My visit to the Berlin Wall

This being the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, I thought I might tell the story when I was there myself. I was hitchhiking in Europe in 1973 and as we were at the East German border already, thought we (me and my girlfriend) might head off to Berlin by hitching along the highway from the West German border into Berlin. A longish way, but if you picked up a ride at all, there was only one destination the driver would have been heading for. And we ended up being picked up by a man in a Mercedes, so that an hour and a half or so later, we were in Berlin. And the moment we exited the car, in the dead centre of West Berlin, right on the Kurfürstendamm, we were approached by three members of the American military who took out a joint which we smoked right there and then. Welcome to Berlin.

West Berlin was quite an adventure in so many ways, but I will stick to the main event which was to go to the Wall, and then afterwards to travel into East Berlin. Now I must confess that at the time, I was a very long-haired person, which in those days was something of a novelty, specially in Europe. So we went to the Wall, got up on the observation deck, looked through binoculars into this no-mans-land space between the two walls (both built by the East Germans so that they could trap anyone caught in the middle – barbed wire everywhere). I then looked over at the watchtower about 100 metres off in the distance in which there were two East German guards with their own binoculars looking back at me.

The next day – and how surprisingly vivid these memories are – we crossed over at the one checkpoint where crossings were permitted. To leave the Allied section for the Soviet Zone was nothing at all. You just went over the line and no one would stop you. But then there was the East German border where we each first had to change ten marks (which was actually real money back then) into the worthless East German currency. And then we got to the border guard who checked our passports who, when he looked at my passport photo and then at me, reached out and swept the hair from my face to make sure it was really me and that was really my passport. And with the passport stamped and the money exchanged – and this might have taken an hour or so – we went towards the gate into East Berlin.

And before we exited, there to greet us was a very upbeat official greeter from East Germany who spoke with a French Canadian accent. Incredible, I said, how did you end up speaking English with a French Canadian accent? Because, he said, he had been a prisoner of war in Quebec.

Then into East Berlin where we went first to the dreariest coffee shop I have ever seen. Near the wall, but the first place you could go to. If you wanted to demonstrate how awful communism is, that was the way to do it, and it did it very well.

Then past all of the buildings that were along the border wall, that were relics of the old German Reich. Every building still had bullet holes and chipped stone from the rifle fire that were relics from a war that had ended 28 years before. Nothing of the kind remained in the western half of the city.

Then went to the museum of course which I remember little of. But what is indelible was the War Memorial for which the changing of the guard was the highlight. I stuck around to watch it at least twice, and maybe even one more time after that. Was it at the museum, I don’t know. But what got me was that even with only two guards going and two guards plus their commander coming out and then returning, the goose-stepping of just five soldiers made the entire square shake. Have just found a video someome must have taken back then, but the sound quality gives you no sense of any of it. What an entire army must have sounded like would have been incredible.

Then as night fell, back through the gate which you had to get through by 6:00 pm or something. But along the way there were all kinds of men dressed in black who wanted to change money and would speak to you out of the side of their mouths and in very subdued tones. But with the unimaginable creepiness of it, there was no way I would have ever talked to any of them, never mind attempted to change money.

Whether this was an important part of my education in turning my back on the left, it was no doubt part of it. Communism is gone, but there are always enough crazies around who want to put it back. Dark, dark times, now gone, but you never know your future. There are always people stupid enough to give others genuine power who promise paradise on earth, or at least free stuff, but will only put you in chains. This is a bit of a reminder of what it’s like, but you know what, there are still socialists everywhere who think, this time it will be different.

