Being walled in and surrounded by hostile Soviet and East German troops was enough to give a person living in Berlin in the ‘60s an abiding sense of the surreal. Riding on the Underground and passing sealed stations patrolled by armed guards only magnified this other-worldly sensation.
Mike McCurry’s German girlfriend, Heidi – from my novel McCurry’s War – gives an interesting perspective on this experience:
On an excursion to sites of interest, Heidi tells Mike she wants to show him another of the uncomfortable ramifications of living in a divided city.
She took him a few blocks away to a U-Bahn, or subway, station. After paying their fares, they boarded a line that took them into and through a portion of East Berlin. Stations located in the eastern sector, including the Potsdamer Platz stop, were sealed and patrolled by the armed vopos. These stations became known as Geisterbahnhof, or ghost stations.
“Now watch,” Heidi said to McCurry as the train began to slow. “The Potsdamer Platz stop is coming up.”
The train slowed significantly as the station came into view. Although the lighting was muted, McCurry could clearly see the armed guards leaning against a wall and smoking cigarettes as the train passed by.
As they passed by Potsdamer Platz, Mike remembered that ASA members were prohibited from riding the U-Bahn lines that ran through East Germany. If a train broke down in the portion running through the East, passengers were required to wait for the arrival of East Berlin border guards to escort them off. Unless he was wearing a big sign saying ASA, he figured these guards could care less who or what he was. He just hoped that if he were really being followed, his tail hadn’t boarded the train with him.
Being followed wasn’t uncommon for Army Security Agency personnel stationed in Berlin, so a sense of paranoia just added to the surrealism of the day.