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When did you realize that the world was bigger and more daunting than you thought.
The freedom of your primary school years, the rush of your early teen years, when your horizons broaden and you want to discover the world.
The comfort of your family life and the protection of your friends, neighbours and for me, my elder brothers.
My early years in the fifties and sixties were a time of poverty and struggle, but I really never thought much of it or realised how lucky we were, I was born ten years after the second world war. The threat of nuclear weapons in the cold war, was just another thing that could happen, but everybody laughed it off as if there was no way it would happen or stupid enough to push the button.
The pathetic air raid drills that you practiced where just like play time.
Living in the Merseyside area, we were prime targets and unless you were already in a shelter, your chances of survival were next to nothing.
But we didn't know that, people just got on with the struggle of trying just to put food on the table and keep warm in one of the coldest winters ever in early '63.
You lived your life, you played, you learned and you made the best of your life.
How little was I aware of the likes of the bay of pigs, the assassination of JFK and other real important issues like the building of the Berlin wall and the American and Russian (USSR) domination of the post war world.
We were taught, the sun would never go down on the British empire, the world was still pink! For those who don't know, grab hold of a pre 70s atlas and look at the pink countries that Great Britain ruled! India, Pakistan, Australia, Canada, South Africa and many more were beholding to the mother country!
Britannia rules the waves, before the break up of the commonwealth and those countries became independent we were the super power of the world, into the sixties, we were beholden to the United States and the empire was diminishing.
The empire games became the commonwealth games!
The world politics were way over my head growing up. Even my grammar school years were not focused on what the actual situation was in the world, we were brought up to honour our proud British history and unaware of our place in the world. We were looking at Europe and the NATO alliance was crucial to our safety which against the Eastern bloc of Russian domination countries also known as the Warsaw pact.
I just didn't realize the way of the world, my world was my family, friends and school. The latest big hit from America was the most important thing or football and how the local teams did, my team of kids playing on a Saturday morning was huge.
Nothing had really prepared me from what happened to me in the summer of 1970!
My parents and I, were offered the chance by close friends to visit Berlin. We would fly from Luton to Templehof airport, we would be picked up by this friend of my father's and stay on the RAF base at Gatow. This man was attached to the intelligence service though he was in the air service but as an interpreter for the British sector.
At that time Berlin was divided into 4 sectors, British, French, American and Russian, the Berlin wall was the most dominant feature of the former capitol of the German people.
On the first couple of days, we got our bearings and we visited various places, that were just somewhere different for me and really had no interest or a bit boring, shops and such, of course, things were just as scarce in the shops as they were at home. I wanted to see the war sites and those types of sightseeing places.
The third day was a lazy day on the base, as our hosts both had busy days, the son had to still go to school, I shared his bedroom on the bottom bunk! His name was Peter.
So I decided to venture out around the airbase, having no idea what I would see or do!
I looked around the big runway and got close up to various types of aircraft and astounded by how small they were compared to passenger aircraft and the huge transport planes. I was warned away by the RAF service men, not to go too near. I didn't venture to near the MPs, they sort of scared me a little, and I didn't want to get into trouble.
However as the day went on, my usual good sense of direction went awry and I suddenly found myself somewhere I didn't know, I was busy nosing around, the old personnel barracks, that must have been built during the Nazi era because of busts of German soldiers with their helmets on were on the end above the double doors. I found myself at the edge of the base golf course and then I realised, I was just a little bit lost, I started to retrace my steps. But as usual when things go wrong, you don't know which way to turn and you get yourself in a bit of a state about which way to go and when you do get back, you will get bollocked by your parents and suffer the consequences.
A little (a lot) panic set in and as the light was fading towards evening, I wasn't sure, which building or path to use, the roads went around the golf course but which way to go. I made my mind up and followed the path near the road by the furthest building, this brought me to a larger road that I hadn't seen before. I was confused and just a little more scared.
