Report on the 2nd BIA Reunion in Berlin
November 2006 Newsletter
By Tony Angiletta (59-62)
First, the dead hand of statistics and demographics. By my count of an e-mail from Tom Emdy there were 63 persons in attendance over the 4 days of the Reunion, October 5 – October 8. Among the BIA members in attendance, 5 decades from the 1940s through to the 1980s were represented (though not too surprisingly, no one served in all 5 decades…though a few had served in 4). In addition to the core program, so ably planned and negotiated by Tom Emdy, a number of attendees went farther afield both within a very large Berlin and to places such as Potsdam, Sachsenhausen and Bernau in the immediate vicinity as well as to much more extensive tours in Germany and elsewhere.
The vast majority of us traveled partly on foot, but mostly by U-bahn, S-bahn and the occasional double-decker bus (if you remember the A-19, the A-2 and the A-4, they still exist as A119, A102 and A104 and their routes are recognizably what they were in the late 1950s). An occasional cab ride was also taken and, for example, on the day we visited Tempelhof, we went by that well-remembered small institution of high culture, the VicEck. While others’ VicEck memories may not be quite those of my own, I remarked to my fellow cab-riders how exciting it was to discuss Sartre, Camus and Gibran over a liter or two of aperitifs or to attend the high teas provided for us by the USO at that other establishment a bit around the corner on the Dudenstrasse or its next leg, the Kolonnenstrasse.
Our hotel was the Berlin Markhotel on the Meinekestrasse directly off the Kudamm and a 10-minute walk to the Gedaechtniskirche. Truth be told, I had scouted out and stayed at the Markhotel with Inge at the end of June on a trip to Berlin, Dresden, Prague and Coburg and had found it to be, if not the Kempinski, both korrekt und richtig and in a very good location (though I imagine a number of us who have been back once or several times to post-Wende Germany still think of Berlin in terms of West Berlin and East Berlin as a place to travel to). One irony I mentioned to Don Ernakovich or John Steuber or anyone who would listen is that the hotel is run by Russians. Funny thing, history. Full of odd turns and small-world meetings. But, that’s another Reunion and another liter or two of aperitifs.
A Day-by-Day Recollection with Episodic Feeble Attempts at Humor
On the first night, Thursday, Oct. 5, a large number gathered informally at a Gastaette directly across the street from the hotel and had a non-environmentally friendly meal of good meat, sauerkraut and potatoes without a green vegetable in sight. Some will also remember my whining on the boat trip about a sumptuous buffet table where the only green was the garnish and turned out to be parsley about which there is a bad joke that I will not pass on. I had forgotten the standard German reply to “Where are the vegetables?” is “What do you mean? There! The sauerkraut!”. Bonds were already forming.
Friday was a very busy day. First to the Rotes Rathaus where we were received by and spoken to by a mayoral representative as well as by a Deputy Mayor. In all my 12 times back to Berlin since 1962, I had never visited the Rotes Rathaus and found the sculpture and visual representations of great interest. In the afternoon we embarked for the S-Bahn Wannsee station—one station too far historically for the great majority of us insofar as most of us got off from the autobus two Haltestellen earlier in order to go to the Wannsee beach to swim, watch girls, swim, watch girls, watch girls, etc. At the Wannsee boat basin, they changed the boat under our noses, but its replacement was fine and the trip down the Havel and around Potsdam and by palatial villas and the Glienicke Bridge where I thought I caught a glimpse of George Smiley (or perhaps it was Karla) was memorable. And the beer was good. And the company even better. Aber keine Gemuese!
Our Saturday walking tour of Tempelhof in some ways was the most nostalgic. If you hadn’t been to the 1st BIA Reunion in Berlin, you saw for the first time what it really meant to have had the great edifice almost fully privatized. Many had not been back to the main roof where some of us sun-bathed near the then very large antenna; some had not seen that all of the living quarters for the 6912th had been turned into a proprietary hochschule; some had not had a chance even at the 1st Reunion to see the gym and bowling alley that are still there (well, at least the basketball floor); some had not seen the remains of the Paternoster elevators; almost all had never seen the vast hallway that was never open to us while there; and only 1 or 2 had ever seen the “archives” or below ground storage areas beneath the NCO Quarters (right?). Our witty Berliner guide also debunked most of the myths about cavernous flooded basements and FW-190 factories beneath the runways, but I refused to believe him. I still think Kaltenbrunner and Bormann are alive and well somewhere beneath the flight apron living on stem cells provided by Gregory Peck and The Boys From Brazil. My only regret regarding the Tempelhof tour was our not going out to the east tower where for all pre-Mariendorfers we spent most of our work lives.
