Monday , June 18, 2018

What's hot, and not, in Potsdam

OUTSIDE Berlin’s Central Station, the meeting point for tours to Potsdam, a tall, rakish man who looked more like the romantic lead of a telenovela than a tour guide, introduced himself as our guide.

“My name is Felipe,” he said. “I am from Barcelona.”

A Spaniard giving tours in Germany? My sisters and I were intrigued.

Felipe soon became part of our tour, meaning we learned about his life (he had studied philosophy; he was an artist who had exhibited in Milan), his loves (his ex-wife and their six-year-old son), and his mother’s pleas for him to return to Spain to help in the family business.

But first we entered the train station to get a ride to the Wannsee district of Berlin, which connects to Potsdam through the Glienicke Bridge (also known as the “Bridge of Spies”).

The German aristocracy had lived in Potsdam, so we were going there to see some palaces.

Near the platform, Felipe bought each of us a ticket that we could use to take as many rides as we pleased on any public transport that day.

“You just have it registered. No one will ask for your ticket,” he said.

Amazing. If we did this in the Philippines, no bus or train company would ever make a profit.

Dogs and bicycles are allowed on the train. Eavesdroppers too, we learned, after a female commuter who was not part of our tour asked to see the photos of Felipe’s son on his cell phone moments after Felipe showed these to us to explain his motivation for leaving Spain. He wanted to be near his son, whom his ex-wife had taken to live with her in Germany.

Good-looking, intelligent, devoted—what more could you ask for?

If you have never heard of social suicide, I will give you an example now.

In Wannsee, pointing to the bust of Otto von Bismarck, the Father of Germany, Felipe was extolling the brilliance of the Prussian leader in uniting all the German states under him in 1871, when my sister, gripping her stomach, suddenly cut in.

“Excuse me! I need to go to the toilet,” she declared, then amid our stunned silence, “it’s an emergency.”

I thought this was akin to finally meeting the man of your dreams, up close, and then choosing this inopportune time to tell him that you need to take a dump.

Bridge of Spies

After a visit to a toilet on a dock some 300 meters away, we proceeded to the “Bridge of Spies,” so called because it was the site for swaps of captured secret agents between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

The bridge over the Havel River connects Berlin’s Wannsee district with Potsdam, capital city of the state of Brandenburg. Potsdam is the site of Sanssouci, the summer palace of Frederick the Great, and the more recently built Cecilienhof Palace.

“Sanssouci means ‘without worries,’” Felipe said, as Frederick the Great, the 18th century Prussian king, had built the palace for his retirement, although he was never able to retire.

The French writer and philosopher Voltaire lived here for two years, on the invitation of Frederick, unlike Frederick’s queen, who was never invited because Frederick, a homosexual, preferred the company of men.

Frederick is buried in a simple plot on the property, close to his beloved Greyhound dogs. People put potatoes on his tomb to recall how Germany survived because he introduced potatoes to the nation.

On our way to Cecilienhof Palace, we walked past some nudists sunning themselves on the lawn between the palaces. Felipe said nudism was practiced in Germany to promote a “free body culture.”

We didn’t feel free with our bodies, so we just focused on getting to Cecilienhof, built in the early 1900s for Crown Prince Wilhelm and his wife Crown Princess Cecilie, after whom the palace was named. Cecilienhof is famous today for hosting the 1945 Potsdam Conference, where the victors of World War 2—US President Harry Truman, Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (The Big Three)—discussed peace treaties and post-war order.

“The contemporary world is a consequence of what these three men decided here from July 17-August 2, 1945 in the Potsdam Conference,” Felipe said.

We had lunch at Potsdam’s Dutch Quarter, a popular meeting spot for its cafés and restaurants.

The picturesque quarter is close to the Nauen Gate, one of the three preserved gates of Potsdam that used to be connected by a city wall to the two other Potsdam gates—Jäger Gate (Hunters’ Gate) and the “small” Brandenburg Gate.

Soon, we had to leave Felipe behind—but not before I came up with the idea of uploading his picture on Facebook and making him a character in a make-believe story about a female tourist named Jane picking up attractive boyfriends on every stop of her European tour, with Felipe being the first boyfriend—a storyline that tickled pink our friends and family following the story back home.

Near the end of our vacation, I closed the tale by leaving Jane’s fate unknown and disclosing that except for Felipe, all the men I had photographed for the story were total strangers.

Then it was back to reality. Or was it?

Landing in Cebu, I got this Viber message from a friend: “Well?! What happened? Did Felipe and Jane get back together?”