For the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall (November 9, 1989), I am posting a short piece I wrote two years ago in my creative writing class that is a true story about my experiences, to the best of my recollection, in West and East Berlin and Checkpoint Charlie.
Our tour bus rumbled to a stop at Checkpoint Charlie. It was a bitter cold day, and the gray sky promised an outpouring of heavy snow. A white guard tower occupied by East German soldiers with machine guns was just beyond the checkpoint and its red and white striped arm. Behind us, the museum on one side of the road and the pizza parlor on the other emitted liveliness and the typical aura of a well-visited venue for tourists — the West Side of Berlin.
As my family sat waiting in our seats on the bus, a man in a military uniform climbed into the vehicle with a scowl on his face. “Passports! Passports!” he shouted.
The man’s crimson face and bulky, rigid figure frightened me.
I was sitting next to my mother, closest to the window. My dad and sister sat in front of us. Mom was clutching our passports, waiting nervously for the man to get to our row. I slid down the seat, hoping to disappear. He then stood over my mother. She quickly showed him our documentation. He continued down the narrow aisle, his boots punching the floor.
Finally, he left, and the bus chugged through into East Berlin. As dreary as the pewter sky, the buildings and houses were drab in color and character with few people walking the sidewalks. Our bus passed one person sitting on a lonely bench, bundled up in a coat that seemed to mesh into his surroundings.
This childhood experience of East Berlin made a lasting impression on me that I can still see clearly to this day, over thirty years later.