In 1990, we rented a Westfalia from Braitman & Woudenberg in Amsterdam.
Our intention was to travel to the Communist nations before the then-apparent fall of Communism.
Not sure of hotel availability, we chose to rent a camper as a backup.
This opened our eyes to the flexibility of this form of travel, and launched our fascination with traveling via camping-car.
View 1990 Communist Bloc in a larger map with points of interest table of contents
We left Amsterdam and drove directly through Essen to stop for supper in Kassel, then finding a roadside rastplatz to stay the night, buffeted by passing trucks. Next Morning we drove into Eisenach, walking around, then visited Wartburg Schloss, followed by a tour of Erfurt, driving through Weimar, Jena, et al, being sorely tempted to liberate a roadsign pointing towards "Karl Marx Stadt" (Chemnitz). We ate at the lone restaurant in Gera. The owner came & sat with us a bit, obviously thrilled to have Western patrons. He insisted on buying us a drink, over our objections. Vielen Dank! From Gera we headed south on small roads, crossing into Czechoslovakia at a tiny crossing somewhere just north of Karlovy Vary. Driving through fields of hops, we pulled into Prague. I really liked the Prague of 1990, with none of the Disneyish tourist-trap aura it sports today. Beer was cheap; locals in large groups buying black market currency scattered when uniformed officers approached. We wandered around looking for a restaurant - found the most expensive one we could - the menu read about $50 for 2 all-in, so we went to American Express & cashed $50 worth of travellers cheques. When the bill came, it was $5. Still have a boatload of that old CZ money floating around here somewhere!
Next we headed to Austria & toured genteel Vienna, before heading for Budapest, where again we strolled the cities of Buda & Pest, taking in fairly normal tourist sites.
From Budapest we headed north through Slovakia - we were stopped for speeding - the officer asked for an on-the-spot fine that amounted to $5 (less than a Toronto parking ticket) - we paid happily & drove off with his final admonition ringing in our ears "langsam in Slovakie!".
Next was Krakow - we again were the only Westerners (as is the case for most of this trip). Toured the sites, ate in something resembling a Ratskeller, and were swarmed by a group of children (likely Roma) in the central square - the local Polish women came to our rescue - chasing them off ! :-)
Tons of Polski Fiats on the cobblestoned roads - all of them seemingly driven by Lech Walensa clones.
From Krakow, we travelled to Oswiecem, where we visited the grim, sobering reflective sites of Auschwitz & Birkenau.
We needed gas/petrol/benzin - but every time we joined the (invariably long) lineups, we never made it to the pumps before the station ran out. Dangerously low in Katowice, we headed for the Intourist hotel & spotted a blond man in a Mercedes, who I figured (correctly) might speak German. Explaining our plight, he locked up his Benz, hopped into our camper & took us around Katowice to several petrol stations, until he found one that was expecting tanker trunks early in the morning. He instructed us to sleep right there & grab a tankful first thing - we did just that, after driving him back to his car at the Intourist Hotel. Vielen Dank, whoever you were !
We headed back, stopping in Wroclaw (Breslau), before entering East Germany in the vicinity of the Spreewald. Learning our lesson from CZ, we spent all our remaining Polski money at the tacky border souvenir shop, before going through Border Control. we didn't realize that we had actually passed the East German post until it was too late - we really wanted a stamp in our passports dated on the last day that East Germany existed.
Pulling into Berlin, we found parking (which became freecamping) behind the Russian Embassy, then strolled over to the Reichstag to inspect the preparations for tonight's Einheitstag celebrations, before walking towards the Kurfurstendamm to try to find a restaurant in which to celebrate my birthday. Of course this was still no-mans-land, so after a long walk we settled on a Chinese restaurant - not our style (unless we're in China!), but it was all we came across. After the Chinese food, we walked back to retrieve the camper - but now the entire area was cordoned off, with everyone being checked for weapons & with very serious-looking dogs accompanying the polizei. So we slept in the camper where it was parked & ended up sleeping behind the Russian Embassy near Unter den Linden that night, after spending several hours in a Woodstock-sized crowd in front of the Reichstag watching the 2 Germanies become one. Very moving. Returning to the camper under a canopy of fireworks, a bunch of yahoo hooligans were intentionally pushing the dense crowd, obviously with the intent to try to start a trampling riot. The German police handled this very effectively, observing this from watchtowers & simply opening up their own "release valve" points in the barricades.
Next day we moved the camper to the Kurfurstendamm, where we freecamped (yes, you could do that then) for a couple of nights right on the Kurfurstendamm a block from the bombed ruins of Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church . We travelled back to East Berlin and walked the old areas, with a million volk, dazed by the dawning reality of a day they never dared believe would arrive. We drank hot mulled gluhwein & ate wurst in a bun from street kiosks, listened to the Soviet Army chorus in a square, then crossed the square to listen to a German Country & Western band on the stage at the other side. Soviet soldiers were selling off what they could & I bought a fur hat at a table at Checkpoint Charlie - a hat I wear to this day on Toronto winter dog walks by the lake.
We then freecamped in Wannsee park before touring Potsdam. The town of Potsdam, like most towns on this trip, had simple Comunist "businesses" - the lone coffee shop had a beige sign, that said simply "coffee shop" This signage was echoed for the hairdresser, bakery, etc. Everyone in Potsdam was (understandably) excited by the circle of large semitrailer trucks in the main square from the West - energetically hawking meats, baked goods, etc.
From Berlin we headed back to Amsterdam to spend a couple of days freecamping alongside the canals. Caught a Bel Canto show at Melkweg; had a great rijstafel at an Indonesian/Dutch restaurant. On these early trips, we often bought a bottle of Dom Perignon at the duty free in Toronto. This time was no exception - we celebrated the trip by popping the cork through the window of the Westy into an Amsterdam canal on the last night of this, one of our all-time favourite trips!
Berlin & East Germany