Picture this...The Wall behind us and three choices ahead. We could go left and fall into enemy hands at the tower where the military was installed. It's kind of like a lighthouse where the light does a 360 and escapees take their turn dodging the spotlight. Straight ahead was an open grassy area of some sort with trees, maybe even a forest in the distance. Remember in "The Great Escape" when they tunneled under the camp and were short by a hundred yards or so? Same thing here. To the right, it was pitch dark and we couldn't really see much of anything. When in doubt, go with the unknown.
Now, I seem to remember a full moon when we were on the West side of The Wall but it seemed like a total blackout on the East side. Time does play tricks on the mind but maybe the moon didn't shine on East Germany or maybe the moon in the West was a figment of my imagination. In any case, I have a very clear recollection that we were surrounded by complete and utter darkness. I also remember that we linked arms so as not to get lost in the dark, with me in the middle. Besides darkness, it was particularly silent except for our breathing and footfalls. We were on a mission to find that farmhouse--maybe it would have cows; maybe a nice young farmboy would hide us and bring us food; maybe there would be featherbeds--it was rather cool that night.
It is funny how I can't remember what I wore last Friday, for instance, but I can remember exactly what I was wearing on that night. I had on brown Wranglers, a turtleneck sweater and a blue peacoat. We all wore stocking caps and stuffed our hair inside. I carried a black vinyl shopping bag (can't remember what Leigh and Wendy carried) but in it were apples, oranges, an instamatic Kodak, a change of underwear, our passports and the equivalent of $5 each in Deutsch Marks--we were only planning on spending a day and according to Erik Frommer, that is all we would need.
I don't ever remember a night, before or since, as dark as that one was. Every now and then, we would hear a metal sound of some kind--a clanging noise, that would just last for a second or two and disappear. We would stop and would hear it again every 15 minutes or so. It seemed close but we were walking some distance and the sound seem to be following us. We would say "hello? anyone there" but never received an answer. This continued for about an hour -- a momentary jingle and then silence for another 15 minutes. We decided that the rattling sound was metal hitting metal of some kind. As Dumb, Dumber and Dumbest continued walking into a thicket, we finally had the answer as to what exactly was making that innocent tinkling sound.
You know that thing they say about seeing your whole life flash in front of you when you are about to die? It is absolutely true. It is so instantaneous and not only do you review your life in a matter of milliseconds, you have another millisecond to pray for, in this case, a firing squad to make it fast and painless. While I never saw my attacker, I felt his warm breath, saw his teeth and smelled his dank fur. I was also grateful that I remembered that change of underwear and wondered if I'd have a chance to use them.
That clinking sound was a canine on a leash, chained to static line of some sort. He could move up and down as long as he was following the line which was what we kept hearing but he could only stretch so far backwards or forwards. He attacked one footfall too soon. One more step and he would have had me for his midnight snack but as luck would have it, he was a bit too eager which is surprising considering he followed us for quite a distance without making a sound. Though I didn't scream or make any niose for tha matter, I simply froze from my toes to my stocking cap. I can still hear Wendy whispering "Don't move". Was she kidding? I was paralyzed. Both Wendy and Leigh simply dragged me back out of reach where I could compose myself. I had a bit of difficulty with the shaking and teeth chattering.
As I began to regain my composure and realize that this might not be my last minute on earth, I confessed that I had gone as far as I was going and, call me a coward, but I had seen enough of Eash Germany. I was ready to cash in my return ticket. There was mild protest, a save face kind of thing, where either Leigh or Wendy suggested a different route. No way, Jose. The only route I was interested in was "home, James".
We tried to retrace our steps, which is difficult to do in the dark but suddenly we were back at The Wall. The way the barbed wire was situated at the top, it made it difficult to climb over and there was no way to dig under with the concrete in place. We also were a bit thoughtful of being caught climbing over it because it might look like we were escaping, when in fact, we had just taken a wrong turn. Would they ask us politely if we were Canadians? or would they simply assume that we were East Germans and gun us down. I wasn't overly confident after my little episode, so I suggested that we make lots of noise so as not to appear sneaky, walk to the tower, make some small talk, show them our passports and tell them we wanted to go home.
So...we walked arm in arm once again walking toward the light and hoped that the light was in this world and not the next. We sang "When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again and It's a Long Way To Tipperary". Yes, there were thousands of current tunes we could have chosen but these seemed appropriate at the time. We didn't stop to think that WWI and WWII were different wars than this Cold one but how does one even begin to select the politically correct song of surrender? No one ever said we were geniuses.
As we approached the tower, I had stopped trembling and was getting my confidence back. I was beginning to think that we were nearing the end of our adventure. I was, in fact, wondering how we were going to find a bus at this late hour in Travemunde to get back to Hamburg. We were now belting out show tunes and were somewhat perplexed that, as yet, no one had shown up. Where was everybody? Was the tower deserted? Was it simply a facade to deter escapees? We stopped singing and called out "Hallo? Anybody home? Wie Gehts" which technically, means "how's life" though there didn't seem to be any at this late hour.
Oops, my bad. There was life alright. We were suddenly surrounded by six young soldiers sporting really, really, big guns. If I had to take a wild guess, I'd say they were machine guns. Nope, the adventure was far from over...
to be continued...