This story was of particular interest to me because I traveled to Berlin in 1971 with my brother and parents. I was all of 15 at the time, never having been on an airplane and heading to Europe to camp for 2 1/2 months. Our first stop was in Berlin to visit our German "brother" who had spent a year living with us as an exchange student. To show their gratitude for hosting their son for one year, his family lent us their car and trailer for our adventure.
Before heading out, we spent some time in the city with them. I'll never forget seeing Checkpoint Charlie for the first time and peering across the border from West Berlin into East Berlin. We were on a tour bus. (the only way to enter at that time) The stark contrast from West to East was eerie. Parts of the wall had been built with sections of houses, the tattered curtains still hung in the windows. The armed soldiers boarded our bus and marched us off while they searched it. They drove us to all the "best" parts of the city....however, they could best be described as cold, gray and vacant. The utter lack of human beings, cars or anything you might imagine to see was missing. A very strange trip for all of us, and frankly, I was glad to be back in West Berlin, walking down the impossibly named Kurfurstendamm...so cosmopolitan and chic.
As we drove through what was then East Germany, a country still divided, our West Berliner friends cautioned us to drive straight through and not exit the autobahn until we reached West Germany. It felt strange to leave them in their "Island" of freedom as we headed out to explore the rest of Europe.