The first time I crossed through Check Point Charley was in our rental car. Hubby wanted to take me on a small driving tour, not just of the city of East Berlin, but to also go out into the countryside.*************************************************
We got to the border and drove into the holding area. That is no mans land, really. For a time when we sat there, we were without the protective arm of Uncle Sam. Was I nervous? You bet.
I wasn’t afraid of the East German people, but I was very afraid of the Russians. Growing up in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s I knew all too well what the Russians could do. Hubby had also told me his story of trying to cross into East Berlin and being held at the border when they searched his car and found a copy of “Stars & Stripes“. Needless to say his experience was not a good one and left me nearly panic stricken when we drove up.
We had to get out of the car, the trunk was opened and the car searched. We had to have our passport stamped and were released to go across.
The first thing that struck me was how few cars were on the roads! Where West Berlin was fairly crowded with vehicles, East Berlin was nearly empty. There were busses and S-Bahns (trolleys), and a lot of foot traffic and bicycles.
I was so fascinated with what I was seeing. I felt a great excitement inside. We drove past what Hubby explained had been where Hitler’s bunker had been, past concert halls, museums and a University.
Even though this was still Berlin, the two sides of the Wall were very different. The west was much more commercial. Open. Shops were everywhere. In the east, it seemed almost more formal, and there were far fewer shops.
Eventually we drove out of the city. If memory serves me correctly we drove south of the city for some time. It was beautiful, lush, forested and unpopulated, really lovely. We stopped at a Gasthaus for lunch. We went in and ordered a meal. I wish I could recall what we ordered, but I do recall that it was very good, and of course we topped it off with a tall beer. That was my introduction to the East.
Our first tour with the US Military was pretty interesting. The Provost Marshal boarded the bus and gave us all a briefing. We could shop, but under no circumstances were we to change money with anyone on the street. It was better to change money before we crossed (which we had done). We could shop, but we should not buy things that were in short supply to the East Germans. Never show your passport, never give up your passport and if anyone started to follow you or bother you, return to the bus.
The bus pulled up to Check Point Charley and we were required only to show our passport pictures in the window of the bus. Basically we breezed through. I decided after that, that this was the way to cross.
The bus stopped in front of the Zeiss Jena Camera shop and parked. Needless to say, the first shop we went into was the camera shop. Over the course of the summer, Hubby
bought a medium format camera and several lenses there.
Me sitting in the garden area at Alexanderplatz
We also went to the large department store Kaufhaus am Alexanderplatz. They had many neat items there and I planned my shopping trips to obtain certain items. I was able to get two cotton decke’s (comforters), an eiderdown decke, a lovely tea set for my sister, wine and champagne glasses an anniversary clock and table linens.
We had a few places that we liked to eat in the downtown area. Always the meals were washed down with a nice cold beer.
After that first trip I felt fairly confident that I could do these trips alone. So I made a few more trips without Hubby
while he worked. One trip I made I was asked if I would take the wife of another pilot. Sure. However, my problem soon presented itself. This little woman was totally incapable of doing anything without being led by the hand. She was afraid of her own shadow and even though I assured her that we were safe and that no one would bother us, she was a wreck. After I had gotten her lunch and had a beer she decided to go back on the bus and stayed there until the tour ended.
We flew back to the US to pick up our daughters. Amanda and Jess were coming over with us for three weeks. They would stay in Berlin with me while Hubby
worked for the first week and a half and then we would tour around Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Liechtenstein.
But that, gentle reader, is for the next chapter.