Monday, 9 November 2009

A Soviet hat from Berlin - a show and tell

I was not planning to do another show and tell so soon after the last one but as the 9th of November marks the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall, this one seemed appropriate.

My Soviet Russian military hat

I remember watching the events of the fall of the Berlin wall. It was during my student days and myself and others watched events unfold in the common room of a student hostel. Discussions came to two themes, 1/this was just a glitch in the status quo and the wall and the rest of the iron curtain would be back up in a couple of months, 2/this was it, the start of World War III. We had all been born into the cold war and it was all that we knew, the idea that Soviet Block Communism would come to an end was something that did not even occur to us, at that time. Little would I have guessed that I would be working in the eastern side of Berlin, less than three years later.

I was based in the Netherlands at the time and the organization that I worked for had a small team based in Berlin but they only had four guys there and when the Berlin wall had fallen they taken responsibility for a site in Stahnsdorf, that was badly in need of renovation. Not having the manpower in Berlin, teams where sent from Belgium and the Netherlands to help with the renovations and I was a member of one of those teams. Staying as guests of Her Majesties forces, at Devon house, the Berlin civilian mess, I was to visit Berlin many times, over the next couple of years.

On my first visit, in 1992 the East side of Berlin was still very much as it had been in the Soviet era and the stub of the old wall could still be seen across the road by the Brandenburg Gate. It was there that many stalls had been set up, mostly selling Russian army artifacts, everything from watches to infra red night sights. That is where I purchased this hat. I have since found out that it is an officers hat of the motorized infantry from some time in the late 50's or early 60's. An officer probably made a bit of cash by selling off his old uniform to the traders. I was to visit Berlin a lot in the 90's, both to work and to visit a friend who lives there and I watched as the old East side of the city transformed and became westernized.

This hat now hangs in the spare bedroom where I keep my books my library and is a constant reminder of the cold war days that I grew up in and the changing face of Europe in the post Soviet era.

There is one song that always reminds me of Berlin and that time (and also how pretentious some 80's videos could be) and every time that I think of my visits to Berlin this song starts going through my head.



Emm said...

Wow! Was it twenty years ago today? I also remember watching it in the media centre at our school. I was 16.

I was young enough to think that this was it, a brave new world. Mandela was released from prison three months later and that just made us believe it more!

BBE said...

You were more optimistic than my study buddies and me then. Our general consensus was that if the central European countries did not reestablish their borders and stop the exodus, then the Russians would start pushing buttons and the weather report would have mushroom clouds on the map.

It seems so silly looking back at it now but people in the UK (including myself) were really that paranoid, at the time.


Emm said...

And we were so optimistic and full of hope! :o( Pity the dream ended n South Africa.