It was full daylight and there was already some traffic on the nearby road when we finally crawled out of our haystack. Still hiding behind it we tidied our clothes as far as possible to near normal appearance and then in pairs or singly we set out following our guides to the nearest town west of the border. The town was called Reichenbach. There was a small restaurant in which our guides sold their smuggled goods and apparently it was also the drop-off place for human contraband. We were received there with genuine warmth. They gave us a chance to dry our clothes and clean up. Approximately a dozen people were present at meal times and we ate with them at the single large table. There was hardly any conversation beyond the initial greeting, "Malzait", which meant something like good appetite, but then no one asked questions or seemed surprised to see strangers. We of course paid for that with our coffee beans but nevertheless, one had the impression that smuggling was quite normal and socially acceptable in that town.
Before evening our guides said good-bye and left. Their young cousin departed too. Before they left we sought their advice on the safest route to Berlin suspecting rightly that it may not be so simple; however neither they nor our present hosts had any idea. Fortunately for us a young woman helping in the restaurant remembered a man in the large border town of Goerlitz, not far from there, who was very knowledgeable in such matters and was helping people with problems like ours for a monetary consideration of course. As an added bonus he apparently could speak Polish. Since it was nearly evening, and our hosts agreed to have us overnight we asked the young woman to get in touch with the Pole, as she called him, and arrange a meeting for the next day.
There was a sofa for Jadwiga while Janek and I slept on the floor in the restaurant. Early the next afternoon the fellow from Goerlitz arrived. He happened to be a German national who had worked in Poland for years in the tractor factory and spoke the language fluently. He presented the case in very simple terms: yes, the access to Berlin was controlled; yes, he traveled to Berlin quite often on business and knew how to bypass the controls and, for a price of five "green ones”, 131 he would be willing to guide us there. Janek and I had no money and Jadwiga, already somewhat recovered from the terrors of the border crossing, was not too eager to part with her greenbacks. However, when I explained to her in no uncertain terms that Janek and I would get to Berlin even if we had to walk all the way and she could do with herself whatever she wanted, she reconsidered and decided to keep our company and part with the five dollars instead. That evening our new guide drove us by car to his place in Goerlitz where we spent the following night.
Our escort, whom we will call Walter for convenience, decided to take his wife on the trip, so very early the next morning the five of us boarded the train to Berlin. On the way to the station Walter described the situation and presented his plan. Surrounding the territory of Greater Berlin, divided as it was into four occupation zones, there existed an unofficial border consisting of KGB supervised Volkspolizei132 control posts on every road leading to the city. On the route we were traveling the check point was at the last station before Berlin called Koenigswusterhausen. At all the control points the police checked the passengers' personal identifications and their packages but, for some perhaps bureaucratic reason, they checked either one or the other, never both on the same occasion. Walter planned to take advantage of that peculiarity of the system. When the train drew into Koenigswusterhausen station Walter would step onto the platform and have a discreet look to ascertain what type of control was to be expected. If it was an ID check we would, at a sign from him leave the train as if Koenigswusterhausen was our destination and therefore avoid scrutiny. If on the other hand, Walter found that they were interested in packages only - they checked for smuggled non-ferrous metals - then he would return, we would have nothing to fear and could stay on board the train until it entered Berlin proper. It was a good plan and, considering the German reputation for dogged adherence to regulations, it was nearly foolproof. But, as often happens even the best prepared strategy fails when some unexpected factors come into play. It almost happened to us.
The coach inside which we traveled was of ancient vintage with very large compartments, each seating about two dozen passengers. We separated and sat on the long benches, each one reading or pretending to read a local newspaper. Only Walter and his wife sat side by side. The citizens of that "People's Democracy" must have been even more scared than people in Poland because there was no conversation whatever and everyone either held a paper or pretended to sleep. It was still dark when, as the train pulled out of a station someone opened the door, threw in a heavy cardboard package and dragged himself on board. He placed his package on the shelf above one of the benches, found a place to sit on an opposite bench and started dozing.
In Koenigswusterhausen everything started according to plan. Walter went outside and promptly returned which meant that we were to stay put. A few minutes later two police officers entered our compartment and began checking the parcels and suitcases by pointing to each one, asking to whom it belonged and usually examining the contents. They were polite in an official sort of way and everything went smoothly until they reached the parcel of the passenger who had entered the already moving train. This time no one claimed to own the parcel. The policeman repeated his question in a raised voice. The owner of the parcel shaken from his pretended sleep by the now irate officer, denied the the cardboard package was his. It was getting ugly. The police officers who had found some contraband inside the parcel announced that unless the owner of the parcel spoke up immediately they would check the identity documents of everyone in the compartment. Luckily for us one of the passengers in the compartment with a slight movement of his head indicated the owner of the contraband package. The officers immediately grabbed him and his package and took him outside. A few minutes later the train was underway for the last short stretch. Walter told us later that, faced with the dangerous situation, he was about to disclose the smuggler to the police but another passenger had done the unpleasant task instead.
Still in the Russian part of Berlin, we arrived at the small station where we left our train and took the inner city electric train called S-Bahn all the time following Walter and his wife. After a few minutes we arrived at the station "Berlin Zoo". Walking through the terminus towards the street outside Walter quietly said in Polish "Once you leave this terminus you will be in the British Zone”. 133 A few seconds later we were on the street and free...
It was December 14, 1949 - slightly over
ten years earlier, on orders from that very city, World War II had
started leaving untold millions dead and whole nations enslaved. What a
place to get the first whiff of freedom...
132 People's Police - Internal Security East German style closely supervised by KGB.
133 The S-Bahn on all
the territory of Berlin was administered by Soviets hence the terminal
was still a Russian territory.