I ARRIVED in Berlin in January 1960 at the height of winter, as a young journalist this was to be my home for the next couple of years.
The following day I was introduced to a man who was going to shape my life, his name was Ernesto Krieg originally a son of a German Diplomat who had retired from his post in Caracas, Venezuela, and stayed on as a business representative for a German company, however he died in the late fifties, Ernesto was born in 1925 and spent all his informative life in Caracas.
When we met on a bitterly cold day in Berlin, he shook my hand welcoming me in the typical German formal way by calling me Herr Mann, however soon he dropped the formality and we became good friends using first name’s.
It was a known fact that journalists are quite free to roam almost anywhere with the right type of credentials and a bit of nous, many had either been inducted by their countries so called secret Government organisations to spy or provide information, in several cases many journalists had even volunteered, the man that arranged my time in Berlin was a Major (I cannot use his name even though he is dead) son of a former Hungarian immigrant who managed a Press agency in London’s Fleet street in the 1950s the home of the British Newspapers and Press Agencies.
Within a few days and several meetings with officers from the French, American and British representatives and putting me through certain instructions,and how I could use my excellent knowledge of cameras, one in particular that I had made was miniature camera that was hidden in hollowed out book with a tiny hole for the lens, and also my knowledge of electrical technology Ernesto and myself started to go to work.
Ernesto hated his German ancestry, his great love was Venezuela its life style,its people, so probing the infrastructure in Eastern Berlin and East Germany was like manner from heaven for him. Within days of my instructors putting me through rigorous training, we started to make daily journey’s through Check Point Charlie, our papers were checked by the American authority’s on the West side, the barrier was lifted and we negotiated our way through tank traps into no man’s land, we parked the car within the Russian/East German sector and walked into the large hut, escorted by two Volks Politzie or Vo Po’s as they were called, showing our credentials and body searched, if we were lucky we could continue, however sometimes to make our crossing difficult we would be grilled and searched again and again.
Once you were free to go, we drove in a zig zag again through the Russian tank traps, a barrier was finally lifted and we could eventually cross into East Berlin, with a sigh of relief.
During our forays into East Berlin and East Germany some times as far as Leipzig, we could meet friends and contacts made by various methods, there was not any internet or mobile phones, the people we would see could be helpful to the West, we could also see at first hand the preparations for escape routes for people who had particularly good knowledge of Russian armaments and rocket science.
All this just two years before Nikita Khrushchev, launched his ships laden with missiles heading for Cuba, causing the world to be within days of an all-out war between America and Russia.
So that’s all I can say on the subject of the years Ernesto and myself had spent delving and prying into what went on behind the barbed wire, until the wall was finally built by the East Germans to keep their people entombed, but it still allowed us to continue our visits through Check Point Charlie.
My great friend Ernesto would be turning in his grave if he knew what was going on in his beloved Venezuela, at this present time if ever a county had imploded into chaos murder and financial ruin Venezuela has, particularly the capital. Caracas is now packed with tanks, armoured personal carriers, thousands of soldiers and police with guns roam the streets, the shop counters are empty, and the street are covered in blood.
When the late Hugo Chavez took power in 1999, the country was awash with oil when the charge was $100 dollars a barrel, with the largest proven oil reserves in the world, an investor’s dream, the country has some of the finest beaches and the wonderful snow-capped Andes.
Hugo Chavez reign brought wealth to Venezuela, more schools for children, greater access to drinking water and plenty of food in the shops, people said that the country was a paradise a complete utopia, but his leftish politics became a major thorn in the side of America
Now Nicholas Maduro the president of Venezuela has driven Venezuela in the opposite direction, with a huge shortage of food in the supermarkets, shortage of medicines, rolling blackouts, rising unemployment, increased violence in the streets, even Malaria once almost eradicated is back.
The IMF says that Venezuela has a negative growth of (-8%) and an inflation rate of (48%) unemployment is expected to climb to (30%) all this has cast a shadow of desperation the spread of unrest and a surge in criminality.
After months of rioting Venezuela is heading to the brink, this has worried neighbouring countries, his once opposition Henrique Capriles has been banned from running for any political office for 15 years. The new opposition leader is Freddy Guevara who has called for further 24 hour strikes, while hundreds have been killed in the demonstration. Anti-Government lawyers accuse Maduro of being responsible for drug running and emptying the government coffers, and stealing the gold reserves. In 2011 Venezuela had $30b reserves now they have less than $10b, and their imports are down 50%. The oil production has ceased to a trickle owing to strikes.
With rising prices, many people unable to eat and the millions that are demonstrating on the streets, the once great country of Venezuela is a paradise lost?