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43 Responses to My visit to the Berlin Wall

  1. stackja

    this time it will be different

    Yes! Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Khrushchev, Fidel …

  2. Michael

    Thank you for the remarkable insights, Steve.
    I also hitched a few rides in Germany as a 16 year old, but this was after the fall of the wall. Felt safe as houses, but may have been a bit of youthful naïveté.
    Agree with you wholeheartedly re: Communism/Socialism, and while dead, it’s only one election and a few inner-city elitists away from rearing it’s ugly head again

  3. Muddy

    Technology will get us to the point where history can and will, be not only rewritten, but re-imaged. We will be presented with film of ‘alternative’ historical scenarios, complete with not only credible vision, but audio representation of famous individuals. Multiple layers of ‘evidence’ will be put forward to convince us that everything we have been told thus far about an event or individual, has been fraudulent. Once we get to the moment when this is technically possible, we will be faced with the nullification of our main argument: that such-and-such had happened previously, and when it did, it had such-and-such consequences. Even more so than now, history will become a tool to be used against us.

    What happens then?

  4. Iampeter

    But I thought most posters at the Cat and you supported walls. I mean, don’t you believe in nation statehood?!

    You atheist commie!

  5. I was in West Berlin New Year’s eve 1973, having motored in with German students whom I had met in circumstances I can’t recall. At midnight we were on a hill to observe – with hundreds of others – some event in the east that produced an extensive red cloud. This excited the crowd greatly, in celebration. I was puzzled that these West Berliners behaved this way given that the wall might have told them something about life in the East.

  6. The drive in across East Germany was instructive too. A roadhouse provided the worst food I have ever eaten, and at one point we passed a truck convoy of Russian soldiers. Leaving was easier, being a train to Copenhagen in company with a Danish girl I met in Berlin.

  7. Apart from my interactions with the Danish girl, the most memorable event was a visit to a bar/club to listen to Champion Jack Dupree, a USA bluesman who lived in the city. I am in Berlin now for a few weeks, and any trace of that laid back time and culture has gone e.

  8. mh

    News from Deutschland

    Syrian and Afghan asylum seekers attacked a village disco in a small German village armed with machetes after two were kicked out by a bouncer.

    The incident occurred on Saturday in the village of Trebbin in Brandeburg. The group of around 10 migrants attempted to hack down the door to the building with their machetes, German tabloid Bild reports.

    The bouncer said that the asylum seekers attempted to slash him in the neck, but he was able to fend them off and get inside where he and three other colleagues held the door closed as the migrants attacked it.

    As the migrants attempted to chop the wooden door with their machetes, a splinter shot out into the eye of a 25-year-old guest who then had to attend the emergency room.

    “I fended off the blow with my forearm and pushed it back. It fell against the other, who had also pulled a machete. We used the seconds to retreat and shut the door. They then hacked on the door. They had apparently planned to take revenge. Otherwise, they would not have brought the weapons,” the bouncer said…

    https://www.breitbart.com/europe/2019/11/08/syrian-afghan-asylum-seekers-attack-german-village-disco-machetes/

  9. Entropy

    I went to Berlin in December 1989, just after all the shenanigans in the header above happened. I and three others were backpacking around Europe in a small English station wagon. It was amusingwatching all these people hacking away bits of wall as souvenirs. Got a piece myself. Then some East German police walked along the wall and told everyone off except for the guy with the crowbar. They marched him off.
    Then we went through checkpoint Charlie and got a visa in our passports. My experience with the immigration guards was similar, except I had bleached hair, and they got excited about the bag in the back of the car that held our tent. They made me open it up. Heaven knows what they thought we might be smuggling in.
    At the time the differences between west and east Berlin were incredible.
    West Berlin had trees, lots of electricity and lights, bmws and Mercedes, well dressed, well to do people, and great hotels and restaurants.
    East Berlin was dreary, shoddy soviet style buildings (some even featuring on post cards. Horrible food (I still remember the plasticy Camembert)and the all round dullness. I guess it was early winter after all. The only building of note was the telecoms tower. From the top you could see the grey world below, populated in all but identical trebants, all in different faded pastel paint jobs. No people visible though.

  10. In 1973 I was in the Finnish Army patrolling the Finnish-Russian border north of Lappeenranta. I had family that had a farm in the no-man’s land area on the border and any time anyone went there the Russians had to be advised and they kept an eye out from the watchtowers. And BTW, Russian vodka was crap.

