To Berlin by Anna Coates
For a Soviet citizen the visa to get into the Western country never seemed a problem. The problem was to get permission to get out of the Soviet Union, but sometimes miracles happened – I was in train for my first trip to the West. West Germany.
I had two books, three apples and three packages of my favourite crisps to kill the time, but after few hours of reading and looking outside through the rain, I started to feel peckish.
‘Which way is the restaurant carriage? Is it open now?’ I asked when the train attendant walked past my compartment for the next time.
‘A restaurant?’ she looked at me perplexed. ‘Didn’t you know? This train has none. Not enough carriages on Berlin line now. You can only order tea, if you want.’
Great! Because the whole Soviet Army contingent was leaving East Germany, I must starve. I felt disappointed. The only happy thought was about Germans – they must feel happy about it.
I stretched back on the bunk bed and read some more. The train run in the dark, stopped and then run again. After Minsk, the train was nearly empty. I noticed an elderly man, nervously chain-smoking in the corridor, and a young couple, heads together, whispering each time I walked past to the toilet. But most of the compartments seemed deserted.
Halfway through the book I felt ready for the tenth cigarette of the night, when suddenly there was a knock on the door. Two eager men in uniforms almost jumped in my compartment. Border control.
‘Ваш паспорт?’ The voice was crisp and commanding. I passed my passport in silence to one officer while another bent down, checking space under the bunk beds. I heard the voices and banging outside where border guards were checking the outside of the train.
The man quickly flicked through my passport, looked at me, comparing the picture to me and then passed it back to me. ‘Спасибо.’ And off they went. I did hear the next knock few doors away. That’s all?
But after few minutes the train stopped again. ‘Икра? Водка?’ Another head peeked in the compartment door. Oh, the customs. This voice was neither crisp nor commanding. It sounded completely overtired. I heard resentment in it.
‘No,’ I shook my head. ‘No caviar and no spirits.’ Only a heap of anti-Soviet documents, I silently added in my mind. The head in the door quickly looked around, noticed my wooden rocking horse peeking out from under the bed and laughed, slamming the door shut.
I listened for the voices outside to die out, and then two loud bangs of metal hitting metal, some heavy jolts and few minutes proclaim we had crossed the border of the Soviet Union. That’s it, I was out!
I closed the book and walked outside for a well deserved cigarette. The nervous man was standing there again, flicking ashes through the slightly opened top of the window.
‘To Berlin?’ He quietly asked.
I nodded, lighting my cigarette. This was the train to Berlin.
‘Our or the Western?’ Man asked again in a somehow absent manner.
The smoking man looked out of the window, dragging heavily on cigarette. ‘You are lucky.’
I nodded again. Yes, I felt lucky, indeed.
I nodded one more time, flicked the cigarette out in the darkness and returned to my compartment. I was out.
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