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   Heiko Burkhardt
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In 1981, as a member of the United States Air Force, I was able to walk
through Checkpoint Charlie, in my
Air Force uniform, with no interference from the East German guards. I
recall taking this walk one fine morning in
an effort to see the wall from the communist side. Sometime during the day I
removed my Air Force issue sweater
because the sun was shining brightly, and I gave the sweater to a friend so
he could take the sweater back home in
his car. Well, unbeknownst to me when I walked through Checkpoint Charlie
that fine morning the East Germans
took photographs of me entering East Berlin. Upon my intended return back
through Checkpoint Charlie, toward
the West, I was greeted with the closing of gates, the raising of barriers,
and immediate detainment by four East
German guards (they came out brandishing weaponry - guns pointed at me). I
was 'interrogated' regarding many,
many non-pertinent issues such what's your name, what's your function with
the U.S. Air Force, what are you doing
in the East... I played dumb and pretended I knew none of the German
language. I'll admit that I was scared,
frightened, and very curious about what was occurring. My only thought at
the time was that perhaps our side had
captured a communist spy and now I was going to be used as trading material.
I was beginning to envision several
days and nights in an East German cell, until I heard the guards discussing
something about a sweater. I caught the
word 'pullover' numerous times in their conversation (they were speaking
freely around me due to my denial of the
German language). Finally I realized what this situation was all about -
they were wondering where was my Air
Force sweater. They were theorizing that I could aid a potential East German
escapee by providing him/her with
military clothing. I began to smile as my fears subsided. Nothing nearly as
dramatizing romantic as a spy swap was
going to take place. There would be no international incident after all. I
wasn't going to be telling stories to the
Washington Post about my stay in an East German prison (where I would have
undoubtedly been interrogated under
bright lights, fed meager rations, and brave to the very end - not have
revealed any information?). Upon
understanding their conversation about the sweater my prior military
training immediately returned to the forefront
of my mind and I stated, in perfect German, "I demand to speak with a
Russian officer right now. If I wanted to
provide citizens in the East with clothing I'd probably mail it over".
Suddenly all was quiet, the East Germans knew
that they no longer 'had' me, but that they were the ones who had been
'had', the gates were opened wide and I
walked back through to freedom in the West. It is nearly a fifty yard walk
though, through no man's land, and my
spine was tingling - waiting for that bullet in the back like they do in the

I never reported this incident to my superiors because they would not have
been happy, and I would have
been reprimanded in some fashion for allowing the situation to occur. Until
now I have kept the whole incident
pretty much among close friends.

Tom K.

June 1, 2000