Cold War Memories: Berlin's School of Standards

When I reported for duty at Field Station Berlin in August of 1983, one of the first things I was required to do was attend a week-long course called the School of Standards. For a good deal of the Cold War, Berlin was the epicenter of the tense relations between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. The School of Standards was initiated to prevent behavior by American troops that might prove an international embarrassment. The course focused on the unique responsibilities that came with being stationed behind the Iron Curtain. At the end of the week we went on a tour of East Berlin for a somewhat up-close look at our adversary. One of the stops on the tour was the Soviet War Memorial in Treptower Park. At one end of the park is a massive statue of a weeping Mother Russia facing east towards the Soviet homeland. She overlooks a mass grave that reportedly contains the remains of upwards of 5,000 Red Army soldiers killed during the Battle of Berlin. The scale of the Memorial and its statuary is simply massive; its message direct. Two kneeling soldiers frame the pathway between Mother Russia and a towering statue of a Red Army soldier carrying a sword in one hand and a small child in the other while crushing a swastika. Subtlety was never a trait of Soviet-era art. The whole place was not surprisingly haunting; it's one of those places that I'll never forget. Indeed, I've included a brief mention of the Memorial in my upcoming book Silent Vector. To be in the presence of the remains of so many  men from what was in essence the final, vicious struggle in a war that left 20 million of their countrymen dead was close to overwhelming. At my request, a fellow soldier snapped a picture of me at the foot of Mother Russia. I was a PFC at the time. A discerning eye will notice I'm not wearing a name tag in the photo. We were instructed to remove them for security purposes. Additionally, I'm not wearing any unit crests. The Field Station troops on the tour were also instructed to remove their unit crests so the Soviets would not be able to identify which of us were involved in intelligence activities. You've probably already figured out what the Army overlooked - the only troops without unit crests were the Field Station troops making it pretty easy for the Sovs to figure out who the M.I. types were. Such was life in the Army. The ridiculous was often placed side by side with the profound. The key was, and is, giving a brief nod to the ridiculous while ultimately focusing in a lasting way on the profound. And that's precisely what I did on that day in East Berlin more than 30 years ago.

PFC Jonathan Dyer at the Soviet War Memorial - 1983

PFC Jonathan Dyer at the Soviet War Memorial - 1983