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Cape Fear Voices/The Teen Scene

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A Visit to Reality

A+Visit+to+Reality
Dan Dodge

Hitler, Communism, and World War II were certainly interesting subjects for copious study and speculation throughout my school years, but the dark reality of their meaning became eerily apparent on a business trip to Berlin, Germany in 1988.  My German business partner and I decided that a break from our arduous business schedule was in order. He suggested a visit to the other side of Berlin. The weather that day was typical for Germany in late October, dark overcast skies, off and on rain, and piercing wet cold.  The kind of cold that bites into you and makes you long for a blazing fire and something warm to drink.

My partner dropped me off at Check Point Charlie and then drove off to the gate he was required to use to enter East Berlin from the West.  This was the beginning of the knots that began to grow deep inside my stomach.  I entered the beginning of the checkpoint and felt as though I was a character in one of those old black and white spy movies.  The two guards leered at me from their tall counter and then they spit commands to me in their regional, guttural accents requesting my passport and the reason for my visit.  I carefully slid the passport across to them and, as I nervously stood there, each one of them looked at the passport and then back at me multiple times. This particular aspect of my entry seemed, at the time, to go on forever, but reality tells me it was only a few moments.  I feel sure that this intimidation tactic was used on many American tourists and I am confident these men derived great pleasure from the entire exercise.   Just when I thought my heart might beat through my chest wall, they finally returned my passport and sent me down the hall to be briefed by the military on the rules and regulations that would dictate everything I did and said during my visit to the East. One of the guards then opened the door and as I stood outside, every one of my senses was impacted by the starkness of my new surroundings.

Although my partner and I were only in East Berlin for a few hours, my mind and my soul will never let me forget the sights, the sounds, and the emotions I felt that day.  The glaring differences between each side of the same city were shocking.  One side old and gloomy and the other modern and vibrant. A bustling, colorful metropolis. Here there were no fancy shops filled with brightly colored wares or laughter filled beer gardens.  The buildings all around us seemed gray and all were in need of repair.  The changing of the Russian guards at the Brandenburg Gate brought a chill to my very core.  They wore bright crimson uniforms with mink-trimmed hats. Each one marched with straight legs and expressionless faces.

I breathed a sigh of relief when I returned to the West at the end of our visit that day and paused to whisper a prayer of thankfulness for our safe return, for the opportunity to understand the sacrifices that are continually made in the name of freedom, for equality and acceptance for all God’s people and for the world to live in safety and peace.

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About the Contributor
Karen Phillips Smith, Contributing Writer
Karen Phillips Smith is a contributing writer for Cape Fear Voices. She resides in Wilmington, NC.