  11. Well, it was disco music mh. I see almost everyday incidents of rude or aggressive behaviour by persons of MEA. On the U-bahn to explore the location styled by the intriguing name of Onkle Tom’s Hutte, a young MOMEA entered the train by barging past young women, spread himself across two seat spaces, and ignored older women standing. He alighted at the Free University stop. (Probably pretty common in Australia too).

  12. Chris M

    Wow finding out Steve was a pothead hippy, haha it’s like the mental image just crumbled to dust in an instant. Well, we all grow up. And get haircuts. What is left… next I’m gonna find out Lucius was a furry?

  13. Knuckle Dragger

    Never been to Chermany.

    I was led to believe the Krauts were/are generally a very orderly, fine-tuned, everything-in-its-place sort of joint.

    If this is true, how the hell do they cope with the herds of roaming Africans and sandy types without mowing them down in the streets?

  14. chrisl

    I went to East Berlin by accident in 1986. Somehow we got lost on the autobahn and ended up in East Berlin. We still to this day don’t know how we did it. The overwhelming memory was the oily smell of two stroke motors . It was drab, soulless and the opposite of vibrant. We realised we were in the wrong Berlin and turned around. We ended up in a very little used checkpoint intended for visitors from the north. The very gruff ,very scary, lady soldier stopped us , put chocks behind the wheels ,took our passports and went into an office.
    Eventually she returned ,searched the car and jumped on the back seat to make sure we weren’t smuggling into West Berlin. At the end of all that we had no desire to go through Checkpoint Charlie.

  15. jupes

    But I thought most posters at the Cat and you supported walls. I mean, don’t you believe in nation statehood?!

    You atheist commie!

    It’s astonishing that the biggest brained person on the Cat can’t tell the difference between a wall to keep people in and a wall to keep people out.

  16. What a great account Steve.

    Bloody brilliant retelling of a cardinal moment in your life.

  17. I was led to believe the Krauts were/are generally a very orderly, fine-tuned, everything-in-its-place sort of joint. If this is true, how the hell do they cope with the herds of roaming Africans and sandy types without mowing them down in the streets?

    They imagine this excuses them for what happened to Tha Juuz. Big mistake.

  18. Behind Enemy Lines

    Nice one, Steve. My own time in Germany was later than yours, but there was still a lot of magic to be had by anyone open to it.

    1989 was a victory, but for a long time now it’s been a victory betrayed.

    The biggest enemy was right here at home all along.

    We in the West made a terrible mistake by not dealing harshly with our own communists when we had the chance. They didn’t ever go away, mate, they just laid low for a while.

    And now we’re paying for it.

  19. C.L.

    Communism is gone, but there are always enough crazies around who want to put it back.

    More than enough, alas.

  20. Lazlo

    Those goose-stepping East German guards were called Bopos. I went into East Berlin in 1967, on a train destined for Moscow, and 1970 on a Trek in a Ford Transit driving back from Moscow full of 18 Brits, Merkins and Ozzies. The times. I recall going to a beer garden in EB where they served beer, and the ample waitress said they were pure and not decadent, unlike us.

  21. Lazlo

    Yes, correct, Rafiki now I have wiki’ed it. I was guessing from long-term memory.

  22. Nob

    Knuckle Dragger
    #3206922, posted on November 9, 2019 at 8:46 pm

    I was led to believe the Krauts were/are generally a very orderly, fine-tuned, everything-in-its-place sort of joint

    They mostly are.

    Things are pretty easy going because they just assume that people follow the rules and are perplexed when they don’t.

  23. Iampeter

    It’s astonishing that the biggest brained person on the Cat can’t tell the difference between a wall to keep people in and a wall to keep people out.

    Both the Trump and Berlin walls are built on the belief that the state should regulate who gets to go where and why, even when no rights are being violated by such an action.

    There is no fundamental difference. If you support one you can’t oppose the other.
    It doesn’t take a very big brain to see that.

  24. chrisl

    Iampeter
    When the Berlin Wall was constructed in 1961 3.5 million East Germans (or20% of the populations) had fled
    Only 16 years after th war ,the difference in living standards was so great that the best,brightest and youngest simply left. They could see the lifestyle in West Germany on their televisions but all they had was drudgery. The wall was built to keep the remaining 80% of the population in,not to keep invaders out.

