Black, red, and yellow stripes were emblazoned on every face. Children ran along the footpath wearing their national flag as cloaks. A girl in a bikini stood on a stone wall, a huge German flag fluttering from her outstretched arms. Sixty thousand people took up the chant: "Deutschland! Deutschland! Deutschland!" A New Zealander stood in the crowd regretting the fact that he had just published an article which included the sentence: "It [is] difficult for Germans to express national pride. You seldom see a German flag... in Germany."
I was standing beside the Brandenburg Gate in East Berlin. Germany had just gained entry to the World Cup quarter-final round by thrashing Sweden 2-0. The noise of the crowd was deafening. Cars paraded down the street, honking their horns in time with the chanting. More flags were being waved than I'd ever before seen in my life. Hundreds of people blew plastic World Cup trumpets. And pretty Fräuleins snogged the riot policemen who had been waiting just in case the unthinkable had happened (the unthinkable, of course, being victory by the Swedish team).
"We Germans are happy now," observed Stefa gloomily. "But I doubt they will let us win the final."
This was not the first time that Stefa had mentioned 'they'. Stefa was a German acquaintance of outstanding loveliness who had been hosting me in East Berlin. She was kind and generous, her brow only darkening when the subject of 'they' came up. According to information already provided by Stefa, 'they' were happy that Africa was besieged by AIDS, and 'they' were using Google Earth to figure out which parts to bomb with their aircraft.
Stefa had kindly offered to show me the highlights of East Berlin. We'd spent the morning watching German educational television so that I could become familiar with the German Weltanschauung. "German educational television is very interesting," explained Stefa. The television screen showed a group of German yokels digging a hole in a paddock. It was raining, and the cameraman spent a lot of time with lingering shots of the hole filling up with mud.
A cartoon rabbit appeared on screen and explained something about the hole in German. "That is a very funny mouse," said Stefa. I proffered my opinion that it was a rabbit. "No," said Stefa severely. "It is a well-known mouse. Perhaps the most famous mouse in Germany." We watched as the mouse preened its long ears, ate a carrot, and then dug a burrow.
The yokels were still digging their hole. Suddenly some scantily clad German dancing girls appeared in the field, and started singing a pop song. The yokels stopped digging the hole, and watched the dancers. The cameraman spent a lot of time with lingering shots of the dancers' pneumatic bosoms. Stefa was right -- German educational television was indeed interesting.
After lunch we were ready to explore the city. Stefa took me to her favourite spot. "This," she said proudly, "is the oldest pharmacy in Germany. You should take a photograph." We then visited her other favourite spot -- a shop that sold paraphernalia relating to pedestrian crossing icons. "The West Germans wanted to change the East German pedestrian crossing icons," explained Stefa. "But we made a huge protest. Unfortunately, they have now commercialized the protest movement, and there are similar franchises to this all over Germany."
The shop had a poster showing pedestrian crossing icons from various countries. I looked to see if New Zealand was represented -- which it wasn't. I was interested to observe that the Belgian pedestrian crossing icon looked like a silhouette of Grace Kelly circa 1954. I began to fantasize about being shown around East Berlin by the Belgian pedestrian crossing icon. She would be sympathetic about my jet lag. She would invite me back to her apartment for a nap. She would feel tired too. She would take off her clothes and lie down beside me. My mind wandered happily.
"Now we must go to the Reichstag," said Stefa in my ear.
On the way to the Reichstag we passed a 'beach bar' on the banks of the Spree river. Berliners in bikinis sat in deckchairs on a fake beach. "They import sand and palm trees," said Stefa. "It is as good as the seaside." I observed that the lack of flies might even be an improvement. "Flies don't need to breathe," said Stefa obscurely. "Because they have no lungs."
The restored Reichstag is enormously impressive. It is almost unbelievable that the previously burned and bombed shell could be brought back to its former glory. In fact, the restoration is almost an improvement -- as the Reichstag is now crowned with a beautiful new dome designed by Norman Foster. The view from the top is nothing short of awe-inspiring. As evening fell, and the stars slowly became visible, we looked down upon crowds of happy Berliners still celebrating their country's great football victory.
The moon rose. I explained that the moon's image was upside-down from what I normally saw in New Zealand. "They faked the moon landings, you know," said Stefa.
Outside the Reichstag, we waited on a street corner for a bus. "Tomorrow morning there is good educational television," said Stefa. "There will be a programme about puddings. The boiling of puddings; the condensing of puddings -- that sort of thing. We will also see the mouse again."