Posts Tagged ‘Berlin’


Carlo has a excellent article on Bucket lists.  He was ready for a New Year’s Day publication.  I’ve held it up because I wanted to find the perfect photos for the article.  Soon, I promise, Carl – this week.

To pass the time, here’s a quick, very short story.



It’s January 3, 2015.  Carlo and I have just logged 4.5 flying hours.  We have been flying a wonderful group of aviation and flight simulator enthusiasts – former student pilots, current student pilots, future student pilots, R/C flyers, scale model builders, photographers, Facebook friends, fathers and sons.  Carlo and I are just using up fuel now, enjoying quiet time together in the sunset sky over Woodland Airpark.  We are happy-tired. 




The hat I am wearing has been with me for 10 years.  I got it at the 2005 Hiller airshow at San Carlos airport in California.  

I lost that hat four days ago.  I misplaced it after flying with an old friend last December 30.  We are both Presidents of the only two flying clubs in the country. 




The hat recalls a P-51C Mustang fighter airplane named "Berlin Express" flown by Bill Overstreet, an American World War II pilot.  Overstreet was a squadron mate of Chuck Yeager, who broke the sound barrier as a test pilot after the war.  Overstreet named his airplane "Berlin Express"  because his 357th Fighter Group regularly flew to Berlin as fighter escort for B-17 bomber missions, deep into wartime Germany.




Overstreet flew in a dogfight over France in early 1944 against a Messerschmitt Bf-109.  The German pilot flew directly over occupied Paris so that the German gun batteries could shoot Overstreet’s Mustang off the Messerschmitt’s tail. 

His engine already hit and damaged, the German flew under the Eiffel tower in a desperate attempt to evade Overstreet.  Overstreet followed under the Eiffel tower, kept firing, and won the duel. 


"The Berlin Express Arrives in Paris"


Exactly a year ago, on January 3, 2014, Bill Overstreet, the pilot of Berlin Express, passed away.  He was 92 years old. 

Today, January 3, 2015, another pilot found and returned my ‘Berlin Express’ hat to me.


I should stop losing things.



Posted from Manila

03 January, 2015


William Overstreet’s obituaries:






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Bangkok, Amsterdam, Arnhem, Köln, Remagen, Berlin, Amsterdam, Bangkok.  Manila, Chicago, San Francisco, Manila, Bangkok, Singapore.  Manila, Nashville, San Francisco, Manila, Bangkok, Singapore.  Bangkok, Amsterdam, Nijmegen, Bangkok, Manila.  My travel schedule for the last 60 days.  Oct 23 to Dec 23.  A lifetime of travel for many people.

Somewhere in there I squeezed in an annual inspection of the airplane, a test flight for a new airworthiness certificate, a condominium search in Singapore, and closing and transferring my office from Bangkok to Singapore.  And about eight thousand conference calls, budget meetings, business reviews.





The airplane was grounded for most of October, for re-registration, re-insurance and the annual inspection.  Carlo and I hardly flew.  Carlo too was swamped with work.  He is now a full-time English teacher at the Ateneo.  There was very little time to write, and no inspiration.


What there was too much of was business travel.


But there were some light moments.  I boarded an American Airlines flight from San Francisco to Chicago on the eve of the US Presidential Elections.  The Captain, wearing a tie plastered with American flags, stood at the cockpit door greeting everyone.  I boarded in a suit, a trench coat and a fedora.  ‘Skyfall’ was already showing in Asia.

Tonet:  Nice tie, Captain.

Captain:  Make a hole, MI6 is coming through!

Tonet (shaking the Captain’s hand):  Bond.  James Bond.

Captain (gesturing to the cockpit):  That’s your seat, then.  Just don’t touch anything!

As I sat down in the passenger cabin, he called out.

Captain:  Do you have any spare poker chips, Mr. Bond?

Tonet:  No.  I put them all on red and lost.

Captain:  I plan to vote in San Francisco, Chicago and Washington D.C., myself!  Can’t be too sure!


I was in Chicago when Obama won the election.  Huge crowd at the Democratic Party headquarters.


