Vol. 15


The Border of Berlin

1971, 1990; East Berlin, East Germany

I crossed over to East Berlin to talk with theology professor Heinrich Fink. He was a nice man who claimed to be both a Communist and a Christian. That’s what interested me. He and I had a long, enjoyable conversation, and I learned a lot.

Then I went back to Checkpoint Charlie, the famous border between East Berlin and West Berlin. When I put my passport on the table, I was immediately surrounded by guards and taken into a room. Once there, I was questioned threateningly. I had to take everything out of my pockets, sit down, and answer every question they asked. They went through my date book, and asked me why I was in Berlin, what I was doing, and how long I had been there.

Through the window I could see the Checkpoint Charlie guard station — maybe forty yards away. I could even see the silhouettes of the American soldiers there, but it seemed a world away. In 1971 the United States did not have a diplomatic relationship with Communist East Germany. The guards could have put me in jail, and I wouldn’t have had any recourse. Fortunately, after about an hour, they let me go.

I can remember breathing hard, stumbling through the no man’s land as I left Checkpoint Charlie with the aching feeling in my legs that you get after you’ve been really afraid.

I thought a lot about that experience afterwards, but I still couldn’t explain why the guards had singled me out and treated me so harshly.

After the Berlin Wall(1) came down, I went back to East Germany in 1990 to visit some people, including the man I had talked with in 1971, Heinrich Fink. He was no longer a professor, but the president of the university. I knocked on his door and introduced myself. Heinrich Fink remembered me and even invited me to dinner. We had an enjoyable evening together.

I returned to the States, and about two months later I saw a Time magazine article entitled “The Four Most Dangerous Stasi Agents in East Germany.” The Stasi were the East German secret police. I looked at that article, and there was a picture of Heinrich Fink — the man whom I had talked with in 1971, and whom I had visited nineteen years later in 1990. No one had known he was a Stasi member. The article said that for twenty years he had been informing on pastors, theologians, and scholars in East Germany. When the university found out, Heinrich Fink was immediately fired.

I realized that it was probably Heinrich Fink who had called the border guards and told them about my visit. That’s why I had gotten roughed up at the border. Heinrich Fink had probably suspected that I was a member of the CIA,(2) so he told the guards to go through my materials, find out who I really was, and intimidate me.

Many years later a German friend of mine was put in charge of the Stasi files. It turns out that I had a file. The only instance recorded is the time I visited with Heinrich Fink.

Adeline Edwards, granddaughter of the narrator; New Jersey, USA


1. The Berlin Wall was a concrete barrier that separated West Berlin from East Berlin and from East Germany, which surrounded Berlin. The wall was constructed in 1961 and was taken down in 1989, when East Germany and West Germany were reunited into one country — Germany.

2. The CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) of the United States government gathers information related to the country’s national security.



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