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But soon we crept away from the checkpoint. The road was rutted and bumpy. Cars kept their spacing and stayed precisely at the posted speed limit. The Mercedes that two miles back on the West German side had blown by us at 120 MPH, was now timid as a kitten and dared not pass the two-cylinder East German popcorn popper ahead.

The law was everywhere. Still in the border control area, maintaining a low speed - and as low a profile as we knew how - we passed a policeman who eyed us with interest, then ambled over to his car, reached inside, pulled out a walkie-talkie and spoke into it; all while keeping his eyes fixed on our car. Yikes! Is it my imagination or is he talking about us? No way, we're minding our own business, we're friendly, we're low profile, we smile. But there was no mistaking it; he had looked directly us - at me really - then walked to his car and immediately communicated information to someone else - about us.

Our answer was over the next hill. Lolling against the fender of yet another police car was a potbellied East German cop. He carefully watched the slow-moving line of cars, all scrupulously crawling at less than the 30 km (19 mph) speed limit. As we came closer, the cop heaved away from the fender and positioned himself in the center of the road. This can't be happening!

But it was. With the slightest movement of one finger of one hand held at his side, he motioned us to pull over. As he approached, I rolled down the window and nervously flashed my best what-seems-to-be-the-trouble-officer smile.

The cop spoke several sentences in German. I understood not one word.

Liz said, "He wants to see the passports."

Trying to control my shaking hand, I gave them up along with the just-obtained transit visas. He examined all while walking a slow half-circle around the car.

The needle on my imagination meter was well into the red zone. Will they let us make a phone call? Do they immediately separate husbands and wives. Back on my side of the car, the cop resumed in German; long sentences, whole paragraphs. I turned again to Liz who this time was no help. "Spreche nicht Deutsch," I tried to say, but who knows how it came out.