Drawing Open the Old Iron Curtains

Oh sure, a trip to Chernobyl sounds fantastic. But someone much smarter than I really needs to get to work on this time travel thing because I desperately want to visit the Soviet and Eastern European countries prior to the fall of the Soviet Union, as the posters in this thread were able to do.

Some of the anecdotes shared in this thread are just remarkable. Far too many great stories to do justice by quoting, but here are a few to whet your whistle:

I remember traveling to USSR in 1987 – being asked on every street corner to change money… Being asked for my sweatshirt (college logo) and the little kids asking for chewing gum and pens. Pens? Yes, ballpoint pens. I remember getting change in a variety of foreign currencies from the official tourist shops. This was an organized “Intourist” tour – flying Aeroflot was frightening. We landed in Moscow an hour early, but they had to find someone to turn on the lights so we could go through customs. ~surfmom

in 1979, a combination of bad weather and pre-Thatcher British strikes made the only option from London to an urgent Luxembourg meeting in a flight to (West) Berlin, train across East Germany to Frankfurt, then another flight. Entering and leaving the East was a painless exercise with polite Communist officials full of “pleases” and “thank you’s” (and transport running with an efficiency unheard of in Britain’s then state-owned trains or planes). Re-entering the West was a nightmare of rude free-world officials and an hour long security check by the Federal (West) German police. ~flanneruk

In 1972 I was travelling in a VW bus with 2 girls from Montreal. On a whim, we decided to head for Berlin. In those days you had to traverse East Germany on an autobahn before reaching West Berlin. … We were thoroughly inspected at the border. … They had a good look inside then motioned for me to go. … About half the time the van wouldn’t start with the key so we’d have to push start it. Of course, this was one of the times it didn’t want to start. The girls hopped out and around to the back, I jumped out and started pushing with the driver’s door open … When the guards realized what we were doing they waved the girls back into the van and 3 of them pushed… it was the fastest bump start ever by 3 rifle packing East German border guards. ~ParisAmsterdam

I do not have direct experience , but my wife and I sat enthralled in a Paris restaurant as a German at the table next to us explained to a Swedish colleague how he had defected to the West — all in English, their common language. One morning on the way to work, he got on the S-Bahn with only his briefcase, got off at a West Berlin stop, and never saw his mother again. And in that simple act, you know everything you need to know about Communism. ~Ackislander

The entire thread is a terrific read, and even includes some stories about Franco’s Spain and accounts of Soviet-bloc citizens who traveled to the West pre-fall.

C’mon now smarty pants scientists. Do you realize the price you could place on these tickets? Virgin Galactic space tickets would sell for chump change by comparison. An entire new lottery system would be born (just what we need).

Read the thread in its entirety: Tales of Being Behind the Iron Curtain

Image: “Iron Curtain” by Amy Ross. CC BY-ND 2.0.


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