CATHIE BRESLIN August 26 1961


CATHIE BRESLIN August 26 1961

"We find ourselves an island in enemy territory. so we live each day as it comes"



WEST BERLIN — While the rest of the world watched the relentless approach of the crisis with fear and foreboding, the West Berliners were determined to enjoy the fine summer to the hilt. It would be entirely possible for a tourist to fly in for a week, have a ball and go home without realizing he had been on the fire step of a possible World War Three.

Last month gaily dressed crowds pressed against the police lines outside the Hotel Am Zoo to catch glimpses of Jayne Mansfield, imported to enliven the annual film festival. Starlets from half a dozen nations changed on the roof garden of the Hotel Hilton within view of the grim bomb-damaged chancelleries in the Soviet zone. The allGerman tennis championships were under way at the Blauweiss Country Club and the tinkle of ice in tall drinks mingled with the happy shouts of children in the club’s open air swimming pool. The crowds in town included, of all people, collectors of matchbox covers from seven countries — 20,000 different labels were on view at a special exhibition. A display of far-out Japanese painting drew visitors to the Academy of Art in the Hansa Quarter. The tenth German Evangelical Congress was drawing crowds of up to 80,000 at rallies in the Olympic Stadium where 3,000 brass bandsmen blared and tootled.

There is a special kind of West Berlin humor. It pokes very broad fun at German efficient Nordic supermen, militarism, Professor Erhard’s “economic miracle” and Chancellor Adenauer’s “political miracle.” I heard several versions of a current Adenauer story: the old man had finally passed away and so great was his fame that several countries vied for the right to bury him in a suitable tomb. Israel seemed likely to win out with a proposal to build a mausoleum on the highest point in Jerusalem. “Wait a minute,” a knowledgeable German warns. “Remember that another leader was once buried there and he rose again.”

“Oh, yes?” asks a West Berliner, “and who was that?”

New buildings and landmarks around the city have been tagged with amusing and often sardonic nicknames. The monument at Tempelhof to the allied airmen who lost their lives during the airlift of 1948-49 is in the form of a hand reaching into the sky. It’s called the "hunger claw.” The American Congress Hall in the Tiergarten is called the “pregnant oyster.” A modernistic office block near the zoo is known as the “bikini,” because one of the middle floors is open to the winds.

Are the West Berliners simply whistling in the dark? On the slopes of a rock garden behind his publishing office on the Hohenzollerndamm. I put this question to Walter Kahnert. Suntanned and sprightly, Kahnert has lived through sixty years of Berlin’s meteoric ups and downs and has fashioned a philosophy to suit the times. After the first world war his family’s fortune vanished in the galloping inflation but

by 1939 he had fought his way back to affluence. The German defeat and the bombing of Berlin flattened him again. Now he has pulled off a second comeback and is publisher in Germany of the American novelist Norman Mailer, among others.

“You find us gay,” he said. “Why not? We Berliners have learned that anything we have, any possessions, are temporary. We might wake up tomorrow and poof, it’s all gone. Now we find ourselves two-and-a-quarter million people on an island 110 miles inside enemy territory. I’m no politician but anyone can see that this can't go on forever. So we live each day as it comes.” He pointed down the flowery slopes to a tree-lined pond. “This is more important to me. It was all rubble. I hauled every stone and planted every flower myself.”

Private citizens in West Berlin delight in taking visitors on a tour of the zonal boundaries where, often unexpectedly, west meets east halfway down a suburban street. Their attitude is the same as any Montrealer’s when taking a tourist to the top of Mount Royal to see the view. 1 heard no bitterness, no muscular threats to pull down the barbed wire. At the crossing point at Düppel Klein-machnow, on the way to Potsdam, I was shown with amused chuckles how the West Berlin authorities had put up a bamboo screen around the first phone box over the border so that the East German guards couldn't keep tabs on the callers.

