17 June 2011

The Berlin Wall and Me

For the final History project of the year, my oldest has to put together a children's book called the ABC's of history. It is to cover the period from 1900 to present. So, this got me thinking about something that could possibly be included in this most noble undertaking and I thought about a picture that was taken of me in East Berlin.

In the summer of 1988, I embarked upon a European Finance Tour with Boise State University. We went through England and Europe visiting with the CEO's and other top officers of companies such as Lloyd's of London (England), Heinz (Belgium), Hewlett-Packard (Germany), Daimler Benz (Germany), and Credit Suisse (Switzerland), to name a few. While in Germany, we had a free weekend where the only stipulation was that we meet back in Zurich by Sunday night. While most of the class decided to go skiing in France, a friend of mine and I decided that we would like to travel to East Berlin (you see, we were the only social science majors in the group). So, we notified our fellow travelers of our plans (in case something happened) and boarded the train for East Germany.

Me, looking dorky as usual...
photo of me in front of the Berlin Wall

On the train, we were finally able to find a compartment and settle down for the night. Around 2:00 in the morning, the train suddenly stopped and bright lights shined through the windows. I got up, left our compartment, and tried to find the conductor to see what was happening, but when I came to the end of the car, the door was locked. Our car was essentially isolated from the rest of the train. I later found out that every car was locked down until later cleared by the boarder guards. Laura and I looked out the compartment window and we saw armed guards and dogs checking underneath and outside the length of the train. A few minutes later the door to our car was unlocked and 3 guards and a dog entered. When they came to our compartment, the guard opened it and 2 of them stepped inside. One came towards us and the second, who was armed with a machine gun, stayed by the door. The guard who approached us had piercing blue eyes and I have to admit that he used them to great advantage. He turned and faced me and said, "Passport!" Staring at me the entire time, he took my passport. Then, he quickly looked at my picture, looked at me, then at the picture again. He asked what I was doing on the train and why I was coming into East Germany. I told him that we were going to Berlin for the day. He then, not saying a word, looked back at me and just stared for what seemed like 30 seconds or so; He then closed my passport and gave it back. He repeated the same process with my friend and then left. After about an hour, they released the train and we were on our way.

We arrived the next morning and made our way to the Wall. I know, not a very difficult thing to do, but we needed to try and find an area that currently did not have any soldiers around (trust me when I say, they were everywhere: I'm talking driving around in troop trucks and carrying machine guns everywhere). You see, taking pictures of the wall or even stopping while walking by, was forbidden and we really didn't want to end up in jail, but we also really wanted to have our pictures taken there. Eventually, we found a semi-blind spot between guard towers (although you can see the top of one tower in the photo) and took each other's picture. After taking our pictures, we began walking away and immediately discovered that we were being followed by two soldiers. They were several blocks behind us, but they were taking the same turns as we were. After about fifteen minutes or so, they stopped following us, but I have to admit that we were both pretty scared.

To end this short story, just a little over a year later, the Berlin Wall was torn down and whilst everyone else was skiing in France, Laura and I were able to capture and become a small part of history.


  1. wow, you did, indeed capture a part of history. I don't know how I feel about our kids having no idea what the world was like.

    We've had Russians stay with us for Bible conferences, and the first time I met our very first visitors from Russia, I cried a little when I met them. My kids just didn't understand how unlikely having friends/guests from the Soviet Union...staying in your house, how unlikely that was when I was growing up. I am so thankful that many parts of the world are opening up.
    thanks for sharing, priceless photo!

  2. Hen Jen: Thank you! Yes, it was a very different atmosphere and it started when we crossed the boarder into East Germany. It was at night and they surrounded the train with floodlights and locked-down all the compartments. They had dogs inside and outside the train. Hey, maybe I'll share that adventure in another article.

  3. You sure have better memories than if you went skiing! What a great opportunity you had! You might have to post a more current photo now though!

  4. BeadedTail: Yes, we actually had a lot of fun. Much better than skiing!
    As for a current photo, it would probably break the camera :)

  5. Well weren't you the darning one back in the day :) Made for an exciting story to tell though and a good memory.

  6. Ann: Yeah, we left our brains back on the train, but we really wanted to get a picture, because we didn't know if we would ever make it back there again. Lucky we did.
    Oh, tell Duke that Koko and Yum Yum want to play :)


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