New Year's Eve in Cold War Berlin, 1985

On New Year’s Eve of 1985, Kerry and I were living on Albrechtstrasse in the Steglitz district of what was then known as the American Sector of West Berlin. We were Russian linguists stationed at Field Station Berlin, and we both worked the swing shift on Teufelsberg that day. Working the swing shift meant that we would get off work about an hour before midnight. This was our third New Year’s Eve in Berlin, and by then we knew how much Berliners loved to celebrate the beginning of the New Year with fireworks. More on that in a bit.

Our shift ended and we had to figure out how to get home, normally a routine matter. We started by taking the trick bus (the name given to the Army’s buses running between Teufelsberg and various housing areas in Berlin) to Truman Plaza, a small strip mall across the street from Clay Headquarters. We wandered over to a BVG bus stop, but, it being New Year’s Eve and all, at some point in the evening the public transportation buses had stopped running. By the time we’d figured out the routine was not to be, it was running dangerously close to midnight. Luckily, we were able to catch a cab. The cab ride home was like no other ride I’ve ever been on. At midnight, the fireworks started. And it wasn’t just some sort of well-ordered display in a protected area for all to gaze at for about 15 minutes and then go home, you know, like we tend to do here in the States on the Fourth of July. Nope . . .  it was pure mayhem! In addition to the formal, sanctioned displays, it seemed like every street in Steglitz was lined with people firing off all sorts of explosives – firecrackers, bottle rockets, roman candles, m80s, and more – with way too many of them aimed directly at our cab! And while they bounced harmlessly off the stout Mercedes Benz (standard issue Berlin taxi), the effect was thrilling. It was, I imagined, akin to being in a free-fire zone with little chance for harm.

When we got to our apartment building, still dodging the wild free-for-all of fireworks, we hustled up to our apartment’s balcony with its sixth floor view of the southern part of the city. The fireworks display continued unabated, so we opened a bottle of Jahrgang Sekt, poured ourselves a couple of glasses, stuck the bottle in the snow on our balcony, and enjoyed the colorful, explosive show, without a doubt the most memorable and enjoyable New Year’s Eve celebration of my life.

Teufelsberg in the winter of 1985

Teufelsberg in the winter of 1985