As generations came of age with little or no memories of the existence of the Soviet Union, the common misconception about Berlin became more common. Since the German capital was divided between the former East and West Germany, it is easy to assume that it must have been on the border between the two states. In fact, all of Berlin, East and West, was completely surrounded by East Germany, and the route from West Germany to West Berlin involved more than 100 miles of highway through Soviet territory. Exactly how this happened is fully explained in “Destination Berlin”, the 1988 video by the Royal Military Police above.
“You don’t have to worry about the trip,” says the narrator in a northern accent, an announcement that rather undermines his own intended message. And few drivers, British military or otherwise, could watch the material that follows without speculating about a series of false moves that could lead to an involuntary extended stay on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain.
You must never back down on the landing. If you break down on the highway, you must only accept help from allied drivers. When he salutes any of the Soviet officers you inevitably encounter along the way, “you must, regardless of your sex, rank, or form of dress, return his salute.”
“If you were to be spoken to by a Soviet or East German national,” the narrator explains, “you must do the following: remember as many details as possible about the conversation, as well as the person’s physical description, clothing, and rank. individual. Remain noncommittal and agree to nothing at all times.” (And remember, “you’ll only draw attention to yourself by speaking Russian at a Soviet checkpoint, so don’t.”) These stark warnings evoke the Cold War era as strongly as the audiovisual itself production of “Destination Berlin”, even in the minds of those who haven’t experienced it. Could anyone watching in 1988 – worried about what documents to present at which guard stations, not to mention the potential geopolitical ramifications of fender-bending – imagine that the Berlin Wall would come down the very next year?
Louis Armstrong plays historic Cold War concerts in East Berlin and Budapest (1965)
Protect and survive: British instructional films from the 1970s on how to survive a nuclear attack
Bruce Springsteen plays East Berlin in 1988: I’m not here for any government. I came to play rock
East German Secret Police Illustrated Guide to Identifying Youth Subcultures: Punks, Goths, Teds & More (1985)
Psychedelic animated video for Kraftwerk’s 1979 “Autobahn”.
based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcastson cities, language and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books about cities, book The Stateless City: A Walking Tour of 21st Century Los Angeles and video series City in cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.