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September 30, 1962 - Image 11

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1962-09-30
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On the Other Side of the Wall

A Visit Behind the Iron Curtain:







TRAVELING in three Communist coun-
tries in Central Europe, East Ger-
many, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, one
learns very clearly the meaning of the
term "Iron Curtain" at least as this bar-
rier functions today.
It is unquestionably true that part
of the Iron Curtain's function is the tra-
ditional one, to keep Western ideas out.
Communist officials believe sincerely that
capitalist propaganda is dangerous: it
might have an unsettling effect on the
unsophisticated and it might lend encour-
agement to the "counter-revolutionary"
forces at home.
But it overwhelmingly clear that the
most important function of the Iron Cur-
tain, at least as it operates in the Central
European satellites is not to serve as a
buffer against capitalism, but to fence
the population of these countries inside
the Communist world.
IN BERLIN the Iron Curtain is a visible
physical fact: the Wall.
Approaching the Wall from the West
Berlin side, one drives through the heart
of a bustling, even booming, city. Sudden-
ly, the street comes to a dead-end: a wall
about 15 feet high topped with jagged
glass set in concrete. Driving along the
Wall, one occasionally sees a cross or a
plaque or a wreath. Each has its own,
often very dramatic, story; each com-
memorates an East German shot while
escaping, but who managed to break
through the Wall or climb over the Wall
before he died.
Seen from West Berlin the Wall is a
depressing sight; it is like one looking
at a decaying prison. But the visual im-
pact of the Wall when seen from the East
Berlin side is jolting: suddenly one is
inside a massive concentration camp.
There is the Wall itself and immediate-
ly in front of it is a level, completely bare
strip of ground twenty feet wide. At regu-
lar intervals there are high watch towers
with heavily armed guards. At night this
strip is brightly lit by large flood lights.
Reportedly, this strip is planted with land
mines. In front of the strip is a barrier of
rolled barbed wire.
The Wall speaks to the East Berliners
with unmistakable clarity: you are citi-
zens of a country occupied by a foreign
The Wall's voice is not an hallucination
heard only by Western observers. The
people one encounters in East Berlin
leave no doubt that they too hear the
message of the Wall. And the actions of

!h Retain




Their Cultural Heritage

Ole! And Then to the Soc

The ornate Opera House in the city of Prague.

those who have escaped-or died trying-
back up their words.
Even a few hours of roaming the
streets of East Berlin engaging people
in casual conversation convinces one -that
reports we have received in the West are
true; that the melodramatic presentations
are accurate. Indeed, a melodramatic,
black-and-white picture is the only way
to capture the atmosphere of this city.
Many Americans who tour EasthBerlin
only on the guided bus, which goes
through only the main shopping street, a
new housing project and the truly magni-
ficent Military Cemetery, get a distorted
picture of East Berlin.
Living conditions are not good, they
observe. But although they are far below
the living standards of the rest of Ger-
many and most of Europe, living condi-
tions are tolerable. Housing units are
small, simple and dull, but adequate.
There is no longer any rubble left from
the war. There is activity on the streets.
This impression is simply erroneous.

Once one gets off the very few main
streets, one enters a vast slum - a slum
still somewhat splattered with ruins from
the Second World War. Housing is inade-
quate. There is an almost stiflingly op-
pressive sense of dreariness. There are
virtually no cars on the streets and very
little human activity.
The stores display terribly shoddy, but
expensive, goods. However, there is some-
thing more depressing about the stores.
Even in them one finds the atmosphere
which pervades the city: dreariness..
There is little food in the stores and
meat is almost unavailable. Food in res-
taurants is unappetizing, served in very
small portions and quite expensive.
East Berliners leave no doubt as to their
contempt for their government, which
they regard as a puppet of Moscow, or of
their wish to get out from under Russian
domination, the physical presence of the
Russian army.
When one asks an East Berliner for
directions to Check-Point Charlie, the
crosspoint between East and West Berlin,
one frequently hears such comments as "I
wish I could .take you there myself" or "I
wish I could go with you."
Revolution is, of course, out of the
question -- Russian tanks taught them
the futility of that a few years ago. But if
the Wall were not there, massive emigra-
tion to West Berlin would be resumed.
THE IRON Curtain is a physical fact
in Hungary, but, as a result of the 1956
revolt, is less visible.
The 1956 revolt was apparently more of
a nationalistic movement and a protest
against poor living conditions than a re-
volt against a political ideology. Hungary
was ruled by Moscow in a fairly open
and direct manner and was ruled with
Russia's interests in mind, not the needs
and interests of the Hungarian people.
This hurt the pride of the Hungarian
people; it also hurt their standard of liv-
ing quite severely.
Budapest is still ringed with Russian
troops. (They are in Hungary as part of
the Warsaw Pact "defense forces," but
no one seriously doubts that they would
again be used to supress any uprising.)
But now the Russian troops usually re-
main off the streets in military uniforms
and are as inconspicuous as possible.
Russia has also granted important
economic concessions which make Hun-
gary a more prosperous member of the
Soviet sphere. Hungary's economic life
centers around farming and light indus-
try. Although by Western standards, Hun-
gary is fairly inefficient and unproduc -

