My Story of the Wall
By Will Block
he Berlin Wall may be history, but its meaning lives on. While I was a teenager, I spent an extended summer in Europe, working my way around the continent. It began with a six-week stint as an apprentice at Goebbels Printing Machine Factory in conjunction with a program at the Technische Hochschule in Darmstadt, West Germany (academic home of rocketeer Werner Von Braun, "who cares where the missiles come down"). In Darmstadt I shared a room with Winfried, an East German refugee who had taken a bullet swimming across a canal during his escape. He had left his family behind to seek freedom in the West.
Later that summer, I showed up at the Berlin Wall's Checkpoint Charlie, the heavily guarded entry point for passageway to the other side. Built by the East German Communists to keep their citizens from seeking a better life in the near-infinitely freer West, the Wall was infamous. Even though it had only been built a few years earlier (it was then 1964), already there was a Wall-museum dedicated to the would-be refugees brutally shot down trying to escape from Communist tyranny. What happened to me that summer on the other side of the Wall changed my life and has affected everything I believe and have done to this day.
Upon navigating my way around the anti-tank obstructions, on a day-pass into the Eastern zone, I was stunned to hear a loud "Pittsburgh!" shouted from Chris, a college classmate against whom I had competed for the Presidency of the Scimitars, the Sophomore Men's Honorary, back at Carnegie Tech, where I was an Industrial Management and Mathematics major. (I lost, fortunately.) He was on the other side, ready to make his way back to the West through the checkpoint. Joining Chris to say good-bye was an East Berliner, Detlef, who (I found out later) he had met as an exchange student before the Wall had gone up. After introductions, Detlef and I hit it off so well that he offered to be my guide to tour the sights and hear the stories of East Berlin.
Back then, Berlin was a city violently divided by the Wall, a city of day and night. One side, West Berlin, was free and colorful, with new buildings and obvious prosperity, exuding business bustle and energy. The other, East Berlin, was unfree and colorless, downtrodden, paranoid, and bombed out (many of the buildings destroyed during the Gotterdamerüng hadn't been repaired, much less replaced). East Berlin was spiritually dead. I was reminded of the transition from black and white to Technicolor in The Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy exits from her house, which has killed the wicked witch of the East. Only here, the wicked witch survived, and Technicolor fades to a grey sense of hopelessness.
Detlef and I traveled along on my motorcycle, slowing down for the automatic-weapon-carrying soldiers and at least one speeding "official car" filled with Stazi Security Police. Detlef showed his enthusiastic agreement of my moving aside to let them pass, by deftly digging his fingers into my back lest we be stopped, interrogated, and possibly arrested. There was Karl Marx Street, where "great" facades of the administrative buildings were so poorly attached that they had fallen off, baring yet more hopeless grey.
I returned twice more during my stay in Berlin to visit Detlef, so much was I taken by his hopeful spirit, with the sullen contrast to the Tote Stadt ("Dead City") in which he lived. He discussed openly with me that he wanted to "go to the West" but he could not leave his family, his mother and his grandmother. His father had met his end in the final inferno, when the Russians had brutally taken Berlin, and drawn "no quarter." On my third and last visit, he took me to his family's apartment, which was on a street abutted against the Wall. To reach his abode, you had to pass a police hut in the center of the street, stationed around the clock by an automatic-weapon-carrying officer/thug to prevent dissent and attempts to scale the Wall and bolt.
The last occasion of my return was a party for his grandmother's 83rd birthday, and what an event to remember! Here was a family not defeated by the Nazis, the Russians, their new overlords, or even themselves. With their dignity extended toward me, I have rarely felt as at home away from home as then. Before I left, the toasts given were solemn, as if it were a farewell. Seeing me off, Detlef carried with him a knapsack, explaining: "Before you return to the West, I want to show you where I work." I had an uneasy, calm unbalanced feeling, as my bike quietly sputtered into a distant area of the city that had been reduced by a fire-bombing, nothing but rubble, apparently undisturbed since 1945. Undisturbed, that is, except for barbed-wire and patrols and there, a long way through the piles of crumbled buildings, the Wall. As we drove, Detlef kept stretching his arm to see his watch, and after yet another patrol had passed, he said, "Halt, I must go." Before I could grasp what was taking place, he was off the back of the bike and running toward the distant Wall. "See you in paradise!" he said. "Get ... go ... now!"
