When I was a child of 4 or 5, I was looking through my father’s many photos, which he took overseas during and after World War Two. One that caught my young attention was of two men picking though garbage cans. The photo was taken in Hamburg. As a child we were told never to touch garbage cans, let alone dig through them. I asked my mother about what the men were doing , she said . “There was a war and those men were looking for food.” That photo certainly affected me and left with a feeling that war is not glorious. I don’t include those defending themselves and their homeland from a madman like Hitler and his inner circle. But, the idea of  war for war’s sake, is a concept I cannot ever tolerate.
           When I arrived in Hamburg, from my sojourn in Holland , I couldn’t help but wonder if those two men, who had been digging in the garbage cans, had survived .   I was standing on a corner with a map and I must have looked a bit lost. A stranger approached me and kindly gave me directions. It was another instance of Germans who seemed to go out of their way to welcome visitors. Again another step in dispelling any concerns I may have had. The hostel was near the Bismarck statue and it was a rather pleasant place. I met a few British travelers and we exchanged some experiences. They were on their way to Scandinavia. I told them of my 2 weeks in the UK which had been a pleasant eye opener. They asked if I felt the country was small compared to Canada and I pointed out the advantages to that. A 20 minute trip may pass through a couple of villages, architecturally centuries apart. In Canada there are places one can travel for a day and not see a soul. Laughs all around J
            The famous ( Infamous?) Saint Pauli district was a short walk from the Hostel, my British friends were catching an early train so I ventured over alone. Now Canada, at the time was a bit less, shall we say ,' liberal minded'. So one can imagine my innocent eyes setting their sights on what the St Pauli District and the Reeperbahn had to offer. Even after a few evenings taking in the “night charms” of Amsterdam I was still interested J There was also a back street called the Marian Strasse which was a red light district. The women would sit in the windows in a less than subtle way. A look I had come to recognize J I wasn’t really into paying for sex, as I have noted; but, they were good looking gals. I was also on a budget..Hey that’s my story and I will stick to it.  :) But I did go into a club I was passing by when the hawker at the door said, “You’re just in time to see a blow job” . Hey culture and we all gotta' fit in with the locals J It turned out the fellow was not really naked and his gal was playing with a rubber phallus; but, the premise did attract me at first. A few gals asked if I wanted to buy them a drink but again budget and all J Later I found out that a friend of mine, who was also in the Dental Corps and had come over on the stand by flight , was taken for $80 by a “Whiskey Dolly” as we called them. So pfennig wise or something like that J We were only making $350 a month back then so $80 was a big tab.
           The next day I went on a bus tour of the city, then a harbor boat tour. I couldn’t help but think back to the photos my dad had taken just after the war, the men in the garbage cans and the bombed out submarine pens. All had been cleared up by the time I visited; but, somehow the shadow of those terrible times seemed to cast a pall on the harbour. My interpretation; but ,none the less something I felt.
          The tour was in German but the Germans on the tour were very friendly and in their limited English and my limited German, we managed to have a positive time. One cute gal seemed to enjoy the rapport then at the end when I asked her to join me for dinner she told me she was meeting her boyfriend. Man can I ever pick them J
           I spent the following day wandering about the gardens and sidewalks of Hamburg. I had been in Europe for almost 3 weeks and although there seemed to be something intriguing around every corner I was starting to acclimatize as far as simple tasks such as going into a store to buy some snack food. I know not quite earth shaking; but, a bit of a minor milestone for me. By this point I was starting to hope that I would be transferred to Germany to one of our NATO bases, when I graduated. I figured that a 3 year tour would have allowed me to learn German to a proficient level and the proximity of the NATO bases to many countries would have been a great opportunity. Sadly later, I found out that I was not quite on the list. Some jealousy, perhaps of my own doing  as a foot loose and fancy free single guy, , had   launched a few back stabbers. In a hierarchical system back stabbing is the adult equivalent of bullying. I had a few fellow dental corps personnel tell me about three such people and it was disappointing. But such is life; I have passed this knowledge on to my more worldly minded son J
         I decided to visit Berlin and the young lady I met in Cologne a few weeks previous. I learned something though. Always travel with a radio to keep up on the news. I had heard a few little bits about something in Czechoslovakia but the details escaped me. Oh yes a little item about a Russian invasion, what later became known as the Prague Spring was in full bloom. Russian troops had invaded.
