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How I went into East Germany in 1988 (before the Wall Came Down) – to Film Dog Events.

How I went into East Germany in 1988 (before the Wall Came Down) – to Film Dog Events.

Back in the 1980’s I starting going to West Germany to shoot video of dog competitions and training videos. Thats when I started to hear rumors about East German (DDR’S) Dog’s. People were talking about how good their boarder patrol dogs were; how the DDR had their own GSD bloodlines: how their style of Schutzhund was so different.  No one I found had ever been behind the old proverbial Iron Curtain and seen these dogs. So I decided to try and go see for myself.

I did a little research and found out when the DDR  national German Shepherd championships took place.  I wrote the DDR Embassy here in the states and  bull shitted them about how I had heard  such good things about their dogs and I wanted to  come and video these dog shows. I was kind of surprised when they sent me a visa and a letter telling me if I paid 1,000.00 DM ( West German Marks) I could come, but I first had to go to the East German Media headquarters in East Berlin.

I knew the Germans are sticklers for organization etc etc . A friend of mine has a saying “everything in Germany is either mandatory or forbidden”, and sometimes I think that’s still true. I decided I needed better credentials than I had – which was NONE.

So I went to see a friend (Rocky Flynt) who owned the newspaper here in town. I told Rocky that I needed something official that I could show at “Check-Point Charlie”, the East German border crossing. Rocky was a cool dude, he laughed and said he would help make me a Wisconsin SPORTS TV  PRESS Expert. He asked for an old Wisconsin driver license, which he proceeded to cut up. He came up with a book that had the Wisconsin state seal which he cut out, and he took a new passport photo of me. He put them all together and took a photo which he then laminated.  I had my new official Sports I.D. I still have it today – see below. I blurred out the DL number because its still the same (30 years later).

 

 

Crossing into East Berlin at “Check-point Charlie” was an experience. There were  just a few cars going through every time I crossed, but there was an army of DDR border guards going through every car. They were using dogs to search, guys with mirrors looking under the car and none looking very friendly.  With my bog ass video camera it took them awhile to check things out and make a phone call someplace before I was let in.

Once of the rules to the visa was I had to stay in a specific hotel, $95.00 a night. The country was so poor I could have spent $5.00 in a local guest house. My room was modern and nice, with a huge mirror on the wall. After checking I had to walk over the the media headquarters where they assigned two men to my stay.  Once was a German Shepherd Dog breeder, and the other was a guide (AKA communist guard) . Both spoke good English and were nice guys. I was told I couldn’t go anywhere without them.

One thing that became very obvious was the stores in the city center were basically empty. I mean they did not have anything in the windows, it was amazing. Plus once you got out of the city center the city looked like it would have looked back in the 1940’s. The buildings needed paint, everything was dingy. The cars all looked like shitty old tin cans, the people looked whipped, eyes down not wanting to make eye contact. It was a little shocking. My thought back then was the our government has us conned about how dangerous East Germany and the Russians were. Hell if they could’t afford pain and a little maintenance on their buildings they were not much of a threat.

So the first night there the two guys asked if I wanted to go out for a beer to a couple of local bars.  Hell yes I did. I worm my white Tommy Hillfinger sweater that had an big American flag on the chest (like from one side of the sweater to the other). When we walked into a bar and people started to notice my sweater it would get a little quiet. I could have been butt ass naked and  would have had less people looking at me. 🙂 But I have to say I was treated nicely if not like a curiosity.

The dog events were two day affairs. They were interesting and different. The dogs were not better than West German Dogs, not by a long shot. Many of them did look better, but they were not better working dogs. I did like the size of their heard – BIG HEADED MALES with nice rich pigment. I am posting the videos I shot in East Berlin in the LEERBURG CLASSICS. You can go watch them (they are free) .

