After demob. I frequently returned to Germany with my wife to show her where I had done my National Service in earlier years.
On one occasion in August 1967, whilst staying with German friends who lived in Gliesmarode, a suburb east of Braunschweig, we decided to drive to Berlin in our near new Hillman Super Minx for a few days and stay with other friends there.
We got up early, filled the car with petrol, and drove the 25 kilometres to the Helmstedt Checkpoint 'Alpha', and passed through the 'no man's land' to the GDR huts on the right by the watch-tower, where we had to show our UK Passports and pay 10DM each for Transit Visa. We were told not to stop en-route until we reached the Drewitz control. Apparently, each checkpoint notifies the destination checkpoint that you are on your way.
We DID stop at a Gastatte near Magdeburg for coffee and cakes though and arrived in Berlin with no problems.
We toured arround West Berlin, having lunch in the KDW Restaurant on the Kufurstendamplatz;climbed the platform to peer over the "Wall" on the Bernauer Straße;drove right around the Tegelsee Lake, then back down to the Wansee Lake. After three wonderful days we decided to head back to Braunschweig, and crossed over the border from West Berlin to East Germany near Potsdam at the control point "Griebnitz". There we collected and paid for our return Transit Visas and proceeded on until we saw a line of sand-filled 44 gallon drums across the road at Drewitz. A VOPO stopped us and ordered us out of the car, then sent us to a wooden hut where a hand came through a window gesturing "Pass". We handed over our Passports & Visas which disappeared for about five minutes. Then we heard the thud of a rubber stamp, and the documents were handed back to us. Meanwhile, the VOPO who had stopped us was searching the car boot, and underneath with a mirror on a pole!
We got back into the car when directed by the VOPO-and then it happened-every
driver's worst nightmare!
The clutch has seized. I couln't get it into gear.
Wondering why the delay, the VOPO came over and said, "Was ist mit dem Auto?" I could speak some German, but do you think that I could remember what the clutch was called (Kupplung). So I just replied "Auto ist kaput!"
Next thing I know the VOPO whistled, and about six others appeared from nowhere behind the wooden hut. With a gesture of my hands I indicated that the clutch plates were stuck together. Between them they realised what had happened.
What happened next astonished us, (and I thought that I'd seen everything), because they told me to get in the car, stick it in third gear; switch on the ignition-then they all push started me, at the same time gesturing that they would 'phone ahead to Helmstedt to warn of potential trouble.
Actually, all went well until we were about one kilometre from the Helmstedt Control. It was getting dark by now, and to our shock-horror there was an endless column of trucks, buses and cars for the whole kilometre.
What we didn't know was that (being a Friday), all vehicles were being searched thoroughly. All luggage was being off-loaded and officials with mirrors were checking the undersides of vehicles and car boots.
I went into panic mode at the sight before us. What to do? I had to stop for sure, but how was I going to push the damned car for one kilometre?
We waited and waited and waited for about three hours as nothing appeared to be happening! Finally, about 2100 hours we saw flashing lights ahead of us. Then we noticed that cars were moving out of the column and made to form a new line of cars only.
Luckily for us there was a slight downhill slope towards the border control point. We managed to get the car into the new line and were about to free-wheel it bit by bit when two huge female border guards approached, and again we heard, "Was gibt mit Auto?" "Motoren kaput!", was my reply. "Ach so!"
The VOPO ladies exchanged some words with control on their two-way radio(Walkie-talkie),then, as before, after the two jumped into our car, checked our papers and told some men to push start us. We drove very slowly to the checkpoint. The ladies got out one each side while we were still moving, as we were waved through the checkpoint!
Aware of what was happening, the West German police waved us through. There was a Shell garage on the right, so we pulled in and explained our problem. They 'phoned our German friends with whom we were staying who came to collect us.
It took two days for a new clutch to come from Rootes in the UK, and a day later we got the car back good as new!
We made several return trips over the same route by both road and rail in 1977 and 1979 with no hassles!
How different things would have been today in a unified Germany. But, all in all, those East Germans went out of their way to make things as easy as it was possible to do so under the circumstances.
But what an adventure!