- Posted January 10, 2013 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
VW camper van memories
Road Trip to Berlin for the Roger Waters show The Wall
I saw a 1972 Westphalia with a for sale sign on it at the PX in Heidelberg, took out my first loan and took my first road trip in it 6 months later. I had been stationed only 3 months in Germany when the wall in Berlin fell.
Roger Waters announced he was bring The Wall to Berlin. I bought my ticket immediately and put in for my leave papers.
Even though the wall had come down, the travel restrictions had not caught up with current events. GIs still had to travel North from Heidelberg to check point alpha, the only way into East Germany by car or bus, have your papers stamped by the GI on duty and travel ONLY down the Helmstadt autobahn to check point bravo, which was in Russian controlled East Germany then on to the famous check point Charlie in Berlin. This is important for later.
So, 2 other Army buddies and a wife packed up my bus around 2 am and we set off on the best road trip I’ve ever taken. I had been to Berlin once before to visit a buddy of mine and knew the drill. I headed toward Helmstadt autobahn, hours out of our way. Then a mutiny ensued. They were all convinced we could just cut straight through and head North East to Berlin. I hadn’t read anything in the Stars and Stripes about the easing of travel restrictions so I said no way. They finally convinced me to try even though we would need to back track quite a way to hit the connecting autobahn.
5 hours later, as the sun was coming up, we arrived at a gate into the East and there was no one there. No guards, nothing. So I figured what the hell. We drove onward. We were on a crappy road full of Trabants and EVERYONE was staring at us as we drove along. A bright blue camper bus with USA plates in a part of Germany off limits to Westerners since 1961. We stopped for gas and I decided to let my buddy Spear drive. Yeah we went by last names. I was awakened by a shove on the shoulder a little while later. We were stopped on the medium of a 2 lane road in rush hour traffic. “Were being pulled over by the Russians.” Spear said.
A Russian general and an officer appeared at my driver’s side window and were really really pissed off. We didn’t speak Russian so Spear in a panicked voice asked if they spoke German. The Russian pulled his hand back like he wanted to smack Spear but the officer grabbed his hand. They walked back to their jeep. We waited, they drove off. So we continued on since we were already halfway there. No doubt about it, I had a bad feeling.
We arrived in Berlin and went to the last checkpoint before West Berlin. I pulled up to the Russian guard and he asked for our papers. “I don’t have any.” “Oh, this is a problem.” He said. “Pull over here” He pointed to 3 other vehicles on the medium. We sat there and I said, “Told ya so!” We were in sight of the American part of the checkpoint building and all I thought was, “Damn we almost made it, were in deep shit now.”
He came back and directed us to the American checkpoint. We went in and they basically asked us why did you cut through. We said we thought the travel restrictions were lifted, there was no one at the gate. “Your here for the concert then?” “Yes sir!” We were about the 14th vehicle to do the same thing that day. Turns out the Russians abandoned their posts on the border that day because they didn’t get paid.
The concert was a once in a lifetime experience. I won’t go into details since this is a story about a road trip and it’s only halfway done.
After the show we headed back. It was dark and we were lost. We drove down a street and noticed 2 GIs walking with sort sleeve shirts and looking really out of place. It was very cold that night and thewre wasn’t a train station anywhere around this part of the city. We slowed down and asked them what was up. They were as lost as we were. They missed the last train back to their post and were freezing. Good thing I had a bus with room for 2 more. I agreed to take them back to their post several hours away.
They evidently just jumped on a train and bought a scalped ticket. Wow were they lucky we found them not only because it was freezing but they needed to be back in formation at 06:30. We had plenty of time, so I thought.
We finally found our way to the checkpoint and decide to do things nice and legal this time. I parked the bus and went into the checkpoint. It was a drab wood paneled room with a portrait of Gorbechev on one wall and bank teller type of set up on the other with a one way mirror with a slot for me to slip my papers under. I got them stamped and headed back to the bus. I woke up my other Army buddy, Bieler, and told him it was his turn to drive.
The check points are kinda confusing the way they are set up, kinda like a frontage road. I think that’s why I woke up 6 hours later and noticed we were headed BACK to Berlin but from the East this time. The sun was coming up and we realized Bieler had headed East instead of West. He said he saw a sign that said he saw a sign that said Frankfurt and took the highway. Evidently there is a Frankfurt on the Polish/German border and he was half asleep when I woke him up facing the wrong direction. We were in deep trouble if we got pulled over this deep in the East. We were outside of Berlin in a bright blue VW bus with USA plates in a godforsaken cold war stricken slum that looked like it was out of the middle ages. I saw women pulling carts of straw down cobbled stone streets, no color at all, no advertising, buildings falling apart and just a general malaise fell over me as we headed back to Berlin. We went through a yellow light and were promptly pulled over by the East German polizei. He insisted that we ran a red light, we didn’t but also didn’t argue. He suggested that we pay him on the spot. We agreed and took up a collection and made it back to Berlin. We stopped on the side of the road on the way out of East Germany and the bus refused to start.
We decided to push start it and failed.Then out of no where,comes the East German version of AAA they were actually driving a tractor.They jumped us and we were on our way. We ended up needing another jump at the next rest stop as well. Turns out it was a loose starter wire. We finally arrived at the post for our new found friends but they were 3 hours late for formation.
After dropping them off we made our way back to our post.
Several months later, we read in the Stars and Stripes that the 2 guys we picked up were charged with going AWOL and kicked out of the Army.
Last year, I found out where Roger Waters was flying out of at Love Field here in Dallas. I took the ticket from the Berlin show with me. I actually got him to sign it and it is now a framed reminder of the best road trip I ever took.