Sunday, November 8, 2009

A Tale of 2 Berlins

I couldn't sleep tonight, so I started watching a documentary about the Berlin Wall. Watching it brought back an interesting memory. It's funny now to look back at but I can assure you, at the time, it was anything but funny.

I grew up an Army brat. I was actually born in Stuttgart, Germany. We came back to the states when I was less than a year old. That was 1963. Thirteen years later, my dad was once again stationed in Germany. This time, we were in Heidelberg. My dad was part of the 207th Aviation Company. He was an Army pilot.

I loved being in Germany as a teenager. We traveled all over Europe. We went to England, France, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, and even the tiny country of Liechtenstein. Since I've already dated myself, I can share that when I was living in Heidelberg, Germany was divided in 2. We decided to take a family trip to Berlin. Now if you know your history, you know that Berlin was divided in 2 and the entire city was located in the middle of East Germany.

To get there, we had to get special passports and rode what was called the troop train. Once we passed from the West into the East, we had to stop at every station for the East German or Russian soldiers to board the train and check our passports. They also had mirrors on long poles that they would slide under the train to see if anyone was holding on to the bottom of the train, trying to escape to the West. My brother and I had our own little room on the train because this was an overnight ride. It was great fun.

So, we get to Berlin. It was my dad, mom, a close family friend we always called Uncle Dave, my brother, and me. Uncle Dave wanted to go into East Berlin. Because of my dad's job, he wasn't allowed to go, so he and my brother spent the day at the Berlin Zoo. That left Uncle Dave, my mom, and me to go into East Berlin.

Something to know about is the money exchange. In West Berlin, you could get 4 East German marks for 1 West German mark while it was 1 for 1 in East Germany. Keep in mind; you weren't supposed to bring any money across the border. You were supposed to exchange it once you crossed into the East. However, I guess we wanted to be greedy and have more money to spend. Now you have to remember that I was only 14 years old and this was 1977 when 14 was still a child.

We exchange the money and I put it in the bottom of my sock and slip my shoes on. We head through Check Point Charlie. Once we get to the East German side, we walk into a building and my face turns completely white. In this building are several dressing rooms. I've now become terrified that I am going to be strip searched, they are going to find the money in my shoe, and I'm going to be carted off to a Russian prison. My mother grabs my hand because I'm starting to hyperventilate. The reality is that these used to be dressing rooms from back in the late 40's early 50's. I let out a huge sigh.

There are some interesting stories that I would love to share from inside East Germany, but this post is getting long, so I'll have to do a part II to this story. Needless to say we didn't want to smuggle the money back through and the only thing we could do with it is eat because anything we bought would have to match up with the exchange receipts we supposedly had from the East German bank. Yeah, that isn't as easy to do as it seems. We ended up tipping the bathroom attendant lady insane amounts.

When it was time for us to come back to West Berlin, we went through the building, handing each East German soldier at various windows our passports. Uncle Dave handed a soldier his passport, the soldier looked at it then sent him out of the building back towards Check Point Charlie. My mother went next but she stopped at the door, waiting for me. The soldier took my passport, but he wouldn't give it back. He put it to the side and started fiddling with his stool. My mother is still standing there and the soldier notices her and tells her she has to leave. She tries to explain to him that I am her daughter and she is waiting on me. He just says, "No you must go".

I get scared and start to tear up, thinking the soldier has just misunderstood. The soldier, my mom, and I were the only ones in the building. He walks out from behind the counter and "gently" pushes my mother out the door. That leaves me in there alone with him. He goes back around and starts working on his stool. I have no clue what was wrong with it, but he had it upside down, checking the legs and other stuff. By this time, I have definite tears rolling down my cheeks. I'm petrified, wondering what in the hell could possibly be going on. After about 20 minutes, which seemed like hours, a Russian soldier walks in, says something to the East German soldier. It didn't sound very nice. So they hand me my passport, the Russian soldier smiles at me, grabs my hand, and walks me out the door and up to the American soldiers at the check point. My mother is almost in hysterics by this time. She keeps asking me what happened. All I can tell her is "nothing".

At the time, I thought I was going to be traumatized for the rest of my life by that experience. In reality, it's become a really neat story to tell but you could never have convinced me of that back then. According to my dad, he found out that the East German soldiers just liked to harass American tourists and it was just my turn.

I hope you enjoyed my little story and I'm sorry that it turned out to be so long. I'll have to share the rest of it sometime.


Anonymous said...

That was an interesting story; I'll look forward to one day reading another chapter of your life in Europe.


heather said...

what a neat story, well except for the part where they scared the be-jeebers out of you.

i bet you had many more adventures growing up in many different places.

can't wait to hear more about them!

Tina said...

How exciting to have had these experiences...

How is Taylor....

Thinking of you...


HappilyFlawed said...

Good lord! *Sits mesmorized waiting patiently for another story*

lisa said...

oh how scared you must of felt. I can't wait to read more.

Jennifer said...

What an interesting story. I can't imagine how scared you were, or your poor mother! Mean guards! I look forward to reading more stories!

How is Taylor doing with the new meds? How is Taylor's mom doing?

Becca said...

Holy cow, Dawn. That's an amazing story!!! I found myself holding my breath reading it! That just stinks that they could terrorize a little girl and her mother like that. I'm glad the city's been freed.