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BERLIN, 1966: Correspondence with a cousin

By       Message Kenneth Johnson     Permalink
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From flickr.com/photos/7509302@N08/1514615747/: Berlin, Germany
Cafe Kranzler, Berlin, Germany
(image by Imparo)
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While composing a letter to a 1st cousin once-removed, it occurred to me that the subject may be of general interest. Upon returning from a European trip, my cousin asked me to relate my experiences in Germany way back when.

In 1966 I was part of a university group that went to Germany on an eight-week program. After landing in Amsterdam and we were bused to our first stop around Bremen.

We saw the SS United States in the North Sea by Bremerhaven, and I had tears in my eyes. I've 'grown up' a lot since then.

We stayed in a village in northern Germany on the North Sea, in a hotel with a thatched roof. Even in July, the wind off the Ocean made it seem cold enough to freeze the tarnish off a mob of brass gulls. It seemed a good place to build U-boats, since chattering teeth would give away any spies. California Dreaming by the Mamas and the Papas came into play then; suddenly I missed home.

We traveled to Bonn, where we were able to visit the Bundestag. Ludwig Erhard was the chancellor at the time. He was from Furth, near Nuremberg, the same home town as Henry Kissinger. Chancellor Erhard, an economist, looked to the bankers to create prosperity. Small circles, huh?

Later, we flew from Hanover to Berlin on a Pan Am Boeing 727, which made a few twists and turns in the sky to obey the flight corridor rules, since we were flying in Soviet air space.

I remember especially the remains of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, which was destroyed but for a husk of the west tower by British bombers during a raid on November 22, 1943. In 1961 a German architect created a modern octagonal church of 20,000 pre-fabricated units to stand next to the ruin. Its stunning stained-glass windows, lit at night in a brilliant blue color, accent the magnificent Berlin landmark.

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We stopped somewhere (now closed) for a Berliner Weiss. As we sat in a new section, which was kind of a patio section just off the fronted Kurfurstendamm sidewalk, one of the top guys came out and greeted us, proudly showing how he could automatically cover the area by pushing a button or two. It was a new feature, and he thought it pretty cool. Civilian Americans were a novelty in 1966 Germany; many Germans expressed their appreciation of a friendly visit from people who represented their former enemy. That changed when the all-knowing, way-too-much-moneyed, proud American tourists arrived.

The Berlin subway passed through closed stations that were in the DDR zone. Among those keeping an eye out for unscheduled passengers were soldiers with mounted .50-caliber machine guns pointed at the train -- at us.

My friend Reese and I went through Checkpoint Charlie into the East Zone. My impression was that part of Berlin was still pretty much in ruin. A German professional photographer was taking photos of a well-dressed model on a sidewalk as we passed. It was an amazing contrast.

We ate lunch in a restaurant, which was a pretty dismal experience. Let's just say the help was not motivated. The utensils were made out of the same aluminum as the DDR coins.

As we were leaving, a guard passed me through, but asked Reese, "Sprechen Sie Deutsch?"

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Reese replied, "Nein."

The border guard shouted, "Alles ist nicht in Ordnung!"

My friend flushed visibly.

Meanwhile I was in a no-man's-land corridor between the checkpoints. I just froze, not knowing what to expect. That brief moment was frightening, because the men talking had total control, a helpless feeling to which we Americans had yet not had to adjust.

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Former teacher; Corporate Lackey. The JFK assassination was a coup d'e'tat. Eclecticist. Riverside County, California, USA


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