Growing up in the 80’s, the Berlin Wall was to me a structure seemingly as permanent as the Eiffel Tower or the Great Wall of China. I knew it separated The East from the The West, keeping those who lived under enforced communism away from freedom and choice.
What I didn’t know and somehow missed in my history classes was that The Wall was a quite recent edifice. Prior to its erection in August of 1961 (and excepting Soviet blockade times), people traveled back and forth between the Berlins for work and pleasure (see Iron Curtain Memoirs Book 3).
At first there was no sanctuary in West Berlin for those with identity cards from the east. Many who tried to stay in the west were returned or kidnapped and brought back. Guards were only posted on the eastern side, and some trams continued to run their route across the border and back.
Such was the time in which Irene Kucholick, my A to Z Historical Treasure writer, lived.
I began riding the electric U-Bahn. Although controlled entirely by East Germany, the U-Bahn traveled from Potsdam, through West Berlin, and into East Berlin again. Each time I rode the U-Bahn I watched and learned.
Many people got off the U-Bahn in West Berlin. At all train stops on the East side, people were spot checked by armed Russian border guards….After Russian guard separated out suspected persons for further checking, the German police mustered them into a large room….
Persons in possession of forbidden Western items were transferred to another police station in the city. Each case was punished according to the degree of the offense. Even foodstuff and soaps were forbidden. We had such bad soap powder that it could only be called sand. Western soaps of any kind were welcomed articles for the black market.
Confiscated items were sold in a store run by the government in Potsdam….Few people could afford them. The exchange rate was still five East Mark to one West Mark and four West Mark to one American dollar. That gives one an idea of how little East German marks were worth. Next to nothing.
Persons caught trying to escape…were usually sentenced for ten to twenty years at hard labor.
….This time I was stopped….Suddenly I remembered the Western literature. Ice cold fear gripped my body. There was no place to discard my borrowed material.
…[A scuffle broke out], I threw my magazines to the floor hoping no one would see where they came from.
Too many police and Russians were watching. Everyone saw me!
….I was immediately labeled a dangerous spy, as the papers were considered propaganda material from the West. [Excerpts from Survive Little Buddy. Copyright Irene Kucholick 1996. All rights reserved.]
Can you imagine being able to cross the border, see the relative prosperity, soak in freedom for a couple hours before having to return? It’s no wonder Irene’s longing to break free from the Soviet communism strangling her homeland was so strong.
I have a short but powerful video of Irene talking about this incident that I hope to have ready for V is for Videos You Requested.
Coming next…T is for Temptation
Kristin King is an indie author and sole-proprietor of Three Kings Publishing, which released Irene Kucholick’s Iron Curtain Memoirs in 2013, and released the digital edition as Survive Little Buddy in 2015. Irene reminds Kristin of her own grandmother whose strength and convictions have endured from harder times.