We were five American adults and five teens in a VW bus, which
we rented in Rotterdam. The 10th passenger was Al Blume, our
German friend who was fluent in English and had previously been
through the corridor to Berlin. Friends told us this trip would
be scary but I confidently said, "Russians won’t start
WWIII by harming us." However, on the night of Aug. 12,
1963, we weren’t so sure of that!
Leaving Hanover Youth Hostel Aug. 11, we checked passports,
traveler’s checks, insurance papers and proof of rental of
the van and were confident that everything was in order. West
Berlin, 104 miles away, was an island of freedom attached to free
West Germany by an umbilical cord called the corridor. We were to
spend one night in East Berlin and be back at the Youth Hostel at
10 p.m. Aug. 12. As my husband, Chub, drove, I held a note pad
and pencil. Here are some things I jotted down:
"10 a.m. Filling the van with gas at the border between
West and East Germany ready to enter the corridor. Flags of
Britain, France and U.S. flapping in wind. Solid red flag ahead.
"10:05 a.m. We’re stopped to check passports and
papers. An allied guard, speaking German, phoned to the other end
so they could estimate our arrival time, 104 miles away in
"10:25 a.m. STOP.’ Huge billboard photo of
Kruschev staring at us! Armed guard sticks head in van,
jabbering. Al translates: Pull to the right and park.’
All crawl out, line up. MONEY IN EXCESS WILL BE
CONFISCATED.’ Enter dark, smelly, crowded room. Coal stove,
greasy wallpaper, flowered drape bordering sooty lace panels.
People crowd into our line, out of turn. A hand reaches though
slot in blank wall, takes our passports, one at a time.
"11 a.m. Woman with stamp pad sits at dirty table facing
a slouchy uniformed male with pistol. Our passports are stacked
there. Woman stamps a passport occasionally, passes it to the
man. Finally, he makes Al line us up to identify photos. Then
Chub waits in line to pay for use of the road.’
"11:30 a.m. Finally in the van! Stop.’ Huge
pole across road. Counted again. In 200 yards, metal barrier with
mean spikes. Later, a huge wooden beam balanced so it could stop
a car instantly. Road is lined with double row of concrete fence
posts with twisted barbed wire between. Boys need toilet. No way!
"Past noon: Al tells of his being carried to safety by
sisters, in Hitler’s time. Eating peanuts and raisins.
Overpass sign, Hands Off Cuba!’ People on overpass
wave. Towers. Guards with binoculars and guns walk roadsides. No
toilet. Car ahead, stopped by police.
"Finally, there’s no barbed wire. We stop. Boys run
to bushes. Chub wants me to drive. We change quickly. Hungry but
no place to exit. Al explains that Allied officers are expecting
us and we must press on.
"1:39 p.m. Nearing Berlin. Double concrete posts and
barbed wire again, on both sides. Al is uneasy because we’ve
changed drivers. We stop and quickly shift back.
"CHECKPOINT! Cars stopped; people and luggage unloaded.
Steel barricades across road, long line of waiting cars.
Car papers!’ Passports!’ Road
permit!’ We showed them all. A hundred yards ahead, more
"1:45 p.m. We showed the papers again. Green
paper?’ Al asked Chub. The last checker kept it,’
Chub replied. Finally, we were waved on anyway.
"2 p.m. Ahead, what a beautiful sight! Old
Glory’ waiving her stars and stripes to welcome us! A polite
officer in neat uniform quickly checked passports and car papers.
Much pleasure to you in Berlin,’ he said. What a
Next Tuesday I’ll tell what happened to our car papers
and how we got back to Hanover without them.