Has it been twenty years already? It doesn't seem that long to me, that I visited Berlin when the wall was still up. The Reichstag did not yet have its'gleaming dome of steel and glass. The wall ran right behind it.
1987 celebrated the 750th Birthday of the City of Berlin. There were events celebrated in both halves of the city. I was there for this event.
It was the month that Reagan gave his big speech. It is funny to remember that he was pretty much considered a joke. There were actually a lot of street demonstrations going on, because Reagan was not liked. He was considered to be a warhawk, and a danger to peace. Gorbachev was actually more popular in Berlin!
I remember a German friend of mine explaining it to me. They could not understand why Reagan had called Russia the "Evil Empire". To them Communism, was just another political system. They were more afraid of a war between Russia and the United States than they were of being invaded by Russia or East Germany.
I remember my visit to East Berlin very well. I entered via the subway, at Friedrichstrasse. Other tourists had told me, you had to enter via Checkpoint Charlie. My friend said, that was not necessary. So I decided to do it the way most Berliners did. I had no problem. As they checked my passport, they sent me toward a booth, where I had to exchange a certain amount of Deutschmarks, for East German Marks. You had to spend that, while you were there. You were not permitted to return, with East German currency. To my amazement, there was very little to spend it on. There were some souvenirs, of poor quality and way overpriced. The Zentrum department store in Alexanderplatz , reminded me more of a flea market. I saw mismatched sets of china that had pieces missing, next to assortments of packaged foods, and toiletries. None of which looked very interesting. I did buy some chocolate bars. They were very inexpensive. You first had to get in a line and take a ticket. Then you got in another line, and handed the lady your ticket and told her what you wanted. Then you got into a third line to actually pick up what you had purchased. Quite an effort for four chocolate bars!
I went to the cafeteria at the base of the Fernsehturm, ( TV Tower )
there was very little that looked appetizing. Sandwiches consisting of a single sardine, on a slice of black bread. I ended up with two Bouletten a sort of meatball, a Berlin Specialty. They unfortunately, tasted like they were made from sawdust!
I downed them with a watered down pepsi cola, in a brown waxed paper cup that leaked. Then I got into a long line for an ice cream. Just as I got to the stand, they ran out! I had better results with Beer! There was plenty of that, it was good and it was only 25 phennigs. Needless to say, when I went back over the border I was rather tipsy.
I wandered the streets of East Berlin that whole day. The only time I encountered a problem was when I tried to take a picture of some young border guards. One ran up to me and put his hand over my lens, and shouted Nein! So I gathered it wasn't permissible to take pictures of police or military personnell. Perhaps two years before the fall of the wall, they realized someday they might be held accountable sometime down the road.
I then walked down Leninplatz ( now called Karl Marx Allee ) and came upon a huge statue of Lenin, in front of an apartment block. It is now buried somewhere on the outskirts of Berlin. There was talk of unearthing it, but so far nothing. The West Berlin authorities would rather keep the past buried. I though it was neat. It was really impressive.
Here on Leninplatz what I noticed most, was the total lack of traffic! Also pictured here in a parking lot off of Unter den Linden you can see the preferred mode of transportation.
Little did I know then, how the Trabi would become the most beloved icon of that time. I'm glad I took that picture.
As I headed back across the border, I couldn't but notice the differences between East and West. Seeing the same areas just three years ago, I could not have believed the changes that have come about. Where deserted neighborhoods were then, there now tourist shops and new buildings.
You know, I think I agree with many Berliners. Somehow it was more exciting back then!