Hostile Border Crossings: East Berlin

This is the first in a series of posts about international border crossings where I was detained, sometimes at gun point, even though I always had a valid passport and visas as required!

East Berlin / West Berlin (1984)

After the Navy, I spent nearly a year backpacking across Europe. See blog post here. During that time, I also traveled to Eastern Europe. I’ve been to Berlin several times, but have not returned since the Wall came down in 1989.

Getting to West Berlin

Getting there by land required a trip through East Germany, as Berlin was effectively an island in the middle of a communist sea. One had to cross from West Germany into East Germany and then again from the DDR into West Berlin. Border controls were very tight.

Map of West and East Germany

Traveling Outside the Authorized Zone

On my first visit to East Berlin, I decided to travel outside the authorized tourist zone around Alexander Platz so I could see what East Berlin was really like. Wasn’t as bad as I thought, but pretty depressing. Had a few beers at a bar, walked around a few shops and then grabbed a tram trying to get back to Checkpoint Charlie before the curfew.

Picked up by the East German Stasi

Someone alerted the police and the tram stopped and everyone looked at the two westerners. We were asked for our papers and escorted off the tram by heavily armed police waving their weapons at us for questioning by the Stasi, the East German secret police. The whole time guns were very present and pointed at us.

A Run for the Western Border

Eventually we were released, because we were just two young Americans. They held us long enough to make us run the kilometer or so to the border crossing making it before the curfew hour.

Checkpoint Charlie, West Berlin / East Berlin

Next day I took a spray can and proudly tagged the Berlin Wall, safely on the western side.

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