The Broadband Teat

(with a tip of the hat to Harlan Ellison)


Austin, Texas, USA
January 13
I'm a husband and proud papa. I have a B.A. in history from Middlebury College and an M.A. in Screenwriting from The University of Texas. And now I work at a kennel--which I enjoy a great deal. I'm also writing a lot of short fiction these days, which I enjoy even more. Catch my story "Trials" in the anthology Ring of Fire 2, currently available from Baen Books.


Editor’s Pick
OCTOBER 19, 2010 8:35PM

Memories of East Berlin

Rate: 10 Flag

Me at 17, at Checkpoint Charlie

(All images are my own)


I pride myself on being slow to take offense. I go to church on a regular basis (not as regularly as I should lately, but that's another post), but irreverence doesn't bother me much, for instance. I have a pretty low sense of humor when you come right down to it. Still, I have my "buttons": cruelty, rank hypocrisy and glaring ignorance being three biggies. Joe Miller, Alaska Senate candidate extraordinaire, hit two out of three (and I'm giving the benefit of the doubt on cruelty) thanks to his brute squad and praise of East Germany so breathtakingly stupid it easily exceeds anything Christine O'Donnell has said. Including her statements on the First Amendment. Namely, Miller held up the former German Democratic Republic as a model for border security.

The first question I had was...did Joe Miller ever visit East Germany? Because I did.

In the summer of 1989, I was privileged to spend a summer in the German city of Krefeld as part of the Indiana University Honors Program in Foreign Language. It is a thriving program that gives language students the opportunity to gain fluency in German, French or Spanish in a total immersion program. My German is rusty these days but the fact I can still speak and understand it at all is probably largely due to that summer.

For the German group, the culmination of our summer was a trip to Berlin. Germany--and Berlin--were still divided. If we'd told our host families or teachers, or other friends we'd made over the summer, that before the year was over that the Wall would fall and the East German government would effectively collapse, they would have told us Du spinnst. You're nuts.

We travelled to Berlin by bus. Krefeld is on the Rhine, so we drove across the Federal Republic to cross the border just east of Hannover. I can't show you a picture of that border crossing. We were told, in no uncertain terms, to not even have our cameras out. In theory, we could have been detained for espionage. More likely, our cameras would have been confiscated. But the image of that border is still vivid, even over two decades later: loop upon endless loop of barbed wire; large watchtowers every half mile or so; jack-like tank traps. God only knows what destructiveness lurked under the soil. The two most powerful military machines in human history were staring each other down, and I and my classmates had a front row seat for the time it took to clear the border.

Once in Berlin there were more checkpoints, of course. We visited Checkpoint Charlie. Nearby was a platform that would let you see across the no-man's land dividing the two halves of Berlin. Potsdamer Platz is now a bustling center of culture and commerce--as it was before the city was divided. When I saw it, it looked like this:

 Potsdamer Platz023

This is what Joe Miller, and those who would his approve his comments, would have the U.S. - Mexico border look like. 

And you know what? The Berlin Wall and those massive fortifications couldn't keep people in. Did the majority of East Germans stay? Sure they did. The majority of people just try to get along. But there was a museum at Checkpoint Charlie dedicated to the ingenuity of those who defeated that security that Joe Miller sees as a model. Here's a BMW Isetta, which smuggled a number of people through the Wall driving from east to west and back again. The Isetta is probably the size of a SMART car, possibly even a little smaller. So small it was thought impossible to hide a person in. In fact, the car's career ended when someone being smuggled sneezed at the wrong moment:

Museum Isetta022 

 The other thing I noticed about East Berlin in the day we spent there was how drab it looked. Some buildings still showed damage from World War II. You couldn't get more than two scoops of ice cream and the cola you got was this dreadful, nearly undrinkable stuff because the GDR couldn't import cola syrup. I know the command economy had a lot to do with this, but don't think the enormous expense of keeping a sealed border didn't play a big role too. We've beggared ourselves enough with two wars over the last decade; we don't need to add to it by trying to copy a Stalinist security apparatus.

We can not uphold our constitution--as the Tea Party wants us to do--and at the same time emulate dictatorial regimes like that of the German Democratic Republic or, as Newt Gingrich suggested during the height of the Park52 nonsense, Saudi Arabia. The rights and freedoms entailed by that marvelous document have costs. One of them being  that we do not have a militarized border with Mexico. Whatever problems there may be with our border security, East Germany is not a model for solving them.

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the scary part for me is that they just don't see it. They know nothing about the issues that they are so passionate about and the idea that they are patriots must come from the patriot act the most un-american laws ever foisted off on people.
My husband is in Transnistria right now, and although there is no wall, there is pretty tight border security. The country is a hell hole. Maybe Joe Miller should go there too.
No, but we have almost no security now. I would think something could be improved without barbed wire and machine guns. When your biggest import is blue collar workers and your biggest export is blue collar jobs, something is out of whack.
Eloquent post. Well done!
I was in Berlin around the same time that you were (several times actually), and I can say that the border was quite porous even with all of the guards, machine guns and barbed wire. And I don't think the majority of Americans are even interested in a militarized border. Personally, I don't care if immigrants go back and forth; the killing has me a lot more concerned these days, and that's more a drug thing than anything else. But a whole different issue.
Duane, I'm sure doubt many people in Michigan are worried about our borders. They sure seem to be living in the border states though.
My brother lives, literally, on the AZ/Mexican border. I really do understand their view. They are already living in a virtual police state, with an alphabet soup of law enforcement agencies everywhere they turn. Many travel armed, due to the heavily armed incursions along the border by drug runners.

I don't claim to know the answers. I'm no more in favor of the GDR's style of border enforcement than anyone else. And I'm certainly not a fan of Miller nor his compatriots. His holding up the GDR as a good example is a typical example of the sort of nonsense coming from those people.

But something needs to be done (and not the lame legislative attempt by the AZ legislature) to restore some normalcy to the US border. If we don't, I fear a vigilante reaction with sad results for all of us.
Irishwolfhound--I think we have to get a handle on immigration policy in this country. In fact, I think few would disagree. The problem is that it is a problem requiring a multipronged, thoughtful solution. Something the current political climate is uniquely unable to provide. Even if one finds Miller's praise of the GDR's security apparatus merely hyperbolic, it is hyperbole that makes a just and effective solution to immigration and border security in this country that much harder to attain in the end.
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I live in what used to be East Berlin, and in fact my own street is one of the few that was not reconnected after reunification and it still ends at a barrier that was part of the Berlin Wall. On nearby Bernauer Straße they left part of the original wall standing and there are paving blocks inscribed with the names of the people shot dead in that sector. The notion of reconstructing such a monstrosity is an affront to basic human dignity.
Alan--returning to Berlin and walking through the Brandenburg Gate, which I could not do in '89--is on my bucket list. That and wallowing in the glory of the Pergamon Museum for as long as I darn well please!