It was an off-hand question, but one loaded with fear and tension. As the East German border guard flipped through Norbert Konrad’s passport, he asked, “Isn’t this the same type of car one man used to get through the barriers?” Konrad answered that he didn’t know. But he was lying. A little Austin-Healey Sprite had already slipped past the Iron Curtain once. A Sprite would do so again.
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Was fortunate enough to cross from West Berlin to East Berlin through Check Point Charlie in 1971 in uniform as a United States Army soldier. Anyone who doesn't understand the concept of "freedom" should have walked with me that day. Great story about that little Sprite and the 5 people who will never forget it.
While in the Air Force and stationed in France, I visited Berlin, Germany in April 1963. That was something to remember. Not only did I see the famous Berlin Wall, I actually passed through Check-point Charley and visited a Russian and American WWII cemetery on the other side of the wall. Returning to France I purchased a new 1963 Triumph Spitfire MkI in Paris for about $1,800.
PS- Thanks for the picture of Check-point Charley, I'll add that to my collection from that period. Great story.
Loved this story, which reminded me of my own less-frightening adventure. After grad school in fall of 1971, wife Kathy and I did a tour of Europe in a rented Renault R-4. We drove from the West thru East Germany on a controlled road at least 50 miles into Berlin; there were guard towers everywhere and I couldn't clearly decipher the names of the exits. I was scared to death of having a breakdown or taking the wrong exit. We arrived and found my college architect friend, who hosted us for a couple days; turns out that she was a card-carrying member of the Communist Party. There is more to the story, but I'll just say that we drove out thru the same controlled road w/o incident. Drove that little R-4 all over Germany, Switzerland, France and Scandinavia for 10 wks...all for about $400.
A friend of mine was in the US Army in the late 1950's stationed as military police, on the road to West Berlin, so the road was fenced in since it was through East Germany (this, before the formal wall was built). He says they would be stationed at a spot to guard the fence, and there'd be East German soldiers on the other side of the fence. Sometimes there'd be small gates. Sometimes East German soldiers would come through just for a smoke and a visit. He told me one East German soldier (who could not regularly get cigarettes) bummed a smoke, which was proffered, so lacking several hands - he just handed off his military rifle for my American friend to "please hold" while he smoked! My pal says he just examined the rifle, and was in total shock, handed it back after the friendly encounter and the East German guard had to get back to work - on HIS side of the fence.
It is stories such as this one that make me so very happy to be a part of the Hagerty community. A unique and compelling car-life story. Where else but at Hagerty.com?? Thank you, Brendan!
@Murat, "It is so sad young americans today have no idea"...
Quite the opposite, we should be proud that young Americans haven't had to deal with foolishness such as that. On the other hand, what most young Americans experience in today's world is all too shameful. Us, from the older generations would be ill-equipped to deal with their world.
Thanks for this posting. I have forwarded it to my own children, now in their thirties. It is a stark reminder of just how oppressive communist governments are, and how desperate people were to escape from their grip. We all need to be reminded of this in today's world. Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
This reminds me of my own experience, in 1967 .In Budapest, Hungary I was staying at a campsite right in town. Most of the other campers were Soviets, with their little Russian cars. A very little old lady asked me to hide her in the luggage compartment of my sidecar, and take her out to Austria. I diplomatically turned her down, with a lot of smiles. Thank goodness, because on the way to the border we were suddenly stopped by a squad of what appeared to be Russian soldiers. In the middle of nowhere. They made my wife get out of the sidecar, and searched it thouroughly. Had that little old lady been stashed in the back, behind the seat, I think we would have been in a big jam, Gerald
This was a great story and brought back lots of memories. I spent 18 months stationed in West Berlin (Army, 1963 to 1965) so I saw lots of similar stories of people trying to escape from the East. We were allowed to visit East Berlin with a special pass and I did so on two occasions. As someone below pointed out, until you have experienced Communism first hand, you don't have a clue what the reality is. One of our main missions was to travel by convoy back and forth through East Germany from Checkpoint Bravo (South Berlin) to Checkpoint Alpha (West Germany) on the autobahn. This was to exercise our right to use the autobahn per the Four Power Agreement from WWII. Today's anarchists should travel to communist countries to see what it is they are advocating for.
I was working on an oceanographic research vessel in 1965 and we put into Bremerhaven around Christmastime. Friends and I rented a VW Beetle and drove through W Germany, into E Germany and into W Berlin. We then went through Checkpoint Charlie into E Berlin (probably shouldn't have done that as our mission was classified and I had a Top Secret clearance). The contrast between the 2 Berlins was striking. While W Berlin seemed prosperous and nicely recovering from WW2, E Berlin looked like the war ended maybe the previous week. So much for Communism.
8/16/61 I was stationed at Ft. Lewis with the 4th I D we went on full alert
Getting ready to ship the whole division to Germany
I was a young shoulder “E4” who had joined the US Army to get an education on the G I Bill
This was a wakeup call someone wanted to kill me
Being in the Army was MORE then a paycheck and getting the G I Bill
The alert was canceled after three days
While studying in West Germany in the latter 1970s I went through Checkpoint Charlie.
I've wanted to go back to Berlin since reunification but that doesn't appear possible.
I hold a special place in my heart for the employees of the German educational organization that made my arrangements and all the warmth and help I received. I still keep listening for the news from Germany and great respect for the many accomplishments I've witnessed there in my lifetime!