tive in these areas, by Communist stand-
ards they are doing very well. Perhaps
more important, they now get fairer deals
on their foreign trade with Russia.
Right now, for example, there is a
severe meat shortage in all the satellite
countries, even in a relatively prosperous
one like Czechoslovakia. But meat is
available in Hungary.
However, the living standards are far
lower than in Western Europe and, as
in most Communist countries, it has a
housing shortage. There are incredibly
few automobiles. Farm machinery is, by
Western standards, fairly primitive.
But no signs are visible to a casual vis-
itor from the West of an imminent revolt,
nor would a basically Marxist form of
government necessarily be overthrown if
the Russian troops were to leave the
country. Nevertheless, there were numer-
ous indications that if the Iron Curtain
were removed and free travel and immi-
gration were permitted, a significant por-
tion of the Hungarian people with spe-
cialized skills would leave the country.
This is caused not by ideological differ-
ences, although one gathers that these
people do not particularly like Commun-
ism, but by a belief that more opportuni-,
ties exist in the West. These are oppor-
tunities both to" improve their standard
of living and to gain further technical
training and achieve professional ad-
PRAGUE IS a charming old city with
13th and 14th century buildings, nar-
row winding streets, gentle hills with
beautiful views, and a clean and whole-
some appearance. It also has friendly
and bouyant people, people whose friend-
liness toward strangers, particularly
Americans, is almost overwhelming.
Because Prague is such a delightful
place, it is easy for a casual visitor to miss
seeing that Czechoslovakia, too, is fenced
in. Conditions are different in Czechoslo-
vakia than in Hungary or East Berlin and
the Iron Curtain takes a different form,
but it very definitely exists. And when
one catches a glimpse of it, it is particu-
larly jolting, because it seems so- out of
place in this easy-going country.
Most Czechs refuse to take anything as
grim and sober as politics very seriously.
James' Seder, presently in law
school, spent three weeks this sum.
ner touring Hungary, Czechoslo-
vakia and East Germany. He is a
former Daily sta ffJ member.

SOCCER GAMES draw larger crowds
than bullfights. The twist has replaced
the "pasodoble" in Madrid's Molino Fojo.
nightclub. Beer is becoming more popular
than wine. In a recent visit to Madrid,
Paul Anka attracted thousands of faint-
ing, screaming teenage girls to Barajas
And more and more tourists in Spain
are left with the feeling that Spain's much
touted exotic Euro-African past has let
them down.
In many ways, Spain shows more iden-
tification with the continent to the south
than with the land bulk to which it is
actually attached. Eight centuries of
Moorish occupation has left deep cultural
impressions and lent support to the
French assumption that "Africa begins at
the Pyrenees." In addition, Spain has the
peculiar distinction of having retained its
culture intact, for better or for worse,
longer than any of its Western European
But travel agents, exploiting the rich
historical tradition, invited visitors to
Spain and promised them flamenco danc-
ers playing castanets in the street, roses
clenched between their strong white teeth.
They promised bullfights that would hor-
rify, poverty that would appall. Women
could taste of passionate Latin romance;
men were less fortunate due to more se-
vere restrictions on the well bred Spanish
The travel posters didn't lie. Flamenco,.
poverty and especially romance most defi-
nitely exist. Hitchhiking students have
been picked up often by burro cart. Groups
of university singers, strumming mando-
lins and guitars, still roam the streets,
and their serenades are rewarded with in-
vitations to cognac. In the poverty ridden
Vallecas suburb of Madrid, people still live
in shanties and cave houses without
However, cosmopolitan centers, such as
the capital city of Madrid, have been
caught up in the process of urban expan-
sion and modernization, and offer a be-
wildering assortment of old and new.
IN MADRID, take a walk down the Gran
Via with its first run movie theatres,
fineboutiques and luxury hotels. It could

