Thursday, October 11, 2012

It was so long ago, wasn't it?


Do good fences make good neighbors? They can, certainly, but of course there are many situations in which it doesn't work that way, such as with gated communities, for instance. Feudalism in the 21st century. Good lord.

I was thinking about the Iron Curtain last night, remembering the one time I was in Berlin, during the winter of 1979. I remember vividly the drive across East Germany from Hannover, and how nervous our Hannoverian friend Claus was as he drove the autobahn from west to east. He told us that if we stopped for any reason, even a flat tire, we could be shot. 

The border guards were severe, indeed. They really looked at our passport pictures, then at our faces, then back at the pictures. They searched the trunk of the car, confiscated some newspapers Claus had forgotten to remove. They even took a John Irving book I was reading at the time. It was like being in a spy movie. I wonder what could have been seen as subversive in that book? I will never know.

I loved West Berlin. Every island city has a special energy, the result of being separated from what surrounds it. San Francisco is such a city, as is New York, each of them surrounded by water on three sides. West Berlin was a man-made island set inside, and completely surrounded by, East Germany. The energy was like an internal combustion engine. I hardly slept a wink for the few days we were there. 

One day we went into East Berlin, just to see. The difference was shocking. No cars, no shops, no pubs, no restaurants. We saw very few people. It was stark. We drove around awhile, silent and sober. In East Berlin I could feel how exhausted I was. Coming back into West Berlin was like entering Oz. Wow.

I read on the internet somewhere that it's possible now to follow what they call the Iron Curtain trail, a kind of political ley line indicating where east and west collided during the Cold War. I wonder if the energy is still palpable, or if it's now just a story, a part of history. 

All this brings to mind what an old cohort of mine used to say, that she had "razor sharp" boundaries. I am a big believer in strong, clear, healthy and resilient personal boundaries (something I continue to work on, year after year). I'm not sure "razor sharp" is healthy or resilient, though I'll concede sometimes necessary, or at least that's what the people in charge decided during the Cold War.

Was it necessary? It's interesting to think about.


Paula said...

This car picture is genius.

ellen abbott said...

I think of how gray and lifeless, stark east Berlin was and all of east Germany. No life, no laughter, no fun, always just fear. No wonder they had to put up a wall armed with soldiers. Who would want to stay in an environment like that. How could the communists ever have thought it was worth it?

Reya Mellicker said...

Yeah. Talk about cultural differences!

Steve Reed said...

I went to the former East Germany and East Berlin in 1997, eight years after the wall fell. Even then, the energy of the old regime was still palpable and city was dramatically different on each side of the line. East Berlin was still very gray and devoid of all the happy street life that characterized West Berlin. Thank goodness that sore has healed!

Reya Mellicker said...

I'm glad too, Steve.