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#1 Jan 01, 2021 2:37 pm

New Historian

Leaving Checkpoint Charlie

The toughest border I ever crossed was Checkpoint Charlie in 1976 – at the height of the Cold War. What was worse, I was going the “wrong” way: from East to West. I was on a six-week boondoggle through Germany sponsored by a socialist organization called the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, part of which included a day trip into East Berlin. Getting into East Germany was a breeze, and we spent a fascinating day in the East, witnessing a ceremony honoring the millions of Russian dead of World War II. The trouble started when it was time to leave East Berlin.

The East German border guards, the Grenztruppen, were rightly feared in both East and West Germany. These guys enjoyed their jobs a bit too much, and they had unlimited powers over the people under their dominion. Like me.

Maybe it was because my passport picture, of a cherubic sixteen-year old boy, bore little resemblance to the bearded hippy standing before them, but for whatever reason they decided to have a closer look at me. I was taken to an adjoining windowless room, where I was repeatedly examined by increasingly senior border guards, you could tell their seniority by the size of their military caps! They took turns holding my passport up to my face and really, really staring; for what seemed an eternity. By this time our West German minder was nowhere in sight, it was just me and them. Every now and then one of them would hurl a question at me in German, while others watched my reaction. This was beginning to get a bit scary: people DISAPPEAR in here!

After many, many examinations, they reluctantly gave me back my passport and let me leave. As I walked westwards through Checkpoint Charlie, with its razor wire, machine gun turrets and minefields, I got a very small sense, of the immense relief that must have washed over those few East Germans who made it safely through this deadly crossing.



#2 Jan 01, 2021 7:17 pm


Re: Leaving Checkpoint Charlie

You shouldn't have had a problem, looking like Che Gauvara.

OK, so he died in 67, but you coulda say you woz family.


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