I was in Turkey on a TDY when the Wall dropped. I called my Dad.
“Dad! We’re all patting each other on the back, smoking cigars and celebrating. Was this what it was like on VE Day?”
“No son. It’s like 1944, when the Krauts shot us through our Christmas turkey. Keep your head down. They’ve stopped being Soviets but they’ll never stop being Russians.”
In March, 1989 my girlfriend Karen and I planned to visit Checkpoint Charlie before they tore it down. So I got our travel orders and off we went. East Germany was like traveling in time. Like everything stopped in 1945. We passed factory after burned out factory. They were still pulling hay wagons with horses. The Autobahn was filled with “Trabis”.
A West German Honda would pass us and it looked like a spaceship compared to the shit the east Germans were driving.
When we crossed the East/West border Karen and I decided to just speak German. I speak with a Prussian dialect and noticed the further North or East I went I was understood more.
Karen was doing great right up to ordering “Two kittens of tea” at the Checkpoint Charlie Museum Cafe. The last six months in country I had two goals. To learn to speak English well again and learn to drive at 55mph. I was hassling the guy in the gift shop for some Solidarity pins when I heard English. I turned around to find the perfect characterization of a little old lady from Minnesota on vacation. She was trying to but postcards and didn’t know how much they were.
“They are for the 50 pfennigs, um pennies”, I said.
“So how do you like the West?”, she replied.
Great. I’m being mistaken for an East German.
When we got got to the Checkpoint Charlie chaos reigned supreme. There was an open air flea market where you could buy any Soviet or East German Army equipment. Short of weapons. I bought some East German chemical warfare pants. Thought they’d be great for playing paintball. The Turks had blown a hole in the wall and were selling pieces. More if there was graffiti on it. For ten Marks you could rent a hammer and chisel and get your own. I was banging away when an Army LtCol walked up with his buddies. They had brought a jack hammer. He offered to let me take it for a spin and I cut off a chunk the size of my hand.
Everyone in Karen’s shop had gotten pictures of them skateboarding the Wall. I pointed out that all of the pictures were from the West side. We stepped through the hole into East Germany. There were three Turkish boys. they had an assembly line going on. Medium kid sprays paint on the blank wall. Big kid wangs it off with hammer and chisel. Little kid picks up and bags the pieces.
Then the East German Army patrol showed up. I assessed my situation.
I was in a Communist Bloc country.
I was a non-comissioned officer.
All of our identification was in the car.
So I became German…….and drunk. I casually staggered back into West Ger Berlin. The guards came up to their side of the hole and we chatted. I had a polaroid camera and they wanted pictures. I told the film was gone. The they noticed my 35mm.
“If we give you our addresses, can you send us the pictures?” What the Hell.
When we got back to base we were debriefed by the OSI.
“Did you encounter members of the Soviet milltary or East German military or police?”
“We had a 40 minute conversation with a couple of guards at Checkpoint Charlie.”
“What did they ask you about the Air Force?”
“What did they ask you about the American military?”
“What did they ask you about America?”
“Nothing. I don’t think we were Americans.”
“The whole conversation was in German.”
“Can you describe their uniforms?”
“As a matter of fact.” I whip out my picture.
“The guy on the left is Hans. He’s going to leave the Army and work with his Dad in a West Berlin garage. Here is his home address and phone number.”
“The guy on the right is Karl-Heinz. He’s going to stay in the Army because they have food. Here is his home address and phone number.”
OSI guy’s mind blows up. “You got their home addresses! Do you want to work for us?”
“No, I have a cool assignment in Nevada.”
But you never say no to the OSI.
But that’s a story for another time.