West Berlin was our first destination on the epic trip of ’78. We drove there via the Bundesautobahn 24 through East Germany – one of the few access roads that crossed the border.
One of our party had gone AWOL at that point and it was just me and my friend Robyn. In retrospect, this seems fairly adventurous; I was 24 and she was only 21 but, as I recall we weren’t too fazed. In fact, we stopped to make a cup of tea on the side of the road (not realising that stopping was completely verboten) and the military police were called to deal with the situation. We were quite put out and asked if we could at least finish our tea!
Berlin was fascinating then (as it is now) and it wasn’t really clear to me until I got there that the wall didn’t divide the city, it encircled West Berlin. We pitched our tent in a camping ground beside the wall and swam in a lake with a guard tower in the middle of it.
We went over to East Berlin through Checkpoint Charlie, very strange to see that side of the city still had bombed out buildings.
Berlin has taken such a beating but the Berliners are incredibly helpful and hospitable, and these days young people are flocking to Berlin because it’s cool and many have a fascination for the history – especially since border walls are apparently in vogue again.
The irony of the Berlin Wall was that East Germany wasted resources and funds trying to prevent people leaving, instead of trying to make the country a better place to live.