A MEMORABLE EXPERIENCEBerlin 1989, on the brinkLeaving...



Berlin 1989, on the brink

Leaving West Germany on our way to Berlin, we felt as if we had driven from a color movie into a black-and-white silent film. It was September 1989, and the Berlin Wall and communism still stood.

As we drove through an opening in a dense border of barbed wire at Bay-reuth, armed guards stopped our car. They scrutinized our passports and instructed us to go directly to Berlin without leaving the highway at any time.

Remembering the colorful and lively towns in West Germany, we were disheartened by the bleakness we encountered. For seven hours we traveled the poorly paved highway. In the distance, we could see gray-looking towns with drab concrete buildings. Traffic was sparse. Gradually we became as silent and solemn as the countryside outside our windows.

What a relief to finally reach West Berlin.

After getting rooms in a quaint pension, we strolled along the Kurfurstendamm (a main boulevard) and enjoyed the noisy traffic, neon lights, bright stores and cafes filled with people and music. Of course, we achieved our main goal: to see the Wall covered with garish, scrawled messages and names.

The next day as we drove through Checkpoint Charlie into the Russian sector, we felt apprehensive again. We parked, then walked to the Brandenburg Gate, where we could view it from an area closely patrolled by armed guards. On the East Berlin side, the Wall was pristine white -- a long chalk mark, daring anyone to cross.

We walked down the Unter den Linden and sensed an emptiness. There was little traffic, few people or stores and the ever-present gray, drab concrete buildings. As the only patrons in an outdoor cafe, we were told "nein" to everything we ordered. We settled for bitter-tasting coffee and nondescript beer.

Continuing our walk, we came to the part of East Berlin that made our trip worthwhile -- what beautiful Old World architecture and sculpture. We admired the splendor of the Berliner Dom cathedral and regretted not having enough time to see all of the Pergamon Museum. A discovery was a lovely, secluded garden by the library of a university.

Before leaving the sector, we were ordered out of our car. Armed guards searched it thoroughly, using mirrors for the undercarriage.

On our last day, we went to the Wall again and felt we had to leave evidence of our visit. Using our lipsticks, we wrote "FREEDOM" and our names. We came home with a deeper appreciation for our freedom and were so excited when the Wall came down two months later. As we watched the celebrations, we remembered the gray, austere world East Germany was so anxious to leave behind and sincerely wished them luck.

It's the 10th anniversary of the Berlin Wall's destruction, and our memories of that vacation will be with us forever.

Martha K. Haas lives in Joppa.


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