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A fronte praecipitium a tergo lupi. (In front of you, a precipice. Behind you, wolves.)

Monday, January 27, 2014

Before the Wall Came Down

Hofbrauhaus: not an easy place to get a drink water
My trip to Europe when I was sixteen was a pivotal point in my life. I'll never forget my experiences there. My parents took thirteen students and me to Europe. Dad, a high school German teacher, really wanted to give us a broad spectrum of experiences. We went to the Hofbrauhaus  and to Dachau. We climbed Mt. Pilatus in Switzerland and swam in the Black Sea. (Coldest freakin' shower on the planet--the water must have been mined from Antarctica.)
When we were there, no graffiti.

One of the most impacting areas we visited was East Germany. I will never forget the feeling we all felt when the soldiers came through the train with their machine guns and bomb-sniffing dogs. We all hoped that for once, Bobby would shut his terminally funny mouth just long enough not to get shot.

It was the Fourth of July and a toasty day. We hung out in West Berlin for a bit watching the clock figures in the square and headed for Checkpoint Charlie. At that time the Wall was firmly in place. Upon visiting East Berlin, they didn't let you out unless you'd spent at least 6.5 Marks. Stupidly, most of us bought ice cream. We'd been jonesing for great ice cream, which this goop turned out not to be. Within minutes we were excruciatingly, horribly, barfing sick.
It wasn't green but we definitely were.

No matter. The parental units forged onward like battleships at full steam. We really weren't arguing much about moving on, though. Everywhere our group went, a guard with machine gun and dog followed. When one cop's beat ended, another took over. They followed us everywhere. Later we all agreed that the feeling of oppression the whole time we were in the East was so thick you could cut it with a chainsaw. Maybe.
Amazing they left anything in Egypt.

The parents wanted to take us to the Pergamon museum. It's an amazing place full of Egyptian artifacts artfully swiped from the tombs. Whole friezes remain intact in that museum. I couldn't have cared less. By that time I was ready to find a nice out-of-the-way corner in which to empty the contents of my wildly protesting stomach. If I'd found an open vase, it would have served.
Truly breathtaking.

Mom and Dad finally took pity on us (possibly because of the poisonous glances of the curator) and released us to make our way to the border. We took off like Olympic sprinters at the starting gun and didn't stop until we got to the checkpoint. Gretchen, however, hadn't faired so well. She stopped fifteen blocks back with Dad and Mom to hurl her insides out in an alley.

We waited and waited and finally my friend David started taking pictures of the checkpoint. Suddenly a couple of uniformed buffoons came out yelling at him. Even with our sketchy German we understood that they were bellowing swear words and threatening dismemberment. They grabbed him and hauled him protesting into the building. The rest of us just stood there with our eyeballs popping. The minutes ticked past and they weren't letting him go. Someone said, "Heidi, go get your dad."
The wall was, of course, UP.

I'd have baulked at hauling my carcass clear back there except that we were kind of partial to almost all the kids on the trip, David especially. For Itchy and Scratchy, two whiny badger princesses, I'd have walked slowly and enjoyed the day. For David I flew the whole fifteen blocks back. I could barely get out the words, "They took David and they won't give him back," before Dad took off like a streaking cannonball. I'd never before seen him run so fast.

It turned out that they held David for two nail-biting hours and then deported him, telling him never to come back. They took his camera but then gave it back complete with film. We found out later they'd traded film of New York for it. Too bad they swiped the rest of his cool pictures.

During the trip to the border, Bobby the Joker had been strangely silent. I thought he was simply as green as I was. But when we got to the free side of the border, he spit out his 6.5 Marks. I think he still has that money.
Back then the exhibits were inside.

Maybe 200 yards from the Wall crouched the Museum of the Wall. It featured all the ways people had tried (or successfully managed) to cross the Great Barrier. We had spent an enthralling hour browsing through the various schemes when we heard a racket outside. We ran out and found a couple of American soldiers in a military car. They'd drive up and flip a U next to the checkpoint and yell through a bullhorn, "Hey you Commie Pinkos, today's our birthday!" They did this several times. We jumped up and down cheering until they came around and talked to us. Cool guys!
Yep. This guy.

Over dinner that night we all agreed that we NEVER wanted to be stuck in such a situation again. The mental miasma that lay over us didn't dissipate until Bobby laid us in the aisles laughing with more tales of his whacked out home life.

There was another museum which I talk about in the post: I Once Touched a Rembrandt.

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