Saturday, June 9, 2007

The city of Berlin in Germany was divided into 4 sectors shortly after World War II. The Berlin Wall divided the Soviet sector from the French, British and American from 1961 to 1989. Since my last posting was about the G8 Summit, I thought I'd remain in that nation for today's entry and tell you about the time I passed through Checkpoint Charlie.

Checkpoint Charlie divided the US and Soviet sectors in Berlin and was used as a crossing for foreigners such as Allied diplomats and soldiers and later tourists on day-trips into the Communist side of the city. It came to symbolize the drama of the Cold War, and was the scene of several escape attempts. Nearly all of the former 155km (97-mile) Berlin Wall has been torn down, except for a few scattered sections. About 190 East Germans were killed trying to reach the West before the country's Soviet-backed government - and the Berlin Wall - collapsed in 1989. The original checkpoint was dismantled and reassembled at the Allied Museum in the west of the city. Today, the checkpoint is commemorated by a border sign and a soldier's post.

The day I passed through Checkpoint Charlie and what was then East Berlin is a day I'll never forget. Words can not explain how much apprehension I felt that morning as I decided to follow-through with my plan. Keep in mind, this was in '85 when Regan was President and the Cold War was anything but cold. Getting to the checkpoint from the youth hostel was easy. But when I saw the "You Are Leaving The American Sector" sign my heart rose in my throat. I began to think about all the things that come go wrong. I could loose the paperwork for the day-trip, it could be processed incorrectly, I could loose my passport, be poisoned while eating a meal...

What happened was that I had one of the most wonderful days in my years of traveling and here's why. You see, while I waited in line to go through the checkpoint, I met an elderly lady from Switzerland, who was once an East Berliner herself, but had managed to escape just before the wall was completed. She was on her way to visit her only surviving sister who was not so lucky. After we exchanged our currency into the DDRs funny money (I think it was a $5 requirement) she offered you take my along with her to visit her sister so I "could see what a dwelling in East Berlin looks like if you don't mind having coffee and cake with two old ladies". I don't mind. And when we were done she offered to give me her money "and you can add it to yours and treat yourself to a nice lunch since the money is worthless on the other side".

And that's exactly what I did. I wandered around with my camera around my neck ( I don't dare take any pictures not knowing what I could photograph and what not) until I found a grand building with reflective copper-colored glass and a sickle & hammer embalm near its top. The building housed an art museum and a concert hall and several restaurants and was located near the tomb of the unknown soldier. There was a long line but I was seated eventually at a shared table. They had seated me directly across from a professor and his family. The professor spoke English (could I have been followed through that whole day). He was very helpful with the menu and extremely friendly. It turned out to be a wonderful meal with cordial conversation. I headed back to Checkpoint Charlie that evening feeling something I never expected to feel; reluctance! That night back at the hostel I placed the day in my mental file marked "unforgettable". And that's where it remains.

Note: The first photo is Charlie circa 1986. Second photo circa 2004.
Find out more about Checkpoint Charlie and the Berlin Wall at:

Here's today's poems:

Provocative, But Is It A Documentary?

She says her favorite hobby is worry beads.

But who needs a good conversationalist if you've never believed
in father Xmas or if every word bounces against the rubber dingy
with the sun on your shoulders and toes dangling in lake water.
Warm could be socks wearing tangerine toast. Every lighthouse
could spark the murderous thoughts of a gray slate roof. Or a
Trojan horse could end-up with a reclusive heart or a phantom of
utopia with tangled hair. All the metal signs warn of high-voltage
lines. Even ordinary fog turns colossal...

a syringe doing a nose dive into blue veins...
a pile of leaves that manipulates bureaucracy.

Then too, the dialogue could grow into a cross between a
mobster and an aristocrat or a list of hazards associated
with too much corrupt autumn.

Whatever happens, she'll claim she's always looked that way.

Adding "Blur" To A Snapshot

After we agree that theater could never imitate life we proceed
to draw-up a rough-draft that calls for a sweat-shop to pose as
a rainforest. In this scenario she can't decide whether to be the
fur lining inside an exiled Romanian princess or leafy chestnut
trees wearing thick mascara. I debate on whether I want to be
a Parisian tailor with a long tape-measure of seven-year itch or
the return address on a letter bomb. She thinks I should be the
one to tell Rasputin to let up the toilet seat and I'm convinced
she should acknowledge that every sixth-finger is a birthmark.
Neither of us wants to be the DEA agent with a big searchlight
who forgets to ask the vampire for bribe money. Still, stuff
happens. A single thread could hold together the entire hem of
the world or peaches is the taste of the future. Either way, 1941
is invited back to Paris where its been waiting for a repairman
ever since the transmission blew out.

Poems first published online at:
Copyright 2007 by Maurice Oliver. All Rights Reserved.
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