East Berlin: it always seemed a few degrees colder…
Having been brought up at a seaside resort in Somerset, Berlin was a long way away and all the goings-on not part of my youth, despite political awareness. UDI in Rhodesia seemed far more relevant than a wall being erected. Although I had been learning German at school up to A-levels, the political reality did not start dawning until I started university with German as part of the Business Studies course. We only studied the Second World War and a year in Saarbrücken did not change matters much, Berlin was far away still and the 1969 elections with an NPD rally in 1920’s beer hall atmosphere again more important.
Finally, in 1971 my (German) wife and I returned to Germany to work. I was in Berlin for the first time that autumn on business and was already fascinated by the atmosphere and sense of being walled in, despite a boat trip on the Wannsee. It was not until 1980 when I started regular business strips to Berlin, working for a small family business here but out of the Munich office. I lived near Riem airport in Munich and the factory was near Tegel airport, so it was easy to fly in and out for a full day’s work. For several years, Berlin remained just somewhere like Hamburg or Paris, somewhere I went on business without seeing the real place. Airports, hotels, restaurants, taxis, that was it.
1985 we moved then to Berlin; I managed to find a largish flat in Charlottenburg for the same rent I had been paying outside Munich for a house. Recently separated, it was me and my 4 children from 1 – 9 years old, so Berlin has always been their home. Actually living here was quite different, but the old West Berlin offered so much in the way of leisure activities and the multi-kulti aspects were great for the kids as dual-nationals. I began to understand Berlin and we made a point of driving down to Munich at least once a year, so that they could realise how far away we were from the border. We only went to East Berlin a few times; it always seemed a few degrees colder there and the frisking at Checkpoint Charlie made you feel like a criminal. A great attraction of living and working in Berlin was financial, as I soon realised. 8% extra wages, tax free, 50DM per child monthly on top, I was probably netting at least 25% more here than I had been in Munich. Unfortunately not to last. However the wall coming down was probably the only historic moment I will have experienced closely. I had been out to dinner with English customers that evening and brought them back to the hotel quite late. It was amazing to see the crowds without knowing why. I had to fly to Munich the next day, as usual on the early plane so did not know what had happened until I read about it on the plane! I missed the evening plane back and of course all the flights the next day were pretty full!
After 10 years in the “Speckgürtel” with house and garden, I moved back to flat in Berlin 7 years ago and still find it a great place to be.
James M. Heal
Retired Marketing Manager