Two weeks later and three countries later I was back in the US.  As I boarded an American Airlines jet in Dallas, the same Captain was at the boarding gate.   “Bond.  James Bond,” I said, shaking his hand.  He was speechless.  Probably convinced that I was spying on him.


Germany was a short holiday.  I defected from East to West at Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin, scene of many Cold War confrontations.





In Köln, one of my favorite cities in Germany, I visited the great cathedral, where the relics of the three Magi are kept in a gilded urn.




In the Netherlands, I walked the woods around the Market-Garden airborne drop zones at Renkum Heath, taking call after conference call.  Holiday or not, I was on call 24×7 on work crisis after crisis.  The ‘Autumn Leaves’ was my Dad’s favorite song.

I peered at the Lower Rhine at Arnhem, and in the far distance, the arched girders of the Bridge Too Far.





In Singapore I dropped by the historic Raffles Hotel, where the Singapore Sling was invented, and Somerset Maugham wrote some of his best work.




In Bangkok, Carlo and Julio visited during their semester break.  It was the last time they would visit the apartment we had lived in for the last eight years.  Julio, who is pile-driving his way through his last semester towards an Economics Honors degree, had a lot of sleep to catch up on.  When he was awake he hammered his way across Europe and conquered Africa and the UK, something that no one has accomplished since the Roman Legions.





At Woodland airfield, with the airplane undergoing its annual inspection, I watched with envy while Mike and his instructor put Mike’s and Owen’s Stearman through a short, snappy and spectacular show for us hangar rats.  Damn, the airplane is beautiful!  Five years of loving restoration, all authentic parts.  A real jewel.  The video is a good one, but the photo below shows an impossible sideslip at 45 degrees to the runway, eight feet off the ground.  Total control.




It was a brutal 60 days.  Twenty-five cities in six countries on three continents.  Not counting connections or layovers.  That’s why there hasn’t been an article since September.  Carlo has been no less busy.  We owe you lots of stories.





Posted from Manila, December 23, 2012.


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And The Wall Came Tumbling Down

Most city walls keep intruders out.  In 1961, the German Democratic Republic built a wall to keep people in.

There was no wall, at first.  The western half of the city was administered by the British, French and Americans.  The eastern half lay within the communist world. 


The western half of the city — West Berlin — became a safety valve, deep in the middle of communist East Germany, offering shelter, safety, and a route out to the West. 


East Berlin citizens migrated a few blocks west, just enough to cross over the line that marked the British, French and American sectors.  They were voting, literally, with their feet.


Their population draining away, the German Democratic Republic (a monumental misnomer) decided to plug the leak permanently.


Thus the Berlin Wall was the first ever wall built to imprison an entire city.








The Berlin Wall came up on midnight of August 13, 1961.  People woke up to barbed wire running through their streets.


Suddenly, overnight, people from the east could no longer cross over to the west. 


Imagine that happening to your city.  You could no longer see your fiancée, go to work, go to school.


The barbed wire was not enough to stop a spate of early escapees, including soldiers who were supposed to be holding the line. 




A wall was quickly built, which over the next 28 years turned into a massive concrete monstrosity, with prowling dogs, landmines, automatic guns, guard towers and searchlights.


The Wall divided neighborhoods, streets, even buildings! 


Kitchen in West, toilet in East



On Bernauer Strasse the apartment buildings were in the East, and the sidewalk was in the West. 


Bernauer strasse  


So many people jumped out of the windows on the first day of the Wall that the GDR bricked up all the windows.  Then escapees began tunneling, so the buildings were demolished permanently.





A year after the Wall went up, 18-year old Peter Fechter dashed across the ‘death zone’ and was shot just as he was climbing the last wall.  There are many pictures of Peter dying at the foot of the wall, out of reach of the West Berliners. 


Fechter bleeding to death at Berlin Wall


Hundreds of East Berliners witnessed the killing.  The West Berlin police tossed bandages over the Wall, but Fechter was dying.  The East Berline guard who shot him from a sniper hole did not emerge and scurry away until hours later.


Today a small monument marks the place where he died, right beside the line of bricks that marks the trace of the old Wall.


