The following morning was crisp, the sun poking through the gliding smoke-colored clouds. Alex had me meet him in a slightly different location on Friedrichstraße, closer to the S-Bahn station. The first contact routine was the same, a visual acknowledgment followed by a 5 to 10 meter distance following until we were in East Berlin. Nobody seemed to be paying particular attention to us throughout the ride. We exited the train onto the same platform as the previous night. There were only about three Soviet guards at the bottom of the steps.
Sergei was waiting for us with the Lada Samara’s engine running. The interior was nice and warm. This time, we did not wave through back streets but instead went towards the center of East Berlin. It was nearing the lunch hour, with breakfast being my own responsibility at the hotel.
Alex and I were left off at the end if a long winding sidewalk leading through a park.
“This is Treptower Park,” he announced proudly.
Treptower was a popular park located along the river Spree in the Treptow-Köpenick district. Besides having a Soviet War Memorial it contained a military cemetery that commemorated 5,000 of the 80,000 Soviet soldiers who fell in the Battle of Berlin in April–May 1945. It opened four years after the war ended on May 8, 1949. Not long after President Reagan gave his famous speech, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” the park was used for a rock concert by the British Rock Band Barclay James Harvest on 14 July 1987. It marked the first ever open-air concert by a Western Rock Band in the German Democratic Republic.
A small brown wooden shack stood along the walkway about 100 meters from where we were. Across from it was a park bench. A man in his early sixties was in the stand behind a counter containing several food items to choose from. Alex and I had some steamy currywurst, one of the traditional snacks in the area. The white-haired man served us the sliced pork sausage swimming in a curry-tomato sauce and gave us each some white bread to go with it.
Sauntering over to the park bench, we observed a young couple pushing a stroller with an 18-month old, all bundled up from the cold. Based on the color of the clothes and buggy, I assumed the baby was a boy. The couple glanced at us briefly but moved along without altering their pace.
Alex reviewed the procedures with me from the previous evening, concerning the invisible letters. I chuckled a bit and every time that I did so, he replied, “You must not laugh, why; because…” and then he would proceed to explain why I shouldn’t be laughing. He wanted me to make sure that I believed him when he explained how prosperous I could be if everything went according to plan.
I replied back that I wasn’t really laughing but was simply overwhelmed by this whole experience. He understood, or so he said. After we finished eating, we walked a little further so that Alex could show me The Soviet War Memorial.
Our brief meeting on the park bench was followed by a drive through the city and to the Potsdam’s Museum “Im Güldenen Arm,” a baroque style building that dominated during the reign of Frederick William I. The museum’s exhibition included civil development, documents of the garrison period, and special exhibitions on Potsdam´s history. We spent a few hours here.
It was starting to get dark as 5:00 PM approached during the winter month of December. I remembered that during the summer month of July, it was quite the opposite with the sun rising around 5:30 AM and setting around 10:30 PM.
“Are you getting hungry?” Alex asked.
“Yes, I am.”
Our paced picked up and we made our way to the waiting Lada. Alex said something to Sergei in Russian and he replied, “Да!” We drove back through the city, talking about anything, everything, and nothing. Then Sergei left us off at a familiar place. It was Hotel Moskau in Karl Marx Allee. This was one restaurant that Americans were allowed to eat whenever they traveled to the East. I was a bit apprehensive that I would run into somebody that I knew until the two of us were quickly ushered to a different section of the restaurant that I had not seen before. It was decorated nicely and surround by thick red curtains. Alex and I had the whole room and long table for ourselves.
The food, a 5-course meal, with vodka, served by 4 waiters, was very delicious. It seemed to be a combined Cornish hen with a small beef rump smothered in some sort of wine sauce. Our conversation centered on social and political topics, carefully avoiding anything to do with the business at hand.
Throughout the meal, I looked for an opportunity to tell Alex that I had a special gift for him in the car with our bags. That moment came when things were quiet and we waited for the bill. Alex had a gratifying look on his face, as if he had just finished a feast.
“Alex, do you remember last year when we were together with our wives and you told everyone that maybe 5% of you believed in a God because your grandmother taught you when you were 6-years old?”
He smiled, “Yes, of course. But I can’t believe that you remembered.”
“Yes, I do, and I have something to give you that your grandmother would want you to have.”
“That is very kind of you. I shall look forward to receiving this.”
Shortly afterwards, we turned in our tokens at desk to retrieve our winter coats and then went out the front door where Sergei was waiting for us, engine running, the interior, nice and warm. On our way to the S-Bahn station where I would say my farewell to Alex and head back to the West and then to the USA the following day, I pulled the new hard-cover NIV Bible out of my bag. Then I held it out towards Alex and said, “This is what your grandmother would want you to have.”
Alex appeared deeply moved as he clutched the green-colored Bible with both hands. Then he looked at the cover, held it up to his chest and said, “Thank you very much. I always wanted one of these to read.”
Alex placed the Bible in his bag and pulled a Russian book out for me in another gift exchange. When Sergei dropped us off near the S-Bahn station, Alex took me inside a small shop before moving towards the stairwell. It was a quaint little shop with a variety of knick-knacks. Alex pointed out a few pieces of china that were setting against the back wall.
“Do you like any of those china sets?”
“They are all nice,” I replied.
“Which do you like the best?”
I pointed one out and said, “That one looks especially artistic.”
The next thing I know, Alex is purchasing the set and had it boxed and tied together with string. Alex grabbed the box from the gray-haired woman in her mid-sixties and exchanged a few words with her. Then we darted out the door and up the stairs past the young Soviet guards and onto the snow-covered platform. The flurries were coming down harder as the evening wore on. We stood together until the rickety train clanked down the tracks from the east.
As it approached the platform where we were standing, Alex handed me the box and said, “Please give this to Trena from me.”
“Thank you very much, Alex. I’m sure she will greatly appreciate this!”
I turned to shake his hand as the train screeched to a halt but Alex grabbed me in a big bear-hug instead.
“Take care my friend and stay safe.”
“Good-bye Alex. Thank you for your hospitality today and for Trena’s gift.” I always knew that he was fond of her because when we all met the year before, he insisted on carrying her fireman style in front of him when we came to a large puddle of water. He did not want her to get her stylish boots wet.
“You better get aboard.”
I entered the last car, placed the brown box at my feet and held onto the vertical silver pole. Then I faced outside in Alex’s direction before the door closed. He remained where I left him. The train jerked forward, causing me to hold on to the pole with a tighter grip and we began slowly moving away from the platform. Alex stood with his hands buried in his coat pockets for a brief period and then lifted one of them to wave farewell. I waved back and then looked for an empty seat.
I found one facing the front and as I sat down, I thought I heard a voice whisper in my ear, “Well done thy faithful servant. Mission accomplished.”
I had a feeling then that I would never see Alex again. This turned out to be true. I never saw him again.
Two years later, the Berlin wall was torn down by the people and the Soviets moved away from Berlin. It was during my last semester of college while doing an internship, teaching high school social studies at Hardee High. I told the students, “I never thought I would see this day.”
There’s a room where the light won’t find you
Holding hands while the walls come tumbling down
When they do I’ll be right behind you
So glad we’ve almost made it
So sad they had to fade it
Everybody wants to rule the world- Tears for Fears