  25. Tintarella di Luna

    They could see the lifestyle in West Germany on their televisions but all they had was drudgery .

    and the smell of cabbage

  26. Robert

    I lived in West Germany in the 70s and 80s. I travelled to West Berlin on a few occasions by train. Took a spin on the U-Bahn, stopping at a bricked up station in East Berlin. I was in Berlin in late December ‘89 with my now-missus to-be. We marvelled at the enthusiasm of all Berliners as they cheered their way through gaps in the hated wall. Ran to Checkpoint Charlie to get the last stamp in my Irish passport and had a great laugh with border guards about the Republic of Ireland’s chances in Euro ‘90. My missus to-be was nonplussed when they hardly batted an eyelid at her Aussie passport. East Berlin was dreary and broken. We were happy to return to our hotel from the open air prison and listen to the local West Berlin music station where Nick Cave was being feted. We loved it. Went to Prague and saw the Velvet Revolution in motion. The Czech’s hated their politburo commies leaders – we saw this firsthand. Vaclav Havel was cheered where ever he appeared, in person, on cinema screens or in newspapers. My missus to-be joined a queue just to see what they were selling in a ‘shop’. 2 hours later she proudly emerged with stamps. We stayed in the famous Europa Hotel and drank brandy (still have the glasses) and felt like we were living in the 1930s. Time had stood still.

    Later in my working life we lived in the US in the late ‘90s and I travelled a lot to Hermosillo, Mexico (look it up). Can’t say much about the place except that big Western European companies were building factories to avail of the newly-minted NAFTA rules. I regularly drove back to Phoenix Arizona to avoid flying on AeroMexico planes, passing through the Nogales checkpoint. I once met the US Customs Officer who was in the ‘Traffic’ film, as … a US Customs Officer. Real nice guy.

    To say the iron curtain and the US/Mexico border are two of the same thing is completely stupid and wrong. They served entirely different purposes. Iampeter, go away. You know nothing, seen nothing, learnt nothing.

  27. thefrollickingmole

    There is no fundamental difference. If you support one you can’t oppose the other.

    Imploder is effectively saying all borders are null and void.

    Imploder thinks this is clever.

    Imploder should visit the DMZ in Korea and demand the norks “tear down this wall”.

    it will be instructive for the bear of little brain.

  28. Andre Lewis

    While in Berlin post the wall coming down there were presumably former east German young guys offering to let tourists hire their Trabant for a joy ride. Sucked in I had a few hours of driving a car so awful it was actually comic fun. These terrible machines must all be small piles of rust by now.

  29. P

    Toni Fisher’s top 40 hit of July 1962 was titled West of the Wall.
    It reached #1 in Australia for 4 weeks (a big hit).

  30. Mother Lode

    I think OmPoida is just trying to rile you all up with his silly equivalence.

    I used to call him 1amp, but decided better if it.

    It was far, far too generous.

  31. IainC

    Both the Trump and Berlin walls are built on the belief that the state should regulate who gets to go where and why, even when no rights are being violated by such an action.
    There is no fundamental difference. If you support one you can’t oppose the other.
    It doesn’t take a very big brain to see that.

    So a free liberal democracy wanting to control its borders for the orderly passage of travellers and would-be migrants is morally equivalent to a mass murdering fascist dictatorship wanting to control its borders to oppress its people. If that’s the way you think, go for it – we live in a free liberal democracy, after all.

  32. Dr Fred Lenin

    It is sad that the Democratic Republik fell ,they would have been trendsetters in modern behaviour .
    Just imagine how the comrades would have handled global warming ,feminism, the gay scene ,poofter marriage, racism , ? They would have en good at victimhood ,they had plenty of victims there .
    The Stasis responses to thunberg,the antifa fascists and SJW dogma would have been a salutory lesson in dealing with anti social recalcirants .
    It would have been worth seeing ,unlike the West Germans ,they were not applying for re admission to the Human Race after the national SOCIALIST Hitlers bloodbath .

