Throwback Thursday – A Soldier in Berlin Part 1

I thought it would be fun to do some Throwback Thursday kind of things for NaBloPoMo. With Veterans Day fast approaching I think sharing some of my Army experiences would be apropos. Even better the Berlin wall started crumbling on November 9, 1989. East Berliners were told they could now cross over to West Berlin and so ended the 30 years’  separation of the city.

Checkpoint Charlie – about 1999/2000.

I spent a little time in the Army, only 22 years, so not long at all. My first duty station was Berlin from 1982 to 1985 in the midst of the Cold War and then again from 1988 to 1992. Berlin was split in half, part East and part West and located smack dab in the middle of East Germany. West Berlin was also shared between the US, Great Britain and France and surrounded by a huge cement wall. What an experience for a 20 year old leaving home for the first time.

The Wall with no man’s land between. Looking into East Berlin. The radio tower was called The Pope’s Revenge. (photo taken in 1982)

One of the first things every soldier had do when they arrived in Berlin was attend the School of Standards (SOS). Being as we were right in the middle of “enemy” territory we needed to know how NOT to cause an international incident so had to go to SOS for two weeks. We were taught some basic German, enough to get around and order from a menu at least, and about the German money (Deutsche Mark). They taught us how to use the public transportation system, buses and U-Bahn (subway). We were taught the history of the wall, where NOT to go, what NOT to do, etc. It was seriously some of the most useful and helpful information you could ask for, especially if you were in a foreign country for the first time. You had a good enough base of information to get around and didn’t have to wing it and look stupid doing it. We also had a few field trips around both West and East Berlin.

Russian War Memorial – No one was allowed to walk up to it and you can see two Soviet guards at the base of the middle pillar. (photo taken in 1982)

No one was allowed to go over to the East on their own, ever! But during SOS we had a chance to wander around and see how the other half of the city lived. There were other sanctioned tours now and again but this would be our first chance to visit the East. What a difference it was. Many of the buildings nearer the wall were boarded up and you could still see bullet holes in a lot of them. Even the air seemed drearier and more smoggy than the West. One of the reasons was the brown coal the East Germans had to use to heat their homes. It was cheap and readily available, however it was highly polluting. So the air always seemed to have a smog cloud hanging over it.

The Brandenburg Gate. This was the gateway between East and West but no one was allowed through. This is as close as we could get to it on the West side. (photo taken in 1982)

I always felt like a dark cloud continually hung over that part of the city and over on the West side it was bright and sunny. It was pretty depressing walking around and observing the differences. It didn’t seem like the people were happy either. Maybe it was just the sight of 20 American soldiers in their dress uniforms walking around and gawking that they shied away from.

One of the many East German guard towers (picture taken around 1989)

I remember practicing drills where the Soviets and East Germans would be attacking Berlin. The housing areas were spread all over the American sector and some people even lived “on the economy” renting apartments. We’d have to find the fastest way possible back to post hauling a duffel bag full of gear. I bet we were quite a sight to see because most of us would take some sort of public transportation or taxi. Not many of us had our own vehicles, why bother, German public transportation system was amazing and quite efficient.

What we called the “old barracks”. Previous home of Hitler’s SS guards.


Our home away from home can be seen on the top of the hill, Teufelsberg,  in the background.

I loved working in Berlin. I loved how safe I felt walking the streets, how clean everything was including the public transportation. I worked in a large facility on the highest point in the city called Teufelsberg. The hill was formed from the rubble left over from the war. The buildings are still there and you can take guided tours if the history of the old “listening station” interests you.

I think I’m going to have to continue this another day or it will end up being too long. Next up…the fall of the wall.

Getting promoted to E-5…I was such a baby. Oh and having a baby. My oldest daughter was born in Berlin.