Friends of Padre Steve’s World,
The last time we were in Berlin was in November 1986. At the time it was a divided city. When we last we here we had to have special permission and special paperwork to go to the city. Back then we drove the autobahn from Helmstedt to Berlin. At the inter-German border we had to first get our paperwork checked and stamped at the NATO border crossing center, Checkpoint Alpha.
We then drove a few hundred yards to the Soviet checkpoint where Soviet troops checked our paperwork. That part was interesting because the Soviets frequently rejected NATO troops for minor mistakes in the paperwork and would make them spend extra time waiting outside the guard shack. Fortunately for us the wait was minimal and with the necessary military courtesies exchanged, we were on our way.
It was 110 miles from Helmstedt to the Allied Military Checkpoint. On reaching Berlin we had to repeat the drill with the Soviets that we did at Helmstedt and the check in at the NATO checkpoint, Checkpoint Bravo which we passed again on Sunday when driving into Berlin.
Once in Berlin we found our hotel on the West side and the next day drove to Checkpoint Charlie before going into East Berlin. We made a second trip into the city on Sunday morning. East Berlin was the pearl of the Warsaw Pact but compared to West Berlin it was dingy, impoverished, and still showed the deep scars of the Second World War where pulverized buildings, still not repaired or restored covered blocks away from the Unter den Linden and Alexanderplatz. As Americans we were shadowed by Stasi agents everywhere we went. The beer was bad, and like anyone else we waited in long lines to purchase what little we could in the stores we shopped.
Conversely, West Berlin was an island of opportunity and opulence though surrounded by the DDR and its Soviet allies.
The closest we could come back then to the Brandenburger Tor was about 200 Meters as it sat in the middle of the Zone of Death, an appropriate term based on the number of East Germans who were killed or wounded trying to escape to the West.
The contrast today is amazing. The hotel we are staying in was then in the East. Almost everywhere we have been in the past two days once was in East Berlin and the change is remarkable. Much of the Unter den Linden is recognizable simply because the buildings were part of the government and diplomatic center of the city, monuments still stand where they were 32 years ago, but now it is hard to find what was the wall around the Brandenburger Tor and the Reichstag. We walked under the Brandenburger Tor and past the Reichstag where the Wall once stood. Not far away the Mall of Berlin practically sits in the former Zone of Death and was built where Berlin’s largest pre-World War Two Department Store, Wertheim once stood. It is now the heart of a reborn central shopping district which had been ravaged by Nazi rule, war, and Soviet rule. It really is hard to believe the difference now.
Now there are still signs of the War. We have seen a number of buildings, especially brick or stone structures that still have the pick marks and holes caused by bullets, or shell fragments. Some of these buildings are across from our hotel at Humbolt University’s old medical school and clinic complex. The Rumanian Embassy has similar damage.
Anyway, we remain on the former East Side tonight and should visit some more museums tomorrow including the DDR Museum and possibly the Berlin Wall Museum near Checkpoint Charle. We will be meeting our friend, Dr. Bishop Rink, the head of the German Military Lutheran or Evangelische Chaplain Service who we hosted in Virginia Beach during the summer tomorrow afternoon.
So anyway, until tomorrow,