Friday, December 6, 2002

Topless tour bus adds spice to Berlin

BERLIN, Germany — A tour bus filled with beer-drinking passengers and a handful of strippers is plying the night-time streets of Berlin, giving the German capital a hot new tourist attraction.

The double-decker bus cruises past the city's main tourist spots, including the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag parliament building, the chancellery, the state opera house, Tiergarten park and the Victory Column on a three-hour tour.

But the crowd on board seem less interested in Berlin's cultural offerings than they are in the tour guide, who slowly disrobes during her commentary, and her two "assistants" who keep spirits high with a series of strip shows.

"It's a terrific way to see Berlin, but the windows are a bit too steamed up to see much outside," said a construction worker called Sascha, cooling off with a beer after a stripper named Jenny, 20, sat down on his leg at the end of her dance.

"It's kind of humid in here," he added.,/P>

To counter a slide in tourism after the September 2001 attacks on the United States, the organizers of the Berlin stripper bus tour came up with a novel way to show people the sights along with a glimpse of the city's night life that has made Berlin famous since the 1920s.

It is an astonishing sight for those strolling along the fashionable Unter den Linden boulevard or other parts of Berlin to look into the bus at a naked blond woman standing next to the driver with a microphone in her hand.

Three police officers standing on guard duty outside the French Embassy on a recent chilly Saturday night couldn't help but stare when they saw a pair of strippers jiggling at them through the windows. The dancers blew kisses at the officers who showed their appreciation with wide smiles and a friendly synchronized wave.

"We wanted to offer visitors something new and something exciting to revitalize the local tourism industry," said Udo Borges, who organizes the stripper bus tour known as "Malibu Dreams" that costs $10 a seat.

"We thought we'd try something like this to give Berlin's night life a new kick in the pants," he said.

The bus tour begins at 8 p.m. in front of a disco in east Berlin's Marzahn district, heads west through the government quarter, loops around the Brandenburg Gate past the British Embassy and passes through the Tiergarten before pausing for a show by one of the strippers outside the bus in front of the Victory Column.

The tour guide named Kati earnestly describes some of Berlin's political and cultural high points along the way, but the party-minded passengers, most of them middle-aged men sipping beer and other drinks, were more absorbed in the gyrating women dancing in the aisles.

"It's a great idea," said a retired man named Heinrich, drinking a rum and Coke.

"But I didn't have any time to look out the windows and see the sights. I was too busy following what was happening on the inside."

His friend Siegbert, from Brandenburg outside Berlin, was still recovering from the experience of having a dark-haired stripper named Nicole remove his glasses, rub them over her body and then gently put them back on his face.

"This is a fantastic way to get to know Berlin," Siegbert said. But he admitted he hadn't see much of the city. "It's kind of dark outside."

Berlin has a long tradition for decadence, hedonism and tolerance. During the Weimar Republic after World War I, its infamous and racy cabarets were hugely popular.

In the 1970s its western half was the center of the European hippie counter-culture. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall the city's night-clubs have once again won it a reputation as one of Europe's top party capitals.

The biggest party in Berlin history was New Year's Eve in 1999 when 3 million people cheered in the new millennium at the Brandenburg Gate with a deafening festival of fireworks, lights and cheers. About a million scantily clad ravers come to the annual Love Parade in Berlin each summer.

"There isn't anyone who doesn't enjoy an erotic show," said Richard Heidenreich, the 38-year-old operator of the Malibu disco where the stripper bus tour starts and ends. "The bus is always full. Banks, insurance companies, car dealerships and stag parties all want to go for the ride."

Borges, Heidenreich's partner, said even a senior citizens home had booked the bus for a private tour, which costs about $800 for an extended trip of six hours.

"It's a lot of fun working here on the bus," said Jenny, wearing nothing but a necklace, white leather boots and a white apron.

"The men are having a great time and it's a great atmosphere."

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Created: January 21, 2003
Last modified: January 21, 2003
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