Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

Scary memories remain from Berlin corridor trip

We were five American adults and five teens in a VW bus, which we rented in Rotterdam. The 10th passenger was Al Blume, our German friend who was fluent in English and had previously been through the corridor to Berlin. Friends told us this trip would be scary but I confidently said, "Russians won’t start WWIII by harming us." However, on the night of Aug. 12, 1963, we weren’t so sure of that!

Leaving Hanover Youth Hostel Aug. 11, we checked passports, traveler’s checks, insurance papers and proof of rental of the van and were confident that everything was in order. West Berlin, 104 miles away, was an island of freedom attached to free West Germany by an umbilical cord called the corridor. We were to spend one night in East Berlin and be back at the Youth Hostel at 10 p.m. Aug. 12. As my husband, Chub, drove, I held a note pad and pencil. Here are some things I jotted down:

"10 a.m. Filling the van with gas at the border between West and East Germany ready to enter the corridor. Flags of Britain, France and U.S. flapping in wind. Solid red flag ahead.

"10:05 a.m. We’re stopped to check passports and papers. An allied guard, speaking German, phoned to the other end so they could estimate our arrival time, 104 miles away in Berlin.

"10:25 a.m. ‘STOP.’ Huge billboard photo of Kruschev staring at us! Armed guard sticks head in van, jabbering. Al translates: ‘Pull to the right and park.’ All crawl out, line up. ‘MONEY IN EXCESS WILL BE CONFISCATED.’ Enter dark, smelly, crowded room. Coal stove, greasy wallpaper, flowered drape bordering sooty lace panels. People crowd into our line, out of turn. A hand reaches though slot in blank wall, takes our passports, one at a time.

"11 a.m. Woman with stamp pad sits at dirty table facing a slouchy uniformed male with pistol. Our passports are stacked there. Woman stamps a passport occasionally, passes it to the man. Finally, he makes Al line us up to identify photos. Then Chub waits in line to pay for ‘use of the road.’

"11:30 a.m. Finally in the van! ‘Stop.’ Huge pole across road. Counted again. In 200 yards, metal barrier with mean spikes. Later, a huge wooden beam balanced so it could stop a car instantly. Road is lined with double row of concrete fence posts with twisted barbed wire between. Boys need toilet. No way!

"Past noon: Al tells of his being carried to safety by sisters, in Hitler’s time. Eating peanuts and raisins. Overpass sign, ‘Hands Off Cuba!’ People on overpass wave. Towers. Guards with binoculars and guns walk roadsides. No toilet. Car ahead, stopped by police.

"Finally, there’s no barbed wire. We stop. Boys run to bushes. Chub wants me to drive. We change quickly. Hungry but no place to exit. Al explains that Allied officers are expecting us and we must press on.

"1:39 p.m. Nearing Berlin. Double concrete posts and barbed wire again, on both sides. Al is uneasy because we’ve changed drivers. We stop and quickly shift back.

"CHECKPOINT! Cars stopped; people and luggage unloaded. Steel barricades across road, long line of waiting cars. ‘Car papers!’ ‘Passports!’ ‘Road permit!’ We showed them all. A hundred yards ahead, more careful searching.

"1:45 p.m. We showed the papers again. ‘Green paper?’ Al asked Chub. ‘The last checker kept it,’ Chub replied. Finally, we were waved on anyway.

"2 p.m. Ahead, what a beautiful sight! ‘Old Glory’ waiving her stars and stripes to welcome us! A polite officer in neat uniform quickly checked passports and car papers. ‘Much pleasure to you in Berlin,’ he said. What a delightful change!"

Next Tuesday I’ll tell what happened to our car papers and how we got back to Hanover without them.

Click here to return to the index

 Subscribe in your RSS reader

Copyright © 1994-2010 Sue Gerard. All Rights Reserved. No text or images on this website may be reproduced in any form without written permission of the author, except small quotations to be used in reviews.