Outside our window lights would fly by from time to time, like fireflies illuminating the darkness. Our train sliced through the night on its way to the border, leaving my bright home town behind. The soft glow of the suburbs had faded, replaced by the blackness of wheat fields sometimes interrupted by the yellow window of a farmhouse. As the darkness blanketed us, the compartment grew quiet. The old ladies who had engaged us in lively conversation and who had insisted I accept their offerings of orange slices and chocolate had fallen asleep, their knitting needles clenched over their chest like crucifixes held in prayer. My mother also dozed. I couldn’t close my eyes, too excited at the prospect of arriving at the border, and so I pressed my face to the cold glass of the window and peered into the abyss outside. Then a glow rose on the horizon, growing brighter as we approached. The train slowed down and I could make out a field. Not a cornfield or field of rye, but a barren field tilled to geometric perfection: The minefield. A hundred yards wide and 350 miles long, lining the entire length of the East German border. And behind it: the Wall, a fifteen-foot monstrosity of concrete, barbed wire and shards of glass.
Then the train stopped and my mother woke up. Outside, arc lights illuminated a platform bustling with border guards and their German shepherds. The soldiers boarded the train and their jackboots shook the train as if it was still rattling along its rickety tracks. The clanging of their heels grew louder and louder and I could hear stern voices barking orders into every compartment. When the guards arrived at our door and ripped it open, our compartment filled with ice-cold night air. They glanced at our passports and flipped open the lids of everyone’s suitcase, then slammed the door shut and moved on. Outside, guards monitored the commotion from the watchtowers above the Wall. Searchlights swept the minefield and the platform, blinding me each time they aimed into our compartment.
Then the guards descended the train’s steps and our train lurched forward. The soldiers, their fingers on the trigger of their machine guns, watched us with bored indignation as the train lumbered through the tight gap in the wall. On the other side, more guards patrolled a narrow walkway between the Wall and yet another minefield with their dogs, trained to maim and shred. Then the train picked up speed, the lights of the border sentries grew dim behind us, and we tunneled onward through the darkness of communism on our way to Berlin. Only then could I fall asleep.
copyright 2005 - Hunter Braum