The story is over with this last post. It took five days to drive across Canada in the late spring of 1962, then down through Idaho and Nevada to Lake Tahoe California. We disappointed everyone by not going home to Ohio and Colorado. But we only had eyes on the future at that point and that seemed to be California. While we went our separate ways from then on, we stayed in close touch throughout the years, often retelling stories of the trip and laughing at what daredevils we were. Sadly, Pat died last year of lung cancer and it is her diary and her postcards to her mother that told most of this story.
We arrived in Montreal, but this journey isn't over yet. We are driving across Canada, stopping in Banff and then down through Idaho and into California for another summer in Lake Tahoe.
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Our car was loaded on the ship and we are now sailing on a real cruise ship home. We aren't on the top deck and there are no dinners with the captain as there were on the freighter coming over, but we will be in Montreal on the 16th of May.
We are in Amsterdam again. But now it is almost 8 months after the start of this amazing adventure and we will soon be on our way home.
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We took the narrow back roads to Erlangen through tiny villages. We drove through Coburg, a typical German town, up to the "veste", a magnificent castle up on a mountain where Luther did his Reformation writings. Stopped in a Gasthaus - Braurei (guest house brewery) and drank some of their own brewed beer and ate Goulash and potato dumplings. Goulash here is made of tender beef chunks simmered in their own sauce with onions and gravy.
We stayed for the last three days in the hostel in Erlangen - warm again. Berlin was awfully cold. We had the car checked and repaired, straightened out our luggage, washed clothes, mailed packages, etc. Tomorrow we head for Amsterdam. We plan to see the tulips in full bloom and check out the diamond cutting industry before sailing home.
Back along the road where the Red Sector joins the West, the border is all marked by frequent tall manned towers, triple fences with masses of rolled wire in between, plus a space about 100 yards wide cleared out between forests and the fences, and all mined. It would be very hard to get out.
We drove through the backwoods and small German villages to Neustadt, a village right on the far southern tip of the Eastern German border. You can drive along the road to Sonnefeld till the border - fences, mines, towers and all cut across the road. The entire border around all of East German is controlled like this. A whole country locked in with guns, mines and wire. It was a sight we will never forget.
Today we went for a final look at the wall. The sun was shining and we wanted to see Berlin one last time. Then we drove back to the Eastern Sector. We turned off the autobahn towards Leipzig and were hailed down (the only car stopped) by police, three of them, who had spotted our Dutch plates with binoculars. We asked if we could go in and see Leipzig. Two of them said they would go phone and ask. Then they got in their car and left. Meanwhile a third had seen us gnawing on raisins and bread and came over to the car with some candy and gave us some. He was young, about 35, and we started asking him about Leipzig. He told us about it and then asked us about our trip and inserted in the middle of his talk, the comment that we were lucky. He too would like to travel, but it was impossible for him to leave. He seemed such a sad picture of a being caught in a web of life not to his satisfaction and unable to do anything about it.
The other two returned and told us they were sorry we couldn't go any further. They all seemed almost embarrassed and ashamed to tell us we had to turn around and leave. As we left, the one came over and dropped the rest of the whole bag of candy in the car for us and quickly turned away. They all said "auf Wiedersehen" and wished us a good trip as we went on. Almost everyone we've met in the east has been so friendly. We wonder where the big bad dirty guys are.
At the border we ran into a young punk who decided to give us a bad time. We were searched and detained much longer than anyone and then once through the main check, the last guard pulled us over, made us get out and go into the building and wait an hour more (only us, no one else) Obviously harassing Americans We just took that opportunity to eat our sandwiches. Finally we were back in Germany, much more appreciative of our lives for having seen the other.
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This afternoon we visited the Reichstag (the parliament building during the 3rd Reich) now in bombed ruins, the Hansa Quarter of ultramodern apartments and churches, Corbusiers House and the Olympic Stadium. We drove to the French sector and along the wall there. The wall itself was erected strangely. It doesn't run along the streets but winds in and out between houses and cuts across the streets. It varies in height, has cut glass pieces embedded on end in top, plus barbed wire. Behind the wall are two more barbed wire fences. They lean outward to make climbing over even harder. In between fences and wall are rolls of tangled wire about four feet deep, besides that, every few yards is a communist soldier on foot or in a watch tower busy with binoculars and armed with machine guns.
The houses right on the border in town are now all bricked up and empty except for a few peepholes out ex-windows for guards. They used to have a lot of people make it as far as these houses and jump out the windows to land in the street on the western side so they are now bricked in. You can walk along the wall and see wooden barbed wire crosses and flower wreaths erected on sidewalks at spots where eastern escapees were shot coming over wall or were killed jumping out of windows. You can climb up on stands with French soldiers on our side and look over the wall and see all the barbed wire and soldiers only three feet away.
