Berlin 1961 Reader Stories

Born in Berlin

by Thomas Altvater

I was born in Berlin in June of 1945 to Willy and Irmgard Altvater, ballet dancers at the Stattsoper building located next to Unter den Linden.

My father was drafted twice into the Wehrmacht (being released one time from the Russian front for a solo performance). After the war, he avoided capture by local partisans in Yugoslavia and was interned by GI’s for six months. My mother had a much tougher time surviving the immediate post war in Berlin, especially with a new born in June.

She later worked for the US Army Colonel Schantze, who was the liaison with the Russians. When he was rotated to Fort Leavenworth, Command College, he sponsored my mother to immigrate to the states in 1954. She sent for my brother and me in 1956.

My brother ended up back in Germany in the 11th Armored Cavalry during his tour from 1961 to 1964 and ended up working at Ft. Meade. He has lived in the DC area all this time and is presently retired.

After High School in Kansas City, College in Missouri, I was drafted in 1967. I received my notice while visiting Berlin. I made several trips to East Berlin through Checkpoint Charlie and saw the wall from both sides. I also visited Berlin weeks after the wall was opened in 1989 and have a favorite photograph of me standing on the wall in front of the Brandenburg Tor (just before being chased off). I frankly never thought the wall would come down in my lifetime.

The changes to Berlin have been remarkable since that time.

I also ended up in the DC area working for the feds as a Safety Manager at Treasury (US Mint) and Commerce (NOAA) before retiring this past year.

During the events of 1961, I was just 16 and in my sophomore year at Westport High. Your book certainly refreshed my memory of those days.

As a child I lived in Dahlem close to the Grunewald, on Koenigen Luise Strasse 90, a children’s home for war orphans. We occasionally walked over to the Clay Allee and saw movies at the American theater.

The best Christmas was in 1954 when GI’s came over and one dressed in a Santa outfit and gave us all presents. Of course none of us spoke English but we understood alright. Another location we lived in was the Suedwest Korso 45, which was in the middle of the artists’ colony.

Some of my earliest memories were as a 3 year old in 1948 seeing the numerous airplanes overhead. It was explained to me that one was a coal plane, the next one is a potato plane and the third one a candy plane. Even back then I knew that couldn’t be true; maybe every tenth plane.

My brother and I were thrilled when we arrived in Kansas City on August 8, 1956 landing at the old municipal airport. Our mother was there to greet us and we ended up living in the old Westport area for years.

Best Regards,
Thomas Altvater

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