Sunday, July 08, 2012

Items From the Past: DDR Relics

We've been having a South Texas summer lately. The last time the Fourth of July was so hot in metro Chicago, I've read, was 1911. The high for Independence Day was 101° F., and for some days afterwards it was almost as hot. But not today: only about 80°, which felt positively cool.

On July 9, 1983, my friend Steve and I crossed into East Germany at Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin, and spent most of the day there. For one thing, about four hours at the extraordinary Pergamon Museum, which remains one of my favorite museums anywhere. We had a large map of Berlin to guide us in those pre-Internet, pre-GPS days.

This is only part of the map, but it shows the Berlin Wall snaking through the heart of the city. It's the heavy red-dash line, with the shading on the east side of the wall, which must have represented the "guards will shoot you zone" that caught up with Alec Leamas, for instance.

Next is another set of relics of my time in East Germany: passport stamps. They don't make 'em like these any more, and the world is better for it. I have two DDR stamps, there on the same page of a passport long expired, one acquired on the train between Hamburg and Berlin, the other at Checkpoint Charlie.

I didn't have a camera. Steve did, and later sent me a few prints. The pic below is the Berlin Cathedral (Berliner Dom) as it appeared in '83, with the East Berlin main TV tower in the background. The original dome took a hit in '44 and collapsed to the floor of the church. The dome had been rebuilt by the time we got there, and visitors could enter the building, but only peer inside, because the floor was still littered with rubble.

Since then, I see that the interior has been restored, as befitting a reunified Germany.

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