Friday, November 06, 2009

And yet more Berlin Wall . . .

Photograph by Dr. Friedhelm Pedde

In response to my posting of the Fall of the Berlin Wall article by my cousin Dr. Friedhelm Pedde, I got a very nice personal account of a visit to Berlin long ago from an old friend, Paul Miniato. With his permission, I am posting it below. If any other Atavist reader has similar stories, please send them along and I will post them.

Here is Paul Miniato's account of his visit to Berlin:

In the summer of 1972 I visited Germany on a university exchange program -- I had a job as a waiter at the a hotel in Schwangau in the south of the country. As a 21-year-old student, the job helped me practice the German I had been learning at UVic.

As a new 'libertarian' -- but one who had never met another in person -- I was constantly on the lookout for opportunities to discuss the politics of freedom. Some of my earliest discussions took place with the guests of the Hotel. The first self-avowed libertarian I ever met was a US serviceman stationed in Nuernburg -- when we met, he took me to the windswept deserted stadium that had hosted Hitler's rallies, but that's another story.

At the end of the summer, we students assembled again for a three-day trip to Berlin. My visit to the Wall turned out to be one of those days that I never forgot. During the day we visited a "museum of escapes" that documented many of the successful attempts that had been made to get over, under or otherwise through the wall. I remember one exhibit showing a van which had been "armoured" to make a run through a checkpoint -- body cavities filled with concrete, windows replaced by sheet metal plates filled with drill holes. (They made it -- with some casualties I think -- but after that the checkpoints were littered with tank stops to prevent future trips like theirs.)

Late in the day, I found myself on an observation deck that had been built on the west side of the wall to allow you to look over. There we could see the sites your cousin has photographed, only the dogs were still running and the guards still patrolling. On that platform was a former East German guard who had made the escape -- we spent much of the evening into the wee hours listening to his accounts of the life of the guards. I also learned that the former guards were actually the sponsor of the museum of escapes.

By that time, most of the escapees past the wall itself were the guards themselves, usually in pairs. Apart from everything else to stop the regular fugitive, the guards had special instructions. They were rotated constantly so that two guards never served more than once together. Each of them was under orders to shoot the other should they attempt to go over. Even broaching the subject would be cause for instant arrest. Failure to stop your partner would be a serious offense, if not a capital one. Still, an amazing number of guards were able to suss each other out in a few short hours, and make the break together.

It was an evening that had quite an effect on me -- I can still feel the electric atmosphere as we stood in the dark and stared over the concrete and listened to these stories.

The following day, some of us actually went over into East Berlin. I was with a group of three who spent hours having our passports checked before we were allowed to enter. After the night before, it was a daunting crossing, but I guess we figured that as Canadians we were "off limits". And I remember the feeling of how gray it was in East Berlin, and seeing all the still-unrepaired ruins from WW2 -- none of those on the West by '72. I was struck by how all the pedestrians stopped and stood for a red light at a crossing on a relatively narrow street -- when there was not a vehicle in sight in any direction. And we couldn't even buy an orange or a banana -- as students, we'd lived on fruit stands in the West.

Coming back at the end of the day, I wanted to bring back some East German coins. Technically this was illegal -- you were supposed to spend or return the currency you were forced to convert at lousy rates upon entry. So I stuffed the coins into my shoe. A minor crime, I'm sure -- but as a young student I was nervous enough -- and as the truth be told, it probably wasn't the smartest thing I ever did. Still, I didn't give myself away and "smuggled" out the contraband.

That was the last time I saw the Wall, although we have a small piece of it in a leather bag here at home. Bought it when it came down. The Wall always symbolized for me the true meaning of freedom -- or rather its absence. I must have mentioned it often enough. When it finally came down, a friend of mine called me from overseas to congratulate me. (Not that I had a lot to do with it -- although I always like to think that helping ISIL send copies of books by Rothbard, Mises, Hayek and Rand behind the Iron Curtain had played some small role.)

It's on my list to revisit Berlin some day. Perhaps that old observation platform is still there and I can stand on it and watch the kids from both "sides" playing in the old "death strip".

In freedom,



  1. What an exceptional series!
    I hope we won't see such walls to keep the plebes subservient go up along America's borders along with "leave your money and belongings behind" expatriation policies, but with Sena-traitor Pelosi's death-of-freedom-care bill passed by the House and on its way back to the Senate, I'm not sure.
    The collective memory of a society is short, especially when most of it can't read.

  2. Not sure how I forgot this, but when our second son was born a short while after the fall of the Wall, we gave him his second name in honour of the event: "Freeman".

    Paul Miniato