The Prague Spring (Czech: Pražské jaro, Slovak: Pražská jar) was a period of political liberalization in Czechoslovakia during the era of its domination by the Soviet Union after World War II. It began on 5 January 1968, when reformist Slovak Alexander Dubček came to power, and continued until 21 August when the Soviet Union and members of its Warsaw Pact allies invaded the country to halt the reforms.
          I asked around and people told me it was best to take a train to a few stops south of Hamburg, and then hitch to Berlin from there. I bought a ticket to a small town, which I now forget the name of, and I was all set. Hamburg Bahnhoff was a large train station and very interesting , as I have always been a railway buff. My maternal grandfather had worked on the railways since he was 16 and he told me many great tales of his adventures. While waiting for the train a man of about 60 came up and started to talk to me in English. He had lived in Brooklyn, as it turns out, and his English was very good. Later I figured he just liked to come to the station and pass the time of day talking with travelers. He was most helpful and told me that the smaller roads to Berlin are more interesting so this backed up my plans. We more or less talked about this and that and nothing in particular, just a pleasant time. As I got on the train and was waiting 4 or 5 minutes for it to leave, I noticed him go up to other back packers, a nice way for a retired fellow to socialize.
               I got off at the designated stop and proceeded to make my way to the nearby East / West German border. I got a ride with a taxi of all things, I explained I could not pay fare but he said no problem; but, there was a problem. At the border I found out that these smaller roads were for German citizens only. My visions of arriving early to meet my friend ( Freunderin J ) were shattered. So I set out towards the nearest Autobahn to Berlin which was at Braunschweig , (which translates to Brunswick for you linguists ) . I was picked up in a Volkswagen by three Stuttgart lads who told me they earned higher salaries working in Berlin. A bonus the West German government paid. They did not speak English; but, by now I was a regular “Deutscher,” okay not quite regular but I could get along. It was apparently a 90 minute or so ride to Berlin... All was well until I spotted something that made my blood freeze a bit . In German I said “Was ist dass ?” ..’what is that?’ “Dass Frontier” ahhhh the border..then the bits I had heard about Prague came back to me. I had my military ID card and leave pass in my sock just in case; but, as I later found out NATO was on high alert. I theoretically could have been arrested as a spy. A Soldier out of uniform in a highly charged area .. L
    The Border crossing was memorable. First they stopped the car and made us all get out before we arrived at the border station. And they searched the car and used mirrors under the car body. The West Germans with me were really not too happy , in fact they seemed quite nervous , if not outright scared. When we passed this initial harassment we were told to park and go into the Customs station. We had to , of course, show our passports. In other European travels it was a perfunctory check over, I often had to almost to beg to get it stamped. But here they seemed to gloat in checking out every detail to perfection. My smile less customs lad gave me and the passport a real going over. He looked me up and down then he looked at the passport. This happened several times, I wonder if he expected my appearance to change with each glance. J He asked me a few questions in German which I could answer, which seemed to surprise him. After his check he passed my passport into a hole in the wall and I was told to make my way down the table. I asked about a toilet and my German friends said “Wait till we get to Berlin” They were not too at ease being here. A hand reached out from the wall with my passport and I reported to agent “zwei” ( 2) J
           He again gave me the “Have you changed appearance in the past 5 minutes, shake down. No smiles of course. But I guess I passed with flying colours as I was then directed down the L shaped table to the visa issuer. For a modest 10 Deutsch marks I was sold a visa, about $2.50 in Canadian coinage at that time. I was given a visa, My Passport and a receipt and was about to walk out when I was told I had to show it all to a third inspector. While waiting my turn there was a female border guard in a rigid gray uniform, despite the lack of a fashion statement she was cute as a button. Many years later , when Katarina Witt skated for East Germany, I had a flashback. This girl looked just like her.. So being a bit of a young flirting lad I kind of gave her the “Hairy eyeball” and a smile. She looked up a few times then actually cracked a small smile...To this day I feel that was the breakthrough in the fall of the Iron Curtain that should have won me a Nobel Prize Nomination. J
          We hit the road and my companions were obviously worn down a bit. I was kind of glad to be out of there as well; but, it gave me an appreciation of many things we take for granted. But, wait the lads from the DDR ( Deutsche Demokratische Republik ) were not finished. After the paper shuffle was over and we were on our way we got stopped one more time. One hundred yards down the road. Out of the car, mirror tricks again. Then we were allowed to proceed.

