Last week I had the pleasure to meet a gentleman who had served in the British Army and was stationed for some time in Berlin in the 1970s. A time when Berlin was still divided by a wall heavily guarded. A time where the Reichstag was in West-Germany and the Brandenburger Tor in the East-Germany, separated but at the same time incredibly close to each other. A time I find hard to grasp with my imagination and which somehow is settled in my memory more like a sad fairytale my parents used to tell.
This gentleman was “on the wire” which mean he had to guard the western side of the wall. Sadly, he witnessed one GDR citizen being shot during an attempt to cross over to the West. “I would have fired back the moment he touched Western soil”, he said, “but that poor bloke went down before he could reach the western side so we could not act.”
How weird is it to be a soldier acting on commands? This gentlemen knew he witnessed something wrong but he could not act on it. Maybe that was good, as firing back might have caused an international incident. But still… are there objectives worthwhile to see someone die even if you could prevent it?
The gentleman had yet another story to tell. He and his pals occasionally used to climb the back then abandoned Reichstag, armed with glass marbles and catapults made from sticks, rubber band, and a wee piece of leather. He told me: “You could see the Brandenburger Tor and the East-German guards in front of it with their big typical helmets.”
“We used to shoot them with our marbles and they never could figure out what had hit them and from where…” He laughed.
What a weird time where you could shoot back only with glass marbles…