Fechter memorial, near Checkpoint Charlie 




That didn’t stop the escapees.  From 1961 to 1989 Over 100,000 East Germans attempted to escape to the West.  They dug tunnels, rammed through in trucks, flew over in hot-air balloons and ultralights, hid children in baggage, or swam across the Spree.  Several hundred were shot.  Exact numbers are lost with the records of the old GDR.





When the wall first came up, West Berliners could come and go.  The American, British and French forces theoretically could pass any time through Checkpoint Charlie, the crossing point on Friedrichstrasse. 


One month after the wall went up, the GDR restricted US military and diplomatic traffic across the line.  The US responded by forcing access into the East with armed jeeps.


The GDR allowed Soviet tanks onto Friedrichstrasse to intimidate Checkpoint Charlie.  So the US military commander parked a battalion of tanks on Friedrichstrasse, just inches away from the border line, and suddenly the world was inches from a shooting war.


Confrontation at Checkpoint Charlie, Oct 27-28, 1961 

Soviet tanks 

US 40th Armored 








So why am I writing about this?  Well, The Berlin Wall fell 19 years ago today.  November 9, 1989.


Reagan, Gorbachev and a dockworker named Lech Walesa were in the right place at the right time, and ended the Cold War.





I was in Berlin for half a day, yesterday.  Surrounded by all this history.


Checkpoint Charlie today, on Friedrichstrasse.  The actual border was 50 meters beyond the sign.


Checkpoint Charlie, Nov 8, 2008


Checkpoint Charlie today 



So many novels and screenplays have been written about Checkpoint Charlie.  Defections, spy exchanges, daring escapes.  In The Man Who Lost the War, former intelligence officer W.T.Tyler (a pseudonym) described a protagonist escape under the GDR steel barrier by driving an Italian sports car at high speed down Friedrichstrasse, then slamming on the brakes to depress the car just enough to shoot under the barrier.


I learned yesterday that in real life, this happened twice, using the same model of car!





The last segments of the Wall still standing are at Zimmerstrasse.


Zimmerstrasse, looking East




The recent Louis Vuitton print ad with Gorbachev in it was shot here. 


The street itself, formerly Prinzenstrasse, was in East Berlin.  The eerie empty space on the left, behind the wall, in West Berlin, was the site of Gestapo Headquarters in World War 2.  “Take him to number 8 Prinzenstrasse” struck fear into the hearts of spies, Jews and other enemies of the Reich.


Zimmerstrasse, looking west




During the Cold War, the street was a buffer zone — mined, patrolled by dogs, covered by machine guns on towers. 


Prinzenstrasse before 1989  

Zimmerstrasse/Prinzenstrasse, pre-1989  



Zimmerstrasse during and after the Cold War.


Same area, Cold War

   Zimmerstrasse wall today






Potsdamerplatz is the most glitzy, modern drag in Berlin now.  Sony Center, Citibank tower, Legoland, fashion district, nightspots.  But before 1989, it looked like this.



Leipzigerplatz looking west   



Postdamerplatz today!


Potsdamerplatz today  



Same corner, during the Cold War.  

Ptsdamerplatz during the Cold War








Across Leipzigerplatz today, the line of bricks marks where the Wall was.


Leipzigerplatz todaydscn9995  












The Reichstag, before and after 1989.


Reichstag, Cold War


Reichstag, 2008  



Today, few traces remain of the Wall that held a city captive.  How it came down is probably best told in The Cold War — A New History by John Lewis Gaddis.


In June, 1989, Ronald Reagan visited the Brandenburg Gate and demanded, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”


Reagan at Brandenburg Gate, 1989



Many events and forces were already working backstage to demolish this icon of the Cold War.  The Soviet Union’s collapse came soon after.


Today that same spot has only the line of bricks marking the  155-kilometer wall that Reagan wanted torn down.


Brandenburg Gate today


Berlin Wall, 1961-1989









Some image sources and GREAT sites to look at:


Traces of the Wall from Potsdamerplatz to Checkpoint Charlie


The Berlin Wall trail


Aerial view of Berlin Wall, and the wastelands around it, just before it’s collapse in 1989


Historical photos of tank confrontation at Checkpoint Charlie


Fact archive — good quick history of the Berlin Wall






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