Berlin 1990 – A Tourist Walking Through World History

The most fascinating vacation I’ve ever taken, by far, was a visit to Berlin in 1990 – right after the Berlin Wall came down. History was changing right before my eyes. Even though the Wall was literally being sold off in pieces to tourists, the country had not yet been unified. So you could walk between East and West Germany with no passport control or checks. All that was left of Checkpoint Charlie was an abandoned guard shack and a photo of Gorbachev on the pavement, smeared with red paint.

The difference between East and West was glaring. In West Berlin, the taxis were all Mercedes, a shopping mall on the Ku’damm sold all the latest fashions and Mont Blanc pens. The KaDeWe department store had one floor devoted solely to food – every kind of food imaginable. One entire wall featured mustards of any variety you might want. The seafood department displayed a tank of live eels. People from the newly opened East wandered around this floor simply gaping in wonder at the over-the-top displays of food.

Walking towards the Berlin Wall, you heard drum beats, which turned out to be from orange-robed Buddhist monks, demonstrating for peace.  Off to the side, Russian soldiers kept guard over a war memorial. Tables set up by new entrepreneurs sold off graffiti-painted chunks of the Wall.  If you wanted, you could rent a chisel and cut your own.

Stepping through the Wall and into the East, you saw nothing but plain, grey buildings. No shops, no cafes, and no people out and about. But days later, on a bus tour of the few sights to see in East Berlin, hundreds of people suddenly converged on one plaza to demand higher wages and lower food prices. In the Berlin suburb of Potsdam, someone had just thrown a Molotov cocktail through the window of the room where post-World War II was carved up by the Allies. You could stroll through the palaces of former German kings, strolling among Soviet soldiers on leave. No one spoke English. But a lovely lunch was served at a “Friendship Island,” a display of so-called Soviet prosperity put on for foreigners.

Throughout the trip, I was humbled by the gratitude of the West Berliners for their post-war years of living in true prosperity and freedom. After speaking English in a taxi, the cab driver turned off the meter and refused to charge me for the ride. At the hotel, I found myself upgraded to the nicest suite in the place for free, because, “as an American, you are so kind.”

How we are treated when we travel is always set in the context of foreign relations and world history. In Berlin of 1990, I had the rare privilege of receiving the gratitude of those who saw a sparse, grey alternative to the prosperity and freedom of the West just across town.

Cynthia Coe’s novel Ginger’s Reckoningis set, in part, in Berlin of 1990. Ginger’s Reckoningis now only $2.99 on Kindle. Also available in paperback and included in Kindle Unlimited.

 

Ginger’s Reckoning – About This Book

Of all the writing projects I’ve done, Ginger’s Reckoning is my all-time favorite.  This book recalls the early days of my marriage, when we had the time and the money to travel, enjoy life, and look forward to a bright future.  Things didn’t turn out quite the way we imagined.  The investment bank my husband worked for went under, leaving us with an income of exactly zero at one point.  We faced the heartbreak of infertility.  I hated my job practicing law.  Eventually I left the practice of law to do what I always wanted to do – write novels.  Ginger’s Reckoning was written during that time.

I’m often asked of my fiction, “is this a true story?” This book is really and truly fictitious.  There are, of course, similarities between my life in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. But as the novel developed, my fictional characters eventually found their own lives. Portions of this novel are set in the Fort Sanders neighborhood, where I lived while a student at the University of Tennessee. The characters who lived in my fictional Fort Sanders started out based on real people I knew or observed back in the early 1980’s, but they also became their own people.  (My husband thinks one of these characters deserves his own novel. I’m mulling that over.)

The portions of the novel set in Berlin, immediately after the Wall came down, are absolutely sights and circumstances I personally experienced in the late summer of 1990.  It was a great time to be an American in Berlin.  Berliners greatly appreciated what Americans had done to keep them in the Western Bloc since the last days of World War II and throughout the Cold War.  Cab drivers really did turn the meter off when they heard us speaking American English.  The hotel where we stayed insisted on giving us a free upgrade to Berlin Philharmonic conductor Herbert von Karajan’s suite.  East Germans, “Osties” lined up to gawk at the live eels, the wall of mustards, and over-the-top bounty of the food gallery of the KaDeWe department store.

The scenes set in Moscow are, oddly enough, realistic as well.  I originally wrote these scenes based on an old tourist guide to Russia I found in a used book store.  I had, at that time, never visited Russia.  When we eventually visited Moscow in 2005, I was astonished to find that the scenes and circumstances described in Ginger’s Reckoning were actually fairly true to life.  The hotel where we stayed was actually much worse than the hotel described in my novel.  We felt relieved to get out of there, much like Ginger and Steve so many years before us.

I hope you enjoy reading Ginger’s Reckoning as much as I enjoyed writing it and then re-reading and polishing it for publication.  It’s available in both print and Kindle editions at http://amzn.to/2hwtxTi .

Blessings, Cindy