Thursday, November 5, 2009
Anniversary of The Fall of the Berlin Wall - part 2
My original tour in Berlin ended in October 1983, but they incentivized me to stay another year - it was common for them to do that and a lot of my friends stayed for longer than one tour as well. The offer, as I recall, was to choose from the following: (1) an additional $50 per month; (2) a flight home and 2 weeks of leave; or (3) a month of leave. I chose the most expensive option, a month of leave for the first extension, and then again my second extension.
You had to take this time off all at once. I can't remember which month off it was, 1983 or 1984, but I decided to stay local in Berlin for it, getting out in town most nights and seeing parts of the city as a tourists that I hadn't yet been to. And so it was that one of my friends suggested that we walk around the Neukolln District, following the snake of the Wall to see if we could identify where David Bowie had painted his name and had his photo taken. I found this interesting article about Bowie in Berlin, by the way:
So finally one weekend morning Jim and I decided to head for a walk. We chose a U-bahn stop that seemed close to the Wall and navigated through alleys and yards to get up close, arriving at the overlook above as a first milestone. We then took a very crooked walk along the Wall, lots of detours and dead-end streets.
We started noticing the guards in the towers, who after we'd passed two of them, were all acting the same way towards us - looking at us as we approached in binoculars, making a phone call, then ducking out of sight. And so on, after the next kilometer at the next tower, there would be the guard with the binocs pointed at us. We had a good time trying to sneak up on them.
There was one situation that I found out of character for my adopted city - on one dead-end street with an overlook at the end of the block, there was a group of Germans with a video camera and a boom microphone. We'd stumbled into something, maybe a do-it-yourself video project. As we passed them, they stopped what they were doing and glared at us.
Then one of their group broke away, following us up the scaffold of the tower and glaring at us in person as we looked across into no man's land. Not a word, just an impatient glare the whole time.
But we couldn't help lingering in that spot once we were up on the landing. There was some sort of training exercise going on just across the way, with a Soviet officer in a car with East German police (you can see the car in one of the photos above). It was an added bonus for us - the full Cold War experience: Soviets and East Germans over there together, the tower guards watching us, these hostile West Berliner artists, and us, two bumbling American servicemen touring through it all, thinking about where we were going to wind up for a beer.