In the early 80s I was a visiting professor the the Freie Universität Berlin. I wanted to visit the Pergamon Museum. As it was in East Berlin I had to go through Checkpoint Charlie. It was an interesting experience. The East German guards took my passport and made me change American money for East German marks. I think I had to hand over $50 for the useless currency – could have been a bit more. While I was going through these formalities the guards were checking anything in sight for forbidden people or stuff. The even had mirrors that they rolled under every car. Finally, after passing muster, I was set free on the streets of East Berlin.
My first impression was that of striking solitude. No one was on the streets – no people, no cars. I don’t remember how I got to the museum. Whether I walked or took a cab is forgotten. If I took a cab, it must have been the only one in the eastern sector. The museum was similarly empty. I saw the Pergamon Altar and the other great antiquities and got the hell out of East Berlin as fast as I could. I got my passport back without a hassle and headed to the bar at the Kempinski Hotel where I was staying. I now understood why my host at the University refused to go to East Berlin.
My one and only trip through Checkpoint Charlie was called to mind when I read about the reopening of the Santa Fe opera. Opera singers and their camp followers are a fragile bunch. The Santa Feans originally considered hazmat suits for both performers and audience. Lukewarm heads prevailed and they opted for the following COVID precautions. I’ve copied and pasted them below from the opera’s website. On reflection, I think I’d prefer another trip through Checkpoint Charlie than to attend the Santa Fe Opera wearing a double layered mask for four hours. Terminal timidity and chaotic thinking seems to have possessed the SFO canaries. If you find these procedures reassuring and pleasant, then head for the Land of Enchantment. If you think think they represent a mind in search of the lost and found, wait until next year. They should have stuck with hazmat suits.