          The drive to Berlin was unremarkable in scenery; but, the emotional aspect was memorable. People in the DDR ( see above J ) would pass us in Trabants, an east German car which was jokingly the equivalent of a lawn mower with gears. Noisy and, judging from the fumes spewing out, inefficient. As we passed or they passed us the occupants would look us directly in the eye and in a very serious and to me, moving gaze, they would give us a small wave. I was told by my companions this was a sign of solidarity. I was very moved by this simple but heartfelt gesture. People in buses did the same thing. When the Wall came down in 1989 , an event I now wish I had attended, I could recall these moments on the way to Berlin.
         We were also passed by a few convoy trucks with young Russian troops. I recall looking at my dad’s photos of post war Germany and I could not help but wonder,” how far have we come ..or more correctly not gone ?” . it was starting to get dark when a car came up behind us flashing his lights..I figured ,“Oh oh my new friend ‘Katarina’ has turned me in” J it was in fact a West German who was not sure of the correct way to Berlin. He too, was nervous about the trip.
           Looking back I imagine I should also have been a bit more concerned. I had originally figured the road was a limited access route, surrounded by fences. But in fact we were driving along East German roads. As I have said, and will remind you of, my patron Saint, St Pesmo the Bewildered, Patron Saint of the naive traveler, was always by my side J  When we got to Berlin the same DDR “efficiency “ was in evidence. We had the old mirror trick, out of the car etc. But we only had to show our passport and visa to one official.
          My companions drove me to my destination, which was where my German friend was staying. I of course thanked them and they reciprocated with best wishes on my travels. I went to the address I had been given and my knock on the door was met by the appearance of a rather dour humourless looking woman. I asked, in German , “Fraulein Heidi bitte” to which she replied “Keine Heidi hier”. (No one named Heidi here). So I dejectedly sauntered slowly down the stairs; but, in a few seconds I heard a familiar voice. She was in fact staying with an aunt .She arranged for us to meet the next day. I stayed at one of my patented outdoor venues, I slept in a park. As usual I got a nice sleep,. Hey I can sleep anywhere. But at about 6 AM I was awoken by a dog nose in my face and a rather unhappy German telling me to move on. This was the summer of 1968 and the hippies were out and about and not always welcome. Even the “Short haired” part of my hippie travels were sometimes not “de rigueur”
         I gathered my “life possessions” and started to look about. To my utter amazement the Berlin wall was right across the street. It was an eye opener in that I had presumed it would have been crafted with the usual German precision and attention to design. It was in fact designed as a slap in the face of West Germans and as a reminder to East Germans to toe the line. As I walked along the wall I saw several painted crosses with names of East Germans who had perished trying to flee. For someone from a stable democratic country these sites moved me deeply. It is one thing to read about oppression; but, to see it in the tranquil  setting that I was wandering about in ,that early morning , had a disquieting but instructional effect on me. One part of the wall was particularly moving in its’ simplicity. This section of the wall had been a three story apartment building. The facing was taken down except the bottom floor and a half, something like a street façade on movie sets. The doors and windows were bricked over from behind with unsightly foundation bricks. One window still had the curtains in place and a plastic flower on a window sill. It was as if life had been interrupted and was in suspended animation. My photo of this window has been a mainstay when I speak of my time there. This site also had several crosses and names. I spent a couple of hours walking along this road way which had once been an open passage from east to West Berlin. I climbed some outside stairs near an apartment and I could see the East German armed guards on the other side. There were barbed wire barriers and heavier metal car and truck blockades. It was depressing. I could just imagine families separated and lives ruined by the selfish politics of the DDR,
             Later I met with my German friend. She seemed less moved by the wall and I imagine it was because she had become used to it. She told me that she had no family in the east. She had an apartment across the street from the wall and from her second floor balcony I could see into East Berlin. About a block of buildings had been torn down . It was a no man’s zone guarded or perhaps more correctly it had soldiers used as barriers to anyone attempting to escape from the East. They patrolled from inside the East Berlin zone. I got a bit of a kick out of it when they would check out Heidi with their binoculars. I would make sure we were a couple as it were.. no doubt fueling their ingrained contempt for the immoral West. Or more likely getting them all worked up J
             We wandered about Berlin for several days and it was educational to get a resident’s view of things. One time I went by a food store with apples, I asked if she wanted one and I grabbed a couple to pay the merchant. I was set upon and given heck for touching the apples. I had forgotten my lesson in Köln. Apparently in most of Europe one asks the merchant to pick the apples you point out. Hey from “Darf ich bitte” at the club in Cologne to apples I was again getting an education in German etiquette J . We went to the famous Templehof Airport where the Berlin Airlift took place; we also visited the radio Tower, the Funkturm. A nice view of the city .
