Berlin Wall patrol
March 31, 1967
(EDITOR'S NOTE: The border patrols of the U.S. Army's Berlin Brigade have been run along the perimeter of West Berlin's American sector ever since the city was cut up by the Big Four after World War II. Today, these jeep reconnaissance patrols are run by the 4th Bn of the 18th Inf Regt and the 2nd and 3rd Bns of the 6th Inf. They guard about 38 miles of the sector where it borders on East Berlin and East Germany. About 12.5 miles of this border is a natural water barrier patrolled by military police boats. The Stars and Stripes went along on a day patrol along that part of the border known as the Wall, erected by the Communists between East and West Berlin in August 1961.)
IT'S 1:10 p.m. and a deep-freeze day in Berlin. A bright sun has come out. but it's still too weak to budge the mercury from the 20-degree mark.
A lusty wind whips up sheets of dust across the littered lots along the Wall where wartime ruins have given way to spacious bleakness.
In the small clapboard station that is Checkpoint Charlie, the Friedrichstrasse International crossing point, MPs sip piping-hot coffee from sturdy mugs, glad that the biting cold keeps through-the-Wall traffic to a dribble.
Around the corner, barber Johannes Zobel gives a shave to a customer sprawled comfortably in the high chair. Zobel's "Frisiersalon" keeps the lights on call day — the shop is in perennial shade of the Wall, a sidewalk's width away,
A U.S. Army jeep moves slowly up the tight alley along the Wall, passes Charlie's Place without stopping and turns into Kochstrasse. The three men in the open vehicle — from the 4th Bn, 18th Inf at McNair Barracks — would love to get their hands on a hot cup of java. But there's no time for a break now-the border patrols of the Berlin Brigade operate on spartan schedules ... rain, shine or freeze.
After three blocks, driver Spec. 4 Roy Delorme, 21, from Thief River Falls, Minn., turns east into Lindenstrasse. It's a dead-end street, closed off by the Wall. The jeep again has to squeeze through a narrow passageway, carefully inching past some parked cars.
It's back to Kochstrasse, and on the way they run into another patrol, this one from the "competition," 2nd Bn of the 6th Inf. A quick wave, but no chat. It's too cold, anyway.
The jeep passes the gasthaus "Alter Fritz" at the corner of Zimmerstrasse, going the wrong way on the one-way street. Then comes a small park., Kommandantenstrasse, Alte Jacobsstrasse — a teeming area in pre-war Berlin, now but a memory of more glorious days.
At Stallschreiberstrasse, the old crude Wall originally put up in August 1961 links up with its "modern" version of 1966 — nine neat slabs of concrete 10 feet high and topped by a pipe that was installed to prevent would--be escapees from gaining a firm grip. No barbed wire at the crest, but just as effective . . .
The patrol leader, Sgt. James E. Lewis, 33, mounts an observation platform erected a few feet from the Wall. A quick check of the pre-fab bunkers of the East German guards through his binoculars and then his curt order to move on.
The patrol passes Prinzenstrasse, the crossing point for West Germans visiting East Berlin. At Oranianstrasse and Luckauerstrasse, Lewis again steps up on a platform and peers at the guards on the other side, who in turn size him up with equal interest. A sign warns that the "Sidewalk is in Soviet Sector."
The east-west confrontation becomes slightly more dramatic on Waldemarstrasse, where the border used to separate across-the-street neighbors. But the people on the east side later were evacuated to other homes and the windows and doors of the five-story apartment buildings were carefully bricked up. Now workers, surrounded by burpgun-toting Vopos, are busy tearing down the sooty, age-ridden structures to the first story.
Debris cascades down to the street, and choking clouds of white mortar dust drift over into the West. The laborers keep hacking away without looking up; their wardens hover about like birds of prey.
Lewis calmly mounts the platform and even climbs on to the banister to study the proceedings. He is so close he could carry on a quiet conversation. The Reds stoically stare back through their field glasses — a ridiculous gesture at this distance.
"They have a lot of guards here to keep the workers from escaping," says the sergeant, although he knows that the situation explains itself.
Back on the ground, Lewis makes an entry in the patrol log and reports back to headquarters on the radio, sometimes talking in cryptic code. "12 ... this is 50 ... three civilian personnel working on building ...four guard personnel ..."
The patrol again heads into a deadend alley, roped off because of some construction. As Lewis gets out to untie it, a little German boy in a cowboy outfit rushes up to give him a hand.
"Onkel, haste 'nen Groschen? (Do you have a dime?)" The stocky sergeant ignores him with a grin, and the youngster pokes his toy gun at him in a mock threat. Maybe he knows that his six-shooter is no match for the M60 machine gun mounted on the jeep and manned by the patrol's third man, Pfc. Michael Ireland, 21.
As the patrol cruises slowly along, following the erratic zigzag of the Wall, the three men occasionally return a friendly greeting from passersby, usually children and oldsters.
At the next stop, at Adalbertstrasse, Berlin Brigade's finest are held up again. This time it's two little girls on roller skates and their mongrel dog.
As Lewis returns from his platform duties, he finds his seat occupied by the two young frauleins, who refuse to budge. The sergeant — he has two children of his own — bristles his moustache and wags a stern finger: "Das ist verboten," and the girls, giggling, get out, riding off on their own wheels.
The patrol crosses Mariannen Platz, follows Wrangelstrasse, Manteuffelstrasse, Koepenickerstrasse, Osthafen, where the Spree River widens to accommodate a barge harbor. An East German patrol boat immediately scoots out from under a bridge and approaches the West bank — and again it's the old binocular game.
Lewis checks in with headquarters, and Ireland has got up from his crouch to align himself with the sights of the M60. He does it every time the patrol approaches the sector border. Occasionally, he rubs his stiff fingers — the Riverside, Calif., native is used to warmer climes than this.
This is Oberbaum Bridge, a spot that has seen many escape attempts across the river during the past six years. The sun glistens brightly on the choppy water; and seagulls underscore their exclusive possession of the air space here by liberally splattering the whitened manifestations of this privilege on eastern and western landmarks alike.
A plain wooden cross with a barbed wire wreath marks the spot where a refugee tried to swim to the West but was stopped by Communist bullets. His faded photo is decorated by a fresh bouquet of pink carnations.
As Lewis sticks his head above the Wall, a Red guard with a camera dangling from his neck scurries close and starts snapping away. But he's no match for Bob Milnes, the Stripes lensman, whose shutter keeps clicking with the vengeance of a taxicab meter. In a couple of minutes, both chuckle and call a cease-fire — the shooting match is over. The Red shutterbug backs away, sheepishly. "Sometimes they train floodlights on you if you want to take their picture," says Lewis. He tips his cap to a passing barge and is rewarded by an appreciative siren hoot.
The hour-long tour with the border patrol has come to an end. The three men in the jeep still have a way to go, though, before they can enjoy that cup of coffee. But the chill has lessened a bit as they continue on their lonely beat along the Berlin Wall.