A German Story, Part 2 of 3

We open in medias res of Horst’s story. If you haven’t read Part 1, you should go back and read it before continuing.

When we last left our hero, around 2100 hours on the night of November 9th, 1989, he had been confronted by Italian friends telling him the Wall had fallen. He did not believe them for a second, and denied their news with such authority that they believed him and returned to bed.  Horst returned to his apartment and shut the door.

“So I went back to my reading and then I closed the book and really listened to the radio, no more in one ear and out the other. And there I heard it, the Wall is open, and then it all made sense, before with the . . .

“So I hurried over to Sabina’s house and knocked on her door. And she had been sleeping and” he motioned as if to show her bed head “says, What?. And I told her, the Wall is down! And so we knew, we had to go to West Berlin. And you know when you are nervous some people eat a spoonful of sugar, to calm down. Well we had, you know Nutella?” I did. “We had something like that, very expensive, 3 Marks for 400g. And we were so agitated, she ate the entire, all 400g!” He boomed a quick laugh. “And I was pacing like a lion in a cage” he is standing now and demonstrates, “thinking, OK, what do I do now, what is the first thing I do? I have seen a book in the window of a shop for 3,000 Mark, and I think, I must buy that book! The Westerners will flood in and buy everything with their black market money, and so I must . . . I must save it. I have to save the last GDR book! And in those days you could write a check and in five days it must clear. So one could write the check and then have money wired to the account. So I called my parents.”

He couldn’t buy the book then because it was nighttime, but he did later in the day. I love that his first instinct was to buy a book. He continued describing his thoughts at the time. “Then I said, I must buy food. Yes, my old army training kicked in, and I decided I must buy calories, nutritional food. Butter, sugar, and so on.”

Also . . . “ I interrupted. “I don’t understand. Why did you have to buy food?”

“Because the Wall was down! Who knows what will happen next? The world, it was, first it is one way and now it is the other. The Wall is down, maybe tomorrow American troops are coming? I don’t know. So I ask, what do I need. I have water,” he cups his hands, “I can drink it from the toilet. I do not need electricity or transportation, but I need food. So now it is 8:00am, and I go down and as soon as the store opens I am inside, buying everything. And so I have enough food to last me for weeks.”

“We decide to go into West Berlin. We meet at the metro station at two o’clock in front of Checkpoint Charlie. Checkpoint Charlie, because we did not know where we could cross the Wall! How could we know? So we went wherever we knew there was a gate, and there at Checkpoint Charlie there were 10,000 people waiting to go through. As wide as this room, 5 or 6 people, and from here [in our classroom] to the next street! Because they all wanted to go to West Berlin. So there were twenty or thirty thousand people and Sabina called a friend that she had in West Berlin and said, we will meet you at six. Because it took four hours to get through the line! And so mangiare della cavallo tagliare, e como non si tutto, si questro e l’uomo mi scusi sempre filla inconsiquenso in flagrante delicto!” He continued rattling on in Italian as if I had any clue what he was saying, and finally returned to German. “You see, we were speaking Italian because I could and of course she was from Italy, and all of a sudden the crowd started,” here he made a parting motion with his arms, “opening up! You see! All the way down the line. Not jumping out of the way, no, but moving as we walked through,” he said softer, in remembered awe, “As if we were kings! Because she had dark hair and dark skin, and I also” [Horst has dark hair and olive skin] “and they thought we were Italian. ‘You don’t belong here, go in front.’ And I was so scared, because she had an Italian passport but mine said, East Berlin! If they found out, they would . . . “ he drew a noose around his neck and snugged it tight. “They would have me killed!”

“So we get to the border and they are just stamping them and moving people through. They don’t care, it is just to say ‘We are here.’ You could have a bomb or a thousand kilos of drugs and they would wave you through. So they saw she was from Italy and said, you have to go over here, and then I showed them mine.” He held an imaginary passport close to his chest and showed it secretively to the nonexistent person on his right. “And they stamped it and I went through, ahead of her! Ha. And there were the American guards that you see in the photos, with their white hats, and there was the white demarcation line. And I just walked up to it and slowly walked across it.” He stepped across the line. “West.” He stepped back to the other side. “East. West. East.” I laughed. “Yes! that is how it was. And Sabina, she said that we must go eat pizza. Because she is Italian. And there was no pizza in East Berlin.” I exclaim in outrage. “We didn’t have any Italians! West Berlin had. But we did not know anything about it. We always thought that one needed special ingredients to make it! We didn’t know. So we went to a pizza place, and it had Pizza Margherita, and Pizza Salami, and one called Pizza Speziale, for 8 marks! The others were all seven, but this one was eight, and I asked, perché? And he told me, oh, nothing special. They know the Berliners, they will see something that is more expensive and buy that one because it is better! But they just call it Pizza Speziale and charge 8 marks and throw whatever on it.”

Pizza is one of the foods unknown to them that North Koreans will encounter on first visiting the South, though South Korean pizza has toppings the rest of the world finds unusual on a pizza—bits of corn, potato wedges, blueberry sauce, shrimp, cookie crusts, sweet potato mousse, pickles, sometimes all of the above together… North Koreans will have to assume it is all perfectly normal Italian pizza.

Horst’s account of the opening of the Berlin Wall will conclude in the final installment, Part 3 of 3.

Photo Credit 1

Photo Credit 2

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