend at the time, Angie, accompanied me to Zoo station. We were very much in love just then and a tearful farewell was imminent. She accompanied me to my compartment and there we just couldn’t part. The railway official was already shouting the oft-heard “Close the doors”. I just held Angie tight. I couldn’t let her go and she resigned herself to fate. The tears were also dried in no time. Now another adventure was in store. It was a totally spontaneous decision. She would just stay on the train and we would travel together. How we’d manage with the ticket, how we’d manage with the return journey, how she’d manage without her things and so on, as lovers we simply didn’t worry about that for the time being. It will work out somehow, the main thing is that we are together.
If I remember correctly, we were able to buy the ticket on the train. As I can see from a dialogue that took place a few hours later, which has deeply impressed itself on me, I still had 200 DM after paying for the ticket. One then got on the famous Vogelfluglinie from Warnemünde, GDR, to Gedser, where the train boarded the ship and was transported to Denmark altogether. So one even had a 40-minute crossing, which as a self-confessed “sailor” always gave me particular pleasure. The ship arrived in Gedser, we boarded the train again and it left the harbour.
Then there was only a short border control. Now I readily admit that we deserved to be called “hippies” not only because of this slightly chaotic behaviour before and during the departure. I had long hair, which was not so common anymore at that time, a shoulder bag, made by Angie, with the imprint “Woddstock … 3 days of peace and music”, which was of course still painted in the most dazzling colours. In addition, the lumberjack shirt hanging over the trousers, occasionally the hippie floppy hat or sometimes painted fingernails, one per hand, alternately red or black. Angie was, of course, well-groomed and pretty as a picture, but made no secret of her convictions. For example, the famous Palestinian scarf and/or the henna-red hair were part of the outfit at that time.
So, as usual, a few border officials came into our compartment. These Danish border officials, however, did not help to confirm my (positive) prejudices. They were extremely unfriendly and gruff, and they were probably annoyed that they had to deal with people who didn’t speak their language. In addition, they had probably pronounced their judgement on us very early on: Drug dealers. All efforts to disprove this knowledge failed.
The train journey dragged on. Other fellow passengers gradually became impatient. The officials were completely unyielding. I still remember the words: “What? 200 DM for 10 days for two people? Do you know what a day in Copenhagen costs? 50 DM, per person.” I explained that I was a participant in a chess tournament, that I had a fixed accommodation and that my girlfriend would probably leave after one or two days. We were simply not believed. I thought it was a (bad) joke at first when the officials actually asked us to leave the train. And the term “asked” is quite misnomer here. We were literally dragged out. I pointed out that I had a phone number of the people where I would stay, but this request was also ignored. They pointed out that I could make a phone call from the ship. They had no telephone here.
One still has to remember the year and the political situation in Germany to really appreciate the extent of the “catastrophe”: the GDR was not a tourist destination, nor was it a holiday destination. For such occasions, one was only issued a visa entitling one to travel through the country within a reasonable period of time. A stay was not planned at all. It had happened to me once before that I had got lost in my car and had to “turn back” on the motorway (which was not even a transit route!). This was all strictly forbidden. Luckily I didn’t get caught, but when I left the “promised land” (when I was in transit with my father, he regularly praised the “GDR” in boundless sarcasm on the last few metres, only to turn around and shout “Sh…GDR” as soon as I crossed the border strip), I had to answer a lot of very unpleasant questions. You had the feeling you needed a lot of luck to get back into the FRG. Another time, we had lost a visa. When we left the country, the officials noticed this, of course. They condemned us to “a romantic night in the car park in the control area”, about 6 hours for four of us in a stuffy car). The reason probably, about which we were left with nothing but speculation: they wanted to make sure that no one else could use the visa to leave the country.
So it was not a particularly pleasant situation to be in “enemy territory” at that time.
What was in store for us now? Entry to Denmark was out of the question. The train was gone. We were effectively standing between two enemy territories. My friends until that day, the Danes, wouldn’t let us, and the East Germans hated us anyway, apart from the fact that we had no authorisation to be there at all. And there was no train to come, as we soon learned. We had to wait for the last ferry that was still crossing. A car-only ferry.
