Into East Germany

In 1985 I lived in Germany for five weeks.  This was part of an exchange program (of sorts) that took one or two high-school students from each US state.  Four with a host family, the Gschwendtners, in Nurnberg. Then for the final week we went and toured West Berlin.

The trick is that to go there, we took a train, which necessarily involved traveling through East Germany.

At the border the train stopped to be inspected. Several East German guards came aboard to check everyone’s passports. Steeped in cold war rhetoric as we were, we were (at least most of us) utterly petrified by these nine-foot-tall, trench-coated, gun-toting Communist monsters.

I was 18. The guy sitting next to me was a 16-year-old sophomore. And as such, he didn’t qualify as an adult under East Germany’s border-crossing rules – so the guard arbitrarily assigned him to me.

Thus I have a visa stamped in my old passport indicating that at this tender age, I crossed into East Germany “mit einem Kind” (with one child).

Did the guard wink at this notion? I’ll never know for sure, but that’s how I remember it.