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   Twice I have been to East Berlin... (March 10, 1990)

Twice I have been to East Berlin both the times on conducted tours organised by my hosts in West Berlin.

We went in large groups of journalists, academicians, writers, political historians from the free and not-so-free world. Our hosts, the West Berliners, did not come with us. They put us in a bus and sent us away, telling us: "Do not worry. The driver has a good record, he normally brings back 97 out of 100 passenger."

We drove through Checkpoint Charlie, over-dressed and expressionless East German guards checking passports, matching faces with photographs, occasionally hesitating over a passenger. I remember a Kuwaiti gentleman trying to play the comic with the guards. The guards just stared at him, but the entire bus heaved into him, telling him he did not know what he was doing, he could be pulled out of the bus and locked up.

On the other side, the weather suddenly changed, it become dark and grey and with a threat of rain in the air. The East German guard who got in was thick-necked and beer-red, in a coarse jacket, no tie. With a small proprietory air, he took out an imperialist Coca-Cola from an ice-box near the driver and drank it. That, I suppose, was his perk.

Old Berlin is very much in the East, with spledid gothic buildings, the opera, the museum, public buildings with goose-stepping guards in front of them. On the way we passed the American embassy. The guide pointed it out and, in an unexpected flash of humour, said: "Now, I hope, Americans are feeling a little more secure."

It is a set tour for all tourists. You are driven to a Russian was cemetery, acres and acres of it. Some part of a foreign strand that will forever be known as Russia. There were some Russain visitor there, come to grieve their dead, 40 years later. And old woman in black was crying. Politicians make war old politicians make peace, but their burdens are borne by the people.

Next, we were driven to a small cafeteria, where you bought East German beer and Russain cigarettes, paid in West German marks and got East German money in change.

Then back to Checkpoint Charlie (with the guide indulging in a little free enterprise selling souvenirs). And East Berlin guard pushed a mirror on a trolleu under the bus to see that no East Germans were hiding in the undercarriage to escape to freedom. No there is no need to esacpe, the trap has been opend.

 
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