Well, it was late summer, more like September, so darkness was gradually falling. The ferry took us back to the GDR. There was even a telephone on the ship, which, in conjunction with the Ibsens’ phone number in Copenhagen, could also make a connection. I still believed in the good in people and hoped for “rescue”. I even asked them if they could possibly make a request through the German embassy…? Well, we had already witnessed the proverbial Danish hospitality, and I was probably not that important for the embassy to take care of me. Especially since it would have taken quite a lot of effort to make contact at all. A drug dealer is still a drug dealer.
When I arrived in Warnemünde, the officials seemed unprepared for such a strange case. At least they did not make it clear that they could not follow the reasoning of the Danish officials. I guess we had to resign ourselves to our fate of being criminals through no fault of our own (what was I repressing…?). So now, as “guests of enemies”, we asked for a transit visa, which was not issued at all in this form. The famous “GrePos” were surely convinced that we would beg on our knees for mercy and a visa. But since any form of submission is absolutely against my nature, this rebellion, which was inappropriate in this situation, earned us not only a complete body search but also the inspection of all the “documents” we were carrying. The documents also included love letters, which were “read out” loudly to the amusement of the surrounding officials. For a moment, one felt naked and unprotected, abandoned by God, at the mercy of God.
After everyone had had their fun, at our expense, we were told that the next train to Berlin left at 6.45 in the morning. Should I now mention that we were starting to get hungry and that there were no restaurants available at Warnemünde’s popular bathing beach? After all, we had just saved our lives! What did hunger or thirst matter!
Everything was closed. Not even a glass of water was available. We went to the dream beach and “rented” a beach chair for the night. It was getting quite chilly, but it was just bearable. What love makes possible! But sleep was hardly to be thought of. If anything, we only managed to close our eyes for half an hour.
Gradually it dawned again and we walked up the beach promenade. And we could hardly believe it ourselves: a pub opened at 6 o’clock! We got a cup of coffee, a mineral water and … a broiler. Yes, not only that they had this curious name: even more curious that you could eat half a chicken at 6am? We paid in western currency – how else? — which of course earned us some very big eyes, not only from the waitress, but also “good service”.
We set off in the direction of the train station and caught the train, tired but at least not starving or thirsty. I can still remember the following episode: we didn’t have a train ticket. But when the conductor came and saw our western currency as “ticket compensation”, he was very quickly appeased and allowed himself to be “greased” – quite cheaply. 20 DM for two people from Warnemünde to Berlin? But still no ticket, just two closed eyes.
Gradually we were overcome by tiredness. Not surprisingly at that time of day, we easily found an empty compartment. We did indeed fall asleep soon. Now we must have been dreaming softly and blissfully of entering Zoo station. I jolted up briefly during a train stop, looked out of the window and saw the inscription “Ostbahnhof”. Not that I had never heard it before, nor that I didn’t think it was Berlin. Nevertheless, we waited, befuddled by half-sleep, for a better opportunity to get off.
So the train picked up speed again and also — barely two hours later stopped again. This time in Dresden. “Berlin? We were told that we had already been there, but the conductors had been replaced, which reduced our travel budget by another 20 West Marks.
Well, we took a curious look around Dresden station. We soon found a train information board that told us the departure of the next train to Berlin. For the thirty minutes, we reaped nothing but decidedly curious looks. Hippies in Dresden?
The train left on time, even the conductor, who was represented this time, kept his eyes and ears closed for 20 West Marks. This time we were also more attentive on the return journey. When the train station “Friedrichstrasse” was called out, we immediately packed our really few things and jumped out. We were in Berlin!
Now even that was not our final destination. We were in the eastern sector. And all that without a visa. No residence permit, no transit permit. But at least there was a crossing point at Friedrichstrasse station. And you could already see the West officials with the naked eye. That gave us courage. And in fact we were subsequently issued a residence visa, but this included the exchange fee of 25 DM each — but this was exactly 1:1. So now we had 50 East Marks in our pockets, and a residence permit. At least I was still quick-witted enough to remember that one or the other chess friend, also partly voluntarily, went to the Friedrichstrasse railway station to get the GDR chess newspaper on the spot, which one could not otherwise get in the West. So I got this one too. We also tried our best to “invest” the 50 East Marks in a halfway sensible way. But fatigue won out. We soon left the East Sector and took the underground towards home.
We arrived at Angie’s home (she was still living with her parents) around 12 noon and then really spent a few hours — for purely recreational purposes, of course – in her bed. And the gratitude I can only feel today, for being able to tell you such a cheerful story. And for finally being able to “get it off my chest” now….