From Wikipedia:
      On March 22, 1935, the first regular television program in the world was broadcast from an aerial on the top of the tower. Since 1962, the tower is no longer used for TV transmissions. Since 1973, the radio tower no longer serves as a regular transmission tower for broadcasting purposes, but it is still used as relay station for amateur radio, police radio, and mobile phone services. The last complete renovation took place in the year 1987 in honor of the 750th anniversary of the founding of Berlin.
           We also went to Check Point Charlie, a famous American controlled crossing area. It was the scene of much East / West tension as the Soviets gradually closed off access through this crossing to East Berlin. In 1963 Kennedy gave his famous “Ich Bin Eine Berliner at this site. At the time there was an urban legend that Ein Berliner was a pastry but corrections to this urban legend say he used the correct terms. Regardless, his speech was well received and served as a focal point for the wrongs of the Berlin Wall.
              One day while my friend was about some personal business, I took a subway ride . I didn’t realize that it went through East Berlin; but, it did not stop. It slowed at East Berlin stations and I must admit my heart pounded in case it stopped and there was a passport check. It was a bit unnerving to see armed guards at each station. But like so many of the unusual items the subway trip was worth it.
            As a single lad I always had the principle that I never dated married women. Not so much on moral grounds; but, just out of fear of a bit of nasty retaliation. So it came as a shock when we went into a photo shop to buy some film. My friend was speaking with the owner and looking at a photo so some karate experts. She said , “Mein Mann ist ein karate spieler” basically ,”My husband is a karate expert. When we left I ask what that was about and she allowed that she was indeed married but hubby was somewhere in Asia . As my pulse went up visions of a knock not at the door but through the door came to mind J But, it turns out she and he were separated and she was living with a guy in Paris…. There I was…. just a sex object J what could I say ? J

            During my visit I decided to call the Canadian Military attaché to see if I was in a good position on the standby from Düsseldorf back to Canada. He gave me a bit of heck when I told him I was in Berlin. “Do you realize NATO is on high alert, what airlines did you fly in with ?” When I told him I had hitched in he asked my name….My name was a ‘click’ of the phone as I hung up. Oh not good J . I was alter advised to write the Department of Defence to tell of my trip. Hmm I wonder if that impeded my career ?  :)
            The final day of my stay was spent wandering about. It had been a great visit and my friend Heidi, well she added to the adventure . We bade each other a fond fare well and I set out for the West. I got a bus to the border and got a ride with a Turkish guy who was working in Hanover. He was less worried about the border formalities than my friends were on the way in. But, there was one little thing, that kind of caught their  attention. When he stopped his car it had to be push started. So here we were, at the ‘smile less’ border , and I had to push his car to start, between the usual stops and searches, much to the amusement of the usually humourless East German guards. But we made the crossing and were cruising along, some kilometers away, when I heard a siren…we were being pursued by a Volks Polizei car ( Fopo in German pronunciation) People’s Police. It seems we had taken a turn along the highway and we were headed in a wrong direction. I forced, what I would call a “shit eating grin” as I handed him my passport. My Turkish friend had a Turkish passport and with a friendly smile the officer said “Ah auslander” ..”Foreigners” And he graciously pointed us in the right direction. As we drove along we came to a rest stop called “Interstop” in DDR parlance. My driver had no compunction about stopping for a snack and I liked the idea. As we went in I came upon a ‘souvenir’ shop. I wish I had bought a post card, they were made of what could best be described as recycled cardboard. Dull and unimaginative but representative of what the DDR was about. The sales lady was in her 50’s and she seemed curious about me as I no doubt looked like a foreigner. She asked where I was from and I said “Guess”. She said I looked Italian but was too tall. When I told her I was Canadian she really seemed interested as no doubt I was the first from Canada she had ever met. She was interested in my ancestry. When I told her of my mixed background she seemed genuinely fascinated. A short ; but, memorable part of the trip. Maybe in a small way I closed a political; gap J . She was not quite as sensual as the Katarina Witt look alike but hey….:)
          I spotted a “wurst” , sausage dispenser and I went to buy one. It was a couple of Marks; but ,I didn’t seem to be having much luck getting a sausage. As I was checking out the instructions I looked slightly back and down and saw almost knee high brown boots. those worn by a Fopo..a Police officer. Again the need for “Depends” came upon me briefly. He said “That money is not good “; but, he offered to exchange East German money for West German money. He no doubt made a bit on the exchange but in the circumstance I was not about to quibble and I got my sausage. Again not a major item; but, not quite something I would have seen on a conducted tour J My Turkish friend found it all amusing and was not bothered as my German friends would have been on the way into Berlin. We crossed into West Germany with no problems.
