Published: June 21st 2013June 21st 2013
With the recent G8 summit in Berlin, I thought my trip to Berlin in 1980 would be interesting. I will add more photos when we return home in September.
We lived in Heidelberg Germany from 1978 to 1986, Augsburg Germany from 1993 to 1995 and Mainz Germany from 1995 to 1997. I was a computer software engineer on intelligence computer systems.
In December, 1980, we went to Berlin. At that time Berlin was still a divided city from World War Two. There were four sections: American, Russian, French and British. We had to get special travel orders to make the trip. The Travel Orders were written in English, French and Russian. There were three ways to travel to Berlin: fly, drive or take the train. You could fly, which was no fun. You could drive, which was an adventure. You entered East Germany at a special border crossing. The US Army would log you in as entering East Germany. You were required to drive straight to Berlin without stopping. You could not leave the freeway. If you were stopped by an East German policeman, you were supposed to demand to see a Russian Soldier. If you were late arriving
in Berlin, The Army would send someone to look for you. When Jan read the driving rules, she decided that she was not going to drive, Period!! So we took the Army Duty train.
This was a special train from Frankfurt to Berlin. Since we were 6 people, we had a sleeper cabin to ourselves and we traveled at night. It was free for military and contractors. The military took our passports and travel orders when we got on the train. When the train entered East Germany, we stopped for a Passport check, at Potsdam, The ranking military duty officer on the train, usually a lieutenant, took our papers into a building. There were East German soldiers guarding our train. They were not there to guard the train from us, but their mission was to prevent any East German citizen from getting on the train. There were special locks on the train doors to prevent anyone from entering the train. We finally left Potsdam and traveled through the night to Berlin. I set my alarm for about 6am to see the train enter West Berlin. The train went through a large well lit gate at a high rate of
speed. We took a bus from the train station to the Army Hotel where we stayed almost a week. One night, I was standing in the lobby and I saw a Russian Army vehicle parked out front. I ask a security guard why they were there. He said that they were there often because they could. Our soldiers could drive and park anywhere in East Berlin.
In Berlin, we visited their famous zoo and took a city tour to the Brandenburg Gate. The gate was officially in East Berlin, but the bus driver could drive down a street in front, as long as he did not stop. He drove very slowly so that we could take pictures.
We took an Air Force tour to East Berlin. That was another adventure. Because of our travel restrictions, we could only enter East Berlin if we were accompanied by an American soldier. The American soldiers on the tour were required to remove their name tags from their uniforms. We entered East Berlin at the famous Check Point Charlie. There was a fascinating museum at Check Point Charlie with artifacts used by East Germans who have risked their lives to
escape to the West. At Check Point Charlie, we held our passports opened and up against the windows so that the Russian guards could see them and write down the information. They were not allowed to enter the bus. We were driven around East Berlin. The conditions were awful, and still showed traces of WWII, 35 years prior. We drove down a special street which showed beautiful homes or at least beautiful fronts. The driver showed us the rear of the buildings which were in bad shape. This was the propaganda street which showed how beautiful East Berlin was. The driver told us the procedure if one of us got sick. They were required to take us to a Russian Army hospital. Our second choice was to quickly head for the border. He asked us our preference and we all yelled, "Head for the border". We also visited a Russian Army Memorial. There were Russian Soldiers marching the goose step out front. According to the treaty, Russian soldiers were not allowed to be there. Also according to the treaty, we were not allowed to take pictures of the memorial. Because they were there, we could take pictures. We also went
to the down town main square, Potsdam Platz to shop and visit their Christmas Market. The Christmas market was very small and depressing considering that this was a very large city. We went into their main department store. The quality of goods was very poor and very outdated. It looked like a US store in the 50s. This was an amazing trip. We took the duty train back to Frankfurt.
There are more photos below