My Experience at Checkpoint Charlie
Since there are numerous mentions of the anniversary of the Berlin wall I thought I’d share my experiences. In 1961 I was an exchange student in Paris and decided to go to see the wall for myself. (Berlin in December was the coldest I have ever been.)
Passing through Checkpoint Charlie I entered Communist territory for the first time. It was as I’d expected: the universal hopeless shabbiness of the city and the people. I spoke with as many as I could. No one criticized the regime, of course. One old man said, gratefully, “Sie geben uns alles was wir brauchen.” (They give us everything we need.) I maliciously asked another man where THEIR Kurfürstendamm, the Fifth Avenue of West Berlin, was. He replied, abashed, “Well, we don’t have anything EXACTLY like that.”
I visited a few bookstores, noting the endless shelves of works by Marx, Lenin, and the then East German leader, Ulbricht. I was hoping that they might have Mises’s Socialism, misled by the title, but they weren’t fools—they knew their enemy. I had a crummy lunch at one of their elite restaurants, and decided to go back. Still on East German soil I encountered a soldier.
Idiot that I was—I could have been detained for trying to subvert their military—I looked him in the face and said, “Komm mit.” (Come along.) He replied, “Kann nicht.” (I can’t.) I sauntered back past Checkpoint Charlie, feeling a burden lifting from my shoulders, and went home.