        I decided to head to Soest, where Canada had a NATO base. I had a minor problem. I was running out of money. So I decided to drop by an Army base and get an advance on my salary. My Turkish friend left me off and I headed more or less towards Düsseldorf. As usual rides were easy. I made it to Soest just before supper. I was able to get a room in the officers’ quarters. I shared it with a helicopter pilot name Bob G. He saw I was not quite dressed for a diner in the mess so he asked if I wanted to go into town. He was a real hands up the ladder and told me a lot of details about the area which had been the area targeted by the famous Dam Busters of the RAF and RCAF in World War Two. As I have previously chronicled, the fact that I was traveling in a country that in the not too distant past had been at war with us, was a bit surreal, if that is a good description. But the fact that we were now allies in the Cold War seemed a jump in history to be sure. Again this is all a part of the fascination of travel. Not just sites ;but, history, people and emotions.
        I found out that I was not going to able to get a free flight home and an Air Canada flight was $400 . I got a pay advance; but, it would be nice to “bum a ride”. I set off to Düsseldorf to see what I could do; but, before I left Bob told me he might try to get me on the transport plane he was going back on.
          In Düsseldorf I went to the Air terminus to see what the “ground pounders” as they call administrative people, could do. One thing was they could give me free accommodations at the flight centre…They had a party planned; but, someone was needed to monitor the telex. There was a bed in the communications room. So I spent an unusual evening in a flight hanger office at the airport . But, it was kind of interesting hearing the comings and goings of planes through the night. The Telex came in from RCAF Base Trenton Ontario and there was nothing special, as I had been briefed to report if required.
     The next morning Bob showed up. It turns out that if I were to go on the transport as crew I would have to have orders from the RCAF, to proceed. If I were to be a passenger I needed NATO orders. So I was stuck between a rock and a hard place and was planning my Air Canada flight. I must have looked forlorn. I saw a nod from the flight captain and Bob had done his magic.
             I sat in the “crew rest” area all the way home and Bob briefed me in on the various ground radar stations and check in points we would cross over, on the flight home. One in particular , in Northern Labrador was legendary, the fellow often at  the controls would love to get into hockey and sports discussions. Not a lot to do up there I gathered J . All outside my realm of experience; but, again interesting to me.
           As we landed at Trenton Air base, in Ontario another few moments of dread swept through me, all of my own doing. I was a week over due on my leave…I was supposed to be back a week before and I was missing a week of University, which in all honesty I made up in a day, mostly administration stuff. I was also sneaking back a camera I had bought and  I had been to Berlin. So when I got through customs I felt it best to perhaps leave the base and hit the road back to Montreal. This “dread” was all in my mind. But, as I made my way up to the “401” Montreal / Toronto highway I really felt I had accomplished a lot. Travel is of course a personal experience. Mine was to meet people, see sites and expand my emotional energy from these experiences. Mission accomplished
          It turns out a letter had gone out to fourth year dental students that we were to start a week later due to some renovation problems in one of the laboratories. Again Saint Pesmo the Bewildered was on side. On the first day back as I walked to the Strathcona Medical Building, at McGill, most of my great classmates were sitting on the side door steps. One fellow, Fred B kind of kidded me and said “Hey Mike did you dig a lot of ditches this summer? “ I couldn’t help but reply, “No actually I spent 7 weeks hitching around Europe” To a lot of dropped jaws We had a wonderful class so the back and forth was in the usual fun we had and not meant as a dig…but I did put on a shit eating smile as we say in polite company .