Apart from my serious enquiries, the only time the hidden tensions of West Berlin came to the surface was late one night at a club called The OldFashioned. A loquacious, tipsy customer. who informed me he was a millionaire, tried to interest me in delving deeper into the city’s night life. When he departed momentarily the pretty girl who had been serving us whispered to me, "We would advise you to be careful of that man. We are not sure, but it is possible he is mixed up in Communist affairs.” Touched and amused by the solicitude, 1 said I was going to bed anyway. *"

EAST BERLIN — Although I was often moved by individual scenes in the old Bertholt Brecht play Fear and Misery in the Third Reich. 1 took my cue from the German crowd and sat through the show at the Berliner Ensemble Theatre in uneasy silence. Even a bravura bit by Helene Weigel, Brecht’s wife, didn’t get a clap. After one curtain call the crowd filed out quietly into the dark square beside the Spree.

Well aware of the cultural asset of Brecht, the GDR authorities arc eager to help visitors get seats and they’ll even go so far as to allow you to spend GDR money at the box office. Only at the box office, though; in the buffet the westerner must pay for his snack with West German marks. This apparent madness stems from the fact that GDR marks can be freely purchased in West Berlin at a discount of four to one. I had changed some West German marks into GDR currency at the official rate of one for one and I had a bank receipt to prove it, but the stony-faced character in charge of the buffet in the nationally-owned theatre insisted 1 pay the despised Deutsche marks for my beer and sandwich. This happened to me several times in East Berlin and I finally put my few East marks away for souvenirs.

Although the looming crisis had swelled the refugee stream to the west into full flood — nine thousand a week were crossing into West Berlin — I didn’t see any strong - arm stuff by the guards at the sector borders. One woman who made good her escape via the subway train reported that a policeman at the last checkpoint inside the Communist sector grinned at her and said, “One more station along the line, lady, and you’re free.”

My lasting impression is one of listlessness and apathy. Workmen and businessmen walk slowly along the Friedrichstrasse, unsmiling, not turning their heads to look at the large, crude cartoons of President Kennedy nursing a bandaged thumb labeled Cuba and of other Western leaders that are placed on empty sites along that once throb-

bing thoroughfare, or, for that matter, at the portraits of Walter Ulbricht in store windows.

One sees very few young people on the streets even in the early evenings. The likely reason for this is that of the 2,600,000 East Germans who have escaped to the West since 1949, half have been under 30. Fighting back manfully, if hopelessly, against the propaganda weight of the exodus. GDR officials announced last month that they had to open a new refugee camp to hold refugees from West Germany. They claimed that 40,000 had fled from the militarist West over the past six months, including young soldiers who had become convinced they were not serving the interests of peace.

GDR youth is quite remarkable if one could believe the stories published in the state-controlled press in amateurish translation. I read an article headed. “Is there a teddy-boy problem in the GDR?” The writer’s answer was a resounding “No.” She went on, "We do not like to use the expression teddy boy in connection with the boys and girls living in our country, the heroes for whom our new society wants to win. The youth risk their lives in the fight against Fascism and war. explore the universe, discover medicines against dangerous diseases or fill their audiences with enthusiasm at sporting events.” A new movie from the Defa state studios, entitled One Summer’s Day Is Not Love, offers GDR teen-agers the stirring tale of Christine, a crane driver at the Strasun People’s Shipyards falling for a plausible guy called Jan, who has yet to learn that life always demands the whole of a person’s effort.

Crisis or not, the Ci DR was pushing ahead with its plans for its Berlin Festival. Beginning next month the Brasiliana Ballet and the Helsinki Opera arc slated to appear in a program studded with artists from the Iron Curtain countries. When the torchy, nearly nude dancers of the Brazilian company appeared at an East Berlin vaudeville theatre earlier this year, the critics didn't seem sure of the party line on belly dancers. It was something new for unspoiled East Berliners.

Trying to force this pursed-lip primness on traditionally uninhibited Germans must be one of the Communist propagandists’ toughest chores. "There’s not a single burlesque show in the whole city,” an earnest young man from the cultural ministry told me. “Socialists are simply not interested in such things.” At a movie house showing the latest Brigitte Bardot epic in West Berlin I had been told that approximately every third ticket was being sold to an East Berliner. I mentioned this to my acquaintance. “It’s just another of their lies.” he said w'earily.

lust before I left towm I bumped into a party of foreign correspondents who were winding up a guided tour of the republic. I asked a portly Egyptian, who looked a trifle saddle-sore, for his main impression. In Oxbridge accents, he. snapped “The coffee is simply ghastly.” *