XQ had made friends with a doctor and his family in Neuruppin. He owned a small flat in Berlin, and had offered to lend it to us for a few days.
The flat was a short bus ride from Prezlauer Allee, in what is a fairly well-off suburb by DDR standards. The cars parked in the streets were a mixture of Trabbis, Skodas, and newer Volkswagens and Audis. The block of flats was the usual featureless slab, with dark stairwells hidden behind featureless numbered doors. We found door 108, and walked up the stairs until we found the flat.
The first problem was negotiating the front door. The DDR-made locks operated bizarrely; I found that I could take the key out at any point, and that each of the two keys could make four entire revolutions in its lock, making two or three “clunk” noises on the way. Eventually I worked it out, and we stepped inside.
The flat was fairly small; about the size of my flat in Cambridge. A main room approximately four metres by six, a rather smaller bedroom, and a bathroom and kitchen that were smaller still. The difference was that this flat had belonged to a family of four. The style was different too, of course; the ducts and pipework from the flat above protruded from the ceiling of this flat, and no doubt our toilet was piped through someone else’s bathroom.
The journey into the centre of Berlin and back each day was fairly easy. In fact, the return bus trip from the station became something of a running joke. We would stand at the bus stop late at night, and I’d periodically glance at my watch. When it said (for example) 22:11, I’d say to XQ “The bus will turn that corner in thirty seconds.” We’d then stand and silently count the seconds. Sure enough, the bus would appear, and make its way slowly down the road to arrive within seconds of 22:12. I suppose I’m easily amused.
Of course, to someone living in Cambridge the very idea that buses might run at ten o’clock at night is absurd. The buses from the Innovation Centre and Science Park back into town stop shortly after six. And the idea that a bus might turn up at the time indicated on the timetable — well, it’s so crazy it’s laughable.