The Grandpa from Cold War Era


The Lazy People and the Lake

The sun was shinning like a big smiling face. We were all sprawling on the grass in the yard, like lazy cats. In the alternative commune where we were staying, there was a room with books of all kinds and tools to fix everything. Among them I even found a novel written by Issac Bashevis Singer, my favorite writer for that moment. There was also a room with all kinds of clothes. That was the freeshop, a standard component of every alternative commune. There were hundreds pieces of clothes there. The rule was that everybody could take things and also leave things, for free. Tristan, the only American hitchhiker there, found a hat with tiger face and just started wearing it. A German hitchhiker found a lady’s long dress which suited him well and simply started wearing it, together with a fedora hat. Agata, an industrious Polish student of astronomy liked knitting and within just a couple of days she knitted a hat with cat ears and her friend Andrzej started wearing it everywhere.

Yes, here you could wear whatever you wanted to wear, be whoever you wanted to be. Nobody was going to judge you.

I was still wearing the trousers given to me by my uncle in Cleveland. My uncle had the fashion taste of the 1980s and he was also a bit (horizontally) bigger than me, so the pants really did not suit me well…… I put them in the freeshop and picked up some jeans and jumpers. Yes, the clothes I am wearing at this moment is mostly from the freeshop in this hippie commune.

However, shoes were a bit difficult to come by. I found the pair I was wearing in Berlin, by simply posting on Facebook: ‘Who in Berlin has a pair of shoes, size 42-44, that you do not use anymore and can give away?’ Several people replied and I picked one pair. Again, I felt terrible for realizing that everyday so many things were being wasted while they could be of use and value in others’ hands.

Besides a freeshop, a tool room, a big kitchen smeared by charcoals and burned walls, this commune also had countless bikes. There was even a room in the basement with all bike parts imaginable. That was the bike workshop. Some of the bikes were really old, produced by East Germany during the Cold War Era. Interestingly, those produced by East Germany were of higher quality than those produced nowadays. As in the communist era, products were made to endure, not to generate money. Wasn’t it interesting?

We decided to all cycle to a lake which some hitchhikers discovered a couple of days ago. It was a small one but it should be cool and beautiful.

And besides, we had nothing else to do. đŸ˜€ All we did there was just, you know, chill. đŸ˜€

Everybody picked a bike and we set off.




The East German countryside was intoxicatingly beautiful in summer. We picked as many wild fruits as possible along the way, so we could have a picnic.

The 4 of us were the first to set out. We crossed fields, orchids, woods and after rounds of confusion eventually found a place barred by barbed wire.

Stevie: So…… according to Google Maps the lake is just inside.

We crossed the barbed wire and lifted our bikes over, although there was a sign saying ‘private property, no trespassing’. There was an abandoned house, without doors or windows and there was a vulgar drawing of a woman on the wall, which we took photos with. This place looked like having been deserted since the Cold War Era.

We soon saw the lake. It was not big, but the water was clean and the sand was fine and comfortable. There were also an enormous reed field surround the lake.

So, we simply changed our location of sprawling and being lazy. Earlier that day we were sprawling on the grass, at this moment on the lake beach.

Soon other hitchhikers also arrived and we started a fire. Some of us took off all the clothes and just went nude the whole time.

I felt lazy, very lazy, especially after taking a swim in the cold water.

There were then about 10 of us and we got hungry. After eating all the fruits and some mushrooms we discovered around the lake, we realized that we did not bring enough food. We called other hitchhikers who had not arrived yet.

Minutes later they arrived, with cheese, sausages and bread in their bags. Some of the food was bought with honest money while the majority was simply ‘liberated’ from a supermarket.

I know you are shocked. đŸ™‚ When I was traveling in the South Island of New Zealand, there were so many backpackers that they made a big camp together. Some of the French backpackers ran out of money and started doing shop lifting regularly in the supermarkets. They did it so often that we started calling shoplifting ‘French shopping’.

We used everything we could find, paper, cards, wooden sticks as plates and cutlery. The sun was setting and nobody was planning to leave yet. The thin cold air above the lake became blue, like the clouds. We were all lazy after the meal. Sam was drawing something like henna on Dunia’s hands, with the Communist symbol of hammer and sickle even.