There was no one around, the area was silent and scary, I retraced my steps and it was getting darker, so I increased my running pace and headed back the way I had gone and went down the other path near the other road, this brought me back to the airfield and the hangars. I knew the house I was staying was behind a certain building which stood out a bit further on from the hangar I was by. I was heading directly there but a jeep with two MPs stopped me. I really nearly crapped my pants there and then. They asked me the relevant questions about who I was, where I was staying, and what was I doing roaming around the air base.
I got told to get in the back of the jeep, which was brilliant by the way and dropped off at the house I was staying, where there were some more MPs and officers there and my really unhappy parents.
I got the mother of all dressing down. I was grounded and lucky not to get my dad's belt across my arse. Grounded, during the day and was warned about my behaviour and no more nosing and wandering.
I was told in no uncertain style, that if I had continued my journey down the bigger road then I would have probably ended up somewhere where I definitely shouldn't have been! I was left with the impression that I really didn't want to know.
After a couple more days on the base, we were taken to do the sites around the Brandenburg gate. This was certainly an eye opener for me and my dad certainly got his point across about what was happening in the city. The gate was sealed off by barbed wire and tanks that had been sealed from the war. There was about six Russian guards goose stepping with machine guns which were not for show! The wall around that area were full of graffiti and there was the odd cross were east Germans had tried to escape and been killed.
The next was Spandau prison, were Herr Hess, a Nazi bigwig was jailed for life, we got the tour and told of the former inmates, from the war, that had been tried and punished for their war crimes and I was shown certain rooms where these Nazis had committed suicide.
For an impressionable fifteen year old, this was a bit too much of the history lesson and the sightseeing.
We visited the bombed church in the centre of the city and witnessed a service there! The one thing that struck me about Berlin was so different from my own area, we had bomb sites everywhere they had all new construction everywhere, my dad often said he wondered who had won the war!
We went ten pin bowling at the American px. I bought The Motown Story for $20 and was my pride and joy! We ate in the American officers restaurant mess(?). I had ham and eggs!
It was a big ham steak and 3eggs. Absolutely gorgeous it was!
The next day, we went out in the morning, I thought it would be just another sightseeing tour, well it was, but this was certainly something that I had not prepared myself for. My father's friend, the one we stayed with moved his son from beside me and he sat next to me and gave me a personal commentary about what was happening. We drove towards American guards, I thought it was another American Base but it wasn't, the barrier was raised and we drove on and about 50 yards on there was another barrier, which we stopped. There was Russian guards and East German police. We were told to get out the car and go into a long building. My dad's friend had told me that he had obtained personal visas for a visit through checkpoint Charlie to the east. I was being given the history and the importance of what it all meant, by my dad's friend, he was teaching me why, it was so important to be responsible for your behaviour and respect the power of not being in control of your life.
I was stunned, I never really took it all in. My life was irrelevant in the big scheme of things, I was nobody, I was just another visitor through this part of the cold war and if the world went to war that day, I would just be a statistic in the books.
You just don't realize how small and unimportant you are.
Anyway I learnt that lesson, I knew my place and if I wanted something I would have to work hard for it.
We visited the G.U.M. Were things were worse than at home and the faces of the people we seen were very different from anywhere else I had been, they were prisoners of global domination and they're lack of freedom.
I really wouldn't like to live like that and I'm fortunate not to have despite the lack of rights we impoverished brits are going through despite the wealth of the country. My dad would certainly be unhappy because of the sacrifice his generation went through to win the war and the way that people with disabilities and the unfortunate are treated in this country now!
The trip to East Berlin certainly made me realise that us British were just another European country and I believe that we should have real solid ties with our nearest neighbours on the continent, we just are not able to grow as a country without them, we depend so much on their trade and impact so much in our everyday life, we can't shut out the rest of the world. We have the most diverse capital in the world.
We can't afford another world war, we can't let the idiots in power blow the world up. In all my life, there has been wars, even through the so called peace and through late 20th century history, there has been one war after another and the list of our war dead continues to grow. I have lost people throughout my life, family, good friends, work and social colleagues.
There should be because of the technology, be any wars. There is an underlying trend towards extremism, haven't we learned our history lessons?
I fear for the future, because of the power struggle, because of the thirst for capitalistic greed and religious ideology.
I learnt my lesson, it seems the world hasn't!
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