Berlin (1973)

                                 Behind the Iron Curtain

A few months before we moved back to the United States, Val and I combined a business trip to Germany with a quick visit to East Berlin. It had been twelve years since the Berlin Wall had been built and it was an eye-opener.

The contrast between East and West Berlin is every bit as dramatic as they say. The West with its bustling, neon lighted boulevards is alive and in color;  the East, on the other hand is drab and in black-and-white. Yet East Berlin includes the former center of German government with all the government buildings, museums, cathedrals, etc. The city was eighty percent destroyed during the war, yet in East Berlin the rubble and building shells still remain almost thirty years after the war. West Berlin, on the other hand, is completely rebuilt and modern,  but there’s something temporary and out of place about it. As someone said, it’s as if New York had been destroyed and then Manhattan was reconstructed somewhere in the Bronx.

We flew into Tempelhof Airport focal point of the heroic Berlin airlift, which brought much needed food and supplies to the people of West Berlin from June 1948 to September 1949

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    Templehof Airport                                                                          The Berlin Wall                                                           Checkpoint Charlie

The Wall is dominant and everywhere. It’s not really that big. (I think I expected something of the size of the Great Wall of China).  It is a double wall constructed of cement blocks, about eight feet high, using old building fronts in some parts with a twenty yard swath of no-mans-land between the two walls. You can climb observation stands all along the periphery and look over at the Volpos (East German police) as the poor guys look back at you. We took the U-bahn underground train over to the Checkpoint Charlie on Saturday evening and stood up on the observation stand watching the comings and goings. Pretty eerie. They’ve put together a museum at Check Point Charlie on the history of the wall, the successful escapes and the unsuccessful ones. It really had an impact.

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        The Wall,  The Guard Tower                                                                                                                                             The Guards, The Prisoner

We took a two hour tour upon arriving of West Berlin. There’s really not much of touristic interest. You hear some strange statistics that they’re running out of hospital beds and cemetery plots. The average age of the population continues to increase as the young people all leave Berlin to find work in West Germany with close to fifty percent of the population over 65 years. One can only imagine what it will be like in twenty years I’m afraid it will just up and wither away.

On Friday we took the tour of East Berlin. It takes about a half hour just to get through the checkpoint formalities . but the tour agency handles it all so it is painless. It was interesting during the wait watching Volpos going through the cars coming in from East Berlin taking all seats out and even going so far as to put a rod down into the radiator checking for a false bottom.  It was much more severe than when we crossed into Hungary a couple years ago. The tour, of course, pointed us toward the new People’s Palaces and away from the rubble but it was pretty hard to avoid it all. There were no limits on taking picture, though. One obligatory stop was at the Russian War Memorial Cemetery honoring the 40,000 Russian soldiers who were killed in the two-week conquest of Berlin.

It was a gray, cloudy day and which seemed appropriate for the gray, dreary surroundings. The drabness of it all was especially noticeable when we got back into West Berlin once again.

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