A few steps.From one world to the other. We are in pre-1990 Berlin, Friedrichstrasse, Checkpoint Charlie. Our world has Coca-Cola, Mercedes cars, holidays abroad, and
changing governments. A few metres up the street, we enter their world of state-owned
factories, grey apartment blocks, an imposed monolithic government and a command economy
selling pale imitations of popular western products.
As you came through the border controls in Freidrichstrasse in your walk between two worlds, you may, as I did once, have found yourself being followed by a Stasi agent dressed in a dead giveaway expensive leather jacket. Mine was a raddled looking overweight fellow, obviously fond of the booze. He didn't bother hiding himself at all, he just kept about ten meters away from me at all times, and stared back unashamed if I looked at him. I decided I had better postpone the taking of photographs that I had planned, over by the wall zone near the Brandenburg Gate, as I would certainly be arrested for it, as I nearly was once before. Instead I wandered slowly up Unter Den Linden, and stopped by the snack stall next to the German History Museum, and bought something to eat and drink. I will always remember with a shudder the awful watered cola you got from the snack stalls around East Berlin. The sausages from there weren't bad though, they were usually good and fat, but the size could vary. You ate them with a slice of hard German bread and a dab of mustard. I couldn't help wondering exactly what was in those sausages, though.
Herr 'Stasi Agent' stood motionless a short distance away from me while I avoided the wasps and ate my sausage. I was probably not in much danger from this man, even if I did start taking photographs. In fact, however, it was actually illegal to take pictures of border installations, (i.e. the Wall), Government buildings, the railways, railway stations, and almost any means of public transport. I do not think Herr Stasi would have leaped on me if I took a shot of the History Museum as a bus happened to pass by, but the fact remained he could if he wanted to. If they wanted to they could always find a reason to get you .
I decided to be as boring as possible, to try and bore him out of his interest in me, so I wandered slowly up to Alexanderplatz and into a big department store. Inside they had a section devoted to communist regalia for rallies and the like. Communist Youth Organisation shields made of cardboard for stringing onto banner poles or street lamps, bunting made from little paper DDR flags, silver coloured plastic award trophies and badges, and flags and banners of all sorts. It seemed to be one of the best stocked departments in there, though no-one was buying anything. I spent a long time inspecting this trödel, and when I looked up again, my own personal secret agent was gone.
The next problem in this other world was getting a decent meal. Not so easy, unless you could survive all day on those sausages. I found the best places to eat were the cafés to be found in the museums. On one or two occasions I got mild food poisoning from them, however, so things were not perfect even there. Any café on the street that was worth patronising was invariably booked up well in advance. There were even some privately owned restaurants around in the latter years, much weighed down with bureaucracy from communist officialdom, but they struggled and survived nonetheless. You really had to be a privileged person to eat in the good places, and for westerners with diplomatic status, they could be a food paradise on the cheap. Quality was usually acceptable, but the price! One time, with an American army friend and two companions, we had a slap-up 3-course meal for four, with wine, for twelve American dollars! Western currency was an 'open-sesame' for all sorts of delights in the east, and many Westerners took great advantage of the fact. Now it is all over it seems amazing that for so long we took this situation as perfectly normal. Two Worlds in One City....
It was always a relief for me to get out of the east and back to West Berlin. Though it was West Berlin that was surrounded by a wall and enclosed from the world, you always felt that it was in the east that you were trapped and cut off. Indeed, if you happened to lose your passport, or have it stolen while you were in East Berlin, that is exactly what you would have been. There were quite a few cases of this happening, with the thief getting out of East Berlin using the stolen papers. The eastern authorities were always suspicious that the poor westerner was in fact in league with the escapee, and had given or sold the passport to him. Not a pleasant situation for an innocent holidaymaker to be in!
When crossing back to the west when I had been followed by the Stasi agent, I was of course nervous that something suspicious had been noticed about myself. Perhaps I was recognised as having hung about the border installations many times before, and I would be called into an office to explain myself. But then again no, I was not that important. It was just the paranoid feeling that the atmosphere of the place engendered. Eventually the last gate would be opened for me, and I would step through and be embraced by the warm feeling of freedom. The contrast between here and there was so obvious, and that we had things so much better, you couldn't help but congratulate yourself that you had the good sense to be born on the right side of Berlin Wall.
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