Beyond the Pines
Shortly before acquiring my Black Beetle, I went to see my twin brother
(not identical) in Berlin. Amazingly enough, I had never been to the former
(and future) capital before.
Mathew had his first job as a librarian at the Public Library in Zehlendorf,
a pleasant suburb in the American Sector of the divided city, with purpose-built
housing for married members of the American occupation forces.
Zehlendorf is linked to the city center by Clay-Allee, a broad, tree-lined
avenue named after Lucius Clay, the first American Military Governor in
occupied Germany, and organizer of the air lift that saved the western
half of the divided city from being swallowed up by the Communist East
during the blockade imposed by Stalin in 1948.
Entrances to Berlin, surrounded by the East German Communist State, included
road and rail links, as well as specially designated air corridors that
were ultimately responsible for saving its western half.
However, only weeks after John F. Kennedy's election as President in
November 1960, another Berlin Crisis loomed. After a summit meeting between
the young President, who was seen as inexperienced and a 'soft touch'
by the wily new master of the Kremlin, Nikita Krushchev, a reverse blockade
threatened to stop hundreds of thousands of East Germans "voting
with their fee" by fleeing the hated East German regime. All they
had to do was travel to East Berlin and get on the S-Bahn, an over ground
metropolitan transport system linking the whole city, the only escape
It was about that time, in winter '61, when I first saw Berlin. Being
a member of the American Armed Forces, I had to travel by US Army Military
Train from Frankfurt, the train was sealed once it had crossed allied
and Soviet checkpoints at Helmstedt, east of Hanover, until its arrival
at the US Military Station of Lichterfelde in the American Sector.
That was just the way, my twin brother quipped, that Lenin in 1917 had
been spirited from Swiss exile across Imperial Germany to the Finland
Station in St. Petersburg to start revolution in Tsarist Russia.
Traveling by military train, I had to wear my uniform, but Mathew met
me wearing a jaunty Trilby of the kind recently popularized by Rex Harrison
as of Professor Higgins in My Fair Lady. As a resident of Berlin, which
though part of the Federal Republic was granted extra-territorial status
in deference to the Soviets, my brother was not subject to the draft.
It was bitterly cold in Mathew's unheated room at Zehlendorf, I remember.
Wrapped up warmly, I started exploring Berlin, careful not to stray into
the Soviet Sector. All GI's, whether on or off duty, were warned that
this was something that might cause an international incident.
For Berliners, however, it was still possible to travel freely on the
S-Bahn, short for Stadt-Bahn, all over the city with only random controls,
especially of people with heavy baggage suspected of being East Germans
trying to flee to the West.
One of those having successfully done so was an East German cousin of
mine. After traveling to Berlin, Jochen simply got on the S-Bahn with
a violin case under his arm stuffed with a few belongings.
By August '61, the exodus from the German Democratic Republic, however,
had reached flood proportions. Since the majority of those fleeing were
highly skilled manual workers, as well as engineers, doctors and teachers,
the economic viability of the Communist state was threatened.
With the approval of their bosses in the Kremlin, the East German Communist
leadership now decided on a radical step that would take the West by complete
surprise. In the early morning hours of Sunday, August 13, the infamous
Berlin Wall went up.
Huddled round an old-fashioned fifties radio in our room at Rose Barracks
late that evening my buddies and I listened to a sombre-voiced President
Kennedy announce that, in order to test allied rights of access, he was
ordering an armored battalion from our division to Berlin. Moreover, Kennedy
said, he was sending Vice-President Johnson to the beleaguered city as
a gesture of moral support for Berliners.
In the middle of the night, Sergeant Wroblesky burst in, saying the PIO-Section
had been ordered to accompany the armored battalion. All but Rang, Wobbles
said. I was speechless. Why not me, Sarge?
Being German-born, I was considered a security risk, he explained. He
was sorry but it wasn't his idea. Some fucker's in G2 probably, one of
my buddies opined; G2 being the staff section responsible for Intelligence.
Needless to say, I was bitterly disappointed.
But a few days later-World War Three having been averted-I was ordered
to accompany PIO-Chief Major Bligh to Helmstedt, the Autobahn checkpoint.
Here, US Army officers monitored procedures as more units were ordered
to Berlin, if only to test the Soviets.
Standing this side of the Noman's Land between allied checkpoints, armed
with binoculars, the officers kept a careful watch on their Soviet counterparts
checking US vehicles and their crews, to make sure there were no hitches.
It was like watching a Cold War spy thriller.
As the lead vehicle of a US Army convoy drove at the Soviet checkpoint,
the American officer in charge got out, walked up to the Russian duty
officer, both smartly saluting, and handed him the relevant documents
for inspection. Duly inspected and returned both again saluted and the
order was given for the barrier to go up.
The Cold War would stay cold.