Thursday, December 8, 2011


I went through Check Point Charlie in East Berlin when the concrete Wall that divided East and West Germany for twenty-eight years was almost finished. I was a Junior ("Tertian") at St. Andrews University in Scotland and on vacation. And I was thrilled I could take a day trip to a Communist country.

It turned out my visit was more frightening than thrilling. WWII ruins still covered bombed out building lots. Ugly buildings (for the most part), obvious signs of poverty, tension in the streets, the museums, stores, and restaurants told me this was nothing like America, or the modern, democratic city of West Berlin I'd just left.

There wasn't much talking in the restaurant where I had lunch and I had to pay the equvalent of 5 cents to obtain a cube of sugar for my coffee. A guard followed me from room to room in the Pergamon Museum. Same thing in another one. There were few or no visitors besides me in these incredible museums, one with the huge, original Altar of Zeus, the other with a beautiful bust of Nefertiti in a tiny, climate-controlled room.

I had a headache before it was time to return to the Youth Hostel in West Berlin and I rarely get headaches. It was the tension, the feeling of being watched, being questioned before I was allowed to enter East Berlin, being searched when I returned. It was the soldier's gun pointed at me when I tried to take a picture of a government building. I felt alien, unwelcome, threatened and somehow threatening to those on the Soviet side of the wall.

I guess there's something of the experience of the battered woman in this long-ago visit. I felt like I was in trouble, but didn't know what I'd done wrong. I felt smothered by eyes and bodies that watched and waited for me to mess up so they could pounce on me.

I was ever so grateful to return to the hostel that night. Glad to feel free, relaxed, and accepted again. All it took was to ride the U-Bahn back to West Berlin and my psyche swung back to normal.

What U-Bahn is there for the battered woman? How does she escape the threats that torture her and the batterer who makes them?

You can live in America and not be free. Ask any victim of violence in her own home.

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