One of the more interesting moments took place at tracking on Saturday morning. We had to drive out into the country to the tracking fields, which turned out to be right next to an military air force base.  So I am setting up my camera equipment and some Migs start to take off right over the trees next to the field. My tour guide came rushing over and told me whatever I did – do not point my camera at those planes. Now these planes looked old and beat up and they all needed paint (like their houses).  I kind of miffed him when I made a joke and told him I was way more interested in their German Shepherd Dogs than some beat up old jets.

The rest of the trip was kind of uneventful. I met a lot of GSD breeders and they were all very friendly. I got good video and was happy that I kind of de-bunked the rumor’s of DDR dogs beings such great working dogs. They were not.

On Sunday afternoon my two handlers got be back to the hotel at around 5 PM. I invited them to the bar for a few beers on me. When we sat down a couple came and sat at the table next to us. They both opened books and never turned a page for hours. The more we drank the more I started to trash talk communism. I questioned them on how they could put up with all this crap etc etc etc. Me and 5 or 6 beers and my big mouth.  The two handlers never argued with me, they just listened and finally went home around 10 PM.

So I go to my room, order room service and at 11:30 wake up and think I am on my death bed. I was so sick I could not walk to the bathroom – so I crawled. I was sure they had poisoned me over my big mouth. I remember as I crawled past the huge mirror on the wall I gave it the big FINGER salute. I was sure it was a one way mirror. I actually slept on the bathroom floor until 5 AM. I got up feeling a little better, checked out, drive through check-point charlie, and went to a guest house 10 miles out of town and slept for 2 DAYS.

The funny thing is about 2 months later I had a similar stomach attack. I went to my Doctor and had emergency surgery to remove my appendix.  Guess it wasn’t poison after all.

The next year I did the same thing. This time I went to Lipsig to the  DDR German Shepherd national confirmation show. I met the same two handlers. Both were glad to see me, even my communist buddy. I promised not to bad mouth their politics, they kind of chuckled and said things were changing.

The show was good and I got good video. But Sunday night was the first night the Germans held protest marches in Lipsig and they were right outside my hotel, over 7,000 of them. I kept telling myself that if I could go out there and get video of those damn demonstrations I could sell them for a ton when I got home.  Common sense prevailed, I was pretty sure they would snatch me up, take my $5,000.00 camera (which I could not afford to loose back then) and all my new dog videos. Looking back, I should have tried.

Within a few weeks after I came back the Wall Came Down and I never heard from my handlers again. Kind of sad. I hope they are doing well, both were young and had families.

We had a fire at our place in 2011. I thought I lost all of my old video footage. I was wrong, I recently found hundred of hours of old VHS and S-VHS tapes. I am encoding them and uploading them to the Leerburg Classic’s segment of Leerburg. I have the first DDR tapes which we just encoded and uploaded.  I am not through all that I found. I hope I have the second years videos. Ill stream them too if I find them.

If your not familiar with Leerburg Classics, check them out. We are adding video footage that I have collected over the past 45 years. I lost a lot in our 2011 fire but I also found a ton that I forgot I had stored in another building. I decided to share what I have with Leerburg customers and fans. Maybe young dog trainers will watch some of these old seminars and get hooked like I did a million years ago. I hope so anyway.

Click the URL below  to find the raw footage that I filmed in 1988 for the DDR working dog championships – this URL brings up the list of all classic videos – scroll through it to find the DDR videos.

http://leerburg.com/flix/category.php?categoryid=39 

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Avatar
    Mack Cook
    December 27, 2017

    Super, thanks for sharing.

  2. Avatar
    Carol & DeWayne Maciej
    January 6, 2018

    I just read your blog to DeWayne (he’s driving) what an interesting story. We both loved it! Thanks for sharing!

  3. Avatar
    Jane Colangelo
    August 20, 2018

    Hi Ed,
    I was in East Germany and East Berlin in 1977 as an American teenager. I’ll never forget crossing over from West Berlin to East Berlin on a bus, the guards with mirrors on wheels, the dogs. And the empty shabby store fronts there.
    Do you remember the huge statues of Lenin? The graffiti on the western side of the wall with wreaths memorializing people who died crossing over to freedom was so sad.
    Thanks for a great site.
    Jane

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