Welcome to East Berlin

I received an invitation to go to Germany and go behind the iron curtain to share my faith with the persecuted church. I had never been to a country where freedom had been taken away. I wasn’t prepared for what we faced.

We flew into West Berlin, got off the plane and got our luggage. It looked pretty much like an airport in the west. The facilities were up to date and the buildings seemed well maintained. As we drove through West Berlin, the thought came to me that this looks just like downtown Kansas City or Indianapolis or any other American city. The lights of the business signs were shining brightly just like the U.S. There was a lot of movement on the streets, people shopping and partying.

We stayed over night in an apartment provided by some people that my travel partner knew. A young German couple who were very friendly and accommodating. We had a wonderful time with them, sharing our upbringings with them and they did with us.

The next day we just hung out in West Berlin waiting for the time we would cross over into East Berlin. What I didn’t know and I’m glad I didn’t is our trip was based on a single letter that David, my partner had gotten from someone behind the Iron Curtain telling him that someone would meet him one block into East Berlin just around a corner. The people there were used to this kind of thing. They had to, for the most part, keep their faith a secret.

They had put a time and date and a location in the letter and it was smuggled out of the East. We had to operate by total faith in this letter. The time in the letter was late at night so we just hung around until it was time. The couple we stayed with dropped us off about a block from where we were going to enter the East and drove away. This was where the feelings of abandonment started. I said to myself, this is not happening to me, what am I doing here?

David had pretty much kept things a secret. I didn’t know anything. He let me know what I needed at the time. As we were walking, he told me that we were about to go through the infamous border crossing named “Checkpoint Charlie” and gave me some instructions on what to do and what not to do. David did all the talking and I just followed his lead.

Now it is hard to relate to this kind of bondage because the wall has been down for many years, but at that time it was ominous to say the least.

When we walked into the hut like structure, the first thing I noticed was the simplicity of the whole thing. It was one room with two guards in it. They were dressed in military uniforms and around maybe 45 to 50 years old. I remember the guards being very unfriendly and looking at us like they could see right through us. I was very nervous. When they ask David for his passport and visa he gave it to them with confidence and talked with them in English. Their English was broken, but I got the idea they knew exactly what we were saying.

This was all new to me so I just followed what David did. They asked me my profession and I said teacher, which David instructed me to say. He had told me walking up to the door, “don’t mention that we’re pastors because they will give us a hard time. I felt like these two guards knew exactly who we were and why we were there.

They looked at my passport, looked at me to see if the pictures matched then looked at my visa and stamped them. This process took about two to three minutes I’m guessing but felt like a very long time. I was kind of in a daze. I don’t know if it was jet lag from the travel or if the whole thing was so surreal that it just caught me off guard but I didn’t move right away after it was over. I heard David say, “Let’s go” and I followed him out the door, carrying my two suitcases, and walked into the night of East Berlin.

It was literally like going back in time forty years. The buildings were all gray in color and the streetlights were dim. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I felt like running back through the border crossing. We walked down the street and turned right on the first street. There was a car sitting along the street with the motor running. The driver got out of the car and took our suitcases putting them in the trunk without saying a word. I once again just followed.

The driver was a tall man with older clothes. His hair stuck up in the back like he had just gotten out of bed. I got in the back seat and David in the front with the driver. We didn’t say a word until we started moving. The driver asks, “Are you David?” and I thought, that would be something you would want to know before you put us in your car. David replied, "yes". “I’m Peter”, said the driver with a big smile, “welcome to East Berlin!”