I didn't need this advice, my hand was hot on the throttle and I, too, was off in high gear, speeding away from the scene of the "crime" of wanting to be free. My bike did not take me all the way back to Checkpoint Charlie; the sputtering became spastic and the vehicle broke down. A cracked head had leaked oil into my combustion chambers, resulting in buildup of sticky residue on my spark plugs. Without sparks, I could not ignite the gasoline, there were no explosions, and I was on my feet, pushing the bike back to Charlie, unfortunately beyond the limit of curfew and well past the expiration of my day visa.
My reception by the border guards wasn't exactly a celebration. My bike was disassembled. I was strip-searched. It's far from fun, having to prove that the crevices of your body are not conspiring to conceal. But, ironically, I didn't really notice, so fired was I by my new empirical understanding of the concept of "paradise," of what it means to be free. I didn't believe for one minute that anyone could stop me at the "border," a concept my mind did not allow. Eventually I did get back to colorful, hopeful Oz, even though my interrogation by the Communist lackeys took much of the night. And Detlef ... I never saw Detlef again, but there is a part of me that believes he survives and made it to paradise. As far as I know, the bulk of the records concerning "administration" of the Wall and its victims have never seen the light of day.
THE HELPLESS UNITE
Twenty-five years afterward - and countless victims later - I was running a company selling "mental fitness" products designed by Durk Pearson & Sandy Shaw, and breaking new ground. The world was finding out about the possibilities of elevating mental stamina, increasing leadership abilities, enhancing self-image, and losing the self-imposed ringer of learned helplessness [see Freedom and the Zek's Ant - May 1998 and Smash Through Your Walls with Mental Fitness Nutrition - May 1998 in this issue]. New orders were coming in constantly from odd places too ... Rumania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and East Germany. Boy, did I stand up for that one! Something big was coming down; I knew it. People inside the Iron Curtain were ordering a product containing phenylalanine. Did they really know what it was? How did they find out? The answer, I discovered, was that our newsletters were being smuggled into their zone of hopelessness and helplessness.
Behind the grey facade, something was crumbling. Afganistan had turned into the USSR's Vietnam, the Russians were being forced to choose between guns or butter. Pushed by technological envy, Gorbachev's forced-hand reforms had led to perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (opening). More importantly, western technology in the form of the personal printing press (inexpensive personal computers and printers with desktop publishing) led directly to samisdat (self-publishing) and the end drew even nearer. The helpless and hopeless were beginning to unite and to take charge of their own lives.
On that November day in 1989 when the Wall fell, I wanted to fly to Berlin, to celebrate, to dance on top of the Wall. That very day, an order crossed my desk for 24 containers of our phenylalanine supplement, from a Berliner who wanted the stuff fast. Ich bin ein Berliner (I am a Berliner), I thought. The Wall was now in the dustbin of history, a new era had begun.
UNIFICATION GOES BETTER WITH PHENYLALANINE
In the coming months, sales from Germany kept climbing, with hysteria breaking out in the spring. Orders of $50,000 were rolling in, some with the intention of feeding the desires of the East German appetite for things of the real West, and the phenylalanine drink mixes personified self-motivation, get-up-and-go, take charge, and self-direction. Just what was necessary? Our correspondent in Heidelburg, a psychologist, told us that it was unthinkable for anyone in good social stead to go out for the evening in her city, Stuttgart, Munich, Hanover, or Berlin, almost anywhere in Deutschland, without these supplements in tow. Bottles of product went F A S T, even at prices 4-6 times higher than retail in the U.S.: $120 per bottle!
But it didn't last, because another curtain came down around Germany. An article in the German equivalent of Time, Der Speigel started to goad the German bureaucrats with hyped stories. Das Bild, the German equivalent of National Enquirer, couldn't have done it better. German Custom Police confiscated the records, pallets of product, even the computers of many of our German distributers, claiming that these foods were designer drugs.
The actions of the border guards marked the beginning of the end for phenylalanine products. They have not easily entered Germany since. It has been difficult to prove that industrial jealousy and collusion were responsible. However, the unification and integration of the East and West was a travesty for the nutritional supplement industry. The German Government began to behave even more as if Ludwig Erhard, the architect of the Wirtshaftswunder (Economic Miracle), had never existed. East Germans were given welfare and the equivalent of "40 acres and a mule" once again destroying their incentive, while inducing them not to move West. They would have been better off with phenylalanine.