I remember how grey the overcast was. There were no clouds, just a murkiness that was as much a part of the city as the concrete sidewalks. In retrospect, all these years later, I can see that the greyness helped us understand where we were.
The East German guard stepped aboard our bus with his hand comfortably resting on his holstered pistol.
The bus driver spoke softly, “Ladies and gentlemen, please provide your passports to the guard.”
The tourists began to sort through their pockets and purses for their papers.
The guard walked down the aisle matching faces to pictures in passports. His eyes, hollow and dark as he glared from one passenger to the next. He looked at my picture and then pointed at me. With a finger, he motioned for me to stand. He looked again at my picture. The bus was silent. An American student with a bright blue windbreaker, Levi jeans and red Adidas shoes did not match the ugly lime color of his neatly pressed uniform. He tired of the stand-off, clasped his hands in boredom, turned, walked down the aisle and left.
The bus drove through Checkpoint Charlie before it stopped and a young student in a nicely pressed business suit stepped on board the bus.
“Welcome to the East German Democratic Republic,” he beamed. He continued to smile as his head bobbed up and down as he made eye contact with the passengers. His smile was out of place. He turned and sat down.
His comments seemed out of place with the three East German soldiers, cradling rifles, sitting on a broken pile of concrete as they eyed our bus suspiciously. Above them, two other soldiers peered out from a window that had a few slices of broken glass still in the frame. The sullen looks of the soldiers showed an unmistakable desire to shoot someone.
The bus drove along the wall and then turned into the city.
The bus passed a building with windows without glass. The student shot up from his seat, “The freedoms we enjoy in all of East Germany have created a country that is rich, vibrant and full of great promises for the future.”
I wiped the fog from my window and saw two people in long black coats, hands in their pockets with their eyes on the gray sidewalks before them. They walked slowly. The street was empty. I don’t think they saw the city as vibrant and full of great promise for the future
The student droned on about the criminal American Imperialists who had bombed and destroyed the State Opera House during the Second World War — there was no mention of the Russians who rendered as much damage.
The student bragged about the beauty of his city and his life of freedom. There was nothing to look at. The buildings were square boxes with no signs, no colors. The buildings looked as if one person had drawn all of them. Without freedom everything looks the same.
After an hour on the bus, we stopped at a red marble monument that stood at the gateway to Treptower cemetery.
The student gathered us together and said, “Here lies the bodies of 5,000 Russian soldiers that died freeing Berlin from the Fascists and saving it from the American Imperialists.
As we tourists walked into the cemetery, I drifted over to East German student.
“You have been speaking about your freedoms but what about the Wall?” I asked.
He smiled broadly as if he had been waiting for this question, “The Wall is what protects my freedoms.”
I did not understand what he meant.
He surmised my confusion, “You see, the Wall is what keeps the West out and they would take away my freedom.”
He walked on and I drifted into the cemetery with my friends.
I saw that a lie had become a truth. Lies (the wall) create chain reactions; they do not sit in isolation but they grow more lies (American Imperialists) that replace old truths (freedom) with new truths.
Clearly, the Imperialist Americans, the soldiers patrolling empty buildings, the empty streets and the uniform look of all the buildings were based on lies.
I had forgotten this story for years until today.
My last memory was when we walked past two bright red 40-foot-tall marble portals into Treptower Cemetery. This is the only color I remember seeing that Sunday that I wasn’t wearing.
Kevin Anthony is the director of the Institute of Ethics, Law and Public Policy at College of the Canyons.