In the 1970s and 1980s, I made countless trips to West Berlin and East Berlin, shuttling back and forth via Checkpoint Charlie. My last visit to East Berlin was in July of 1990, about eight months after the Berlin Wall had been opened. I spent a week in West Berlin, and from there I twice drove into East Berlin without the inconvenience of having to pass through Checkpoint Charlie. Yet, for some strange reason, I missed that border crossing and the inconvenience that was part of it. Perhaps I was feeling nostalgic for the extraordinary opportunity I had had in the 1970s to gain insight into the difficult and challenging experience of people in the GDR, mainly writers, and to share that experience to some extent through my publications. I spent some time just driving around East Berlin, surprised and pleased to see how much of the central Mitte district was still familiar. On my second visit, I met Ulrich Plenzdorf for lunch in a trendy new restaurant in the Nikolaiviertel, and he told me about some changes that had taken place in the GDR’s literary scene and everyday life as well. The appearance of East Berlin had also begun to change as the two Berlins were gradually being forged into one gigantic city. Gone were the barriers that had rendered the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag Building, and the Wall inaccessible from East Berlin.
The Berlin I first visited as a student in June 1963 was already a divided city, and for me that contributed to its charm and allure. In the 1970s, I actually enjoyed the experience of shuttling back and forth between East and West Berlin, experiencing immediately the sharp contrast between the two cities, one bustling with life throughout the day and night, the other its polar opposite. I liked and was intrigued by both Berlins, and I relished the eerie tension that one felt in the two Berlins of the Cold War era, which John le Carré captured perfectly in spy thrillers like The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963). The memory of these very different Berlins and all the exciting experiences I had in both is one I will cherish forever.