We were steaming as a part of the Standing On-CaIl Force Mediterranean. It was quite a combination: warships of Turkey, Spain, Italy, Greece, the United States, and our ship, the Federal Republic of Germany’s destroyer Schleswig-Holstein . Our time sailing together as a task group was drawing to a close, and the tempo of our operations was letting up just enough to allow for the simple agreeable routines that build an understanding between shipmates, their ships, and the sea.
As an American exchange officer serving as navigator on board the Schleswig-Holstein , I would regularly visit the chart house between the hours of 2100 and 2300. Usually, the major exercises’of the day had been completed, and this afforded the time to check the time-speed-distance problem for the next day and shoot the bull with the junior navigator of the watch. An added bonus of these visits was a large, ancient piece of equipment known as the Sichtfunkpeiler —a simple radio direction finder that receives a radio signal and reveals the true bearing of the transmitter. By removing a small retaining pin inside the Sichtfunkpeiler , one is able to receive regular radio broadcasts as well. Given reasonable atmospheric conditions, I could well expect to hear Süd-bay-erisches Rundfunk or the Deutsche Welle broadcast. It was nice. We normally caught the latest news and the weather back home.
This particular night I was greeted by the exuberant face of a junior navigator. “There’s no more beer in Berlin! They’re bringing emergency shipments in from the West!”
I must have looked a bit dumb just standing there, so he added, “The Wall has been opened.” As sailors are known for practical joking (it helps pass the time), I remained skeptical. Until, leaning forward to the good old Sichtfunkpeiler , we heard a rebroadcast of a Willy Brandt speech followed by news reports of a tremendous party in Berlin and a beer shortage. The Wall had indeed been opened. I remained for about thirty minutes, and a few sailors came up to listen for a short while and descended again into the ship. They seemed to take the news guardedly. Perhaps it was the fact that we were at sea, receiving this information through an outdated, temperamental radio receiver, but it just didn’t or couldn’t sink in.
The following morning a fly-in of reporters was hurriedly inserted into the ship’s schedule, so two days later, as we tied up in Genoa, there was no doubt. And as major news networks the world over scrambled for satellite relays direct from Berlin, I could rest assured that I had already received the best report of this astounding event: ‘There is no more beer in Berlin.”