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Attending IAAF World Championships, Just A Dream Months Ago
By Steve Ritchie
August 5, 2009

SILVERTON - Attending the IAAF World Championships in Track & Field in Berlin seemed like a dream a few months ago, but it will be a reality soon. Having acquired media accreditation, thanks to the backing of Jim Day at the Statesman Journal, I made the decision to go in June and have been able to pick up a few freelance jobs, covering mainly Oregon athletes.

Berlin was a destination for me 34 years ago.  It was the winter of 1975, and I was living in Munich, an erstwhile high school teacher for the U.S. Army and carefree vagabond studying German at the University.  My friend and I decided to drive from Munich to West Berlin for a week, thinking if we stayed on the Autobahn we would be all right going through East German territory. It probably was not the smartest decision I ever made, especially since I had a US Army identification card. We were stopped at the East German border and interrogated briefly in a tiny office in the guard station.  Released by the East Germans with a severe warning, we returned to the closest town in West Germany, spent the night, and then hopped a train for Berlin the next morning. No incidents on the train, which, of course, did not stop until it reached the West Berlin train station.

The history of Berlin, even the recent past, was hidden at that time, submerged under the intensity and weight of the Cold War. One could say Berlin was the epicenter of the Cold War. Where else did Communist and Capitalist society exist side by side, so close they could watch each other through the barbed wire?

I spent most of my time there walking the streets, trying to feel what it was like to live in an island city like West Berlin, surrounded on all sides by a hostile country. My second day in the city I went through Checkpoint Charlie to East Berlin, completely amazed at how easy it was for me as a tourist to move through the heavily-fortified gate. I felt like someone in a John LeCarre novel. It was totally exhilarating.

Checkpoint Charlie, 1970s

East Berlin felt remote, closed off, almost deserted on a November Sunday. I visited museums, looked at massive concrete buildings, and wandered. In contrast to the vibrant night life in the Western part of the city, there was not much happening here. I finally ended up in a nightclub of sorts. The young lady checking coats and hats struck up a conversation with me, and when she went on break we continued to chat. She invited me to return in two days and go to a play with her and a group of her friends. I accepted gladly.

I returned two days later, again through Checkpoint Charlie, and was reminded there that I had to be back on West Berlin soil by 12 midnight. The evening turned out to be very stimulating. After the play, I went with the rest of the group for coffee and tried to defend our political and economic system against some fairly pointed attacks by my new friends. The discussion grew heated and I lost track of time. It was approaching 12 by the time I reached the subway stop and after 12 when I reached West Berlin. I have to admit to a big sigh of relief when they waved me through.

This is my first trip back to Berlin since 1975. I will go to Checkpoint Charlie again and wander the streets again. I doubt that I will recognize the city at all.


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