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The ‘Spy’ Who Came In From The Cold, Berlin 1977 – OpEd

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In 1977, your writer attended a two-month international technical training program organised by Carl Duisberg GMBH in West Berlin with a United Nations scholarship. I flew Ankara Istanbul, Munich by THY. Then I waited for ten hours in Munich airport for the Berlin PanAm plane. I arrived at Berlin Tegel airport in the middle of the night.

Today Tegel airport is closed. The newly built Berlin Brandenburg Willy Brandt international airport is opened, other airports are closed. The nearby Schoenefeld airport has been added to the Brandenburg airport.

Mechanical engineers at my age from all over the world came to the program. We were studying industrial engineering. They gave numerous lecture notes compiled from technical handbooks. We were staying in the institution building at the center of Berlin, having three meals in the same place and taking lessons in the same place.

Our German guides took us around West Berlin. They took us to the famous Berlin wall. There was a mined area, barbed wire, armed soldiers after the wall in front of us. We were trying to get on the platforms and see the the other side. West Germans could not cross east Berlin. They could come from West Germany via a tightly secured highway or train. There was also an airline and only planes belonging to the occupation forces could operate. PanAm, AirFrance and British Airways.

I asked our German guide who hosted us, if it was possible to cross the wall and visit East Berlin? Citizens of countries that have diplomatic relations with East Germany could show their passports and go to East Germany for a day. We could either go on foot through the “Check-point Charlie” gate then walk, or we could enter via the S-bahn from a single subway station in central East Berlin. Turkey was one of the countries that recognize East Germany. Turkish workers were arriving with their families from Istanbul to Schönefeld airport with a nonstop connection by East Germany or AeroFlot Russian aircraft, from there, they were traveling first to the center and then to West Berlin. There was no need for the long connecting flight I made.

I took my passport with me one Sunday morning. I took the S-Bahn train. The train entered from one side of eastern Berlin under the wall, stopped at the HauptBahnhof station, then exited from the other side. I got off at the station, got into a long passport queue, exchanged 50 DM for 50 East German marks. Under the gaze of bad and skeptical East German passport officers, I went through passport control, hand body search. I went out. Suddenly I found myself in the middle of the city of East Berlin.

Were the Stasi agents of the East German secret service following me as I walked? I felt like I was in the 1965 film “The Spy who came in from the Cold” starring Richard Burton. You came to East Berlin, where would you go? I wanted to visit the Pergamon museum, which I was most curious about. I arrived at the Pergamon museum after asking on the way. The Pergamon temple stood inside in all its glory. When the Russians conquered Berlin, they did not touch the Pergamon temple. It was slightly affected by the air bombardment, but the main building was sculptures, frescoes. In return for the railway construction in late Ottoman period, the ancient building was dismantled, moved from Pergamon to Berlin by wagons and rebuilt into a large museum building. My whole day was spent in the museum, I bought children’s books for my son from the museum gift shop with 50 German marks in my hand. I spent it all. In the evening, I went through passport control from the same s-bahn station. I took the S-bahn train, I passed to West Berlin. In West Berlin, nobody inspected me, nobody checked my passport.

The next day Monday, I told my German guide that I went to East Berlin on Sunday, visited the Pergamon museum and took many photos. It was a dream for him to make my trip. The Berlin Wall collapsed after 12 years, the mined land was cleared, and the destroyed historical buildings were rebuilt. Old buildings were repaired and renewed.

Enlargement work still continues in the Pergamon museum. It is not possible to see the Pergamon temple yet. The bid hall place is closed. It is said to be opened within next 1-2 years, but the restoration work is carried out meticulously. There is no rush. During the Covid-19 process, tourist arrivals decreased, and museum visits decreased.

In the last week of the program, we took a bus, toured major West German cities. Then everyone returned to their hometown. Now East- West Germany has been united. East- West Berlin also merged. In 1977, the old neglected dilapidated East Berlin was renewed and developed, city is beautiful. All the beautiful old buildings concert halls opera houses parliament were all on the East Berlin side. All renewed. Property prices were low in the past, after the renewals, real estate prices appreciated. Middle East refugees followed in recent years. A multicultural environment was created.

University educated, foreign language speaking, professional young people flocked to the city and settled for a long time. They liked to live in a different multi-cultural environment that is not available in most other places.

Everyone wonders how this life was sustained in West Berlin during cold war period, where there was a lot of energy and luxury cars in 1977. Every day, coal, oil, gasoline, food were transported here by many train wagons. There were coal-burning thermal power plants. These old thermal power plants are now closed today. Russian-made nuclear power plants in the former East Germany are also closing. There is great demand for renewable energy investments. To build a new thermal power plant in this period, is like buying a new fax machine for the office. Who needs a fax machine today? It is easier to take jpeg photos with iphone, send them with whatsapp so fast and easy. The most important feature that separates West Berlin from East Berlin even today is street lighting at night. The streets of West Berlin have white LED-efficient low-energy lamps. There are old yellow-lit streetlights on the streets of East Berlin.

These lamps are still in use and they are still prominently visible even in space photographs. Since my son set up his business in Berlin, I had the opportunity to go and stay there for 1-2 weeks. My eyes are looking for 1977, but no more. East Berlin has changed a lot.

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Haluk Direskeneli

Haluk Direskeneli, is a graduate of METU Mechanical Engineering department (1973). He worked in public, private enterprises, USA Turkish JV companies (B&W, CSWI, AEP, Entergy), in fabrication, basic and detail design, marketing, sales and project management of thermal power plants. He is currently working as freelance consultant/ energy analyst with thermal power plants basic/ detail design software expertise for private engineering companies, investors, universities and research institutions. He is a member of Chamber of Turkish Mechanical Engineers Energy Working Group.

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