FLAT EARTH

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The Independent Online
Chunnel champers

loses its fizz

THE Eurostar, having glided out of Paris on time on Tuesday night, speeds through northern France. Finally, the announcement comes: we are about to enter the Channel Tunnel. A champagne cork pops; the train grinds to a halt. For 43 minutes we sit, watching the glistening lights of Calais. "It doesn't even seem like we're in a tunnel, does it?'' a voice calls out.

Finally we move - backwards, to Calais Frethun station. The champagne gets warmer. Eventually we pull away, now 75 minutes late, toward Kent.

Fish on the line? No explanation is given, though the barman who replenished the champagne revealed that a shuttle train with brake problems was stuck in the tunnel. The one available track, it later emerged, was being used for the Chunnel's first large-scale evacuation.

Movie Stasi

TIME-travelling on Berlin's Ruschestrasse on Thursday. Men in East German police uniforms strode through the corridors of the former Stasi headquarters, turning briskly into the office of Erich Mielke, ex-chief of the secret police, the "Master of Fear''. Were they planning a crackdown on the artist Christo and his team of climbers, who at that moment were wrapping the Reichstag in shimmering silver fabric? Nein.

Stasi officers are far too busy now with business deals. The men in green were actors in a TV film about a Leipzig family in 1989. Dad is a Stasi man, daughter goes to democracy meetings in the heady days before the rusting system collapses. A bit of filming at Stasi HQ, now a museum of the bad old days, provided a touch of authenticity.

Wrapped attention

CHRISTO arrived at the Reichstag daily in a silver car that matched the wrapping. In jeans and a white helmet he supervised the wrapping (completed yesterday) with his collaborator-wife Jeanne-Claude, who gave the workers a cheery thumbs-up on Friday afternoon. The couple haven't been rapping with the hoi polloi who press against the yellow wire fence to shout their admiration, though. So we couldn't ask Christo if he wraps gifts for friends and, if so, if they are ever meant to be opened.

Blanket coverage

IN LONDON in 1962, Christo wrapped a woman. Today in Paris those with 350 francs to spare can be wrapped in a hot plastic blanket, like a post- modern mummy, for 15 minutes. This comes after a coating of ''essential oils'', a 20-minute soak in a churning tub of brown seaweed sludge, a rinse and then a lavish smear with an algae gel. I was assured I'd look like Claudia Schiffer afterwards. Well, it felt super.

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