‘How long have we been sitting here?’ I said. I picked up the field glasses and studied the bored young American soldier in his glass-sided box.
‘Nearly a quarter of a century,’ said Werner Volkmann. His arms were resting on the steering wheel and his head was slumped on them. ‘That GI wasn’t even born when we first sat here waiting for the dogs to bark.’
Barking dogs, in their compound behind the remains of the Hotel Adlon, were usually the first sign of something happening on the other side. The dogs sensed any unusual happenings long before the handlers came to get them. That’s why we kept the window open; that’s why we were frozen nearly to death.
‘That American soldier wasn’t born, the spy thriller he’s reading wasn’t written, and we both thought the Wall would be demolished within a few days. We were stupid kids but it was better then, wasn’t it, Bernie?’
‘It’s always better when you’re young, Werner,’ I said.
This side of Checkpoint Charlie had not changed. There never was much there; just one small hut and some signs warning you about leaving the Western Sector. But the East German side had grown far more elaborate. Walls and fences, gates and barriers, endless white lines to mark out the traffic lanes. Most recently they’d built a huge walled compound where the tourist buses were searched and tapped, scrutinized by gloomy men who pushed wheeled mirrors under every vehicle lest one of their fellow-countrymen was clinging there.
I loved the opening of this book. I hope it keeps up this way.