Potsdam, Again

July, 2013

Berlin -- Traveling through Potsdam yesterday brought back memories of an exhilarating time.

In the winter of 1989-90, Annette, Verity (age 7) and I went to the edge of West Berlin on a Sunday and walked over the Glieneke Bridge into what was still East Germany. The Berlin Wall had fallen in the sense that people were free to pass through it in some locations. We didn't know if the Glieneke Bridge (the scene of several prisoner and spy exchanges) was one of them. We showed our papers and walked past the East German guards at the end of the bridge and into Potsdam.

We saw no one for several blocks, then encountered a solitary pedestrian. Annette approached him to change money; he motioned to us to go into a back alley where no one could see the transaction. We struck up a conversation. He was a locksmith and lived with his wife and daughter nearby. He invited us for Kaffee und Kuchen. After a half hour in his tiny apartment, during which he explained his being out of favor with the local communist party, he asked if we wanted to see Cecilienhof, the site of the famous Potsdam Conference. Another of his daughters worked there.

We walked for thirty minutes through baroque palace ruins from the time of the Kaisers to the English-style palace where Churchill, Stalin, and Truman met in July of 1945 to decide the fate of Europe for the coming decades. Few westerners had seen the site for many years.

On the way back to his apartment, the locksmith asked me a strange question: he asked permission to touch me, on my shoulder. He explained that he had never before seen an American, let alone touch one.