Sunday was the final official day of the Reunion and included a most interesting tour of one of the citizens’ bomb bunkers next to the Humboldthain Park. This was followed by a tour given by a former inmate at the notorious Stasi prison in Hohenschoenhausen. Her vivid personal description of her treatment along with the physical tour of the various kinds of specialized cells for specialized treatments and interrogations, including the words-cannot-adequately-describe section underground called the U-Boot were not soon to be forgotten.
We summed up our experience with a rip-roaring dinner near the Savigny Platz in a beer-hall setting at the Zillermarkt. While we laughed and laughed between aperitifs every night at the hotel—and did it once more on this last night—this farewell dinner with, shall we say, mature men of substance finding much hilarity in the size and shape of various one-liter beer steins and mature women of substance tolerating them yet again was topped only by the gigantic trays of food, including Schweinehaxen, Bratwurst, and nary a green thing in sight.
It was a good time! Let’s hope we can do it again. And again, let us give praise to those who did the most work—that is, Tom Emdy. I am appending in full the texts written by a few other attendees, who, when asked to give a few lines of things memorable, responded with short essays that deserve to be read. I threatened myself with submitting an essay of outrageously self-absorptive reflection on my Tempelhof days that Joe Kinel and Don Ernakovich have seen, but, perhaps I’ll subject everyone to that on another occasion.
Ed Presler Remarks
I too was impressed with Potsdamer Platz, but a little disappointed with the KuDamm. It was a lot less sophisticated than our time. The high end stores- GUCCI, Hermes etc.- are now on Friedrich Strasse east of the Brandendurger Tor. I was also amazed at the new construction at the Tor. New buildings were virtually smack against the monument.
Most travel books now emphasize the Eastern Sector, which too was a little disappointing. My heart lies with our three sectors and places like Dahlem, Steglitz and other American Sector places.
The head of the Eagle being returned from West Point was also significant. My room with Doug Wagner was directly below and appears to be an office now. (We had a false bottom in our closet-a great place for Class Six goods during inspections - whenever we had one).
The boat trip was enjoyed by everyone as we had never been out into the river and the food was excellent, never mind the beer etc.
The most significance for me, however, was meeting up with Ole Hydeen and his wife Eva when we went to the closed beerstube the first night. Eva is from Berlin and she and her friend Ursula helped us greatly in getting around - the transportation system in its scope was new to us and suggesting places we might want to see was wonderful. On top of that Ole was a joy to be with. His humor and happy look at life was sheer delight and he made our trip.
The organizers of the trip can not be complimented enough for their great work.
As an aside, I was astonished that Tony retained so much of his Polish. I read and re-read a number of phrase books in anticipation of going to Warsaw from Berlin, but then found out most Poles really weren’t as interested in me speaking Polish as they in speaking English.
So many years have passed and many of our fellow 6912’ers have gone separate ways, but we were a special group, and I mean from the creation of the unit to its termination, and my time and association with the unit is something I am proud of being a part of and wish I could describe to others some of the things we accomplished.
Don Ernakovich remarks
First of all, not enough can be said about the terrific time we had renewing old relationships and meeting BIA members who served before and after our tenure at Tempelhof. I haven't laughed so hard in many a months as we reminisced over a beer, or in John Steuber's case, a Crème DeMint or vodka on the rocks. Tony, the young waiter at the Mark Hotel asked about all of you guys after you left. (Remember, I stayed an extra two days). He seemed especially fond of Tony and John.
Several things stick out primarily in my thoughts about our trip. First, one again realizes just how big that city is. Even by coming two days early of the reunion and staying two days afterward, I did not get to half of the places I wanted to see. (I have to admit that as one ages, the old saying about the spirit being willing but the body weak is so true. I literally walked until I almost dropped, aching feet and all.) I came to love their U-Bahn, which made it so quick and easy to get about. I was taken back by the large number of street musicians and panhandlers throughout the city, on the U-Bahn, in the streets, etc. Many were relatively young, accomplished musicians playing for a Euro here and there. I took the opportunity to attend church Sunday morning fairly deep in the former East Zone. Sitting on either side of the main entrance was a husband and wife team, very elderly, with paper cups in hand asking for help. It is obvious that the removal of the boundaries between East and West has had a negative impact upon many of the more elderly people of the former East Zone.