  33. Iampeter

    Imploder is effectively saying all borders are null and void.

    No, not even remotely.

    So a free liberal democracy wanting to control its borders for the orderly passage of travellers and would-be migrants is morally equivalent to a mass murdering fascist dictatorship wanting to control its borders to oppress its people.

    No, not even remotely.

    If you support regulating people who are committing the crime of going about their business, like say immigrating, then you are not on the side of free liberal democracy.

    But please don’t let any of this get in the way of erecting more straw-men, jumping to more non-sequiturs and proposing more false alterantives.

    Iampeter, go away. You know nothing, seen nothing, learnt nothing.

    Yea. You guys are the real experts. Clearly.

  34. stackja

    Like above. East German leader Honecker didn’t see the writing on the wall.

  35. Diogenes

    I never made to the Communist East, for many reasons, and dad only ever went back the once before the wall fell, and when in Hungary never ever spoke Hungarian, and had to give Transylvania a miss, because his birth place was clearly stated in his passport.

    In the winter of 82 I was on a train from Munich to the north, which paralleled the border. We were at last 500m inside the BRD, and you could read a newspaper in our compartment because the light was so bright. I asked a question and the fellow compartment mates took great pains to explain what it was and what an obscenity it was. One abiding memory was being told that the electrikkery being used was generated in the BRD and sold to the DDR.

  36. NuThink

    chrisl
    They could see the lifestyle in West Germany on their televisions but all they had was drudgery.

    I was told that although it was verboten in the east to watch Western TV, it was noticed that those who could receive it and did were so put off by the decadent and violent West that that they had very little inclination to jump the wall, so the watching of Western TV was officially tolerated. Remember that the GDR TV told them they were living in paradise, as in a Potemkin village and that any good images they could see from the West were fake and just propaganda. As a reference closer to home think our ABC and SBS vs the other channels.

  37. NuThink

    I worked in Vienna for many months in 1973, and the side street next to the hotel on Mariahilfer strasse still had pockmarked buildings from WW2 gunfire.

    Also of interest are the Flak Turm (Flak Towers – Flak for those who don’t know is a contraction of German FLugzeugAbwehrKanone meaning “aircraft-defense cannon”). The towers were massive concrete structures and some towers still stand in Vienna.

    One can be seen in Google Earth – search for Esterhazy Park, Vienna, Austria and one can see Haus-des-meeres (House of the Seas) with its Micky Mouse ears platforms as shadows. It is now an aquarium.

    The one in Esterhazy park is the last one in this video which shows five of the six built in Vienna.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YllpWIKFPjg

    The reason given as to why they did not get rid of them after the war was that the explosives would cause too much collateral damage. There are now non explosive methods to break up concrete but they rather keep them (I guess the cost to remove them would be huge), as in Vienna one is an aquarium, one built in Hamburg in Germany is a night club and going to be converted to a luxury hotel.

    Flak Tower Aquarium and Zoo pictures in Vienna.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pzVRcMOWnXw

    https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/hamburg-nazi-fortress-flak-tower-iv-to-become-macabre-hotel-p2kcgw7wm

    They also stand as monuments to what ends that totalitarian socialists will go to achieve their paradise on earth.

  38. thefrollickingmole

    Imploder

    Imploder is effectively saying all borders are null and void.
    No, not even remotely.

    Imploder in the same post.

    If you support regulating people who are committing the crime of going about their business, like say immigrating, then you are not on the side of free liberal democracy.

    Imploder thinks his second statement refutes my first because the pixies in his skullcase say so.

    Dont have pixies in your skullcase like imploder.
    Just dont.

  39. NuThink

    thefrollickingmole
    who are committing the crime of going about their business, like say immigrating,

    people smugglers are committing crimes when going about their business of immigration, not emigration.
    Probably first time I agree with Iampeter.

  40. Iampeter

    It’s funny how so many who care so much about the issue of abortion can’t even describe what the issue is remotely about.

    Keep tilting at windmills, geniuses.

  41. kae

    Here you go.
    Goose step marching.

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