Robert’s reminiscences have sparked my own memories of Berlin. In 1970 I lived in Nikolassee, a south-eastern suburb of Berlin in the American zone. The wall was up, just as ugly, bleak and heavily patrolled as Robert describes it. But you would not have suspected that from where we lived. There were tall trees, elegant old villas and parks. Squirrels bounded from branch to branch in trees outside our second-floor apartment. The sounds of a fortified city were there though. Military jets roared over, breaking the sound barrier, many times a day. On the radio, the Voice of America warned us about the perils of the East. “Your friend may not be a spy, but be careful what you say. Any information about your deployment….” It was the 1970 equivalent of Loose lips sink ships…

An American couple lived upstairs from us. The husband, Al, was an officer. We did not realise for months that he was in intelligence. His wife was friendlier than he was. Lisa explained that she was not allowed to use the S-Bahn (the local train service) although she could take the bus. The bus operated only in West Berlin, but, because of the wall, the S-Bahn stopped at concrete barriers in the city centre. It was not beyond the wicked communists, Lisa had been told, to remove the barriers, drive the trains into East Berlin and imprison Army wives.

We were in Berlin at a tense time internationally. The Vietnam War had split communities in the USA and in Europe. Street protests were frequent. Authorities used force. Demonstrators were arrested. In Berlin the student movement split into many factions. Any number of countercultural groups were set up, some founding radical pre-schools or squatters’ co-ops, and one eventually spawning the Red Army Faction. Years later I put some of the tension of that time into my novel Beyond Berlin.

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