But I left Berlin with a bit of sadness. I remember it even five years ago as a beautiful cosmopolitan European city full of traditional German culture, entertainment, night life, etc. This time, however, I was appalled at how Westernized or "Americanized" it had become. One could easily find everywhere Dunkin' Donuts, Starbucks, Domino Pizza, McDonald's, Burger King, etc., etc., etc. They call their malls gallerias, but when you walk into one, you thought you were in any large mall in the United States - Benetton, Ralph Lauren, GAP, Nike, Lane Bryant, etc. There was a time when you could readily tell a European or Berliner apart from an American. No more. Everyone now wears the same brand name clothes.
On that note, I was amazed at the price of some clothing in Berlin. An American would be absolutely foolish to purchase clothes over there, given the weakness of the dollar compared to the Euro. For example, a Polo sport shirt that probably costs $55.00 or so here in the States goes for about 99 Euros in the KaDeWe.
In spite of my reservations about the city, to me it remains one of the most beautiful and exciting cities in Europe. We are a very lucky group to have been stationed there and to have had the opportunity to return to try to capture again those wonderful moments when we were so young and naïve.
Joe Covern Remarks
I enjoyed going thru the old bomb shelter in the former East Berlin and learning new information about Tempelhof. I never thought I'd ever get to visit East Berlin, so everything I was able to see and visit in that area was a plus. I was also surprised to learn that many of the things I believed about Tempelhof were apparently not true.
Of course, Tom, and anyone who may have helped him did a great job organizing the reunion and he/they deserve our gratitude for everything that was done on our behalf.
But I guess what I enjoy most about our reunions, especially those in Berlin, are the memories brought back by seeing familiar faces and places. It seems they are everywhere. Thinking about how much I enjoyed being a young guy in Berlin, believing so much in the importance of the job I was doing and knowing everyone else felt the same way. And then, off duty, everyone playing just as hard. They were the greatest of times and I really get sentimental thinking about it, especially after a couple of glasses of wine.
Robbie Roberts Remarks
Overall, I found the whole experience mind-blowing. I couldn't believe the changes from pre-reunification to the present. For example, walking around Potsdamer Platz, I was amazed at all the new buildings and the general hustle and bustle compared to the hollow bleakness of the area before and during the time the wall was up.
I thought the tours were fascinating and right on target. Also, I'm glad we had time to experience some on our own (Berlin hop-on-hop-off city tour, Potsdam's San Souci, Dresden, etc.) Kudos to Tom, John and whomever else contributed to setting things up.
I never envisioned that I'd have the opportunity to roam freely around East Berlin, let alone wander out into the countryside without a Stasi vehicle on my tail. I guess the crowning moment of realization happened on Tuesday morning (10 Oct.) in a quaint little hotel 175 clicks south of Berlin. Karen and I awoke to the sound of a jet taking off from nearby Dresden airfield. At that moment I had a flashback of the previous activities from that area. The fact that we were right there in the former East Germany seemed surreal.
Finally, the highlight of the reunion for me was simply being there in our beloved Berlin with such a top-notch group of GI's. What a hoot it was to share our fond memories and spin occasional tall-tales. I'll always have a warm spot in my heart for the city, the mission, Tempelhof, Marienfelde, Berliner Kindel, currywursts and endless good times mixed with occasional bouts of sheer terror as they handed out the M-2 carbines and too few bandoliers of ammo. But most of all, I'll never forget the fantastic group that made it come together. Thanks to all...past and present.
Gene Kyle Remarks
Once again a trip to Berlin has not only brought back many fond memories, but also created a number of new ones. Hats off to all who had any part in putting together the 2006 reunion in Berlin. After being extremely disappointed at having to cancel the Tempelhof tour during the 2001 reunion, I was very pleased that it was on the agenda for 2006. What a “trip” it was to not only go back to room 2191 overlooking the Zentral Flughafen, but to be there with an ex roommate I hadn’t seen in almost 40 years, Larry Demers.
I was somewhat taken aback when we visited the bunkers at Tempelhof. When we were told that the one room we were in would have as many as 40 people in it during the air strikes, it was hard to believe. The paintings on the wall were supposed to make those who were in there somehow feel better.
Just being able to wonder around Tempelhof and reminisce was a real treat. Of course I had to go check my mail, and I was sad to see that the old store that sold stereo equipment was no longer there. I was thinking seriously of trying to update my old Sony 350 tape deck from 1965, which I still use! The fact that Tempelhof Airport is no longer the hustling, bustling location it was when many of us were there, was somewhat disappointing. There just isn’t much to watch anymore from those rooms that overlooked the main entrance, and even though there is still some bus traffic there, it sure isn’t what it was back in the mid 1960’s when I was there hanging out of my room window watching all the frauleins.