At dusk we drove to Berlin's outer sections - beautiful residential areas, woods, summer beer pavilions, but sooner or later on every road we'd run into that barbed wire, barricades and soldier guarded borders. It's sad to see two beautiful homes in the country with the fence running between them, a wood tower, Communist and gun ready to shoot and kill the one on the east if he so much as makes a move towards his neighbor in the west.
We stopped at a little Gasthof for some white beer and spent three hours playing a slot machine type game and talking to all the people. One man we talked to a long time escaped from the the east. His family is there. He can't see them but he has put his faith in a Dutch prophet who says in 1967 Berlin will be reunited. We got an idea of how life in Berlin is from talking to the people. Most seem to have the "live while we can" attitude. They are a courageous people here. It is hard to begin to write what we feel. It can best be summed up by saying that one never realizes what freedom is until one sees a place where freedom isn't. Freedom is certainly our most valuable possession.
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Today was very interesting. We drove in from the hostel to Checkpoint Charlie. West Berliners cannot go into East Berlin nor visa versa, but others can. We checked in with the MP and got our instructions. What to do and not. We were told to be careful since East Berlin police are known for being rude, especially to Americans and to try not to get arrested. We had to check a return time, if we were over two hours late, they come looking for you. You have to count all your money to the cent and you're corrected if you say dollars or marks (Its USA dollars and Western marks)
The Eastern Guards surprised us. They were all really friendly, joked around with us, etc. Those on the border are almost all young but picked on the basis of family in the East since it is easy for them to escape. Guards are picked who have family the East who would suffer too much if they did.
Western Berlin is full of modern buildings, well dressed people, much prosperity and is a bustling lively city. In the east you see big boulevards sporting only a handful of cars (no Volkswagens), few people on the streets, old worn styles and poorly dressed people (no high heels, leather coats, etc.) small dingy stores. All the big buildings, museums, operas, theaters and cathedrals were cut off in the Eastern Sector and now those gorgeous buildings are empty and literally falling apart. It is very sad to see and only by seeing it does the real impact hit you. There are huge red signs all over buildings concerning youth, the party freedom, co-existence, etc.
We drove down the Karl Marx Allee, blocks of new modern but poorly built buildings. A gift from Moscow. There were police all over. We were continually watched, even through binoculars. When we noticed this, we waved and about three blocks away a policeman watching us through glasses waved back.
In the afternoon we went back to the West, each pondering what we'd seen. As we left we could see Easterners and Westerners standing as close as they could get to the the wall and barbed wire, gazing at the other side.
We left early for Berlin. It is a four hour drive behind the iron curtain to get to Berlin right. We were checked by about about 6 different guards and gates and it took us over an hour of red tape to get over the border. It cost the four of us and the car $16. They really check you and harass you enough to make it irritating to even to in. They are deliberately annoying to you at borders. They thoroughly checked the car, under seats, in truck, etc. and have a device a mirror, on wheels they roll up under the car to check underneath. We were somewhat aghast though when we realized that, while one was questioning us, another had wheeled his mirror into good position to look up our skirts. The whole border is plastered with banners, pictures, etc. advertising the “German Democratic Republic”.
We drove on four hours to Berlin, Western Sector, We spent the afternoon looking along Kurfurstendam. Berlin is all new and modern “5th Avenue” shops, movies, sidewalk cafes, etc., along a quite elegant wide boulevard built with U.S.dollars. We stopped in a sidewalk café for a Berlin specialty – Berliner Weissmit Himbeer (white beer with a fruit syrup foamed into it). Tastes sort of like strawberry champagne.
We visited the Kaiser Wilheim Mrmorial Church, an ultramodern simple steel and glass octagonal and bell tower built around the ancient gothic styled, bombed and shattered remains of the old church. Only the shell of the old tower remains, new church surrounds it. Also remaining is one statue a huge marble Christ, which now wears the unknown artwork of someone scrounging in the rubble during the bombing. A red face and a red hammer and sickle across the robe. The Church is very impressive.
We drove to see the Brandenbeurger Ror (Gate) from our side (you can drive up to it but can’t get out) and past the huge Russian Monument with tanks and soldiers guarding it. You can view it from behind a large expanse of rolled and tangled barbed wire fence. We saw the West Sectors Victory Column, 215 feet high with a gold winged victory on top, ate currywurst for dinner , then went to the hostels. Two downtown were full so we had to go to one way out in the sticks on the edge of Western Sector – in the forest. We figured this would happen since in Germany cars are forbidden in hostels. This means we usually park around the corner. Lat night we parked about 100 meters down the road and walked back to the hostel.
A daily diary of a journey in 1962. Please post comments about where you were then on the Background page.
1962 was pivotal. This is the background:
It was a year colored by the Cuban Missile Crisis, an escalating involvement in Vietnam, the Berlin Wall and the Cold War with Russia, Civil Rights issues, a nascent space program, Nelson Mandela in prison, Betty Friedan's, The Feminist Mystique, the Beatles, Rolling Stones and the death of Marilyn Monroe.