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Remembering the Wall

by Bob Bestor

It will be 17 years this November 9th: Wherever you happen to be, perhaps you will remember to quietly raise a glass to the fall of the Berlin Wall. Capitalism ain't perfect, but it seems to work better for more people than what went on behind that ugly barricade.

It was only at my wife's insistence that we first visited Berlin in 1980. My mental picture of it in those days, formed by war-time newsreels, was a bombed out pile of rocks picked at by old women wearing bandannas. I was more into rolling green hills and craggy Alps. But, as Liz pointed out, every third German we met on our frequent visits to country asked the same question, "Have you seen Berlin?"

Thus it was that we found ourselves one warm summer day at the Rupholdstein checkpoint in our rented Opel Kadette.

If you will recall, in 1980 West Berlin was an enclave of freedom completely surrounded by communist East Germany. Driving there from West Germany involved about a four-hour drive through hostile territory. We approached our entry as a visit to an enemy camp, from which we might never return. There were a long list of don'ts and a much shorter list of dos: Don't exceed the posted speed limit, no matter how slow it is; don't leave the main highway; don't stop. Do take food and water and start with a full tank of gas. With these cautions and tales of border harassment firmly in minds, our attitude was smile, keep a low profile, smile, be pleasant, smile, get through it.

We discovered smiles don't work for every occasion.