Our visit to the Stasi Prison was also a highlight for me. It was hard to imagine man’s inhumanity to man as we actually viewed the depressing and inhumane circumstances prisoners had to suffer through. I was surprised to learn that many of those who were arrested and taken to this prison were very young teenagers (15 or 16 years old). And it was hard to imagine situations where siblings or spouses would turn in each other to the Stasi. As our guide said, “the Stasi had ears everywhere” and you really had to be careful not only of what you said, but where you said it. One of the cells contained the famous water torture apparatus. As we viewed this cell it really was hard for me to believe that one person could subject another to such inhumane punishment. And for what? I loved the guide’s comment about the trucks the Stasi used to pick up people to take them to this prison. On the side of the trucks was a sign about a fish market. People in the East started asking why there were so many trucks with fish market signs but so few fish. The Stasi then changed the signs on the sides of the trucks.
It was also interesting to hear the guide talk about how the interrogations of the prisoners would be conducted. I especially liked the part about the fake telephone call the interrogator might get while in the middle of some interrogation, when he would say something like “Mrs. so and so, ah yes, I have her husband here with me now.” This of course would get the attention of the man being interrogated and perhaps make him think a little differently about how he might want to cooperate.
The boat trip with a different itinerary than the one in 2001 was also a pleasure. It provided both a beautiful setting and the opportunity to socialize with other BIA members and friends. I never cease to be amazed at how much I enjoy not only the opportunity to see “old” BIA friends, but also the opportunity to meet new ones. And it doesn’t seem to matter what years we served in Berlin, we all seem to hold a particular fondness for the city. My hat is off to all those who helped put together the 2006 Berlin reunion.
Cal Bennett Remarks
My wife,Doris, and I enjoyed the boat ride with the view of the homes and forest. But the Bunker tour was especially interesting for Doris, since it gave her greater insight to the plight of the Berliner during the war that she had not been exposed to. She was two to three years old, when her family had to go to their building's basement near flughafen Tempelhof, when the air raids occurred. The tour of Tempelhof's back rooms and off limit areas was good. I believe every tour had very good guides, even the liberal we had at the Stasi. Certainly we are all stronger after walking up and down those stairs. We enjoyed the tales of old times and meeting friends, old and new. The hotel was good and well located for walking to the shops. We had a very good time, enjoyed the last meal with good food, beer drinking (some large mugs), good friends. Thanks to Tom and associates for arranging the program.
Reunion in Berlin -Whither Another?? - by Tom Emdy
First of all, kudos are in order for the following:
a. to the late Bob Thomas and Joe Kinel, for activating and leading this august group in the mid 1990’s.
b. to Gene Kyle, for hosting the prototype Berlin reunion 5 years ago. It was a terrific event, with the only downside being the cancellation of the Tempelhof tour due to 9/11.
c. to Darwin (Ole) Hydeen and John Steuber for their assistance in checking out hotels, etc. and especially to John for fine-tuning the navigation from one event to another. We had a busy schedule!
d. for all 65 or so participants - from alphabetically Faye Adams to Orlen Wolf. A finer group cannot be imagined!
For me the highlight was the Tempelhof tour. It started out gently enough. We took an elevator most of the way to the roof. At one time there were plans to accommodate 100,000 spectators on the roof for air shows. And then we started traipsing all over, up, down, through finished, damaged parts of the huge place (T-hof is still the largest building in Europe, I do believe). We went through what was the bowling alley into the gym. The bleachers and the trampoline are gone, but there are still basketball hoops at each end. We went through our former 1960's-era rooms, sadly, now in disrepair. The Berlin police used this area for a time but they left over 10 years ago. Also in disrepair is the former officers' club. All in all, our 1-hour tour ended up being closer to 2 ½ hours. Our excellent guides were very thorough!
Back to the question- another reunion in Berlin? Unlikely because:
a. we had some guests who were younger, but the youngest BIA member is nearly 60
b. the unfinished business from 2001, the Tempelhof tour, has now been done
c. Marienfelde, Teufelsberg, virtually nothing left from our time, same with the former bars
But: Berlin itself is definitely worth a repeat visit, there is so much there to see and do one could easily spend months!
(Ed Note: Please see the pictures that depict the descriptions in this article. Return to the Newsletter Section by using the Newsletter link that will be in the left frame.)
© 2006, The Berlin Island Association