almost be New York's Seventh Avenue ex-
cept for the donkey trudging down the
street, burdened with clay water jugs
packed in straw. In the Plaza de Callao,
harried American tourists turn into the
California cafeteria which advertises "real
American sodas and sundaes, with menus
in English." On the same corner is a shriv-
eled old woman, wrapped in a black knit
shawl, peddling individual cigarettes for
those who cannot afford a pack at a
time. A couple of Marlboros cost almost a
Shiny American cars, enormous next to
the tiny Spanish SEAT, stop along the
gardens of the Royal Palace to let out
sightseeing residents from Torrejon, the
air base just outside of Madrid. Two long
blocks away, near San Francisco el Grande
church with its Goya frescoes, a funeral
procession goes down the street. A priest
leads, followed by chanting and bell ring-
ing altar boys. The coffin is on an elab-
orate black carriage drawn by a pair of
ebony horses, trailed by wailing mourners.
Home life reflects the mingling of old
and new customs. The Puerta del Angel,
an area rebuilt after the 1936-39 Civil
War, is located to the west of the city
center. Many of the four-to-six family
apartments are part of a government
operated subdivision, providing low cost
housing for the lower middle classes.
THERE A FAMILY of five live in a
small third story apartment. The par-
ents sleep in the only bedroom. Two sons,
16 and 18, share a foldaway bed in the
tiny living room, and the 19 year old
daughter sleeps on another foldaway in
the dining room. The pet Pekinese sleeps
in the kitchen next to the wood-coal stove
which serves for cooking and is also the
only built-in method of providing heat
for the apartment. The stove also at-
taches to a water tank, giving hot run-
ning water, a luxury very few Spaniards
The father earns about $60 monthly
managing a small branch of a drygoods
store. All the children left school at the
age of thirteen to work. A minimum age
work law requires children to go to school
until they are 14, but it is not enforced.

The daughter is a hairdresser in a shop
near her home and brings home $20-25
monthly, including tips. The younger son
is a hotel bellhop and earns just enough
for personal expenses and English lessons
at Berlitz. Knowledge of foreign languages
is absolutely basic for success in the ho-
tel business, as most tourists are non-
Spanish. His older brother, a waiter,
speaks English fluently and is now study-
ing French.
Through the use, and possible misuse,
of time payments, they have managed to
acquire a portable phonograph, television
set and small electric refrigerator in the
last three years. This last is a true luxury
item in a country where even wealthy
families maintain the custom of daily
trips to the market because of lack of re-
frigeration. The television set is a glar-
ingly conspicuous part of their home life
and is turned on as soon as broadcasting
begins in the afternoon. Just one channel
" h a hnd the general level of pro-
grams is low, technically and esthetically.
The double standard of refrigerator and
coal stove is also mirrored in the enter-
tainment tastes and social customs of the
children. All of them know hundreds of
traditional Spanish songs, basic flamenco
rhythms, and most of the cape techniques
in a bullfight. But the boys' real love is
soccer and the girl prefers the Platters.
The boys, in their semi-adult status as
breadwinners and also in the exalted
Spanish status of merely being male, come
and go as they please.
The daughter was not allowed to go
out with boys until a few months ago.
Now she is seeing one boy who often walks
her home from work. Her parents have
never met him and probably never will
unless he comes to make a formal pro-
posal. He has never picked her up at her
home, but makes arrangements to meet
-her. All "dates" are on Sundays (Saturday
is a full workday) and she must be in be-
fore 9:30.
the Spanish do not work hard. This
is absolutely false, as any Spanish la-
borer sweats just as much as an Ameri-
can does, and for less money. Housewives

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In the Swim

A Ride for "Hitchhiking Students


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