Angry Grandpa from Cold War Era

Suddenly we saw an middle-aged man in shorts, walking a dog, essentially the first living human being we saw there. We happily greeted him. He was shocked at first, greeted  us back and left.

We continued our lazy fiesta with the fire, the guitar, the henna and the laughters.

10 minutes later an sturdy angry old man with a Bismark style mustache and two big ferocious dogs charged to us like a ball of fire and started shouting in old style German right away. I knew the Germans were not big fans of hand gestures, but he used various hand gestures. WOWO!

We were astounded, no idea what was happening.

Obviously he was angry, totally pissed off actually. We were on HIS property! Yes, that was why there was barbed wire and obviously the man walking a dog was his friend, who told him about our presence. According to the German law, if something happens in a private property, such as somebody dies, the owner of the property will be held responsible.

He shouted: I know you! I recognize you! You are the hippies of Kaulitz! I told you not to come here again! You dirty hippies! Put out the fire! Now! Go away!

Kaulitz? Where was that? It was our very first time to be here and we even had difficulty finding it in the first place.

The German hitchhikers came up, trying to explain to him: We are not hippies from Kaulitz. We even do not live in this region. We are from everywhere in the world.

He kept talking about us being from a nearby village named Kaulitz.

I pointed to my Asian face and shouted: Do I look like I am from Kaulitz?!

Our friends who did not speak any German were totally at loss with a blank face.

None of us really got angry and we watched him ranting with great interest. When Stevie came to explain to him that he was Austria and there were people from Trier (a German city in the western part of Germany, hometown of Karl Marx), Netherlands, China, Poland, US, UK and many other countries, he was taken aback.

He: What? Trier? You are from the West! So you are not from Kaulitz?

Dunia stood up and explained to him that she was from Russia, thus not Kaulitz. She then showed him the henna of the Communist symbol.

He was genuinely shocked: Ah! Soviet Union! You from Soviet Union!

We all laughed and explained to him that she was from The Russian Federation, not Soviet Union.

He then laughed at himself. After confirming that we were really not dirty hippies from Kaulitz, he softened his tone: OK! You can stay here, but don’t do drugs. Last time one hippie almost died in the lake because he was overdosing and did not know what he was doing. If he had died, I would get into serious trouble. OK, the fire is OK, but don’t make it any larger (hearing this our friends started secretly adding woods to the fire)!

He was puzzled: If you are not from Kaulitz, then how do you know there is this lake here?
We: We saw it on Google Maps?
He: What maps? No! This lake is not on ANY map! I am sure!
We: Google Maps. It has everything.
He: I don’t believe it! It’s not on any map!

We showed him on our smartphone the lake. He was shocked: ‘What? What? Oh my goodness. How did you find this thing!’ It took a few minutes for him to accept that the world had changed.

Obviously, for this grandpa, the year was still 1980. Soviet Union was still a real political entity. Trier was the West and there was no Google Maps or smartphones. We were surprised that he did not ask us how could we cross the border to come into East Germany.

He eventually totally relaxed and told us to be careful with fire and it would be all right we stayed there.

The he left with his two dogs.

We could not stop laughing about this incident the whole night.


When Things Got Corny

The evening came, we started playing games, werewolf and others. However, one problem soon emerged. We were out of food and we were hungry.

Why do men have to eat?!……

The lake was essentially surrounded by fields and wilderness, with the nearest village kilometers away.

We decided to take all the bags we had and sent an expedition team to steal some corns for roasting.

Stevie, Dunia, I and a couple of other friends crossed the barbed fence again and sneaked into the fields. Most corns had already been harvested. Only those that did not look so good were left, but that was sufficient for us. Within half an hour, we collected enough corns to feed a battalion and triumphantly returned.

We were playing games, playing fire, playing music and talking about corn, until it was almost midnight and the British boy Elliot fell asleep already. There was a problem. Some of us brought sleeping bags but most not. Some had bikes but not all. Eventually some people decided to sleep on the beach in sleeping bags while the others, including me would cycle back to Riebau.

I carried a German girl on the back of my bike. It was not an easy journey, as the roads were narrow, rural and dark. When we got back, it was already 3 AM, but the cool air of the night, the dark German forests, the refreshing smell of grass and the dim moonlight made the night pure magic!

To be continued


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